By Tim Larew
It’s the middle of the summer, the sun’s shining, food and drinks are abundant; I’m glad to be here. It’s a little awkward though. Family reunions always are, I suppose. There’s a whole lot of mingling, but not a whole lot of real conversation. Somehow, the energy in the air is still electric. Like anything could happen at any moment.
After a bit of bouncing around the premises, I head inside and walk into one of the smaller rooms in the house. On entering, it instantly feels warmer and less tense than anywhere else I’ve been in the past couple of hours. There are a handful of people, maybe seven or eight, sitting around a short, rectangular table. I can’t make out any of their faces—perhaps because of the angle I’m walking towards them, perhaps because of the intermittent puffs of smoke filling the airspace just above all the heads—but the laughter and lively chatter begs me closer. Luckily, there’s one open seat left at the table.
I finally get close enough to grab the back of the chair and pull it a few inches toward me. All of a sudden, everything makes sense. Seated at the end of the table, with all eyes on him, is Uncle Snoop. Good ol’ Uncle Snoop. I remember meeting him at a reunion years ago, but that was when I was a little kid, so I don’t remember much. I’ve heard all the stories, though. Whenever my mom starts talking about him, she can’t stop. It’s always been that way. In all the stories, he came across as the wildest, the funniest, the coolest, and somehow the smartest all at once. You couldn’t come away from hanging out with him without a story of your own.
So here we all are, a bunch of relatives connected by little more than blood sitting around a table together, finally at ease for the first time all afternoon, ready for whatever Uncle Snoop has for us. This is our entertainment for the rest of the day. I’m not sure about the others but I know I’m not getting back up. He restarts the conversation: “Greetings, loved ones.” Eyes widen and smiles crack.
OK, so in reality, it’s not the middle of summer. It’s April 23rd. It’s also not sunny, but rather surprisingly overcast for Los Angeles, and aside from bottled water, there isn’t much by way of food and drinks. Also, to my knowledge, none of us at the family reunion—which is, instead, a media day taking place at Conway Recording Studios in Hollywood—are actually related, though for most of us, there are at least a few familiar faces in the room.
Uncle Snoop is present, though, and so is that vibe, almost exactly as described. Snoop Dogg is unlike anyone I’ve ever met in my life, but at the same time he’s everything a favorite uncle would be. I hadn’t known him for more than five minutes at the private listening session for his new album, BUSH (produced entirely by Pharrell), but I felt like we already shared a close bond. At 43 years old, he’s not only a veteran in hip-hop and music in general, but in life as well. He’s truly seen it all, and now—as evidenced by the sound and content of BUSH—he seems to be in a position of comfort, immense spirituality, and simply wanting to give. When he welcomed us (us being myself and a handful of other writers) to the table at which we had an enlightening discussion about the album, he did so like an uncle would do with nieces and nephews he hadn’t seen in years. Even though he knew none of us personally, he seemed genuinely happy to see us, whether that was a result of strictly the energy of the moment or more likely, the awareness and appreciation of his own influence.
The album, which releases nationwide today, (Tuesday, May 12), feels much like when Kanye raps, “Man the weather’s so breezy, man, why can’t life always be this easy?” on “Flashing Lights.” It’s a lush, 10-track collection made up of nothing but positive vibes and warm, catchy melodies. Guest appearances from Stevie Wonder, Charlie Wilson, Gwen Stefani, T.I., Kendrick Lamar and Rick Ross bless the tracklist, but all in a refreshingly tasteful manner. The first voice on the album is Pharrell’s, who croons, “Baby you could be a movie star, get yourself a medical card, cause that’s how California rolls,” as Stevie Wonder’s harmonica hums gracefully in the background. The opening track sets the tone for the rest of the journey, an exceptionally pleasant one that truly stands on its own in the midst of an already banner year for hip-hop and music in general. For Snoop, that was the goal: “My shit don’t sound like yours. You can’t put my record and someone else’s on and be like, ‘They rapping the same way.’ I may not be the most talked about when my album comes out, but when the dust clears, I’m still gonna be standing.” And in typical Snoop fashion, there was nothing negative about the statement. He praised Young Thug and Migos in the same breath, but assured us that BUSH is in a lane of its own.
Snoop is, in fact, the coolest, wisest and friendliest of all uncles. The roundtable discussion that took place just after listening to BUSH a few weeks prior to its release provided invaluable context for the album and made it clear that Snoop is everything his music embodies. Like Charlie Wilson was to him, Snoop is a role model and a teacher for so many who’ve proceeded down a similar path. He’s a legend and a true OG, one whose approach to his 13th studio album was just as daring as the approach to his first over 20 years ago. Read on for a detailed look into the creation of and inspiration behind BUSH as well as Snoop’s remarkable journey over the course of the past two decades.
Reincarnated that was a different record for you, coming from that record, did that have any kind of impact in terms of direction you took with this record?
I think that was more of a spiritual uplifting that I was in need of at the time and I think it’s with me forever now. It enlightened me on finding out what I needed to be doing on and off the field, during the game and after the game. That journey through Jamaica put me in tune again. Sometimes you can get so far into the game where you lose focus on who really gives you the position of power. We get clouded with our vision because success puts material things in front of us as opposed to the reality, which is the people. Now that I’ve found the people again, my origins are funk, and this is the music I’m making right now. I’ve never been able to do a whole record like this because I’ve always been Snoop Dogg the rapper—so gangster, so hard, so this, so that—that I could never just go into a whole mode of doing it like this. Now I’m able to take full advantage of what I’m doing and not trip over whether it’s gonna sell or what they say. And Pharrell is such a great producer and knows how to get the best out of me.
I came in here bouncing to “So Many Pros,” but I was really surprised that the real version wasn’t “So Many Hoes.” Was that a conscious choice? I mean, it’s a sexually charged album, but it’s not sexually explicit.
I blame that on Pharrell, he wrote the song “So Many Hoes,” and once I spit it they was loving it, all the girls, but they wasn’t paying attention to that. And then P was like, “We should change it to pros because all these pro athletes and sports people love you, and it could be on ESPN…” He just started thinking out of the box, but I was like, “Nigga, shit, they like it when I call them hoes.”
You know what, P [Pharrell] knows what’s best… That’s what I love about him as a friend—he ain’t afraid to challenge me.
But I’m like, you know what, P knows what’s best. You want me to put a suit and tie on and clean my face up, I’m gonna do that for you, ’cause you know what’s best. That’s what I love about him as a friend—he ain’t afraid to challenge me. The average producer would’ve been like, “Nah, leave that shit like that,” but he was like, “Nah, I’m gonna challenge you to make that clean ’cause you grown now. You ain’t 25 no more. You’re 43, you got a daughter, and when we put it out this way it’s gonna be accepted by the masses as opposed to it being minimized by that one word.”
It’s surprising to see that Pharrell was the one who sparked that, coming off Reincarnated you talked about needing music you could play at the White House. This feels like an extension of that.
That’s all Pharrell because a lot of this record he wrote for me or he had it written for me, so my pen was mainly for the rapping and a little bit of the melodies on certain songs. But he gave me the platform and had the people writing and gave me the direction he felt I should be going in, and when you writing for Snoop Dogg, you write “hoes.” It was just melodic and sounded good, so even when it was dirty, it wasn’t offensive. But for the professionalism of business and who I am and where we wanna take this record to, that made the most sense, and I really appreciate Pharrell for even saying that to me cause y’all noticed that. I don’t think I cussed but two or three times on the record.
What’s the goal as far as what you want people to feel with this record?
I want y’all to feel good, as simple as that is. This shit is friendly. This is like you can play it like, “Hey Momma, hey Grandma, you like that?” I done seen some kids, when my shit come out they always show me the babies on Instagram or Facebook. It’s like 7-8 year olds standing in front of the TV singing, and they don’t even know the words. It’s the cutest shit in the world. I don’t trip off the adults cause when I was a kid I remember certain artists’ music hit my ears and it never left my soul. I feel like that’s what I’m doing, and my music’s gonna stay with the kids forever, and they gonna love Snoop Dogg forever.
Who were some of those artists for you who maybe helped inspire this project?
Definitely James Brown, George Clinton, Bootsy Collins, Roger Troutman, Curtis Mayfield, Steve Arrington, Charlie Wilson. It was so much funk that was going on in the era when I was a kid. It’s not like now where I can’t name seven motherfuckers doing funk, but I can name 100 rappers that have a funk undertone but don’t even know they’re funk.
You’re Snoop Dogg, you come off cool as a fan at all times, but do you get a sense of hesitation—like you said, there’s 100 rappers making 100 different rap albums, and this sounds like nothing out. Are you hesitant to put it out or do you just let it do what it do?
Realistically, I come from the world of battle rap. I used to be a battle rapper before I got a record deal, and I always had the attitude that y’all can’t fuck with me, and that’s my attitude when I drop my record. Y’all can’t fuck with me. And that ain’t derogatory, that ain’t conceited, that ain’t negative, that’s just an energy of confidence of knowing that my shit don’t sound like yours. Right now it may not win, I may not be the most talked about when I come out, but when the dust clears, I’m still gonna be standing. Because that’s me, it’s not them.
If you sounded like someone else, that word was called biting. You biting my style, you biting my shit.
I don’t know who is who when they doing that rap style, and I love them all! I love Future, Migos, I love all them. Drake. They my niggas, but I don’t know who is who when the record is over. When I came out as a rapper, everyone had their own style. If you sounded like someone else, that word was called biting. You biting my style, you biting my shit. If you paying tribute, like I did with “La Di Da Di” with Slick Rick and Doug E. Fresh—I paid niggas who I grew up loving. I’m gonna redo your song, get you paid all over again, and let everybody know it’s your shit, and put a twist on it for the new kids who don’t even know it exist. That’s a different way of showing love as opposed to everyone rapping the same style.
I want to ask about the song “Runaway.” That song stood out to me, at least contextually. I understand it was made in Argentina with Gwen Stefani. There’s a line in the hook that goes, “The world is getting ugly.” Do you believe that?
Mhhmmm. Most definitely. We’re approaching a break but who cares? The world is getting ugly. And then we say, “Runaway, runaway with me,” so it’s like, come with me right now while the world is getting ugly. Join me on this journey of happiness. I can put you in a place where you not even focused on what the world is doing, you focused on what we doing. That’s how I maintain my happiness through all the ugliness that goes on in the world. I’ve suffered tragedies, I lost my uncle Junebug, I lost Nate Dogg, I lost 2Pac, I lost a lot of people that meant a lot to me, but I still maintain my ability to stay fresh and stay positive and stay me and keep happiness in everything around me. I believe that record is one way of showing that. Despite the world getting ugly, you can still maintain your happiness and run away and have some fun and do you.
I’ve suffered tragedies, I lost my uncle Junebug, I lost Nate Dogg, I lost 2Pac, I lost a lot of people that meant a lot to me, but I still maintain my ability to stay fresh and stay positive and stay me.
Charlie Wilson, I’ve talked to him about you before and he almost started crying talking about how much respect he had for you. At the time you reached out to him to do stuff it was at a real low point for him, so what is it like to still have him on board, you know, he’s on like every song on this record, he adapted and probably got it immediately.
That’s my uncle, that’s my teacher. What people don’t know is that our relationship is so deep. From the moment I seen him, I seen him at AM PM on crack with no record deal doing super bad when I was on Death Row Records. He came up to my car and I was like, “Man, you Charlie Wilson from The Gap Band? I love your shit man.” I gave him a few dollars and I was like, “Man, if I could ever do something for you I’d love to help you man.” So long story short, my homegirl Val Young, Lady V, who’s an OG in the game, she brings him to the studio, and when she did that, I put him on a song called “Off The Hook” with me, him and James DeBarge.
Imagine this: they all on crack, but I’m on weed, and I don’t want them doing crack no more. Let’s make some music, let’s figure this out.
Imagine this: they all on crack, but I’m on weed, and I don’t want them doing crack no more. Let’s make some music, let’s figure this out. From that day we started working together and he brought his drug counselor—who eventually became his wife—because she stood by his side every day of his life. I love her to death. He showed me how to perform—because I was good, but he showed me how to be great.
It’s so magical that when you put your heart in the right place. This is what happens, and to see his success means more to me that my success because that’s somebody I grew up loving and I seen him at his lowest point and now to see him at his highest point. And he beat cancer. This was a real relationship for me, and a lot of times we didn’t say it, but if you listen to my record, there’s a reason why he’s on every motherfucking song.
And you got another chemistry too, you and P. He gave you your first number one hit, but how do you guys know when a track is it? Especially with the time crunch. You guys are both busy as hell.
It’s an instinct. It’s like a kid that rides a bike, and then he doesn’t ride a bike for 20 years then you give him one, he gonna master that technique. We have an instinct about what we want to hear. E-40 once told me, “Cousin Snoop, you know why you great? Because you pick dope beats.” It starts with the beat. You gotta pick the dope beat to get it going on and on. And when I’m with P, he’s a dope beatmaker, so it ain’t hard to pick, and then me and him both picking the same shit, we already halfway home, now the other half is the lyrics. If I’m a dope rapper, then what we dealing with? You know, we play the odds when we in the studio. Quincy Jones taught me that. He said, “When you go to the studio, have a target that you aiming at, and play the odds, and that way you’ll make a hit record. Don’t go in there trying to make a hit record, because you won’t.”
Two of the songs that stood out to me were “Awake” and “California Roll.” “California Roll” feels like rolling around California, but the metaphor went in a different direction than I expected. Is there a metaphor in “Awake”?
I think we’re trying to awake the world and wake everybody up to what’s good for you. You know, it may be weed, it may be just open-mindedness and being aware of the fact that you should wake up. Some of us walk around sleep and don’t even know it, so it’s really speaking to many minds of those who need to have an awakening. Pharrell, when he gives me songs, we spiritually connect. Sometimes I don’t even know what the fuck the song means when we’re doing it, it takes a minute for the song to live with you and to grow. In the spirit of making music, sometimes we don’t understand it until it speaks to you. Then it’s like OK, that’s why I did it.
On Instagram, you’re very spiritual. I wonder where did all that come from? How did you get to this place? Because rap is not really a genre where we expect to hear people talking about happiness and staying awake and things of that nature.
My momma. I was raised by a single mother. I was born in ’71. From then until like ’79, we would just party together. I used to smoke with her, party with her friends, and just do me because I was one of those kids who was considered a grown kid. Then she found God and started bringing us to church, so we went from partying to going to church and learning the Bible, singing, learning about famous black people, doing plays, and reading scriptures, so she showed us that.
Once I got to a certain age, I started selling drugs and moved out and challenged that, and I saw that it was gonna get me killed or in jail because most of my homies were either dead or in jail. And I had to refer back to that when I got out. Even though I still had that inside of my rap because it was who I was, I was trying to blossom. I finally became the person I wanted to be. I grew into him, and [my mother] is proud of me now because of who I am, as opposed to who I was.
I finally became the person I wanted to be. I grew into him, and [my mother] is proud of me now because of who I am, as opposed to who I was.
I think that’s the beauty of longevity, because when you’re older and have that sense of awareness you can share that with your audience. I think it’s important for artists to reflect on where they are, but what kind of words do you give new artists in terms of how to approach their art and some of the things you’re talking about?
I just try to tell them to continue to be them, it’s a young man’s game, and it’s always gonna be. You can’t do it like me cause you gotta do it like you and your era is different than mine, so whatever you doing that they’re loving, stick to the script and continue to do that and be you.
I believe that the older rappers like myself get it misunderstood when we think that they supposed to be doing what we were doing. It’s a different time. Just like when we was kids the old folks would be like, “You shouldn’t do that.” It was like, “Man, I don’t wanna hear that shit, I wanna learn on my own.” So we have to allow these youngsters to learn on their own.
Whether they’re doing it right or wrong, they’re doing it, and they’re not doing negative shit—shooting, killing, robbing, stealing. They’re making music, they’re rapping, they’re singing, they’re putting forth an effort to become somebody because they aspire to be a sensational artist. I can never shoot them down, I like what they’re doing, and that trumps everything. I remember the time when we had no window of opportunity and wasn’t doing shit, so I can never knock them for trying to become something, to inspire the next 100,000 young MCs that may become Snoop Dogg.