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.
“We gonna bring it all back,” says Daz in the studio, scheming, his eyes glazed from hours of smoking. “It all comes back like a circle, everybody got their time — the West gonna get it now.”
Growing up on the streets of east Long Beach, Snoop (born Cordozar Calvin Broadus) was reared on the music of Al Green, the O’Jays, the Dramatics and Marvin Gaye — and surrounded by his cousins Delmar Arnaud (Daz), Nathaniel Dwayne Hale (Nate Dogg) and friend Warren Griffin III (Warren G). (With the latter two he played Pop Warner football and later formed the rap group 213.)
“Daz been in my life ever since we were kids,” says Snoop. “That’s my little cousin right there,” he says, pointing to Daz, who’s listening from across the room. “I showed him how to do everything, except how to screw.”
Snoop met Kurupt in 1991, at the Roxy in Hollywood. “You know they be having those showcases where the local rappers from the hood go get down,” Snoop recalls, leaning back in his chair. “We had a group from Long Beach called Perfection, and they was up there battling, trying to get a deal.
“After the show, there was a bitch out there talkin’ shit to my niggas: ‘Ya’ll niggas is wack, cuz. My homeboy serve all ya’ll.’ So she pull a nigga out of the cut” — Ricardo Brown, a Philly transplant from South-Central known as Kurupt — “and he get to servin’ niggas, servin’ all my homeboys. So I step up —” Snoop grows animated with the memory, nearly standing up as he describes what would prove to be a pivotal moment. “Me and him battlin’ for a minute — we just battlin’ 15 minutes, 20 minutes. Then we say, ‘Hold on, nigga, we ain’t getting nowhere,’ so we start complimenting each other, giving love. ‘If I make it, cuz, I’m gonna hook you up.’?” Snoop laughs as Kurupt listens, nodding his head in agreement.
Tha Dogg Pound was conceived that night, though no one knew it at the time.
Around this time, Warren G and Snoop had recorded some homemade tapes, which Warren eventually got to his stepbrother — ex–World Class Wreckin’ Cru foreman, N.W.A member and producer Dr. Dre. Along with Marion “Suge” Knight, Dre had just founded Death Row Records, the first mainstream West Coast gangsta-rap label, and he took Snoop under his wing. In 1992 they released the single “Deep Cover,” off the Bill Duke film of the same name. Snoop busted out onto the rap scene on Dre’s hit track.
Snoop had now “made it,” and while out one night seeing Queen Latifah perform at the Hollywood Palladium, he ran into Kurupt, and made good on his promise.
“I was like, ‘Cuz, I’m gonna bring you to Dr. Dre house and let you get down,’?” says Snoop.
Talk about making a grand entrance: Snoop brought Kurupt to Dre’s house on Dre’s birthday.
“I told Dre, ‘This nigga harder than a muthafucka, we need this nigga on the team,’ and he was like, ‘All right, but if the nigga wack, we gonna throw him in the pool and kick his ass out,’?” Snoop says, laughing at the memory.
While they were all partying, Dr. Dre gave Kurupt the microphone and put a beat on. Kurupt busted a freestyle birthday rap that, according to Snoop, had Dre observing, “That nigga harder than you.” Just like that, it was Dr. Dre, Snoop and now Kurupt on Death Row — but they needed more inmates.
Grunge was king at this time, and popular rap included hits like House of Pain’s “Jump Around” and Arrested Development’s “Tennessee” — but something fresh was brewing: A new generation was poised to take hardcore gangsta rap to the mainstream.
“My cousin Daz was fuckin’ up bad,” explains Snoop. “He had moved to Oklahoma on some bullshit, and was trying to move back [to L.A.]. My pops was like, ‘Let him live with you.’?” Snoop hesitantly agreed to the roommate proposal, and started taking Daz along to the studio at Solar Records. Over time, Daz picked up a few musical lessons from Dr. Dre, Snoop and Warren G. As it happened, Dre and Snoop were working on an album, and Snoop wrote Daz into a song with the line “Chiggie check, microphone check one.” Daz ripped on it. The track was “Deeez Nuuuts”; the album turned out to be Dre’s masterpiece The Chronic.
Kurupt was already Cali-sharp like a sniper, but soon Snoop saw that Daz was just as skilled, and envisioned them as a duo. All they needed was a name: “We were already calling my house Tha Dogg Pound.”
1992’s The Chronic introduced the whole Death Row lineup to the masses (including Snoop’s other cousin, RBX, as well as Daz and Kurupt), changing the rap game forever. Daz and Kurupt appeared again on Snoop’s first solo album, ’93’s multiplatinum Doggystyle; two years later, the two released their own album, Dogg Food, which also went platinum. Suddenly, Snoopy from Long Beach and his camp of family and friends were the hottest thing in rap.
2Pac joined the Death Row fold, giving Kurupt the alias “Young Gotti” and inspiring Daz to take the surname “Dillinger.” And for a while, it was all good on Death Row. Daz became Dr. Dre’s first studio student, and coproduced most of 2Pac’s 10x-platinum All Eyez on Me, including the hits “I Ain’t Mad at Cha” and “2 of Amerikaz Most Wanted.”
But the mood quickly darkened: Dr. Dre bounced, 2Pac was killed in ’96, Suge went to jail. Snoop signed with Master P’s No Limit in 1997. Then Daz left. Kurupt also left Death Row, but then returned, becoming senior V.P. The trio’s relationship deteriorated, with Snoop and Daz on one side and Kurupt (and Suge) on the other. Suge allegedly made death threats against Snoop; Daz would fire back. They also began throwing jabs back and forth on wax, in national hip-hop magazines and on the radio. The rivalries threatened to destroy everything that West Coast hip-hop had built up to that time, and only added fuel to the continuing East-West firefight. The West Coast was a shambles.
The Death Row/Dogg Pound beef went on for five years, and it left some wounds. Meanwhile, hip-hop was morphing all around them, as happens with all great cultural movements: Gangsta rap gave way to Jay-Z, to Eminem, to the Dirty South and crunk, to crossover stars like OutKast and Kanye West. Things changed, all right.
When he organized the West Coast peace summit in 2005 — a face-to-face meeting of just about any West Coast rappers who had ever feuded with one another — Snoop said is was a business move. According to an MTV report, Snoop pointed to the success of Southern rappers: “They all work together and have great harmony. This is the West Coast, we built on gangsta, gangsta, gangsta, but sometimes we gotta know when to have peace.”
As he reportedly was mending the rift with Suge Knight and Kurupt, Snoop nudged his cousin Daz to do his part to end the beef. Everyone thought it was an April Fool’s joke when, on April 1, 2005, Daz got on the phone and left a message on Kurupt’s voicemail. “And then the next day, we just hooked it up,” says Daz, chillin’ in the studio with his “Hood Hustle” T-shirt. “From then on, we started mashing and putting it back in perspective. Because, you know, war didn’t make no money, and didn’t make sense.”
“I’m like the quarterback-slash-marriage counselor, the one that puts everything back together in the proper perspective,” says Snoop thoughtfully. “Get everyone thinking alike, moving alike, loving alike, ’cause there was a little bit of resistance from Daz in the beginning, which is expected. ’Cause you know Kurupt had a lot of baggage.
“That’s why I say it’s like a marriage counselor — just let everybody know that it’s built on love first. If we love each other first, then the music should kick right in.”
Snoop and Tha Dogg Pound showed that affection still ran deep when they worked together for the first time on Snoop’s heartfelt single “Real Soon” from ’05’s Welcome to tha Chuuch; the cut was dedicated to everyone locked down, and in particular to Crips cofounder Big Stanley “Tookie” Williams, who was on death row — the real thing, not the label. After Tookie’s execution, Snoop and Tha Dogg Pound realized that it was time to ride — for each other, harder than ever.
“We just came back together and made a classic Dogg Pound gangsta album,” says Daz. “Some of the Original G sound with a new twist,” adds Kurupt, “new-millennium G shit!”
Watching Snoop, Daz and Kurupt groovin’ together in the studio is a beautiful thing. When I’m there, they’re working on tracks produced by Battlecat: “Cali Iz Active,” borrowing from Royal Cash’s “Radio Activity,” and “It's All Hood,” with a guest spot from Ice Cube. The space is jammed with bass and smoke; the energy is crazy high as we all bob our heads, Snoop with a childish smile.
Although Snoop oversees everything, Daz is the man juggling rapper/producer duties. (He’s a successful producer in his own right, producing tracks for T.I., Young Bloodz, his own upcoming So So Gangsta on Jermaine Dupri’s So So Def Records, as well as Kurupt's new Same Day, Different Shit.) Production-wise, Daz is actually the most talented of the three; in Tha Dogg Pound, he makes sure the sound is tight and that the lyrics Kurupt composes directly onto his two-way cell phone come out clean and fierce.
As Daz holds up two joints, I ask him what it is he needs in the studio to make great music. His answer: “Two pounds of weed, blunts, the right recording equipment, a hell of an engineer and some money.” (That equipment, by the way, includes an SSL board, Pro Tools software and MPC3000 hardware.)
Besides Daz and Kurupt spittin’ fire, the new album features Tha Dogg Pound family: Snoop Dogg, Nate Dogg, RBX and Soopafly. Also appearing are P. Diddy, crunk hero David Banner, Paul Wall and producing legends Battlecat, Swizz Beats and Jazze Pha.
“A lot of people came together to make this Dogg Pound record the biggest and best it can be,” says Kurupt, wearing a Dallas Cowboys jacket and drinking a Bud Light. “And with Snoop’s leadership, we can never go wrong.”
Meanwhile, one by one, the West Coast family comes through — and then some.
“We’re live, not Memorex,” says Battlecat, the first in. He’s brought his fat synth bass lines, soulful keys and hard beats to some notable West Coast cuts, such as Snoop Dogg’s “Stacey Adams,” Tha Eastsidaz’ “I Luv It,” E-40’s “Nah, Nah .?.?.” and various numbers by Kurupt and Xzibit.
Kurupt’s younger brother Roscoe strolls through, wearing his signature big-ass Pendleton — his debut album, Young Roscoe Philaphornia, with the hits “Smooth Sailin’?” and “Get Ready,” got him some respect at an early age.
Another heavyweight producer arrives: DJ Pooh. After laying down certified classics for Ice Cube, Yo Yo and Kam, Pooh gained immortality by penning the 1995 landmark Ice Cube film Friday; he also wrote and directed 2001’s The Wash, starring Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg. He’s now working on video games such as Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.
Westside Connection DJ (and WC's little brother) Crazy Toons drops in. Crazy Toons and Roscoe slap hands. “That’s two generations right there,” says Battlecat.
Now Soopafly makes an appearance. Come on, cuz! They’re really getting the fam-bam together.
“They got the hyphy movement up in the Bay,” says Snoop of that area’s hyperactive music-style-car culture — East Bay rapper E-40 dropped in the following day — “we got some gangsta shit down here.”
Did someone say gangsta? Just then, brother Kam walks in. Yup, political Watts rapper Kam and Snoop are working together on some hard shit. (Schwarzenegger and Bush, you’re in trouble!)
“I love Kam, that’s my nigga,” says Snoop. “I’m in a position now where I can give him the spotlight he’s been missing.”
Tatted up and gothed out, the brothers Joel and Benji of the band Good Charlotte even drift in and play some cuts for Snoop.
But just when I think I’ve seen everyone, Bobby Brown — yes, Whitney’s Bobby Brown, along with his Being Bobby Brown reality-show film crew — stroll in.
“Who’s smoking weed?” Brown jokes, as a room full of dudes blaze it up — including Snoop’s camera crew, who’re shooting his upcoming reality show, Follow the Dogg. “I’m allergic to marijuana.”
Even while working, Snoop makes time for everyone. In a different lifetime, he would have made one hell of a politician. (Just a few days ago, Snoop performed “Gin and Juice” onstage with American Idol winner Taylor Hicks.)
“I’m a magnet,” says the rap star modestly. “Somebody said I was the star of stars.”
CALI IZ ACTIVE | Tha Dogg Pound | Doggy Style Records