Q & A With Snoop Dogg
The Big Apple boroughs of Queens and the Bronx may forever feud over who first sowed the seeds of hip-hop music, but the paternal roots of the movement’s most infamous subgenre are clear and undisputed: L.A. is the biological father of gangster rap. Conceived in the same streets that gave rise to the notorious Crips and Bloods, its dark, hard-hitting, yet often melodic anthems have fascinated minds from the ’hood to Hollywood and worldwide. With mixed messages of lavish living and cold-blooded crime, west side beats and rhymes are quite often an accurate representation of the dichotomy that makes Los Angeles the beautiful beast it is. Nobody knows this better than big Snoop Dogg.
Born Calvin Broadus and nicknamed Snoopy by his parents for no reason other than appearance, the California native, now 38, has come a long way from his days as a gang member in Long Beach’s east side. His music has too, evolving over the years from gritty street-bangers to dance-friendly club hits. Quite simply a master at maintaining his relevancy, the 18-year music veteran is a fixture and ambassador of the city that made him. The rapper-actor has become an American icon and one of the most recognizable faces (not to mention voices) in popular culture. He recently released his 10th studio album, Malice N Wonderland, which includes cover art by tattooer Mister Cartoon and a mini-movie depicting Snoop as an urban superhero. The D-O-double-G has also been tapped by EMI Music to serve as acting chairman of a newly resurrected Priority Records label. Add that to his ever-growing list of business and personal ventures, most notably the Snoop Youth Football League, and it’s obvious that there is much more to the Dogg than smoke and mizzles.
From music and movies to community service and merchandising, there are few territories Snoop has explored without completely immersing himself—save for getting himself tattooed. And that has nothing to do with a fear of needles.
INKED: This is your 10th album, a milestone especially by today’s standards. How’s hitting that number make you feel?
SNOOP DOGG: I never pay no attention to the number. I’m just into the music and making people feel good. Long as it’s slammin’ and people are having a good time and enjoying themselves, then I got the grind to keep doing it. That’s what fuels me to want to continue to make hits. And when I got that feeling I ain’t got time to worry about numbers. It doesn’t matter if it’s my first or my 40th. I just want you to like it, to dance and live it.
How did you arrive at the album’s name?
It doesn’t exactly come off as the feel-good title of the year. It is feel-good, though. Snoop Dogg’s all about that feel-good music. The name Malice N Wonderland came up ’cause I was working in the studio with this musician and he had a song called “Malice in Wonderland.” He told me I should name the album that. I never really questioned why—I just took it and ran, you know, built the whole concept around that. Although I also wrote, like, half of the album when I was angry and half of it when I was just loving life, so I guess that’s fitting too.
You’re now the creative chairman at Priority Records. What do you think the label executives are expecting of you, and how do you plan to deliver?
I’m here to put the spirit back in Priority, bring back some of those older artists who helped make the West Coast sound what it is today. But then they’re also looking to me to go down some new avenues and bring some fresh talent in that will keep the name what it is. My plan is just to attack it. Talent tends to find its way to me when I’m doin’ what I’m doin’—I don’t really have to go looking for it. Long as I go hard at being Snoop Dogg, it’ll come to me. One single at a time, it’s just going to fall in my lap and become big. We just signed the homies Cypress Hill, so we’re off to a good start if you ask me.
Sounds a bit reminiscent of your come-up with Dr. Dre. Are you two still tight? And do you know anything about his Detox album that we don’t?
We still got a great relationship. I had been helping him out on Detox, but then I had to jump back into my thing, so I don’t know when the date is or anything like that. We best of friends and we cool, but I don’t know his thought process. He knows, though, that whatever he needs from me, he got it. I already recorded a lot of songs with him for it—it’s just up to him if he uses them or not. I’m just waiting like everybody else while keeping my business going.
About your business sense: Similar to Jay-Z, you’ve been quite successful in taking on diverse media projects and business ventures while maintaining respect from the streets. Many rappers have failed at that. What’s your secret?
There ain’t no secret. It’s just a matter of me doing what I’m supposed to be doing again. I go at every situation with the love and spirit of having a good time. I do my thing in the corporate world, but I don’t lose my edge. It also helps having good people around you. Like my deal with TomTom. [The TomTom GPS device has a VoiceSkin feature that lets users download celebrity-voiced driving instructions, including a set by Snoop.] It’s a result of me having a good team—a team that’s always looking for new and different ways to grow the image and name of Big Snoop Dogg. I couldn’t do all this without them. But in the end, you build real relationships better, business or personal, when you just be you.
But “just being you” never fails to surprise even your closest followers. Did we hear correctly that you’d like to take over for Oprah when she retires?
Yeah, man, ain’t nobody else gonna do it! It would just be me, being real, bringing out guests and hitting on topics you wouldn’t do on a regular talk show, having a different kind of edge. Everybody wanna be down with Snoop Dogg, so what better way to let ’em do it than through a talk show?
Who would be your first guest?
My first guest? Hmm … damn. Oh! Minister Louis Farrakhan. Yeah, I couldn’t go wrong kickin’ off the show with him.
That’s an ambitious undertaking. Talk show host and football coach? How’s the Snoop Youth Football League been going?
It’s a great thing. Right now we be gettin’ ready for the Snooper Bowl. It’s something I do each year where I challenge a team from the state that’s hosting the Super Bowl with one of my youth league teams. It’s a chance for local celebrities or football players to get behind a team in their area and volunteer their time to coach the kids and make it an entertaining event for everybody involved. This year Terrell Owens is steppin’ to the plate to coach with Joey Porter from the Dolphins. I love doing it and I love the kids. I’m glad it’s become such a success, and not for my sake.
Speaking of kids, it was because of your son that you linked up with tattoo legend Mister Cartoon for your album artwork, right?
Yeah. I had taken my son to get a tattoo with him. I ain’t got no problem with my kids gettin’ ink as long as I’m there to make sure the needles are clean and that they don’t do nothing stupid. Me and Cartoon go way back. It’s West Coast, so we already had that connection. The art came about ’cause when we were there, I told him about the album and how I didn’t want to package it. The last thing I wanted was another cover with my face on it. I’ve done that for the past three albums. Everybody knows what I look like. That’s when [Cartoon] started talking about an idea he had for a tattoo that he thought would be a good substitute. He was describing all these elements that were very L.A. and I was feeling it. He drew it up with a little input from me. I was like, “Make the car look like this, make the girl look like that.” He did his thing on it. Shit, it came out so good it might have to become a real tattoo as well.
Are you going to be the one to get the tattoo?
Because as of right now, you’re barely marked. Yeah, I mean for me, maybe on my back. I only have one tattoo now, the letter C on my arm. All my kids’ names start with C and mine does too, so that may also have something to do with it. [Laughs.] I’ve only had it for about a year. I got it on that same day I took my son in and talked art with Cartoon. I wasn’t planning on it, but my son thought it would be a good idea for me to get one too. I knew I couldn’t go wrong with [Cartoon] doing the work so I figured, Why not? I knew he’d keep it clean and do it right.
Why did you wait so long? Needles aren’t your thing?
Personally, it’s never been a fear or even a fashion thing. It’s always been more about disguise. Where I grew up, tattoos were just another way to get caught or for police to identify you after something went down. That always made me leery to get any done. Growing up in my L.A., you didn’t get a tattoo just to get one. It wasn’t like, “Oh, I want a dragon or a C.” You got your ’hood, your name, your set, you know—something to say who you were and what you were reppin’. Your tattoos were like your colors. I wasn’t trying to put myself out there like that. And since getting them wasn’t mandatory, I made the conscious decision to stay low-key and inconspicuous. Plus, most dudes weren’t getting them professionally done. They were something you got in the pen or in some other less than sanitary situation.
Still, a rapper with only one tattoo is a rarity. Is there anybody in the game you think has taken their ink too far?
Nah, man, I don’t look at other ni**as like that.