In the past five years, I’ve gotten closer with Snoop Dogg, but only formally chilled with him once before. Earlier this fall, I was granted an audience at the Compound, a 20,000-square-foot building in the heart of Inglewood, California—essentially his own giant man cave. There’s an indoor NBA regulation basketball court, framed by 17 digitally printed murals of legends like Julius “Dr. J” Erving, Hakeem Olajuwon, and Kobe Bryant. I see some video-editing suites and, of course, recording studios. The main one is dubbed the Mothership, and it’s where Snoop holds forth behind the boards. He’s blasting selections from his latest, Snoop Dogg Presents Algorithm. The 25-track compilation celebrates Snoop’s recent appointment as executive creative consultant at Def Jam.
Def Jam Recordings, founded in New York City in 1984 by Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin, is the very foundation of hip-hop and rap music. Yet, like so many labels over the past five years, Def Jam has been trying to figure out what’s really next. Enter big Snoop Dogg—live from L.A. to save the day. He’ll bring his three decades’ worth of industry savvy, branding (and rebranding) genius, and ear for talent to help Def Jam reconnect with the culture—Snoop recently signed the white-hot street rapper Benny the Butcher to the label—and move the new artists it already has forward.
The best Algorithm track is “Make Some Money,” produced by Cincinnati’s Hi-Tek and featuring Snoop with two of Def Jam’s strongest East Coast MCs, Fabolous and Dave East. The album, and the new creative position at Def Jam, are just part of Snoop’s latest resurgence. He is hip-hop’s most beloved artist, and yet Snoop Dogg is still an underdog.
Let’s break it down. Why, when there’s Twitter talk about who is the greatest MC of all time, does Snoop’s name rarely—if ever—come up? And let’s talk albums—Snoop Doggy Dogg’s 1993 debut, Doggystyle, produced entirely by Dr. Dre, is one of the greatest hip-hop albums of all time, right up there with Wu-Tang Forever, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, Illmatic, and The Blueprint. The greatest. I dare you to find the skip. Dre’s The Chronic is cool, but Doggystyle is better.
Snoop was a rap star in the 1990s, before Nas and Jay-Z. Snoop gracefully side-eyed the world from the cover of the very first issue of Vibe: Rap’s rookie sensation went on to sell over 40 million albums worldwide. (And by the way: Tell the Recording Academy fuck that 0-for-17 Grammy nominations shit. Go get Tha Dogg’s lifetime achievement award polished and ready.)
Snoop’s not an OG in the slang-term way. He’s an actual original gangsta. Calvin Broadus Jr. beat a first-degree murder charge in 1996. He stood up to Suge Knight and left Death Row Records for Master P’s No Limit Records in 1998. We were stunned. It was like LeBron James leaving the Cavaliers for the Miami Heat. Unheard of, in those dangerous hip-hop times. Many of us thought Snoop could get killed by a California crew for jumping to Louisiana. Not only did that label switch give birth to C-Murder’s “Down for My N’s” (a 1999 Southern rap classic and big middle finger from Snoop to his former boss), but Master P gave Snoop a Ph.D. in the music business. He crip-walked into the 2000s empowered, and ascended to even greater heights, on his own terms.
A series of star-studded collaborations with the Neptunes featured Snoop at the height of his poetic superpowers. In truth, a lot of the heat off 2004’s culture-shifting “Drop It Like It’s Hot” comes from both Snoop’s and Pharrell’s emergence as true solo artists and front-facing creatives. And after that? Let’s face it, it’s hard to keep track of all the Dogg’s moves. He constantly challenges and reinvents himself. Snoop has recorded a reggae album (2012’s Reincarnated) and a gospel one (2018’s Bible of Love). His first record ever, “Deep Cover” with Dr. Dre, was released in 1992. So Snoop’s been doing this, at the highest levels, for three decades. But as a musical artist, he’s too often overlooked.
It’s the moves Snoop makes outside of music that cause us to take him for granted. He’s an endorsement giant, for everything from Corona to G-Star RAW to Doritos. These days, we think of Snoop lounging in a fancy kitchen with Martha Stewart. Of his standout appearances on Jimmy Kimmel Live, and his stealing scenes from Denzel Washington in 2001’s Training Day. The kids affectionately call him “Uncle Snoop.”
But Snoop is always a vital part of music and hip-hop culture. He is, and he still feels, a part of us. In 2011, a young Kendrick Lamar held a show at a Hollywood venue then known as the Music Box. Snoop came onstage as a guest, alongside Kurupt and the Game. The music stopped, and Snoop declared that Kendrick “has the torch now,” and he better run with it. Lamar was teary-eyed and overcome with emotion.
This far-ranging conversation happened a month before the death of Beverly Tate, Snoop’s beloved mother. We talked about their relationship, about music, and also about the future of Def Jam. At his compound, where Snoop feels most creative, he spoke about his emotional connection to DMX. He talked about his wife, Shante. He talked about his own personal growth, and about his legacy. This all happened right before Snoop’s 50th birthday, and eight months after I hit the Big 5-0 myself. We talked about how, when we got in this business, we didn’t even know people could get older in hip-hop. Snoop is one of the best ever to do it, and he’s still doing it. Give a Dogg his due.
When you took the deal with Def Jam, you hit me up, all excited. Why did it feel so special to you?
Because I wanted the job. I didn’t need this job. I wanted it. I went looking for this job because I wanted to be the CEO of Death Row Records and basically take over the merchandise and rerelease their music, do documentaries, and possibly do my life story. But then eOne Music [which owned Death Row Music until April 2021] didn’t want to give me action at it. So then I asked could I buy it? And they acted like they didn’t want to sell it. Then they sold it [to the Blackstone Group], and the man in me was hurt, but the businessman in me said, Okay, I got to find something else to do to take this energy of mine that I’m holding on to. I knew that Def Jam didn’t have a CEO, and I didn’t want to be the CEO, but I wanted to be in the position of consulting and creativity. So I set up a meeting and got with Lucian [Grainge, the chairman and CEO of Universal Music Group, which owns Def Jam]. I had never met him before.
After the first meeting, I was kind of upset because I felt like, man, he don’t get it. Because he kept asking me, “Why do you want to work with Def Jam Records? Look at your life, look at your career. You’re having such success, and everything is working for you. You’re everywhere, you’re this. This shit over here’s a mess. We about to go public, and then this shit and that shit. And scrutiny—there’s so much scrutiny over here.” I’m like, “I love scrutiny. I come from Death Row Records. First of all, your artists are my nephews and nieces. I fuck with them to get the deals. DMX did his whole album in that room over there. YG did his Still Brazy album in here, after he got shot. We did the verses right here in this room. So the Def Jam/Snoop Dogg connection, I’ve been fucking with you all and not even sticking you all up. So the deal is if you get me now, I won’t act like you owe me, and I’ll bring you revenue and get you a P&L that you ain’t never seen before. Because I know how to save and make.
I asked him, “How many artists you all got?” “Fifty to 60 artists.” How many top 10s did you all have this year? He said five. I said, “That’s a lie—you only had one: Peaches, and that was it. Justin Bieber.” [Since the time of Snoop’s conversation with Grainge, Bieber and Kanye West have notched other top 10 hits on the Billboard Hot 200.]
Oh, you knew that coming in the meeting?
I was on the remix [with Ludacris and Usher], and I had that in my pocket. The remix came out two days before I went to see [Grainge]. So all this was in my favor. Just appeared in the “Deep Reverence” video for Big Sean, featuring Nipsey Hussle. Pulled my cars out, and I gave love. Didn’t charge, just pulled up with my crew.
See, I was thinking Death Row Records—movies, merch, television, catalog…The Chronic, Doggystyle, Murder Was the Case, All Eyez on Me. It was all that shit I was going to…then I flipped it, like, “Def Jam bigger and better than Death Row any muthafuckin’ way.” So I called LL Cool J: “LL, what’s happening with your life story?”
People know him from NCIS: Los Angeles.
They only know you on TV and you the muthafuckin’ GOAT, so we need to tell your life story. This is before I even got the deal.
So when did things turn in your favor with Grainge?
The third meeting. I told him, I fucking love Def Jam Records, and I love the artists over here. Whether you give me the job or not, I’m fucking with it. But you’d rather have me on your side…because I’m already in your living room. Literally.” They owed me [for DMX’s studio time], and I wasn’t sending no invoices, because I did that for X and then X passed away. Charge to the game. He gave me that.
But they’re looking at me like, “Take 150K [for the studio time].” I’m like, “Don’t worry about that 150, I need that job.” And once I got the job, I called the artists, checking the gauge of the building. Outcome: Shit needs to be fixed. So I was like, “I can’t fix it overnight, and I can’t change attitudes and egos in the buildings.” So the smartest thing to do was to say I want Def Jam West.
Do you think a label’s input is still important to artists?
Very important. Artists’ independence is key financially—owning, and getting the money—but certain things are structured in business and visibility that you can’t do; that’s what the majors are there for. So I say get your independence on as much as you can, but if you can get a major situation where you can still own your masters and license it, then it makes sense. I wish I could’ve owned Doggystyle, wish I could’ve owned Murder Was the Case and all I did early on. But I can’t. When you’re a vet and you’ve been through it, you make the best decision for your career at the moment. When you’re young and you don’t know shit, you make the best decision for your career at the moment.
Why is it important for Def Jam to be in the hip-hop landscape at the highest height it can possibly be? Why is it so important to preserve the franchise?
Take the NBA. The NBA is a great organization, but the Lakers as a franchise, when they’re not doing good, the world ain’t right. That’s how I look at Def Jam—as the flagship. You got the Lakers and the Celtics in basketball, they got the most championships. They basically dictated what basketball was supposed to be about and what it’s still about. In hip-hop, you got Def Jam Records, and you got Death Row and Bad Boy. There’s the Roc-A-Fellas and all that come after, but those the original three.
That’s the epitome of street n-ggas becoming corporate. So you want to protect the legacy of those three, because they inspired all this independent shit that’s happening now. If you don’t have Def Jam, Death Row and Bad Boy, you don’t have none of these independent labels that’s blowing the fuck up, being in control, having their shit. That’s from Master P’s No Limit to Cash Money to Quality Control. And you got to give respect to Uncle Luke, to J Prince, you got to give respect to people like that who forged their own lanes. They stood on respect. And that’s just the passion we got for hip-hop.
Def Jam means that much. And when I get done, somebody’s going to be right behind me that’s going to be like, ‘Man, Def Jam is the world to me in this era. In the way Def Jam meant the most to me when it started. Not in the ‘90s, but in the ’80s! That aura, that essence. They had five groups: EPMD, Public Enemy, LL Cool J, Slick Rick, and…
Beastie Boys. That was the starting five. You cannot fuck with that.
Are there young artists on the roster right now who excite you?
Yes. August 08, an R&B singer. I love Jane Handcock; I got them featured on my project. October London. I like Alessia Cara. I like YK Osiris; he got some dope shit. I love Poo Bear. Definitely Hit-Boy.
Say I’m a young artist. I come out the gate with a hot record. Everyone’s hitting my phone, trying to offer me a deal. How do you approach that artist?
First thing I do is tell them they’re real. If I like the artist, I understand him, so our conversation is going to be real straight to it. Get with me, and you get the best of everything — and you get knowledge and information on the house. Then you’re able to grow and expand your brand, because I’m a marketing genius and I can show you a few things that the labels ain’t going to show you. They’re going to be trying to rob you and rape you. I’m going to be trying to build you and shape you.
I know you and DMX spent a lot of time together after the July 2020 Verzuz. You formed a new bond.
Well, after the Verzuz, I let him use my studio for one night, and it felt so good, him being here, me being here. It felt like a brotherhood that was finally caught up on. Two brothers that hadn’t spent time with each other, and they’re finally able to sit down and marinate. I started cooking for them n-ggas every day.
What were you making them, Snoop?
Short ribs, rice and gravy, cornbread. I was living in the kitchen. I said, “Boy, you’re going to be fat.”
When did you learn how to cook?
I’m from the hood. My mama raised me right. Learned how to take care of myself. I got a lot of cars too, and DMX liked old-school cars. DMX liked old-school music. “Is that a muthafuckin’ 1976?” “Is that muthafuckin’ Aretha Franklin you playing?” “Yeah, n-gga. Get in the car, n-gga. Sit in the car. Which one you want, X?” “Don’t say that, Dogg, don’t say that shit to me. You know I’ll take all these muthafuckers.” We stand outside, looking at the cars, the music playing. It’s a vibe with me and him. We were the same people. He was just more excited than me, but we were both the life of the party.
See, when we did Verzuz, we didn’t step on each other’s toes; we complemented each other. People thought it was a dog fight, but it was a brotherhood of two n-ggas that really loved each other, celebrating their music and their careers.
How did you receive the news of his passing?
It broke my heart, man. It actually did. It was just one of those feelings where it breaks your heart and you can’t cry. I wanted to cry, but then I started thinking, This man prayed for everybody other than himself. Publicly, behind closed doors, rehabilitated or not. Kept God with him and always cared about you. Always. We saw him alone; we knew he was a little bit on something, because he looked off beat. But when he put that prayer together, it all came back to the beat. Once DMX passed away, he was where he needed to be. Because he always prayed for others. That means he was an angel, so God needed his angel back. He came here, he spread love, he showed you that prayer was cool. That’s his legacy. The music’s great, the spirit and all that, but the prayer, his angel ability, is what didn’t allow me to cry for my friend.
People know Snoop Dogg is constantly listening to oldies. You’re a walking playlist.
My mama, man, she had music in her car. She had a car that played eight-track cassettes and had a record player on it. My mom and them would have parties in the living room, and all the kids would be in the back. I’d peek out and my mom would be like, “Come out here, Snoopy.” And I’d be doing the bump with one of her friends. All the other kids in the back. I’m in the living room with the grown-ups. Then everybody goes home. Now my mama is in the living room with a Schlitz Malt Liquor bull, drank it, and passed it to me. I’m drinking with her. One of my mama’s favorite stories is her saying, “I was drinking with you for about two years. You were like three years old, three to five. When you got five, we were drinking one night, and I said, ‘Snoopy, how you feel?’ And you looked at me and said, ‘How the hell you think I feel?’” My mama said, “That was the last muthafuckin’ drink you had.”
How the hell do you feel, now that you’re about to be 50?
In hip-hop, we weren’t taught we could grow old and be in this thing. When we was young, 50 was old. Fifty was an old man in a wheelchair, talking shit, eating peanuts, and throwing shells on the porch all day. Our 50 is different. Our 50 is agile. Our mind is there, we sharp, we still got the will to win, and we hate to fucking lose. Even at 50.
We still have more to accomplish too, right?
You just got to be thankful that hip-hop was born. Because this is what the seed was planted for, so it can grow. Like I was saying earlier about giving respect to the forefathers, to the people who started hip-hop, the ones who didn’t get record deals. This is what this shit is about, to be able to take it to this level and let it keep growing and growing and growing, and get to an age where they treat us like rock-and-roll artists. Rock and roll don’t have no age on it. Don’t nobody ever say, “The Rolling Stones is 70 years old. Them old mutherfuckas need to sit down somewhere.” They say, “The Rolling Stones is doing a stadium concert!”
How do you keep challenging yourself, musically? What inspires you?
I come from battle rap. That’s how me and Tupac met, at the wrap party for Poetic Justice in ‘93. Ricky Harris, my childhood friend, rest in peace, was the MC of that night. He knew how dope I was, but Tupac was in the movie. So we were at this wrap party, John Singleton, Michael Rapaport, all kinds of muthafuckas were there. Someone threw a beat on. Naturally, Tupac gets on first. When he finished rapping, I grabbed the mic and I started rapping. When I finished, he grabbed the mic and he started rapping. But we didn’t know each other then. So it was kind of aggressive. Afterward, we went outside and my brother-in-law introduced us. “Snoop, this is my n-gga Pac. Pac, this is my n-gga Snoop.” And that’s the first time I smoked a blunt. That n-gga opened up a Philly blunt, took the guts out, rolled them off of the Lincoln, and lit that muthafucker up and passed it to me. And my whole chest got knocked out because I’d never had a cigar, you know what I’m saying? We was on joints.
But me and Tupac met in that battle-rap aura, and that’s always who I’ve been. I met Kurupt battling. RBX, I could never beat him. That’s why I put them on my team, because they would challenge me. When I got with Dr. Dre, I was like, Damn, Ice Cube used to write for him. D.O.C. used to write for him. I want to do better than them. How can I outdo Straight Outta Compton? Or Eazy-Duz-It? “Deep Cover,” G.
Ah. Dr. Dre’s first appearance as a solo rapper, and your proper debut. We didn’t think a producer could really be a rapper back then.
That’s where this pen comes in, and the pen is mightier than the sword. With Snoop Dogg’s pen, and then I bring in RBX; that’s my cousin. I bring in Kurupt, I bring in Daz. Dre already had Lady of Rage. So now the competition is there, and they are writing songs for themselves to be on the song. I’m writing songs [for The Chronic]. D.O.C. gravitated to me because he’s saying that I was going to be his voice, because he had lost his voice, but I had his spirit. RBX, come get with me. Let’s write “Let Me Ride” for Dr. Dre. You do the first verse, I do the second verse and the third verse; we’ll go bar for bar. And that was Dr. Dre’s Grammy (1993 Best Rap Solo Performance) off of that album. N.W.A. didn’t get no Grammys.
So I did what I said I was going to do. And that’s the easy part. The hard part is, okay, now it’s your turn.
Chronic is obviously a classic album, and Doggystyle is a classic album, but it’s not easy to go from The Chronic to your solo debut. It seems seamless when you look back at it, but there had to be a problem with the fact that you made this classic with this guy who helped put you on. And then when the focus came back for your album, you delivered also.
Right. But we were living together then. So me and Dre became best friends. We were like one-two punch, the way Suge and Pac were; that’s how me and Dre were every day for real, though. From nothing, this n-gga had a Benz and a house with no furniture, just a bare room and a studio. When we’re in the car, I don’t even think CDs was out. I’m putting in cassettes of the Dramatics and all this old-school R&B shit. So he getting a vibe on who I am.
Then I’m at his house and I’m watching pimp movies and The Mack and Super Fly, and my conversation is this and that. So when it’s time for Doggystyle, look how I start off. That’s from Super Fly [the first track, “Bathtub,” samples Curtis Mayfield’s “Gimme Your Love”].
We took the Super Fly, the Mac, the funk elements, the George Clintons, the Parliaments. The talk box, that’s [George Clinton’s] “Atomic Dog.” But it ain’t an “Atomic Dog” bassline. It’s the bassline from “Knee Deep” [by Funkadelic]. See what I’m saying?
So taking all of those elements that I love, Dr. Dre knew how to produce me based off of what I gave him on his record, how I was selecting certain songs and playing certain things and giving it up for him. When he got into my shit, he was like, Oh, this n-gga’s a pimp and a gangster. I know exactly how to fuck his shit up. He’s like Ice Cube and Eazy-E at the same time. You hear what I’m saying?
As much as I’m a huge fan of yours, I didn’t like the second album, Tha Doggfather. You’ve told me the album was made under duress. You didn’t have Dre, and so much was going on. Were you disappointed that that second album wasn’t to your standard?
Nah, because remember I lost Dr. Dre, Tupac, and Suge. [Tha Doggfather was released after Tupac’s death, and after Dre and Suge’s Death Row Records relationship dissolved.] So what do you expect from me? What more do you want?
And then No Limit Records, when you went over there in 1998, it was like a star free agent going to a new franchise.
I was more concerned about my life when I left to go to No Limit, because there was shit happening with Death Row and me that you can’t just leave them, you know what I’m saying?
What I had to go through on that end was the aftereffects of the Doggfather album, because that’s when they stopped paying me. The video budgets, they only had three videos. They still owe me money for one of them videos now, to this day. It was just so much limbo, so when I got with [No Limit owner Master] P, thank God he knew that a change of environment would make me better. He said, “I’m not going to sign you and let you live in L.A. When I sign you, you’re moving to Baton Rouge; you’re coming out here. That’s part of the signing.”
And when I was willing to bring my family out there and go, it settled me down. You got to look at it like this: In No Limit’s eyes, I was still Snoop Doggy Dogg. They didn’t give a fuck about that second album; they gave a fuck about the legacy of Snoop Doggy Dogg.
I did a song with Mystikal before P even wanted to sign me. He just wanted me on the song with Mystikal. Then I used to go up to Priority and he was asking me, “So what you doing, bro?” I’m like, “Oh, Mack 10’s going to sign me. He offered me a million dollars to put out a record called Fuck Death Row.” And Master P is like, “What?” I’m like, “Yeah, that muthafucker’s done. It’s ready to go.” He’s like, “Hold on, bro, you can’t put that out. Give me a few days, man.”
He came back a few days later: “I want to sign you, bro. I’ll go get with you, I’ll give you a nice deal. And matter of fact, next week I want to fly you to Baton Rouge so I can show you what I’m talking about.” Before he even signed my name, he flew me, my daddy, Daz [Dillinger], and I think somebody else to Baton Rouge. We drove to a gated community and P said, “Point at the house you want.” My daddy in the backseat was so excited, he just pointed at everything. I’m pointing at a house I like. P had to pay for it and everything. He said, sign in your name.
On Death Row, I never had nothing in my name, so that was on my head. Went back home for another week. He went and pulled it off the plate. I went to No Limit. I got a three-album deal, five million, and he paid Suge what he had to pay him. I was happy. And No Limit was happy because they were like, We got Snoop Doggy Dogg and look at his spirit. I was like, Fuck that, I ain’t Snoop Doggy Dogg no more. I’m tired of getting Doggy Dogg style. I’m Snoop Dogg. Take the Doggy out.
“Down for My N’s” [which Snoop appears on, but is generally thought of as C-Murder’s song] is originally your record. You’ve said you were more focused on “Ghetto Symphony” [from No Limit Top Dogg] at the time. Explain that thought process, since obviously “Down” went on to be the bigger track?
I was. Because that was me paying homage to the old school. [“Ghetto Symphony” samples rap legend Marley Marl’s “The Symphony.”] This is still my love for hip-hop. Then I had to pay Marley Marl some money. Sit across the room from this n-gga in deposition. [Marl sued Snoop for copyright infringement, with Snoop arguing that the original song sampled Otis Redding.] And that shit broke my heart, because it was just me showing you love and paying you homage, and then Craig G [who appears on “The Symphony” alongside Marley Marl] hit me with, “Man, that’s my shit. You can use it.”
So despite Craig G wanting me to use it, because I used his verse, I had to go to court, and I’m like, Come on, Marley Marl, this is Snoop Dogg homie. Do we really have to go here? And I had to pay him, when it could’ve just been, “Hey, Dogg, why don’t you throw me something because this is my song? I want the masters.” Then I would’ve said, “No problem, OG, Master P has money.” But that was showing me how… I can’t disrespect his business; that’s how he get down. I don’t get down like that. I’m not going to take nobody to court for using my shit and putting my shit in a market that your ass don’t even exist in.
But you also embraced the record, right?
Free my n-gga C-Murder [who’s currently serving a life sentence for murder, despite maintaining his innocence]. He’s always been the most honest n-gga with me. When I had records [on No Limit], he’d say, “You better put this shit out, this is a single right here.” Now it’s crazy to be hearing bands at football games playing “Down for My N’s.” Whomp, whomp, whomp, whomp. For real, damn, that shit was big. But it was better for C-Murder to be on both of our records. And in actuality we could say it now, that was about Death Row, fuck them n-ggas. We just didn’t say their name. You listen to his verse.
So the Fuck Death Row record [which Snoop recorded but never formally released] is like a Southern rap classic.
My last verse was just before P told me to change it. But he made me change it, and then he was like, “Nah, we can’t.” Because I was like, fuck them n-ggas. And C-Murder was with the shit too. You hear me? With the shit. Master P was a businessman and a thinker and knew that we would only add fuel to the fire, so let’s just not even entertain it—just made the hook on “Down for My N’s” “Fuck them other n-ggas,” and this is about anybody. And nobody ever felt it was about them, but me and C knew who it was about, because we didn’t have a beef with nobody but them.
“Drop It Like It’s Hot,” from 2004. Massive. Your first No. 1. A song of the damn decade. How did you and the Neptunes connect? Especially you and Pharrell. Y’all had such chemistry.
Pharrell and I were fascinated with each other, and we knew how to dig into our world. I went into his world, and he went into my world. When we were working on “Drop It Like It’s Hot,” I was on my gangbanging shit. I had a bunch of gangsters with me.
He once said there were 60 Crips in the studio when you recorded that, right?
And that’s what he wanted. It made him do better, because if you’re producing for an artist, you need to understand everything about that artist to get the elements. That’s why I think Dre perfected Doggystyle, because we lived together through The Chronic and into the Doggystyle album. So he was able to live with me to understand what I love, what I need, what I feel and present it musically.
Pharrell did the same thing. He was more about, “I need to dive into who the fuck you are away from music, so I can put it in the music.” And a lot of producers don’t do that; they just want to send a beat. But do you even know who I am and how I get down, and what I’m on and what my vibe is right now?
Is that how you tap in when you did “Beautiful” with Pharrell, in 2003? Or “Signs” with Justin Timberlake and Charlie Wilson, in ’05? Is this just the uptempo, party/fun side of you?
Those are the records Pharrell directs on. He’ll play the shit, he’s singing it—
He’s winning you over, selling the concept.
Selling the shit out of it. He sold the shit out of “Signs” and all that shit. I’m like, Okay, okay, Justin Timberlake, all right, all right. But what I didn’t get from him that I always wanted was a song with me and Jay-Z together on a Pharrell beat. Because I felt like [Jay and I] heard his beats the best, you know what I’m saying? We did his beats the most justice.
You felt a little bit competitive with Jay also making Pharrell records?
Yeah. Because that’s our producer; he’s our guy. I’m like, “Man, that shit you gave Jay-Z was hot. Now you think I can get one better than that?” You think Jay’s saying, “How the fuck do you get this n-gga ‘Drop It Like It’s Hot’? I’ve been hanging out with you, and you’re going to give him that?”
You have so many big records. But then “I Wanna Rock” comes out [in 2009], just when they think you ain’t got another big one left in you. What’s that feeling like, where you’re already certified, and you still have new records taking off?
You know, that record right there meant a lot to me, because Funk Flex played it one night when I went to a club. When you get gold, it just reassures you that never give up, never give up, never give up. Because imagine if I say, yeah, I had a great history, my shit was good. I’m going to go and relax. I’m going to let that be what it is, and I don’t get to “I Wanna Rock.” To be able to say I still want more and I still want to be great. I still want to be the dopest muthafucker in hip-hop. How can I? I need to find the right production, say the right words, and have the right visuals and the right feeling. And that’s what you do to put yourself back in that spirit. It’s like a trainer: You know you got to train for a championship fight, but you got to be at championship level when you fight, even if you had a layoff.
Give me a few underrated Snoop Dogg records in the catalog.
I got a song called “Think About It,” from ’06. And I busted like a muthafucker. I’m rapping my ass off on that song. My son made me do it, because he was not listening to my music. He was playing other n-ggas’ shit. There’s a song called “Wrong Idea.” That is a beautiful fuckin’ record from like 2001, with Bad Azz. “Sensual Seduction,” just to have the courage to do that shit. And to let Melina Matsoukas direct me in a video where she had me looking like Prince, with no drawers on—Melina did that. She went on to become a gigantic filmmaker, you know what I’m saying? The fourth song would be [1996’s] “Doggyland.” It’s me talking about a place that I created called Doggyland, where nobody dies, nobody gets sick, everybody lives. It’s the most beautiful place in the world. I don’t think they wanted that in the air. They didn’t want the positivity and the great things that I was saying, because they were used to me being an ignorant-ass gangster.
That was one of your first signs of growth.
It’s like if you see Al Pacino in Scarface, you don’t want to turn around and see him in a kid movie. You want to see him in Heat, you know what I’m saying? This was peace. Doggystyle was war. When you come to peace, it’s different.
Nas has a song, “Death Row East,” about meeting up with Tupac and almost squashing the beef—
I was there when it happened.
New York cats were uniting around Death Row, and the power Death Row had made some New York rappers flip sides and support you all. What was that like? Were you gung-ho on that at the time?
Tupac was on that shit. I wasn’t. I was happy to have those OGs around us that we could learn from and actually make some creative shit. I wasn’t with the bullshit of the beef and none of that. Even when I told the Nas story, I didn’t hear exactly what they said because they were so close to each other. But I know what Tupac came back and told me, and based on the body language, I knew that’s what it was. That Nas could have pushed a button on us that night.
That home field. L.A., it’d be the other way around. It’s a road game.
Straight on. But Tupac didn’t didn’t give a fuck. So he was pressing that real line and Nas was mafia about it: “God love you. I respect your music. I’ll never diss you.” And I guess he said it in the song: It is what it is. I respect you too much.
Was Death Row the most powerful label-run situation of all time? Like that Vibe cover with you, Suge, Dre, and Pac was a real moment.
It was really gangster. I think that three-year run was…really, we started in ’91 with “Deep Cover.” Chronic came out in ’92, Doggystyle came out in ’93, “Murder Was the Case” came out in ’94. Then Tha Dogg Pound’s [Dogg Food] in ’95, Doggfather ’96, All Eyez on Me ’96, Makaveli ’96, and then it’s over. So a five-year run.
You didn’t see a falloff either. It was still at a height when it ended.
Higher when it ended. Because death was connected to it, and people departing. Dre went Aftermath, I went No Limit, and we didn’t look as good as we did. We didn’t sound as good as we did. Aftermath, the Firm, that shit’s garbage. Snoop Dogg and No Limit, I don’t really know. But we fought through it and found our way back to Tha Last Meal, which led me to Chronic 2001, Eastsidaz, Doggy’s Angels, Doggy Style Records, Eminem. That was the reboot. But we needed some time away from each other.
Then I brought Dre to No Limit. He did “Lay Low,” he did “Bitch Please.” He mixed Tha Last Meal from top to bottom. He did the intro, he did “What’s the Use of the Truth.” I brought him to No Limit, and Master P owns that record. To bring a Dr. Dre album to No Limit, that he fucking owns. After Snoop Dogg I got back to the top, because by the time we got to Last Meal, I was smoking. I brought Timbaland, I brought all that to No Limit. Master P didn’t just get me, he got all the jewels that I brought.
And you’re in the sports analysis game now, you and Kevin Hart, calling boxing matches. What can’t you do, Snoop?
I can’t dance underwater without getting wet.
You started a football league for kids in L.A. in 2005. Talk about the impact that it’s had.
We started in 2005, in the inner cities in L.A. We’ve graduated over 5,000 kids from Division One college programs. We graduated over 15,000 kids from high school. We sent 20 kids to the NFL. We have Rhodes scholars, firemen, police chiefs, lawyers, dentists, doctors. We have so many professionals that come out of my league that didn’t make it in football, but they made it in life. Because we always taught student athletes, you have to maintain a certain GPA to play in my football league. If you have a 4.0 GPA, you play for free. We gave them the incentives and accolades to reach for, to get them prepared for high school and then prepare for college. Because sports are now based off of mentality as well, you have to be smart to play sports.
And then four years ago, we started the Snoop Youth Special Stars, where we deal with kids with special needs. It started off with maybe 15 kids; now we got about 150 kids that come out with their parents. They play flag football, we do banquets for them, we do Zoom calls. That’s been my mission for the past four years. Don’t want to put cameras on it, because it’s not publicity; it’s philanthropy.
Family is a big part of your foundation. You made some business moves and changed certain members of your team and really empowered your wife even more as your manager. Why was that important?
Well, making my wife my manager was very key, because that’s my backbone, that’s my heart and my soul, that’s the one that I love the most, that I trust the most. That’s our problem as Black men sometimes: We get so caught up in our business that we forget to let our spouse in the business. Then when something happens to us, in comes some man or some company taking it from this lady who has no understanding of business and how to hold on. But in the other world, they teach their whole family this shit. Everybody knows the business, in case something happens to one member of the family. I’m teaching my sons, my daughter, and my wife the business, so when I do decide to use the R-word, retire…
I can’t imagine that, Snoop.
But you heard what I said, the R word. That’s almost worse than the N-word to me. My dream is to go on vacation for five years straight and have so much shit out there that you don’t even know that I’m on vacation. I never had a vacation since I was in the music industry. Never, not once.
So how did it become official? At dinner one night you said, “You know what? You should just be my manager”?
I was just watching my business and watching how she wasn’t involved. And it bothered me. Losing a lot of people, people leaving this earth, and she ain’t as vocal as me and she ain’t as up-front as me, so I need to position her now, you know what I’m saying? In case something does happen to me or I don’t want to do it no more, I can let her run that shit. But that’s how it’s supposed to be. She stayed down for the get-down; she stayed down for the come-up. I put her through so much shit being with me, holding on with me, all the bullshit I put her through. She remained rock solid the whole way through, so that’s how you repay people for being solid and being loyal. You cut them into it, and now it’s theirs.
You guys went through a rough patch—it was public. But you knew that reconciling was the right decision.
That’s the love of my life, that’s who I want to be with. Like I said, she ain’t never did no wrong. Everything wrong with this relationship has always been me. I take full blame for it. I’m guilty of everything that went wrong with this relationship. But the rehabilitated me is trying to be a better father, a better husband, and a better grandfather. So all that matters now. I care. There was one point in time when I didn’t care nothing about nothing but my music and my life and my shit, and fuck everything else. Selfish. Now I’m selfless.