Snoop Doggy Dogg is doing the laundry. Literally. The top gangsta rapper, who shares the title of most contentious entertainer in the United States with Michael Jackson, is holding a soaking brown rag in one hand and a Rizla full with “chronic” in the other. The dishes are being done by America’s Most Wanted, indeed.
“It looks like a cigarette, it burns like a cigarette, it even feels like a cigarette,” drawls the six-foot-four hip hopper, dragging on the murderously potent reefer, putting down a soapy baking tray and pausing for comic effect. “But it sure don’t taste like a cigarette.”
Snoop Doggy Dogg grins, crosses the room to crank up the volume on his beautiful vintage Wurlitzer crammed with beautiful vintage hits (Cameo, The Isley Brothers, Earth, Wind & Fire, Stevie Wonder, Kool & The Gang, Curtis Mayfield, all the soul/disco greats whose influence – and samples – you can hear on Doggystyle), then goes back to playing New Man at the sink.
Snoop’s troublesome little pal Malik, the 14-year-old freestyle prodigy from the group Illegal (imagine Musical Youth with swear words) who recently threatened a hapless journalist with a gun (“Gimme the gat, I’m a smoke this bitch), bounces into the open-plan living-room/kitchen, squirts jets of highly flammable Afro hair lacquer all over the place and nearly sets fire to a frying pan’s worth of hot cooking oil in the process.
Meanwhile, Doggystyle sleeve artist Joe Cool – the designer responsible for the cartoon female with her face in the kennel and her ass in the air – sucks in some chronic smoke then plays with his baby as Boo Boo, Snoop’s girlfriend of the last three years, reads a review in Rolling Stone comparing Ice Cube’s Lethal Injection (two stars) with America’s Number One record, Doggystyle (four stars).
Boo Boo, a small, quiet, neat young woman dressed in simple casualwear, approaches her Brillo Pad-totin’ boyfriend. Snoop, towering way above Boo Boo, wipes his hands and pulls her towards him. The pair embrace. Snoop bends down and plants a kiss on Boo Boo’s forehead.
Snoop does that. Yeah, that Snoop. The kid from Long Beach who spent his first three years after High School hopping in and out the county jail for peddling cocaine. The notorious word-juggler whose debut LP is full of misogynistic asides (“The bitches ain’t shit to me”) and ups the ante vis a vis the “realness” of rap with tracks like Murder Was The Case and Serial Killa. The performer and former “Long Beach Crips” gang member who inspired America’s Newsweek to publish an essay on the astonishingly popular (with blacks and whites) new gangsta noise. The man who, last autumn, was indicted for murder. Hey, everybody: meet Snoop Doggy Dogg, rap’s Mr Nice, rap’s Mr Nasty. Shit. This is going to be complicated.
Doggystyle is brilliant, possibly the finest hip hop record since Public Enemy’s Fear Of A Black Planet, although instead of frantic and dramatic, it’s atmospheric and melodic. Produced by erstwhile Nigga With Attitude Dr Dre (whose own multi-platinum meisterwerk, The Chronic, introduced Snoop’s lemally laid-back raps to America), Doggystyle condenses the best of the last 20 years of blaxploitation film scores (Superfly, Shaft), moody Moog-driven John Carpenter-ish soundtracks (Assault On Precinct 13), fat P-Funk basslines (George Clinton, Bootsy), symphonic Seventies soul (Blue Magic, The Dramatics – the latter actually sing on Doggystyle) and metallic Eighties dance into 55 minutes of slick, slow-burning, intense West Coast future funk. Doggystyle is brilliant, all right.
It is not, however, a cuddly alternative to file alongside Cypress Hill’s Black Sunday. Do not for one second expect to find hordes of T-shirt types moshing along to Gin And Juice or Who Am I?, the way they do to Ain’t Going Out Like That or Insane In The Brain down the local indie student disco. Doggystyle is the unacceptable face of contemporary rap.
PC it is not. It is Sam Kinison (or rather, Andrew Dice Clay) with a hip hop beat. It is a hard, heavy, often humorous, occasionally harrowing journey through the mind of a young man who has seen the inside of a prison cell and stared down the barrel of a gun. It deals with the problems of fame (Rolling Stone called it “the rap In Utero”) and the realities of ghetto violence without coming to any conclusions about either.
Doggystyle features luscious music and ugly lyrics. It is compulsive and “offensive” – that is, if it is possible to be offended by MERE WORDS in this day and age – and it was made by a shy, polite 22 year old with a history of gangbanging and a seemingly pathological contempt for women in particular and society in general.
You will love it. You should hate it. Maybe you’ll do both. Whatever, it will get a reaction. That is the function of art. Doggystyle inadvertently poses the question: how far should art go? Whatever, your answer ought to be: all the way. Told you this was complicated.
Calvin Broadus aka Snoop Doggy Dogg and I are talking inside that black 4X4 Grand Cherokee Jeep, the one which Snoop drove that fateful day last August 25 when his bodyguard allegedly shot and killed gang rival Phillip Woldemariam.
Snoop is sitting in the front passenger seat, I am in the back. He only turns round once, to give me a visual account of the occasion when, aged 15, he was almost shot and killed himself. The rest of the time, he faces front, answering my questions with the same soft southern voice he uses to rap.
It is hot and dark (the Jeep is parked in a garage below his rented apartment, in a leafy suburb about 20 minutes outside Hollywood). The seats are warm and sticky and the air is…well, there is no air. Any day now, Snoop is due in court: he may have to spend the rest of his life in prison. In precisely 12 hours, Los Angeles will be hit by a devastating earthquake.
We haven’t much time. Snoop, are you worried about going to jail? “Not at all,” he says, equal parts diffidence and arrogance. “It’s in God’s hands. He gon’ take care of everything. If it’s meant for me to go to that place and do what I gotta do, I’ll do it.”
What was it like when you were in jail before? “That shit was scary cuz I just turned 18,” he replies. “It was a whole ‘nother step of life. But I didn’t cry myself to sleep or nothin’. You can’t show no weakness, cuz then you’ll be stuck. You gotta handle yourself like a professional.”
Snoop seems to nave gone from delinquent no-hoper to teen role model overnight. How does it feel to be one of America’s most famous pop stars? “That shit is kinda crazy,” he begins, “cuz at school I always used to listen to Michael Jackson, Marvin Gaye, Al Green, whatever. Now I look at it like: he’s the biggest – he’s bigger than me – but ain’t nobody else bigger than me but Michael Jackson.”
Michael Jackson, Mike Tyson: black entertainers haven’t been having too good a time of late. Do you worry about your own position?
“You gotta worry about it. Because Mike Tyson was one of the richest black men in America when he was charged with that shit,” he says, referring to the rape charge that put the boxer in prison. “And from what I hear, he didn’t even have sexual intercourse with her, and he got all locked up.”
Some conspiracy theorists have suggested that the US authorities don’t like it when black Americans get too popular and, er, arrange for them to be brought to heel.
“Exactly. When we get too powerful, they gotta pump our brakes, cuz there’s never been a black President. And that’s what the whole world’s fearing right now. And the thing is, as big as this rap shit is, who knows: maybe I could run for President one day.”
Do you feel like you’re being deliberately kept down?
Are you being followed or having your phones tapped? (I noticed that, every time Snoop answered the phone upstairs, he waited for the caller to speak first, just in case.)
“Those motherfuckers don’t play like that.”
Are you prepared to face anybody who stands in your way?
“I’m ready to handle my business for any situation I get caught up in.”
You are certainly the centre of one hell of a lot of attention at the moment. Do you think anybody would dare take a shot at you?
“Yeah,” Snoop sighs. “I’m standing up for what’s right, and they don’t like that. I feel like I’m Malcolm X right now.”
Malcolm X. Michael Jackson. Mike Tyson. Snoop Doggy Dogg knows his place – way up there with The Greats.
Snoop also invokes Presley (“I deal with shit nobody else has done before. Not even Elvis.”), the recently retired basketball giant Michael Jordan (“That’s the way I should go out. I should do four albums, 35 to 40 million records sold, leave at my prime better than anyone in the game.”), even Martin Luther King (“Black people are sayin’, Fuck it, you’ve got this much power, you could be tryin’ to say: don’t do drugs, and, hey, stop this. But Martin Luther King tried that shit. It didn’t work.”).
Millions of people have elevated Snoop to these giddy heights, made him the patron saint of rap. There are those, however, who regard him as the Anti-Christ, the Black Pariah, a foul-mouthed, Uzi-wielding misogynist whose influence on young Americans is pernicious.
“It,” he says of Doggystyle, the cause of all these extreme feelings, “is about what I grew up with, what I been through, what goes on today. It’s just everyday life, if it didn’t happen, I couldn’t make money off it. If this shit didn’t occur, there wouldn’t be no people buyin’ it.
“I would like the people makin’ these comments,” he numbers his detractors, “to spend one week in the neighbourhood I grew up in, and then maybe they’ll understand. I’m just speakin’ real.”
Cue bizarre analogy.
“It’s like, in Sweden there’s no violence. Now, if a motherfucker came out there kickin’ a Sweden rap about killin’ motherfuckers and rapin’ hoes, it wouldn’t sell because it don’t take place there.”
Whereas in America…
“Groupie girls come up to us [Snoop and his Dogg Pound crew] after the show and just wanna have sex with us and don’t wanna give us their name, youknowhumsayin’? Shit like that. We know it takes place – there’s always been groupies, always been girls who sayin’ this person raped ’em or this person got me pregnant. I try to eliminate that shit by bringing it up.”
Do you hate women?
“Not at all,” he explains patiently. “I don’t hate nobody. I dislike women who conduct themselves as bitches and hoes or groupies who come backstage after a show and they don’t know nobody’s name and they wanna suck dick and fuck everybody and they wanna make a case about it, the way they tried to do to Tupac [former Digital Underground man and co-star in Janet Jackson’s Poetic Justice who was recently charged with rape]. I think he’s innocent.”
Interestingly, Kelley Deal of the Breeders chose Nuthin’ But A ‘G’ Thang, the Snoop/Dre million seller (sample lyric: “If the bitches talk shit I have to put the smack down”), as one of her picks of 1993 in Rolling Stone. “Makes me want to fuck,” she said.
“The way I conduct myself,” says Snoop, “I see a lot of women be scared to holler at me, and I come to them and make them feel comfortable and it just erases it all out their mind.
“You know,” he adds, “black women be sayin’, I like your music an’ all, but you ought to stop callin’ women bitches and hoes. But I just tell ’em, You gotta understand there’s black women out there who don’t conduct themselves like that, and I feel this is the only way to stop them.”
Fact: for every offended listener, there are thousands – women as well as men – in thrall to the Dogg magic.
It’s like this and like that and like this and a…
“I dunno,” Snoop pauses before opening up, “I really don’t understand women exactly, to be real with ya.” He laughs, then continues. “It’s crazy, man. But I do respect all women, on the whole.”
That line from ‘Ain’t No Fun’ – “As the sun rotates and my game gets bigger/How many bitches wanna fuck this nigger?” – is not only (unintentionally?) hilarious, it’s also highly illuminating. Did Snoop have a bad experience when he was younger, perchance? (I knew that amateur psychology course IPC made me go on would come in handy one day.)
“Exactly,” says Snoop, realising he’s been had.
Don’t tell me – you got chucked and it fucked you up.
“Mm hmmm,” he smiles, remembering Annie Mae or whoever. “Break a nigger down mentally. Cuz when you young, you call it puppy love, and I didn’t understand it, and it broke my heart. But it wouldn’t break my heart now cuz I’m too advanced. I didn’t know what life was all about back then, and it meant the world to me. But I have more to live for now.”
Like his music and his fans. And Boo Boo, who is carrying his child. It may shock, even stagger you to learn that, despite the bravado and bitch-dissin’ braggadocio, Snoop has been faithful to his girlfriend for three years.
“I stay by her side, yeah. With all this rap shit goin’ on, you tend to find it’s hard to stay faithful, motherfuckers feel that I be fuckin’ a whole bunch of bitches and doin’ this and that. But I ain’t got time. I don’t wanna be in no position where a female gonna be suin’ me for rape.”
Jesus. That’s some discovery. IT’S ALL AN ACT!
As Snoop says, “When the tape goes off, it’s a whole different thing.”
Snoop likens Doggystyle to a movie and agrees when I say it’s ridiculous to suggest there’s a causal relationship between fantasy and real violence.
“Rap is just the biggest music in the world right now, and it’s got the most attention on it. But,” he reasons, “I can’t tell you what motherfuckers are gonna do over my music. I just put the music out there and expect a positive response.”
Besides, there was blood on the streets way before Fuck Tha Police, Schoolly D, or whatever. Snoop is pleased with this assertion.
“Clint Eastwood, Charles Bronson, Al Capone [?l] – they can kill up a million motherfuckers in their movies and create bad images for the kids, but once they get off the screen everybody praises them and loves them,” he barks. “But when we do our art in me studio, we get criticised for it, rather than let it go for what it is – confession. You’d never sweat Charles Bronson about havin’ no gun, so why you sweatin’ me?”
But is it really just play-acting? How about all the shooting incidents detailed on the album – are those made up? Has Snoop ever been shot?
“Hell yeah,” he stresses the first word. “Hell yeah” he stresses the second. “That first album NWA did – I was livin’ that shit. I don’t think they was livin’ that shit, they just knew about it. I almost lost my life so many times! I’ve been shot at with an AK 47 like from this little grey thing there,” he points at the garage wall two feet in front.
Did they miss?
“This is what the police report said: the reason why I didn’t get shot was cuz the motherfucker who was shootin’ the gun couldn’t control it, and it went up. All he had to do was hold it straight and just shoot and I’d have been through.”
Was this a one off?
“This was everyday!” he recalls his gangbanging years without flinching. “Motherfuckers would drive by all the time. One time, me and my homeboy we was in this apartment complex and this car comes round the corner real slow – and they got a hatchback, right? – I see the motherfucker, he layin’ back and he cocks his gun. Then he drive by real slow. And I say cous’ [cousin], he got a gun, so we start runnin’ back the other way. They pull over and I swear to God I open the door [of the apartment] and I heard BANG! And I close the door fast. I thought I was shot.
“I seen so many of my homeboys get killed. I seen my homeboy get all this shit here in his calf,” he points at imaginary gun wounds on his leg, “and he be layin’ there in the street, hobblin’.”
Snoop recently told an American reporter, “The other day I was looking at an old picture from back when I used to play football, and like of 28 homies on the team, 12 are dead, seven are in the penitentiary, three of them are smoked out.”
Today, Snoop worries that gang members are getting younger. (“When I started, they were like 15, 16, 17. Now they’re like 12, 13, 14. And the media makes it look good to be a gangster. They say we glorify violence. No. The media glorifies violence.”) But – and here’s where things get complicated again – he wants to discourage them while at the same time relishing his power over a considerable portion of the nation’s youth.
“All these major magazines… when they put me on Newsweek, they don’t understand that Senators read that shit!” he says, awestruck at his own potential. “Motherfuckers in The White House read that shit! When they flip through the pages, they like, ‘Damn!'”
Are you a genuine threat?
“I feel they see me as a threat,” says Snoop, peering out the window into the midday darkness. “Cuz motherfuckers love Snoop Doggy. I’m an inspiration for a whole lot of people, people who don’t even know me.
“But they,” he says, momentarily riled, fingering the forces of authority, black and white, “don’t understand me. The black leaders don’t have no control over me, and that’s what’s making them scared. The White House and the politicians have control of all the black leaders. Jesse Jackson, all them motherfuckers are in their control.”
Do you feel particular animosity towards the police?
“There’s some good police, I can’t even lie,” Snoop comes clean. “It’s like, the majority of ’em don’t give a fuck – 911 Is A Joke [Public Enemy’s critique of America’s emergency services]. But there’s a few good ones out there who try to discipline the kids, not just, if you sellin’ dope and they catch you, they try to send you to the pen to do three years.”
Which is exactly what happened to Snoop when he left school. Not that his period in prison, nor his recent run-in with the law, have curbed his antipathy towards authority. As the man says, “I don’t give a fuck.”
But what do the authorities think of Snoop?
“They fear me,” he says, turning round for only the second time today and fixing me with the implacable stare of a man with nothing to prove. “I could take control of every young gang member out there on the streets and just launch an attack on them. Fuck it.”
And then he’s off. The charismatic rapper jumps out the Jeep, pulls his Death Row cap over his face and disappears up the street. America’s Most Wanted is on the loose.