"I’m the only nigga next to Snoop that can push the button." - Kendrick Lamar "Hood Politics"
Over the past 30 years, hip-hop has grown exponentially in nearly every aspect. Back in the day, John Hancocking a record deal was the dream realized; once you got the deal you "made it." Now? That same dream come true is a passing fancy during a cat nap, a stepping stone to bigger, billion-dollar, internet-breaking endeavors. Rappers are no longer just rappers, they're brands. They are movie stars, TV stars, sports reporters, fashionistas, sports agents, CNN guests, CEOs, business execs, even politicians. The possibilities are endless.
And the Doggfather of the rapper as a brand movement is Snoop Doggy Dogg.
As a self-respecting hip-hop fan, I've done my homework, so I can appreciate—why yes, I know every word of "Gin & Juice"—but for me and many my age, Snoop is more of a figurehead, a mythological figure, than an artist. By the time I was old enough to buy CDs with my meager allowance, Snoop had already moved onto his No Limit stint. I was just too young to remember the classic "Nothin But a G Thang" video playing on MTV. Ask me to rattle off his discography and I'll struggle, but ask me about the time he stole an Xbox and I'll recite the story in vivid detail. (Basically, Snoop asked to borrow an Xbox at a show at Bates College, and when the school provided him with one, borrowed from a student, Snoop just took it for keeps.)
Or how about the time in sixth grade when that senior told me he knew Aaron Carter, stole his phone and wrote down a bunch of famous people's numbers? I asked for Snoop's digits and when I called it went to a voicemail that was either actuallySnoop or a great impersonation. My logical, rational side tells me it was a prank but to this day I still wonder. What if? There's no way, right? Unless...or what about that time in seventh grade, when my friends and I snuck into the Starksy & Hutch remake and would yell "SNOOP!" every time he appeared on screen as Huggy Bear until we were kicked out ten minutes later.
I knew who Snoop was, but I didn't really understand his musical impact. He was far more of a charismatic, nebulous celebrity than an artist. As I got older and got more interested in the history of rap, I came to appreciate Snoop Dogg as more than a funny guy with a snappy name. I studied the history of Long Beach like the history of Normandy—I've interviewed people who worked with him and dedicated car trips to tracing West Coast rap's roots - but since I came of age when Snoop Dogg the brand was taking off, I don't know if I'll ever be able to appreciate his early years like those who actually witnessed it. I had to seek out Tha Doggfather, but for four weeks I couldn't escape him and his son on ESPN. I saw Snoop live last year at a festival in Memphis. Though he drew a bigger crowd than Juicy J, a larger percentage of the audience cheered louder for "California Gurls" than any other song; you should have seen the looks I got as I was Stanning the fuck out to "Nothing But A G Thing." It occurred to me that most of the people around me, who were even younger than me, don't have any real connection with his music. "Drop It Like It's Hot" was a high school dance mainstay, that's as far back as many people's memories of Snoop go now. These younger fans see him in commercials, they see him getting high with Seth Rogen, they watch him transformed into a smooth-talking snail, but they've never seen him morph into a Doberman. He's all over the Internet, but his music is now rarely a priority on music blogs.
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We talk about how Jay Z is the pinnacle of post-rapper stardom, but in a way Snoop has him beat. Jay Z will always be a hybrid between businessman and business mannnnn—rap will always be a part of Jay--but for Snoop, his two lives are almost completely separated. It's hard to remember the last time hip-hop got truly excited about a new Snoop Dogg song, but when we see him in a movie or on a TV show our hearts flutter. We're not debating the merits of his music, but we're certainly sharing that video of his puppy. The hip-hop heads interested in music no longer look to him after songs like "Wiggle." To us backpackers, once you do a song with Katy Perry you're relegated to music purgatory. I didn't hate Snoop for it, but after that, I found it hard to take his music seriously. Frankly, I stopped really checking for him. The people that love his collabs with pop stars like Katy Perry, the ones who are in a position to hear his music, seem to have no idea or interest in what he once was. For them, it ain't no fun if Jason Derulo can't get some.
Who is the king of hip-hop? Kendrick? Maybe Kanye? No, it's Snoop. Often times, the king and the Royal Family are just figureheads. Though they have no actual power to influence the government, they have our attention: we still get articles dedicated to their two-minute old baby. Though Snoop has seemingly lost his ability to change hip-hop, he remains one of the biggest representatives. He's hip-hop's most beloved sell out.
Making matters even more complicated, while many of us may have stopped really looking for new, truly quality Snoop Dogg music, Snoop has never truly stopped making it. To me and many others, Snoop Lion was the Appomattox Court House chapter of his career; it was the last chapter in the sell-out story. 2013 was seemingly the end, but in that same year he also released an entire funk-driven EP released via Stones Throw and a mixtape produced heavily by "Seen It All" producer Cardo; fittingly, it's called Royal Fam. How did he follow it up? With a guest spot on Flying Lotus' deeply conceptual, indie, experimental album. "Dead Man's Tetris." And don't forget his spot on To Pimp A Butterfly either; his input may have been small but it really helped to make that song. After I took the time to really look at what he had been up to lately I'm actually impressed, I had no clue he was still making real music. Shit, up until a few days ago, I had totally forgotten he had an album coming out.
Can you blame me? Nobody is talking about it.
Just today I typed his name into Google. There are four new articles about him - including this one—but none are about his Bush album, you know, the one that is currently available on iTunes' "First Play." I've given a quick listen—it's funky, it's cool, it's perfect for summer—but the contents of the album don't matter (yet). What should is that we aren't giving him the attention he deserves. The reasons why we should may be hard to find now, buried under Old School appearances and seemingly endless product endorsements, but Snoop's absolutely earned it.
When you reach a certain point in your career it's hard to stay relevant. It's hard to remain that same gin and juice sippin, 187 on an undercover copping gangster when you are a millionaire with a family. It may not be pretty all the time, but Snoop has found a way to remain a presence in a "what have you done for me lately" world. We hate Snoop Lion, but that's not all of who he is. He'll do a song with Katy Perry or a commercial, but he'll also bring underground artists like Wax on GGN and help create ambiance on one of the most important albums of the last few years. That's the side of him we needed to remember as we enter the release of Bush. We have to take the good with the bad, but there's no reason why we have to assume it's all bad. So give Bush a try. If you hate it (I doubt you will), fine, but Snoop has done, and is still doing, too much to simply be written off. He's had a thirty-year career and to define it all by his later years' stretch is just not right. Don't D-O-Double-G him like that.
So will I be listening to Bush? I've always wanted to say this....fo shizzle.