Snoop Dogg met his latest collaborator, Dam-Funk, at a 2011 Fairfax District gallery show celebrating Joe Cool, who did the iconic artwork for Snoop's now–20-year-old debut, Doggystyle. Dam was performing at the event, and Snoop was impressed with his ability to move fluidly from the talk box to the turntables to the keytar.
As for Dam-Funk, who pronounces the first syllable of his name "Dame," he had dreamt of working with Snoop for years. "It was a natural feeling when we hooked up that night," he says. "It was unplanned, it was all organic. I'd always imagined doing music with Snoop, just connecting on a bro level."
They subsequently performed together at South by Southwest, and Dam deejayed at an anniversary party for Snoop and his wife.
Both men are 42, and both have goatees. But whereas Snoop is among the best-known people on the planet, Dam's reverence is mostly limited to music nerds and funk obsessives. A musician's musician who was bred in Pasadena, he worships — and makes music that pays homage to — funk from the late '70s to the mid-'80s. And though he draws some of the same type of fans who fill the trendy Low End Theory club night on Wednesdays, he has none of the experimental (or, as cynics might say, unmelodic) tendencies of some of the DJs who play that event.
Together Dam and Snoop call themselves 7 Days of Funk, referencing the amount of time they spent crafting their namesake album, out Dec. 10 on local indie Stones Throw. 7 Days of Funk contains the type of atmospheric jams associated with side ponytails, Jheri curl and fat gold chains, all of which can be seen in the pair's first video, "Faden Away."
For the project, Snoop has taken on the nickname Snoopzilla, in homage to Bootsy Collins. To him the record represents a personal indulgence, a vanity project with less commercial potential than almost anything he's done. Think Neil Young doing rockabilly, or Garth Brooks doing alt-rock.
For album producer Dam, however, it's a career-making turn, both an affirmation of what he's been working toward for decades and a thumbing of the nose to the local beat scene he came up in, which he feels never showed him proper respect.
On a recent Tuesday, the two are kicking it in Snoop's mammoth compound, located in a former industrial building in Inglewood, near LAX. It's still being built out; when finished, it will feature recording studios, a pee wee football field with AstroTurf and a basketball court (the hoops are already there). In the parking lot sits a pair of lowrider Cadillacs, with Snoop's name on them, and his big, black-and-yellow school bus, for hauling kids in his youth football league. On the side it pays homage to his favorite pro team, the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Upstairs in a small room filled with old records, lit only by a spinning, colored disco ball, is Snoop himself, clad in a big, yellow tee and Dickies, smoking a thin blunt. In the chair next to him, Dam smokes a clove.
They insist on being interviewed together, lavishly praising one another and emphasizing their similar musical and cultural sensibilities. The two talk shared childhood experiences while Snoop plays tracks on his laptop, including Smokey Robinson's funkified 1982 track "Tell Me Tomorrow" — "He told a bitch to 'tell me tomorrow,' not to tell me right now!" Snoop exclaims. "My mama used to bang this shit."
Of Dam, he says, "This is somebody who woke up the same time I woke up, watched the same shit, Great Space Coaster, Tom and Jerry, and ate the same Cracker Jacks." The best part, he adds, was "waiting to get the gift out the Cracker Jack box."
7 Days of Funk has a blacklight, chilled-out, overtly positive vibe, heavy on the synth, keytar and drum machines, with Snoop both rapping and singing the (completely earnest) hooks. Even a tougher-sounding line — "Niggas hit the pavement" — is about hustling hard in your chosen field rather than, say, dodging bullets.
His fans, especially the younger ones, might not find a lot here to get down to; it's odd to hear "I just got one question to ask: Do you love me?" coming from a man famous for not loving "them hoes."
Snoop has never hid his preferences for classic soul and R&B; he even got a bit retro on his 2007 hit "Sexual Eruption" — aka "Sensual Seduction" — including its disco ball–era, VHS-style video. That felt like a novelty song, however; lines like "She gonna get hers before I" felt almost tongue in cheek. Indeed, Snoop is quick to point out that while that track was given to him by producer Shawty Redd, 7 Days of Funk is much more collaborative.
Although Dam had already recorded some of the beats at his Ladera Heights home studio before he and Snoop got together, others were created jointly, they say. The idea was that the work wouldn't be too smooth or polished.
The album goes out of its way not to sound ironic. It isn't supposed to make you nostalgic for your old Prince albums — it's supposed to push funk forward. Perhaps for that reason, it's unlikely to produce a hit.
But that's not really the point. "You get to the point in your career where it's not about doing it for a contract, or to be seen or to be heard — it's about the feeling that it gives you and that it gives other people," Snoop says.
This is the next logical step in Snoop's evolution following his reggae project from earlier this year, Reincarnated, which saw him travel to Jamaica and pledge to tone down the violence and misogyny in his music.
"The project in Jamaica gave me the manhood to step to Dam-Funk, and not wait on some record label to get us together," Snoop says. "They say when you get big you're not supposed to do that, you're supposed to let it come to you, but I always felt like we were equal, especially in the studio."
Even if it's a passion project for Snoop, 7 Days of Funk represents something much more serious for Dam, who, despite receiving almost universal acclaim from critics and a globe-spanning underground following, doesn't feel he's gotten the recognition he's due.
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After bouncing around doing odd jobs and recording gigs for much of his 20s and 30s — including some session work for Milli Vanilli after they'd been outed for lip-synching — he drew the attention of Stones Throw impresario Peanut Butter Wolf and finally emerged on the sprawling 2009 masterwork Toeachizown, his debut full-length. His ascent paralleled that of the L.A. beat scene, composed largely of avant-garde DJs with hip-hop leanings. He says he never exactly felt at home among those "intelligent beatmakers," perhaps because he didn't make "music that sounds like somebody threw somebody down a flight of stairs."
"I'm a little bit different than the underground cats in my scene," he says. "I'm not gonna say no names, but — based on my look, or maybe because of my funk, who knows why? — they just kept their nose up a little bit. When Snoop gave me that anointment, it was very appreciated, because it validated the fact that I stuck to my guns and didn't try to be like them."
It's hard not to root for him, both for how unpretentious he is and how dedicated he's been to a long-out-of-style sound. And it's hard not to root for Snoop as well. Perhaps not surprisingly in a career that's seen him morph from gangster to stoner to corporate pitchman, he suffered a mountain of Internet heckling following his "Snoop Lion" conversion for Reincarnated. Rather than self-caricature, "Snoopzilla" is another honest attempt to find a musical identity that's simultaneously true, peaceful and badass.
There aren't guidebooks written for aging gangsters who happen not to have been murdered, but the course he's charting is one worthy of emulation.