By: G. BeatoIt isn't easy being a gangsta-rap legend, a cartoon character, apeewee-football coach, and a porn mogul. But Snoop Dogg is tryingto keep it all under control.
The two-story tract house at the end of the cul-de-sac in Diamond Bar, California (about an hour's drive east of Los Angeles), looks just like all the other houses on this middle-class suburban block. A small patch of lawn out front. An SUV parked at the curb. A bodyguard sitting inside the SUV, surveying the street. A head peeking through the curtains of a ground-floor window to note the arrival of surprise visitors.
So maybe this house isn't exactly like all the others on the block....
Welcome to "Tha Chuuuch." This is where Snoop Dogg hangs when he's not enjoying the good life in his primary residence, a mansion in a much tonier Diamond Bar neighborhood. That place has panoramic views and its own full-size basketball court out back. Tha Chuuuch, on the other hand, is strictly utilitarian. Its not-quite-ready-for-Cribs decor is best described as contemporary frat house. Downstairs, there's forest-green carpeting, sports posters on the walls, a vending machine that dispenses sodas for $1, and a multilevel cat tree for the house's only full-time resident, a small white feline named Frank Sinatra.
Snoop, 30, is currently holding court upstairs, where the bedrooms have been converted into recording studios. He's accompanied by a rapper named Daddy V, an engineer who's working on some new tracks, a record-company publicist, a couple of bodyguards, and a few other indeterminate posse members. Snoop is wearing a baby-blue velour warm-up jacket, matching sneakers, and, most impressive, a T-shirt emblazoned with a large photograph of his own face. His trademark braids poke out from beneath a black skullcap.
"Fuck the Muppets," he says, leaning back in his chair as Frank Sinatra sidles up to his leg. "I didn't ask them to be on The Muppets, they asked me. Got me to fly to Vancouver, Canada--my first time flying since 9/11. I wanted to do something for the kids, you know what I'm saying?" A few days earlier, the Jim Henson Company had announced that it was removing Snoop Dogg's scene from its NBC Christmas special. The official explanation: The special was running long. But it's more likely that civil rights activist Najee Ali and Fox News commentator Bill O'Reilly cowed the Muppet people.
"Snoop Dogg is a gangster rapper who has appeared in porno videos," says Ali, a former gang member who now heads the Los Angeles-based organization Project Islamic H.O.P.E. "He has been an advocate of drugs and alcohol use as well as music whose lyrics glorify gang violence and misogyny. We don't feel an entertainer of that type is fit to be watched by children." Snoop is nonplussed by such criticism: "Why do people even worry about what I do? It's not one person who makes the decision on who I'm supposed to be or how I'm supposed to act. The public chooses. That shit I did [with Kermit the Frog] was fly. But it don't hurt my feelings that they cut it out," he says. "I'm a businessman."
Indeed, evidence of the Doggfather's business hustle is visible throughout the recording studio. An engineer wears a sweatshirt with a Snoop Dogg Clothing logo. There are photos on the walls of LaToiya Williams and Mr. Kane, artists signed to Snoop's record label, Doggystyle. Amid a stack of videos, there's a copy of the Girls Gone Wild episode hosted by Snoop (who drank Moët White Star from a rhinestone-studded goblet while young women celebrated Mardi Gras by showing him their breasts). On a keyboard in the corner, there are action figures from The Rocky Horror Picture Show, made by Vital Toys, the company developing a line of Snoop-related action figures (Snoop in dreads, Snoop as an NBA star, etc.).
And this is the studio where many of the tracks on his sixth and latest album, Paid Tha Cost to Be Da Boss, originated and where Snoop records Bigg Snoop Dogg Radio, a weekly, four-hour mix of music and interviews that currently airs on 35 stations around the world. "We're having James Brown come in tomorrow," says Snoop.
Also on tomorrow's schedule is a meeting with the people behind an upcoming movie version of '70s TV cop show Starsky & Hutch. "The director and the writer want me to play [flamboyant pimp/informant] Huggy Bear, but the studio don't believe I'm strong enough to do it," he explains. "It's just a matter of proving myself, going down there and doing what I gotta do."
Wop bop a loo bop. Gabba gabba hey. Bow wow wow yippy yo yippy yay. Sometimes, you really don't have to say anything to say everything. By 1992, the "gangsta" and the "player" were well-established hip-hop archetypes. But while Snoop drew upon them heavily for his persona, he added something else, too--the stoned affability of another SoCal icon, Jeff Spicoli. The result? Multiplatinum crossover success. His gang affiliations and ghetto style made him menacing and authentic, but he was named after a cartoon character. He drank gin, but also juice. Then there was his innovative vocal style--dangerous but playful, like Iceberg Slim with a hint of Dr. Seuss.
In the more than ten years since producer Dr. Dre sicced him on the world with the single "Deep Cover," Snoop Dogg has stretched his appeal as far as possible. And while he's lost a step or two as a hip-hop trailblazer (his first album, 1993's Doggystyle, remains his best-seller), his currency as a pop icon has never waned: He's the most marketable middle-class gangster this side of Tony Soprano. "He crosses racial boundaries," says Girls Gone Wild creator Joe Francis. "He crosses age boundaries. Girls love him. Guys love him." Larry Flynt agrees; Snoop has produced two videos in partnership with Hustler. "Diary of a Pimp is the new one," Snoop says. "That's my best thus far."
Thanks to his wide-ranging appeal and entrepreneurial bent, Snoop Dogg may have been the world's most industrious stoner of the past decade. He released six solo albums (seven, if you include the one Death Row Records kingpin Suge Knight put out without his consent) and two with his group Tha Eastsidaz. He wrote (or at least dictated) an autobiography, Tha Doggfather. ("Is that any good?" he cracks. "I haven't read it yet.") He's appeared in dozens of TV shows, documentaries, and feature films. For his first starring role, in the underrated Bones, he played an angry ghost pimp with a sinister elegance reminiscent of Vincent Price; if the movie's script had been as sharp as Snoop's wardrobe, a sequel would be in the works. Snoop was also compelling as a crippled hustler in Training Day and as a sullen ex-con in Baby Boy, but he's hoping to land bigger roles in the future. "I'd like to do the Miles Davis story," he says. "And the Bob Marley story. You know, deep roles where I can really show my skills."
Macy's and other retail chains carry his clothing line. He helped design a shoe for Dada Footwear called "the Thizzle." He recently completed an MTV pilot called Doggy Fizzle Televizzle, which features comedy sketches and real-life segments, like Snoop practicing with the Oakland Raiders. But in these days of hip-hop moguldom, you haven't really made it until you're generating hundreds of millions of dollars a year and branching out into restaurant chains and advertising firms. So far, brand Snoop has yet to reach that level.
Of course, transitioning from hoodfella to kid-friendly action figure is a tricky proposition. The D-O-double-G's criminal past includes a murder charge (of which he was acquitted in 1996) and a legendarily real feud with his old colleague Suge Knight. "He crossed the line when he went into porno," adds Ali, who protested Snoop Dogg's radio show as well as his Muppet involvement. "Young kids know who Snoop is."
"Snoop's a father. He has three kids," counters Sid Richlin, owner of Vital Toys. "He coaches his kid's football team. He gives back to his community. We're doing a project together where we're giving toys to kids for Christmas. When he's out in public, he'll stop and talk with you. He'll take a picture with you. This is the dog of the new millennium. First, there was Snoopy. Now there's gonna be Snoop Dogg."
What does the dog of the new millennium say about this? "People say, 'Be positive, be a role model,' but sometimes you just have to be real because kids are going to make their own decisions and their own choices." You could call that a very convenient way of thinking, of course, but it's also an honest one. Besides, does anyone ever believe a man who preaches virtue without ever having tasted sin?
Anyone who visits Tha Chuuuch must observe the following rules, which appear on laser-printed signs posted in strategic places around the room:
IF YOU ARE HERE TO HOLLA AT DOGG ABOUT MONEY, DOING BAD, OR PERSONAL PROBLEMS IN GENERAL, GO HOME! HE'S WORKING! NO EXCEPTIONS!--BIGG SNOOP DOGG.
NO CONSUMPTION OF ALCOHOL OR SMOKING OF ANY KIND AT CHUUUCH. NO EXCEPTIONS!--BIGG SNOOP DOGG.
At the moment, the strongest spirits in the room are three cans of soda, procured from the vending machine downstairs. In August 2002, Snoop announced that he had given up both alcohol and the sweet leaf, a decision that must have had eyelids at half-mast at High Times magazine, which had recently honored him as Stoner of the Year.
"I was actually abusing drugs," Snoop says. "So I just wanted to step back and take a different look at life, you know? And if I choose to get high, it's because I want to get high. It's no longer gonna be me smoking three or four thousand dollars' worth of weed a day."
Despite Snoop's weed-free status, there are no odes to the joys of sobriety on Paid Tha Cost to Be Da Boss. There's also no Dre, no Suge Knight (executive producer on Snoop's first two albums), and no Master P (executive producer on his last three). "I picked all the producers. I put it all together," says Snoop. The results: some familiar G-funk sounds and also some unexpected moments. "Batman and Robin" is built around the surf-tinged theme song from the Caped Crusader's 1960s TV incarnation. It's an irresistibly catchy track and a pretty good idea for the next WB superhero makeover: Snoop Dogg as a millionaire playboy crime fighter, suited and booted and patrolling Gotham West from behind the wheel of his customized Snoop DeVille.
And then there's the album's final track, "Pimp't Slapped," Snoop's blunt condemnation of Knight. Ever since No Limit purchased Snoop's contract from Death Row in 1998, Snoop and Knight have been feuding, with Snoop charging that Knight didn't pay him what he deserved while under contract at Death Row and Knight claiming that he spent millions on Snoop's legal fees during his murder trial. While "Pimp't Slapped" doesn't say anything more than Snoop's previous dis tracks (see 2000's bootleg "Death Row Is Bitches"), this is the first time he's released such sentiments officially.
Knight, in turn, has responded by dissing Snoop on the Howard Stern ShowL and in other venues, including Nick Broomfield's documentary Biggie & Tupac. But Snoop seems unfazed by it all--such feuding is just another part of his complicated life. It's a difficult, delicate balancing act, and it has its costs.
For instance, high in a corner of the recording studio, a wall-mounted video monitor projects scenes from the multiple security cameras stationed around Tha Chuuuch. Outside in the driveway, three members of Snoop's security team keep watch in the darkness. And they're not there because of the Muppets or Bill O'Reilly. Even when the future looks bright, the past comes creepin'.