With All Eyes on Straight Outta Compton, Warren G Quietly Unleashes More G-Funk
Lost amidst the fanfare of the release of Straight Outta Compton, the blockbuster treatment of N.W.A.'s short, tumultuous run, and Compton, the accompanying album by reclusive icon Dr. Dre, was another long-simmering, backward-glancing record from one of Southern California's hip-hop godfathers: Regulate ... G Funk Era, Part II, the sequel to Warren G's multi-platinum 1994 debut.
After facilitating the hallowed Compton-to-Long Beach connection — Snoop Dogg was his best friend and Dr. Dre his stepbrother — Warren G was omnipresent throughout G-funk's foundational works, contributing production and vocals to Dre's The Chronic in 1992 and Snoop's Doggystyle in 1993. But while Dre, Snoop and Snoop's cousin Nate Dogg aligned themselves with Death Row Records early on, Warren never signed with Suge Knight's label. His Def Jam-distributed debut, Regulate ... G-Funk Era, arrived in 1994 on the strength of "Regulate," the inescapable Michael McDonald-sampling Nate Dogg duet from the Above the Rim soundtrack. He was Grammy nominated and had topped Billboard's rap chart by his 25th birthday.
Regulate ... G Funk Era is a 38-minute triumph of soul samples, funk licks, lolling bass lines and woozy synths that sound like morning haze lifting into the atmosphere. As a function of their Death Row contracts, neither Snoop nor Dre appears, and the record lacks their aggression. In his narratives Warren pedals a Schwinn, plays basketball, and gets jacked more than he does the jacking.
Dre and Warren's early careers followed similar trajectories. While Dre slowly built his Aftermath Entertainment empire, Warren was given the keys to his own Def Jam-backed G-Funk Records, through which he lent some of the best production of his career to Twinz' Conversation and The Dove Shack's This Is the Shack in 1995. But after Regulate, Def Jam's halfhearted foray into California never paid dividends (as regional heroes Jayo Felony and Richie Rich could attest). Save for its singles, "I Shot the Sheriff" and "Smokin' Me Out," Warren's most ambitious and accomplished record, 1997's Take a Look Over Your Shoulder, fell on (ahem) deaf ears.
The stepbrothers' paths diverged in 1999 upon the release of Dre's 2001, the record which redefined the sound of hip-hop production for the new millennium. 2001 is perhaps the West Coast's most rhythmically harsh album since Ice Cube collaborated with the Bomb Squad, but Warren stayed committed to G-funk. Dre mentored Eminem, 50 Cent and The Game, while Warren and his old cohort Nate Dogg, a bluesman in Chucks and Dickies, became the Stockton and Malone of California rap, blue (not red!) collar partners plying a proven trade.
Released a day prior to Compton, Regulate ... G Funk Era, Part II is the first Warren G record since Nate Dogg's 2011 death, but the five-track EP includes four posthumous appearances from the late crooner. Each is a memorable performance that begs the question of how many Nate Dogg vocals Warren has in the vaults. The EP also features returns from Reverend TaaaDow, the foul-mouthed preacher, and DJ Eazy Dick, the horny late-night DJ, both recurring characters from the early Dogg Pound records.
Although Warren's vocal delivery has hardly changed since his debut, the production on Part II most closely resembles his turn-of-the-century compositions on 1999's I Want It All and 2001's The Return of the Regulator. The sunny, straightforward "Saturday" features Bay Area legends E-40 and Too Short, and brings to mind the best of Nate's lighthearted fare, such as Shade Sheist's "Where I Wanna Be" and Warren's own "In the Mid-Nite Hour."
The EP takes a trip south for the sinister "Keep on Hustlin'" featuring Jeezy and Bun B, each of whom supply energetic verses of a wattage rare for a Warren G song. Closer "Dead Wrong" is a moody winner, with Warren and Nate discussing a mutual acquaintance in comically dramatic fashion.
Regulate ... G Funk Era, Part II isn't a replication of Warren's debut — the softly whining synths of 1994 are largely replaced by guitars and crisper-sounding drums. More than anything, it's a charming tribute to his departed collaborator. As exciting as it is to hear A-list rappers over Warren G production, it chiefly succeeds as a curtain call for the Long Beach luminaries who transported millions to the world of G-funk 21 years ago.
Compton is subtitled A Soundtrack by Dr. Dre. Warren G never penned a lyrical manifesto or produced a concept record, but unlike the famously self-conscious Dre, all of his music comprises a soundtrack: a soundtrack for the West Coast, for warm weather, for walking the dog or driving to the grocery store. Dre earned his doctorate, but Warren will always be the G-Child.
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