The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any other agency, organization, employer or company.
If there was a Mt. Rushmore of rap’s most accomplished artists, Snoop Dogg would surely be in the running to have his face etched in stone. Since first hitting the rap radar in 1992, the Long Beach, California native has been omnipresent, constantly keeping himself in the conversation by delivering classic material and winning over the hearts of rap fans as our resident stoner next door. However, while the Snoop Dogg we know and love today is viewed as an icon and one of the most recognizable stars in entertainment, the journey he’s had to take to arrive at this point has been a winding one. Longevity in rap is particularly fleeting, with a short list of artists able to sustain their relevance and stand the test of time, but no rapper has managed to do it as long and with as much grace as Snoop, who has continued to evolve and add new wrinkles to his game more than two decades deep into his career.
In spite of his various transformations and presentations as a Crip, pimp, mafioso gangster, Rastafarian and other personas, Snoop Dogg has always remained true to his roots and an ambassador for hip hop, making him the epitome of a people’s champ. November 23 marks 25 years since Snoop Dogg’s debut album Doggystyle first set the music world ablaze and changed the landscape of rap forever. Upon its release, Doggystyle was the most anticipated rap album of all time, shattering first-week sales records and making Snoop Dogg the biggest star in rap. Flawless from beginning to end, Doggystyle is revered as a universal classic and was responsible for one of the most frenzied debuts rap has ever seen.
To commemorate this special milestone, and Snoop Dogg’s career as a whole, REVOLT TV takes a walk down memory lane and remembers the various eras of Snoop Dogg and how each incarnation of Tha Doggfather left its mark on the rap game.
THE DEATH ROW GANGSTA
Following Dr. Dre’s departure from Ruthless Records, many rap fans and critics questioned whether the producer/rapper would be able to replicate the group’s success without his former partners-in-rhyme. Enter Snoop Doggy Dogg, Dr. Dre’s secret weapon, who Dre introduced to the world on the 1992 soundtrack cut, “Deep Cover.” Equipped with a laconic flow and a delivery as smooth as butter, Snoop’s rhyming style caught the attention of rap fans from coast-to-coast, with the rapper emerging as Death Row Records’ breakout star with his show-stealing performance’s on Dr. Dre’s solo debut, The Chronic. Co-starring on the hit singles “Fuck wit Dre Day (And Everybody’s Celebratin’),” “Let Me Ride” and the iconic track “Nuthin’ but a ‘G’ Thang,” Snoop Dogg became one of rap’s biggest names without releasing a solo album, even appearing on the cover of Rolling Stone—unprecedented territory for a new artist at that time.
However, Snoop’s success also came with an ample amount of controversy as the rapper was criticized by media and political pundits for his misogynist content—which was a calling card of the rapper’s own 1993 solo debut Doggystyle. Known for littering his songs with explicit language and derogatory terms towards the opposite sex, despite the backlash Snoop caught from the media, the album was a monstrous success, debuting atop the Billboard 200 with 803,000 copies sold in its first week. In addition to the LP’s succession of hits dominating radio, the accompanying music videos cast Snoop as one of the coolest artists in rap, in terms of image. A former gang-banger himself, Snoop also looked the part, with his french braids, khakis, flannel shirts and Chuck Taylors becoming the defacto ensemble for Crips and die-hard fans of the rapper alike.
While his laidback countenance made him a fan favorite during the early years of his career, Snoop’s charisma was balanced with a defiant attitude and aggressive nature that reared its head numerous times during the height of Death Row. One of those instances occurred during his now-iconic speech at the 1995 Source Awards in the midst of the label’s war with Bad Boy Records; and another was the music video for Tha Dogg Pound’s 1995 single “New York, New York,” in which Snoop, Kurupt and Daz can be seen crushing New York City skyscrapers as a show of disrespect. But the rapper’s future and freedom were truly jeopardized in the wake of he and his bodyguard being tagged with murder charges in the 1993 slaying of Philip Woldemariam, which the rapper claimed was in self-defense.
The uncertainty behind Snoop’s future manifested itself in Murder Was the Case, a short film and soundtrack inspired by his looming murder trial. Although Snoop Dogg and his bodyguard were ultimately acquited in the murder trial, the drama and turmoil engulfing Death Row Records, particularly the death of labelmate Tupac Shakur, would prove to be too toxic, resulting in Snoop jumping ship from Death Row following the release of his 1996 sophomore album, Tha Doggfather. In addition to his departure from Death Row, Snoop would make peace with Bad Boy CEO Sean “Puffy” Combs on an episode of The Steve Harvey Show, another sign that the rapper had turned over a new leaf and was ready for a new chapter in his career. That chapter would begin in 1997, when Snoop Dogg appeared alongside Master P on No Limit rapper Mystikal’s album, Unpredictable. That collaboration led to Snoop becoming No Limit’s first big-time free agent signee with the release of his third studio album, Da Game is to Be Sold, Not to Be Told, in 1998.
Debuting at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and going on to sell more than three million copies by year’s end, Da Game… was deemed a massive commercial success. Songs like the album’s lead single, “Still a ‘G’ Thang,” were in tune with what fans had come to expect from Snoop, but the inclusion of No Limit in-house producers Beats By the Pound, KLC, Craig B and others resulted in a departure from the G-Funk sound that had defined his tenure at Death Row. Da Game… also continued Snoop’s fixation with the Mafioso world, which would become a common theme in a number of his music videos. While the LP received mixed reviews, his subsequent albums on No Limit—1999’s No Limit Top Dogg and 2000’s Tha Last Meal—saw Snoop return to form, with the rapper reuniting with Dr. Dre and unleashing hit records like “Bitch Please” and “Lay Low.” His success on the label aside, having been an employee for the entirety of his career, Snoop Dogg was ready to boss up in his own right after fulfilling his contractual obligations to No Limit, which would take the rapper into the next phase of his artistic journey.
“FO SHIZZLE DIZZLE”
At the outset of his tenure on No Limit Records, Snoop Dogg began to incorporate one of the biggest influences of his childhood into his persona: the 1973 blaxploitation film The Mack, and its main character Goldie (played by Max Julien). One of the first signs of this new wrinkle in the rapper’s playbook came with the release of his 2000 single, “Snoop Dogg (What’s My Name Pt. 2).” In the accompanying music video, Snoop is cast as three of his alter egos: Snoop the Gangbanger, Snoop Corleone and, last but not least, Snoop the Pimp. Introducing phrases like “Fo shizzle, my nizzle,” while still regarded as a gangster rapper, Snoop’s image had began to become less abrasive and more about kicking game, rocking the party and spinning tales about his exploits with the opposite sex. This was reflected on albums like Paid tha Cost to Be da Boss, his first album post-No Limit, which included a number of female-centric cuts, including “Beautiful,” the rapper’s smash hit alongside R&B legend Charlie Wilson and Pharrell of The Neptunes.
Peaking at No. 6 on the Hot 100, “Beautiful” would help Snoop Dogg expand his fanbase, with the record crossing over into the mainstream and gaining traction across various radio formats, making it the rapper’s most successful single of his career. A love song at heart, “Beautiful” showcased one dimension of Snoop, but the rapper was far from a helpless romantic, as evidenced by his association with Bishop Don “Magic” Juan, a legendary pimp out of Chicago and founder of the legendary Players Ball, who would become a close friend and confidant. Snoop’s affiliation with Bishop Don would give him further credibility within pimp culture, and projects like his 2002 DVD Girls Gone Wild: Doggy Style would further entrench him as a player and a ladies man. The “izzle” era of Snoop’s career was one that also coincided with the rapper’s quest to become the master of his own fate as an artist, leading to him founding Doggystyle Records, which housed artists like Soopafly, LaToiya Williams and Bad Azz, among others.
RHYTHM & GANGSTA
Having reinvented himself during the early aughts and established himself as a boss in his own right, in 2004 Snoop Dogg made the decision to team up with Pharrell’s Star Trak label ahead of the release of his seventh studio album, R&G (Rhythm & Gangsta): The Masterpiece. The album, which was executive produced by Pharrell, would also mark a new incarnation of Snoop Dogg, one that relied more on his suave charm than his street cred. Led by the hit single “Drop It Like It’s Hot,” R&G was a melodic affair, with Snoop being paired with the likes of Justin Timberlake (“Signs”), the Bee Gees (“Ups & Downs”), Charlie Wilson (“Perfect), and Bootsy Collins (“No Thang on Me”). While the release of The Mack-inspired 2005 straight-to-DVD flick Boss’n Up continued to present Snoop as a pimp, the rapper had begun to gradually shed that image, instead emerging as a self-proclaimed OG and elder statesman.
Snoop’s 2006 release, Tha Blue Carpet Treatment, was billed as a return to his gang-banging roots, but was also powered by collaborations with R&B artists, including R. Kelly (“That’s That”), Akon (“I Wanna Love You”), D’Angelo (“Imagine”), and Stevie Wonder (“Conversations”), which all overshadowed the album’s more abrasive material. These songs continued Snoop’s growing track record of seeking out vocalists to help him deliver hit records and round out his albums. However, Snoop would outdo himself after taking matters into his own hands with “Sexual Eruption,” the rapper’s 2008 single in which he took a page out the book of Zapp’s Roger Troutman and utilized a voice-box to deliver the harmonies himself. Complete with a 1980s-inspired music video, in which Snoop was decked out in an afro and vintage suit while rocking a keytar, “Sexual Eruption” marked the end of the R&G era of Snoop’s career, one that was defined by harmonies and melodies galore.
Nearly two decades removed from being cast as the poster child for all things wrong with hip hop by the mainstream media, Snoop had become an American darling, gradually winning over fans of all ages and races with his affable personality and knack for humor. From hobnobbing with celebs like Martha Stewart to hawking products in a myriad of commercial campaigns, Snoop was as ubiqiuitous and famous as any rapper on the planet and had seemed to transcend hip hop and infiltrate middle America. Walking the tightrope that is becoming a household name while maintaining your street cred, Snoop Dogg proved to be a master at working the angles, serving up bangers like his Malice n Wonderland singles “I Wanna Rock” and “Pronto,” while also appearing alongside pop acts like The Pussycat Dolls (“Bottle Pop”), Katy Perry (“California Girls”), Jason Derulo (“Wiggle”), and PSY (“Hangover”).
In addition to working with pop singers, Snoop Dogg also ingratiated himself to the mainstream through his relationship with younger acts like Wiz Khalifa, whom Snoop had become a mentor to during the Pittsburgh rapper’s meteoric rise. Collaborating with Khalifa on the 2011 film and soundtrack, Mac & Devin Go to High School, Snoop scored one of the biggest hits of his career with the pair’s single, “Young, Wild & Free,” which was an international success and certified quadruple platinum by the RIAA. Add in his cameos in various films, as well as a voiceover credit in the 2013 film Turbo, and it’s safe to say that Snoop Dogg may have never lost his hood pass, but had fully immersed himself in the world of pop, solidifying himself as a national treasure beyond the culture.
The saying goes that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but being the Top Dogg of them all, Snoop Dogg has proven this sentiment wrong time and time again, particularly during the latter years of his career. With over 20 years worth of classic albums, hit records and milestones under his belt, Snoop Dogg continues to push the envelope creatively, resulting in the tenured vet breaking ground with every new endeavor. His first foray into uncharted territory was his dive into the EDM world, under the name DJ Snoopadelic, releasing the project Loose Joints in 2012, and has since taken his show in the road, moonlighting as DJ Snoopadelic as part of a Las Vegas residency in 2014. In 2013, after traveling to Jamaica and studying to become a Rastafari, Snoop Dogg had the revelation to rebrand himself as Snoop Lion, releasing the album, Reincarnated. The album, which was inspired by reggae greats like Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer, Gregory Isaacs and Jimmy Cliff, earned Snoop a nomination for Best Reggae Album at the 56th Annual Grammy Awards, and was accompanied by a documentary covering his spiritual awakening.
Later that year, Snoop would also release 7 Days of Funk, a collaborative EP with Dam-Funk, under the name Snoopzilla. After getting back to business as usual with traditional releases like Bush, Coolaid, and Neva Left, Snoop has once again looked to explore a new chamber in his creativity with the release of Bible of Love, the rapper’s first gospel album. Released this past March and debuting atop the US Gospel Album charts, Bible of Love finds Snoop teaming up with gospel artists like Tye Tribbett, Kim Burrell, Rance Allen, John P. Kee and others. While we have no idea what Snoop Dogg’s next move or transition will be, one thing’s for sure and that’s our confidence that whatever Tha Doggfather decides to do, it will continue what has been arguably the most illustrious and unpredictable career hip hop has seen thus far.
From November 19 to 23, REVOLT is celebrating the 25th anniversary of Doggystyle with a week full of Snoop Dogg goodness, from hilarious GGN episodes and classic music videos to a brand-new exclusive interview with the D-O-double-G himself. Come pay tribute to the legend every night at 11 p.m. ET.
More by Preezy Brown: