Here in Elysian Park, on a cool Earth Day afternoon, Snoop Dogg and his reunited brethren in Tha Dogg Pound are gathered for their first video shoot in years. But, this being a Snoop joint, the shoot/picnic is much more than a reunion for Long Beach’s most beloved rap posse. It’s also a bona fide gathering of the West Coast tribes: a barbecue-eating, 40-ounce-drinking swarm of all-star homies throwing up West Coast hand signs, with bouncing Impalas, fat beats and the smell of Mary Jane thick in the spring air, all presided over by the swaying, slender Snoop Dogg, braided up and blunted down for the occasion. Even the red-tail hawks seem to want some of the action.
You think Snoop’s not the Alpha Dogg? Check out the celebrity lineup he’s attracted to this set: Too $hort, Ice Cube, King Tee and Yo Yo, DJ Quik and Battlecat, Cypress Hill’s B-Real, Warren G, MC Eiht, Kam, WC, Xzibit and a hip-hop cast of hundreds. KDAY’s Julio G. gets behind the turntables, while Power 106’s Big Boy cooks up some carne asada on a grill. And it seems every female eye in the park is fixated on Tyrese, Snoop’s co-star in Baby Boy.
This is a classic West Coast moment and, appropriately, the video will turn out to be a straight-up homage to Dr. Dre’s ’92 “Nuthin’ But a G Thang” (which featured a much younger Snoop in one of his first major appearances). “Cali Iz Active,” the title track for the new album, is also a bit of a throwback, an electro-funk party jam with a gangsta flavor — “I’m from Cali, the birth of the Impala/6-4, old school, them boys got dollas,” spits Daz. Pure L.A. Pure West Coast.
You could say this gathering is history in the making; it’s certainly a family reunion for one of the most talented and turbulent clans in rap. That’s not lost on anyone here today, from the underground icons to the mainstream stars.
“It’s a long time coming,” says DJ Quik (who grew up among Bloods), energized after performing his version of the Crip walk, a.k.a. the “G” twirl. The Dilated Peoples’ Rakaa concurs: “It’s a beautiful thing to see everybody up here supporting Snoop, Daz, Kurupt and the whole DPG family.”
“It’s a blessing and honor,” adds DJ Babu. “Snoop’s like the mayor out here.”
As the burgers, hot dogs, ribs and carne asada sizzle on the grills, Snoop predicts: “People will be waiting in line to get a plate of this West Coast shit! Tha Dogg Pound don’t sound like the last time you heard them 10 years ago. We sound like some new, fresh, fly talent that’s able to do it fluid. When we drop this album, it’s gonna shake the whole game up.” Sure, that’s what rappers always say before a new album drops. But like a California earthquake, Snoop is dead serious.
A few days earlier, we’re at Snoop’s “Crippin’ Kitchen,” his low-pro, undisclosed, members-only recording studio in Hollyhood, where Tha Dogg Pound are finishing some Cali Iz Active tracks and working on new tracks.
“IF DOGG DIDN’T CALL YOU, YOU CAN’T COME IN!!!” warns the sign on the door, which is guarded by big ol’ black dudes. I’m introduced to Snoop, who has half his hair braided and the other half fro’d out. And like the natural-born leader that he is, he says to me — with a fat blunt hangin’ from his lip, exhaling smoke — “Everything you do today is gonna be a first.”
In a room choked with smoke and coughs and hysterical laughs, Snoop sits down to grub on chicken and waffles, Funyuns and chips. (Smoking the best weed can make a brother hungry.) Although the studio is full of action — with rappers, bodyguards and friends all swirling around him — Snoop is still; his focus is like a laser beam. “I might get you some muthafuckin’ head while you doing this interview — and let that be a first!” he jokes. (Hey, like the Dogg said, it ain’t no fun if the homies can’t have none — unfortunately, though, the only thing I’ll leave with is a Snoop-induced high.)
Inside the studio, its walls lined with platinum and gold records, as well as framed music magazine covers — Snoop and Tha Dogg Pound are planning a West Coast musical takeover. With Cali Iz Active, Snoop and Tha Dogg Pound are laying down blueprints for a future built on an O.G. past. It’s been more than 10 years since Tha Dogg Pound — Daz Dillinger and Kurupt Young Gotti — released their last official record, the platinum-selling Dogg Food. Ten years of discord, Death Row drama, the loss of friends like 2Pac, the fall of West Coast, and the rise of the Dirty South. During this time, Snoop’s career exploded, and he parlayed rap stardom into side careers: film star, porn mogul, pitch man, as well as father and football coach. He’s also built a reputation as a unifier, a champion of SoCal pride, touring recently, for example, with The Game — a committed Blood — on the “How the West Was One” tour. With his name recognition and power, Snoop’s trying to help not only his canine camp but the entire West Coast reclaim the airwaves and charts it once dominated.