Happy Born Day to the legend that is Snoop Dogg! In honor of the occasion, West Coast Styles is reposting an editorial from the editor-in-chief that was originally published in November of last year saluting Snoop and acknowledging his iconic legacy.
On August 11, 1973, at 1520 Sedgewick Avenue in the Bronx, New York, DJ Kool Herc invented Hip-Hop at a “Back-to-School Jam.” Forty-seven years later, Herc’s creation has become a global phenomenon, and its reach is beyond anything any of those partygoers could’ve ever imagined. One of the many reasons it has endured is because it has evolved, and to do so, it has needed to adapt. And because of this, very few people last more than a few trips around the sun. Therefore, it is important to acknowledge those who do. It’s a testament to their abilities and a way to recognize their continuous influence on the ever-changing landscape of popular culture. To maintain such high standards over so much diverse and uncharted terrain is no easy feat. And in the history of Hip-Hop, no one has done that better than Snoop Dogg. And so it would be an insult to him, the culture he has helped shape, and everyone whose life he’s made a difference not to give him the props he deserves. Five-year-olds and eighty-five-year-olds from all walks of life know who Snoop is, and Hip-Hop is as big as it’s ever been. That is no coincidence.
Snoop Dogg was something special right from the jump. He debuted as a featured artist in 1992 on Dr. Dre’s first solo song, “Deep Cover.” Snoop’s laid-back flow was instantly memorable amidst the eerie bass of Dre’s haunting track. At the 1:47 mark, “Creep with me as I crawl through the hood / Maniac, lunatic, call him Snoop Eastwood.” While Snoop’s rhyme was certainly gangsta in its content, Dre’s overtly aggressive and intimidating baritone delivery one verse prior was still indeed a contrast to his new protege’s. “Killing motherfuckers if I have to, peeling caps too / Cause you niggas know I’m coming at you.” The difference between the two is that the first reflects existence in a troubled society, but the second causes trouble. It is subtle, but it’s recognized and ultimately presents a notable distinction. That’s why their next collaborations’ most memorable moments are more about having fun than drive-by shootings despite the attention that Dre’s previous hardcore Hip-Hop had generated with direct violence on releases like N.W.A.’s Straight Outta Compton and Efil4zaggin.
The legendary single, “Nuthin’ But a “G” Thang” (feat. Snoop), from Dr. Dre’s The Chronic, has a video that takes place at a barbeque and “Gin & Juice,” a classic cut from Snoop’s masterful debut, Doggystyle, has one that takes place at a house party. Before Snoop, gangsta rap created with the intent to shock inevitably had to top itself. That is why some explicit rhymes even reached comical proportions (see N.W.A.’s “One Less Bitch”). Snoop Dogg, on the other hand, was fun and charismatic, and so rather than brutally kill people, he made party music. The attendees of the said party just happened to be strapped too. That one extra degree of separation made him more engaging to the masses and still provided an element of danger that intrigued listeners and made them want to hear more. It’s how he has equally appealed to the streets and the suburbs without compromising anything for so long. His past as a drug dealer gave him authenticity in his depictions of ghetto life. However, he also “kept it real” enough by not doing gangsta shit every day despite still being caught up in that environment because Snoop understood, if he said he did, that’s not reality either. One case in point: his classic cover of “La Di Da Di”: He spends the better part of the first verse simply describing waking up and getting ready in the morning. Another is the insanely underrated “What a Job,” where, alongside Devin the Dude and Andre 3000, they discuss how a rap career still takes its toll, like any conventional 9-5 gig – despite the fortune and fame. Ultimately, it was relatable. And relatable in a way most gangsta rap isn’t, at least to the majority of people who listen to it. And that’s one reason he has endured for over a quarter of a century on the mic.
After a particularly trying year for Snoop, 1996, wherein Dr. Dre left Death Row Records (the label that Dre co-founded and signed Snoop), he was also found not guilty of murder charges. Plus, his friend Tupac Shakur got killed, his second album, Tha Doggfather, was panned by critics, and his boss, Suge Knight, went to jail. Snoop then went and signed with rap mogul Master P and his No Limit Records label. And over his time at No Limit, his style expanded, and he meshed wonderfully with No Limit’s southern aesthetic. Some classic records Snoop participated in with No Limit are, but aren’t limited to, “Down 4 My N’s,” “Who Got The Fire,” and “War Wounds.” At that time, no rapper from one region had been so openly embraced by another. Unity like that was rare. Even more importantly, this was especially noteworthy considering Hip-Hop was still reeling from the recent deaths of Tupac and The Notorious B.I.G. It’s not only a testament to P’s business acumen but also Snoop’s ability to adjust to a new environment. (When they first connected, P even famously paid Snoop $35,000 after he only asked for $3,500 for a guest appearance on Mystikal’s song, “Gangstas.”). Snoop’s third album, Da Game Is to Be Sold, Not Told, received a lukewarm reception when it dropped. But in hindsight, Beats by The Pound did their thing, and Meech Well’s instrumental for “Still a ‘G’ Thang” was a perfect precursor for the more Westside-influenced follow-up, No Limit Top Dogg. Snoop’s last of his three No Limit albums, Tha Last Meal, was released jointly with Snoop’s new label, Doggy Style, in 2000. And that topped the Hip-Hop album charts for four straight weeks at the end of the year, during the highly competitive fourth-quarter sales push of the holiday season.
As a result of his fourth and fifth albums’ critical and commercial successes, Snoop capitalized on his revitalized popularity and, in addition to collaborating with Dr. Dre on Dre’s classic sequel to The Chronic, 2001, in late 1999, he also used his stature to showcase other artists. In 2000, Snoop released an album as part of Tha Eastsidaz on Doggy Style, and their eponymous debut went platinum. Additionally, at a time before YouTube, when B.E.T.’s Uncut ruled late-night weekend television, Snoop upped the ante and set a trend of hosting X-rated films. He also gave outstanding performances in mainstream movies alongside Pam Grier and Denzel Washington in Bones and Training Day. The slang that he introduced to many, especially ‘izzle’ from his famous “Snoop Dogg [What’s My Name Pt. II]” video, kept him on the radar too. Although it’s imperative to note that Snoop gave proper credit as well, telling the press in 2003 that he brought the word into “the mainstream, but it’s a way of speaking that has been around for years. It originated in Northern California.” In 2002, MTV even gave Snoop a sketch comedy show called Doggy Fizzle Televizzle. The show not only continued to expand Snoop’s audience but kept on demonstrating his range as an actor.
With the then next generation of Hip-Hop front and center, Snoop made a point of working with current talent; the outcomes were significant songs and highlights in his collaborators’ catalogs. His assists on Chingy’s “Holidae In” and Akon’s “I Wanna Fuck You” even helped them peak at number 3 and number 1 on the Hot 100 Charts. He also provided opportunities for emerging up and coming creatives on his joints, such as Terrace Martin and Problem (“Neva Have 2 Worry”) and Frequency (“Think About It”). However, Snoop’s most substantial connection in the ’00s was when he linked up with The Neptunes. That production team, consisting of Pharell Williams and Chad Hugo, provided him with some monster records, the two most prominent being, “Beautiful” which is just that. And the tongue-clicking “Drop It Like It’s Hot,” which is one of the biggest rap hits this side of the millennium.
While Snoop could’ve easily stuck to his winning formula of G-Funk beats and gangsta rhymes, he instead opted to expand his sound too. And that, among many other things, got him rapping over a pan flute (“Special,” an often overlooked Neptunes’ jewel) and even collaborating with Willie Nelson (“My Medicine”). While some of Snoop’s experimental records, by conventional metrics, may not have been as big as, say, “Who Am I (What’s My Name)?”, they still put him in front of an audience that otherwise probably wouldn’t have known about him. That is very admirable, especially in an industry that thrives on safe bets and the tried and true. And I believe those risks paid off in the long-game for Snoop. He wouldn’t have gotten to collaborate with Katy Perry on her iconic 2010 summer pop anthem, “California Gurls,” if he still ended every album the way he did The Chronic with Dr. Dre in ’92 (“Bitches Ain’t Shit”).
Snoop didn’t just change professionally either. He seemed to evolve personally, as well. Some growth gets documented in 2012’s Reincarnated. In the film, Snoop Dogg takes a pilgrimage to Jamacia and becomes Snoop Lion in an attempt to embrace the Rastafarian life fully, record a Reggae album, and further separates himself from the reckless lifestyle that defined so much of his early life and career. The sincerity of the transformation from Dogg to Lion got scrutinized by some, but Snoop’s genuine attempts to stop gun and gang violence are undeniable. And that is incredibly powerful coming from Snoop, considering his history with both of those volatile elements. His reggae song, “No Guns Allowed,” even inspired the head of a political group, League of Young Voters, to pen an open letter commending him for using his platform to spread an anti-violence message. Snoop didn’t stop with that. He also dropped his first double album a few years later (seemingly a requirement for most big rap stars), and it wasn’t even Hip-Hop but gospel music with the release, Bible of Love. Indeed, it was a full-circle trip since his earliest performances date back to when he was a choir boy at the Golgotha Trinity Baptist Church in Long Beach, California. Snoop has said that it was “always on [his] heart,” and so it needed to be done.
At twenty-eight years deep into his career, Snoop Dogg has been a star longer than some of his fans have been alive. Unlike his contemporaries, he has always remained relevant and credible in his initial field of rap music. On his first album, Doggystyle, in 1993, Snoop freestyled “Tha Shiznit,” which was so dope that The Notorious B.I.G. even sampled it on his debut album’s intro as a powerful song of that era. In May of 2020, he rhymed partially in Spanish on “Que Maldicion” with Banda MS, a group that makes “banda,” a type of regional Mexican music, and it reached number 1 on the Bubbling Under the Hot 100 Chart. The ability to excel and expand in one area at such a high level is truly remarkable, especially in something as relatively young and youthful as Hip-Hop. And it is from that springboard he always has and continues to use to propel him into various cultural facets. His notoriety has also resulted in a spotlight being shined on his humanitarian efforts as well. From his role with the youth football league in Los Angeles since 2005 to him speaking with Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck in 2016 about improving relationships between law enforcement and the communities they serve, Snoop has always made a point of giving back. Those are the types of accolades that shine even brighter than his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Some rappers have sold more albums than Snoop. Some have more money. But none are more famous. And not in a negative way either, but in a sense that he extends himself more than most. And because his versatility seemingly knows no bounds, it has allowed him to affect a diverse group of people in ways that very few are privy. An ambassador is a representative or messenger. And no one has carried the flag for Hip-Hop as far and wide as Snoop has. He is Hip-Hop’s most extraordinary ambassador, and that deserves celebration. Because if it weren’t for him, Hip-Hop wouldn’t have the power it does today. Respect due.