“Sting would be another person who’s a hero. The music he’s created over the years, I don’t really listen to it, but the fact that he’s making it, I respect that.” – Hansel, Zoolander
In the summer of 2012, Snoop Dogg held a grandiose press conference at Miss Lily’s restaurant in New York City and announced his formal name change to Snoop Lion. From a pageviews perspective, the story fell between the cracks—at least to the readers of this site—who seemingly shrugged it off as the latest commodity that “Tha Doggfather” was selling. After all, Snoop’s endorsement portfolio includes an assembly line of navigation system plug-ins, blunt wrap, XXX films and even a Chrysler 300. Moreover, a Reggae album under the new moniker—produced by Diplo and the like—didn’t appear to make anybody on my industry radar reach for their wallets or their social media buttons. It was Vh1 Best Week Ever and morning show radio talking-point fodder, and maybe that’s where the man born Calvin Broadus fits in at this point. Still, for an artist who, in my opinion, has spent more years in the superstar spotlight than early ‘90s peers Jay-Z, Nas or even Diddy—why are music fans—especially in Hip Hop, seemingly so apathetic to Snoop?
The Rise Of Snoop Doggy Dogg
At nearly 30 years old, I’m part of the generation that was introduced to Snoop Doggy Dogg simultaneous to my obsession, addiction and love affair with Hip Hop. A year before Ol’ Dirty Bastard and 20 before Chief Keef, Snoop was the rawest musical entertainer I had ever seen—coming into my apartment living-room by way of MTV. At a time when the big budget Rap music video was arguably at its artistic peak, Snoop was sitting on the medium’s handle-bars in a Pittsburgh Penguins jersey. The epitome of early ’90s cool reigned with sleepy-eyes, twisting up his fingers and flipping his freestyle-like words with smooth, effortless precision.
By virtue of “Deep Cover” and two of The Chronic’s three singles (“Nuthin’ But A ‘G’ Thang” and “Fuck Wit Dre Day”), Snoop was delivered to the mainstream in several different lights. On one hand, he could be the mellow, apathetic street kid seen riding shotgun in Dre’s ’64 Impala in the middle of an indo nod—an archetype currently revisited by Wiz Khalifa and Curren$y. In another look, Snoop paced anxiously in circles, wielding threats to West Coast pioneer Eazy-E and Bronx bully Tim Dog, people he presumably had never interacted with. This persona of the fearless young sidekick has popped up in beefs time and time again in the last three decades, from Young Buck to Gunplay. Unlike many of the enforcers of present, Snoop brandished his lyrical abilities and fly-guy humor, still boldly throwing in a “toe-to-toe” offer to one of the biggest tough-guy-on-record rappers of the day. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde thrived in one artist, and anybody following the headlines in the day believed it. While he was on trial for murder and frequently arrested in traffic stops, the authentic gangsta rapper still somehow seemed like an approachable star. Snoop was multi-dimensional, and afforded one of the most versatile producers in music, the possibilities seemed infinite leading up to his burgeoning debut.
“I’m one rude bwoy comin’ with the wickedness / So shut the fuck up and listen while I’m kickin’ this” – Snoop Dogg, “Pump, Pump”
Twenty years ago this November, Snoop’s Doggystyle was a must-own album; it’s been reissued several times to keep up with five-times-platinum demands since its #1 debut. In my circle of friends, from the cover art to the comedic videos to the incredible music created by Snoop, Dre and the eventual-all-star ensemble, it was a conversation piece. The album’s raw contents made it appealing to non-Rap fans, young and old. In more sophisticated circles, the album was praised on greater criteria—perhaps Dr. Dre’s finest production to date, a new lexicon of Slang Rap and one of the most engaging laid back deliveries since Smooth B. Chris Rock would later consider it the second-best Hip Hop of all-time, and I personally cannot find any reason to vehemently disagree.
But why don’t we hear that more often?
Although Death Row Records was the label that seemingly had the most support in the last years of the Golden-Era, few could argue that their flagship releases (The Chronic, All Eyez On Me, and Doggystyle) cannot comfortably wear the jacket of “classic album.” Whereas Nas’ Illmatic and Jay-Z’s Reasonable Doubt are far from the emcees’ best-selling albums, both releases frequently—to me, anyway—pop up in “favorite album” discussions. You would be hard-pressed to make a case that Doggystyle, Snoop’s runaway best-seller, isn’t his finest musical hour, and still… the album goes under history’s radar.
It’s A Doggy Dogg World
Still, like contemporaries Nas, Jay-Z and Raekwon—as well as later, 50 Cent, Lupe Fiasco and Game—Snoop Dogg remains judged against his debut. The rawness heard on “Tha Shiznit” and “Pump, Pump” rarely appeared on the 10 studio albums following Doggystyle (not to mention the overdose of vanity projects). Never having a completely Dr. Dre-helmed album again, production remained at the core of the criticism against Snoop’s late ‘90s and 2000s work. Acquitted in the real-life Murder Was The Case three-year trial, Snoop’s “187” references were muffled as a matured artist transitioned from rapping about weapons to rapping, almost exclusively, about women and weed. Whereas artists like the aforementioned trio (Nas, Jay, Rae) have been encouraged and later praised for calling back to the their origins, Snoop has not been as effective. Misguided sequels like “Gin & Juice II” and “Still A G Thang” went ignored on the D-O-double-G’s third album, Da Game Is To Be Sold, Not To Be Told, and “Snoop Dogg (What’s My Name, Pt. 2)” was a disjointed single from what was promised to be a G-Funk reunion on Tha Last Meal. As a result, Snoop Dogg seemingly continued to play many parts in his own artistic variety show.
It will have been 15 years this August since Snoop Dogg has had a #1 album. In that period, he has been a part of three #1 singles (his own “Drop It Like It’s Hot,” as well as Akon’s “I Wanna Love You” and Katy Perry’s “California Gurls”). He’s also contended with at least one Top 10 single nearly every year of his lengthy career, often multiple times over. One of the most durable Hip Hop stars of all-time knows how to make a hit, he just has a challenging time selling the album they belong to.
Admittedly, post-Death Row, Blue Carpet Treatment is the only album from my first “favorite emcee” that I’ve found worth keeping in my music collection. I’ve purchased a plethora of Snoop’s albums—often on release day—and it’s just not music that really ages gracefully to me. That’s not me criticizing the artist either—as Snoop’s been more consistent and reliable than many artists who dominated the charts and year-end lists of the early ‘90s. It is what it is; I wished Django Unchained had the script consideration of Reservoir Dogs, and I lost interest in Seinfeld after Larry David left and the show was character-based. Art suffers from its own virginity complex, and many of us are stuck wishing Snoop rhymed like he did when he was short-haired and penniless.
That said, even in a culture where Snoop Lion’s Reincarnated doesn’t mean much to me, I rally that Calvin Broadus’ merits to Hip Hop are under-sung.
It Ain’t No Fun (If The Homie Can’t Have None)
Snoop Dogg has been a Hip Hop historian. Just as Jay-Z “overcharged niggas for what they did to the Cold Crush” and Nas orated Rakim’s life-story without permission, Snoop praised guys like Slick Rick, Too Short, Dana Dane, Biz Markie—covering their songs (often as singles) on big budget albums. He signed MC Eiht and Kam (with Goldie Loc as “Warzone“) and was instrumental in helping Special Ed consider a comeback a decade ago. When Snoop got an executive position at the revived Priority Records imprint, he personally re-released albums from friends (Master P’s Ghetto D) and foes (Eazy-E’s Eazy-Duz-It), and worked on helping Cypress Hill re-brand with a new LP. More than just his childhood favorite rappers, Snoop’s had more artists on his back seemingly than the whole Wu-Tang umbrella. From 213 to Eastsidaz, Doggy’s Angels to Dubb Union, Snoop’s introduced groups. From Daz Dillinger, Soopafly, Bad Azz, Mac Shawn, RBX and The Lady Of Rage, Snoop has also seemingly provided career shelter to many of his former Death Row “inmatez.” Doggystyle Records has housed various acts that at times, were involved in campaigns to compete with or downright defame Snoop. The forgiving star still provides outlets to artists who would be hard-pressed to find them elsewhere. Hardcore West Coast Hip Hop fans may remember how frequently Snoop’s name would pop up on the featured guests of a Murder Dog magazine album ad. To paraphrase his mid-‘90s ally Tupac, Snoop seems to “care, when don’t nobody else care.”
The first time I met Snoop, for a 2008 Source cover-story, Long Beach’s finest had a star-studded entourage with him: Daz, DJ Quik, Teddy Riley, Too Short, Mistah F.A.B., Soopafly, Bishop Don Magic Juan, Terrace Martin and a host of others were sharing Snoop’s floor at Midtown Manhattan’s W Hotel. Tha Doggfather is a provider of opportunity, fame and presumably, fortune. At a time where figures like Jaz-O, Consequence and Young Buck are often standing in the wings crying foul of the artists they believed owed them more in return, we’ve rarely heard a disgruntled peer of Snoop.
As the chart numbers suggest, Snoop is also deeply accessible. It’s why Hot Pockets, AOL and Orbitz gum pay big sums to get “Doggy Fizzle” in their ads. It’s why Katy Perry sought out a guest 13 years her senior to help her reach teeny-bop masses. Snoop feels edgy. We all know his visual associations with smoke, hydraulics and harems of women, and pop culture uses it. Snoop is Dolemite, Goldie and Huggy Bear (as he played in the wretched “Starsky & Hutch” cinematic remake) in one, and many generations “get it.”
The Game Is To Be Sold, Not To Be Told
Behind the scenes, Snoop Dogg led the charge to reunite a spiritually and commercially scarred coast in the mid-2000s. He hosted an event that welcomed even former nemesis Suge Knight in Protect The West Summit, something that did not get the recognition it deserved. He played peacemaker in settling a violent on-and-off record beef between Quik and Eiht. He attends Saviours Day, donates money to youth football leagues and brokers deals in and out of music for his friends. Whether the emergence of Game a decade ago or the recent reign of Kendrick Lamar and Black Hippy, Snoop Dogg is always there—not hating, but congratulating. Few of these items get the press push of Snoop changing his name, or the rapper making a cameo in a commercial or bad TV show episode.
“If you don’t know me by now, you’ll never know me / I never won a Grammy, I won’t win a Tony.” – KRS-One, “MC’s Act Like They Don’t Know”
My parents (and even my grandmother) know who Snoop Dogg is in one way. My teenage cousins know who Snoop is in other ways. My fellow music critics know Snoop in another. While Jay-Z has ascended to become a pillar of our culture at black tie events and inaugurations, The Fresh Prince has skyrocketed to chase Oscar gold, Snoop Dogg may be the most recognizable Rap star of our time. His commodity may simply be commerce, but while Snoop has never seemingly taken himself as seriously as Eminem, Lil Wayne or Kanye West, he’s been their “big homie” peer since before they got here.
Snoop rapped about his several labels in his hit records, bringing profile to the brand. He launched two television series on two different networks. With some sprinkled in controversy, the man made both The MTV Video Music Awards and The Source Awards meaningful to new audiences. Snoop (with nods to E-40 and Mac Minister), helped a legion of my fellow White folks look stupid throwing “izzle” on the end of words. Snoop’s early words helped tear the Rap regions apart, and he was instrumental in sewing them back together. Snoop reinvented his sound many times over, and helped producers ranging from Dr. Dre, Timbaland, Pharrell and Shawty Redd reinvent theirs. Snoop Dogg has been a linchpin in this culture since his 1992 entrance, even if he’s absent on far too many G.O.A.T. album lists and Top 5 Dead or Alive’s. Best of all, the 41 year-old has been too busy to care.
I have no stake in the recent headlines debating Snoop Lion’s public alignment with the Rastafarian Movement. Honestly, I care about that as much as I care about Reincarnated. I’m willing to bet now that the release has no problem ushering a hit single, and I suspect that it’s album chart performance will be a far cry from blockbuster status. But in a benchmark year for a classic debut album, it’s impossible for me not to take audit of the artist (my pre-adolescent favorite at that) who made it and not wonder how much his art, his personality and his endurance have done for Hip Hop.
Jake Paine has been the Editor-In-Chief of HipHopDX from 2008 until earlier this year, when he announced his resignation. He has written for Forbes.com XXL, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and others. He lives in Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter (@Citizen__Paine)