We’re still giving it up for Nate Dogg. Part of it comes from the selfish motivation of realizing you own mortality after someone you grew up listening to dies. But more of it comes from the responsibility of honoring our own culture. Maybe if we did a better job of that in the first place we would neither get mad nor expect institutions like the Grammys to properly honor the people who made key contributions to Hip Hop.
When news of Nate’s passing hit one week ago, a lot of people wondered why someone who often sang choruses about such crude subject matter got such an outpouring of sympathy. It’s a fair question. Nathaniel Hale made a nice amount of money singing about the joys of having some “bomb-ass pussy” and busting the occasional cap in someone. I don’t really have a counterargument for that, other than if you were offended by the subject matter, there was always the option of not listening to it.
One of the easiest things to notice was how so many people had an immediate memory associated with a song featuring Nate Dogg. This was compounded by the fact that I was flying to visit family in Long Beach, California last Wednesday. My Facebook feed was filled with people reminiscing on their teenage days at Skate Depot and Cal Bowl, when most of us were partaking in some teenage mischief with the latest Death Row Records release as the soundtrack. But the more stories we swapped, the more it became clear that Nate Dogg represented a piece of just about every hardcore Hip Hop fan we all know.
While swapping stories later on that day, I learned that Nate spent almost four years in the Marine Corps. He was a few months short of the coveted four-year mark in the Corps when he found his girlfriend cheating on him with his cousin. So if he sounds sincere when he crooned, “Bitches ain’t shit but hoes and tricks,” it’s because he probably really felt that way at the time.
Like myself, I found out Nate spent some of his early years in Long Beach before relocating to the south for a long stretch. In his case, it was Mississippi; for me it was Tennessee. Ultimately, Nate Dogg was a son of Long Beach, but I can’t help but thinking part of the reason his hooks resonated with so many people was because of the time he spent down South. As much as people try to substitute the word antebellum for slavery and excuse away their Confederate flags, there are some issues the South will never get over. That shit sticks with you as much as the humidity does in the summer, and maybe there was some of that in Nate’s voice too. There’s a reason Mississippi is referred to as the “home of the Blues.”
If you take a look at any recent census, its not hard see how closely linked both drug use and the disproportionate number of minorities in our prisons is to Hip Hop. Each month it seems like we’re hearing about another rapper entering the industrial prison complex as another makes an exit. Nate came dangerously close to joining those ranks at least two times. The not so secret affair between Nate’s cousin and his girl landed both of the offending parties on the business end of Nate’s guns. Later, after bouncing around between dead-end jobs, Nate said he sold fake crack rocks (macadamia nuts covered with Orajel for a numbing effect) to help afford studio time and hotel room to crash in for the night.
There are probably dozens of these kinds of stories. If you’re in or from Long Beach, you can’t drive past the iconic VIP Records on Pacific Coast Highway and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard without thinking of how Nate, Snoop Dogg and Warren G cut some of their early demos in the makeshift studio in the back. But no matter where you’re from, who doesn’t have at least one starving artist type of friend, trying to cut vocals in a vacant closet or home studio? Technology has allowed the venue to evolve from what Warren G described as “his shitty apartment” to Garageband, but the ideal is the same. When famous people die, we tend to make them into either saints or demons. I hope we don’t put Nate in either category. He was just human—a man’s man that made beautifully decadent music about fucking women, making money and living well. But in all of his music and the narrative of his life, there’s this collective persona that represents at least one person we all know: the struggling musician, the military washout, that one friend whose player card never expires, and the prodigal son who returned home and got paid. So yeah, unfortunately Nate’s gone. But he’s probably left hundreds of songs behind with collaborations ranging from Snoop to Pharoahe Monch and Mos Def. The music is still here, and most likely so is someone you know who is keeping Nate’s blueprint alive, for better or worse. Be thankful for those two things and turn up the music.
Omar Burgess is a Long Beach, California native by way of Flint, Michigan. In addition to contributing to various magazines and newspapers, he is an editor at HipHopDX.com.