IN FROM THE COLD – Snoop Dogg, the rapper who helped make the ‘Death Row’ label a household name, bids for independence
Interview by Neil Strauss
Photo by Jay Blakesberg
This article was originally published in The Source Magazine, April 1998 (Issue #103)
There are no security gates, armed guards or electric fences at Snoop Doogy Dogg’s house in Claremont outside of Los Angeles, just a sweatsuit-clad Snoop, who pulls me into the door and pushes me into his home studio. “I want you to hear a few songs first,” he barks, punching play on his DAT machine. He backs out, under a sign that reads “Home Honey, I’m High,” and I don’t see him again for an hour. Instead, I hear 13 new songs he just finished recording. After a triumphant comeback song—with a silky female chorus cooling “When Doggy Dogg comes, you better answer”—comes a concept album of sorts about his current problems and his solutions to them from embittered Death Row swipes (“you stole my money and my soul”) to anthems of newfound autonomy (“I put out my records independently/ That way ain’t no n*gga yanking me”).
The moment the album skids to an end, Snoop bursts through the door. “Well, did you tape some of it?” he asks.
“Of course not,” I reassure him.
“You should have.”
“Didn’t we talk yesterday about taping pieces of the album and leaking them on the internet?”
“Come on, man,” he sighs. “I’ll give you the ones that you want.”
“Should I just leak it on the internet, or do you want radio too?”
“All of it, man,” he replies. “That’s what I want you here for. I ain’t never done that sh*t before.”
Snoop Doggy Dogg is at a strange juncture in his career. Some of his friends say that he’s alone and confused; other says he’s never been more confident and right-headed in his life. Not only is he in the midst of a nasty divorce with the label he helped thrust to the top of the charts, he also has to regain the hip-hop supremacy he once possessed. For some, Snoop Dogg hasn’t mattered since he became Dre-less. Even Snoop seems to have internalized that sentiment to some degree. It comes across in his need for affirmation about the music he plays me, the assurance that his new sh*t is indeed the bomb.
But all of this may be subtext to the real nuts and bolts of the drama: the stranger tussle between Snoop and Death Row. According to Snoop, under the terms of California law he’s a free man. Death Row claims he owes them another six albums. Nevertheless, Snoop’s been running around like a man granted amnesty, embarking on venture after venture while cheerily telling Death Row to f*** off. In the next year, he plans to exercise his independence with his own indie label, Dogg House Records, a new solo album, a movie and soundtrack based on his Death Row experiences called Corleone’s Revenge, a 213 album (with Warren G and Nate Dogg) a long-awaited reunion with Dr. Dre (Break Up to Make Up) and, if his stamina keeps up, a project called Three The Hard Way with Ice Cube and Kurupt.
He is both paranoid and carefree, insecure and confident, frustrated and excited. He has recorded so much new music but no one is hearing it. His wings have been clipped for so long that he seems eager to embark on any collaboration, project or experiment. Another contradiction he embodies is family man (with a wife and two children) and gangsta. Right now, he is a family man.
“Can we use your wheels?” he asks. I gotta go get pampers.”
By the time I realized the situation I’ve been put in, it’s too late because we’re already on the highway in my cheap-as-sh*t Pontiac with Snoop rolling a joint and the tape recorder going. The situation is this: driving around Southern California with Snoop riding shotgun is the equivalent of letting your young child visit Michael Jackson unsupervised. It’s dangerous.
I’m surprised that you’re trying to get me to leak this album because there’s always such high security surrounding rap albums.
It didn’t used to be about that. When me and Warren G and Nate Dogg started, we used to make records and we used to put the motherf***ers out the same day on a tape. I’m trying to put the real sh*t out there now, the sh*t I’ve been making, the sh*t I’ve been thinking about, the sh*t I’ve been doing. That’s one thing I learned from Pac and Puffy—ain’t no such thing as overexposure, ain’t no such thing as doing too much. Them n*ggaz, in the last two years I’ve heard at least a hundred records from them two. And if people ain’t stopped liking them n*ggaz and loving them n*ggaz, that say there ain’t no such thing as overexposure.
So how are you getting out of your Death Row contract?
I got a contract from 1991 I signed with Future Shock Records on it, and Future shock Records was Death Row Records before we came up with the name of Death Row. And under the seven-year statute [a California statute limiting personal service contracts to seven years], I’m outta my contract. And not only that, they breached me: they ain’t paid me, they stole my publishing, and they ain’t never done sh*t for me. But f*** a n*gga cuz a n*gga didn’t know. [David Kenner, lawyer for Death Row, did not respond to Snoop’s allegations by press time.]
What label are you gonna find to put out this new record?
No label will want to put it out. That’s why I’ve got to do it myself. If I get some distribution, I would take it. But this album right here is so on the edge that the average record label wouldn’t want to put it out because of certain sh*t I say and the way I say it. They don’t want to have nothing to do with that.
You’re talking about that “Death Row Killers” song?
Is that the first Death Row diss record to come from the West Coast?
I ain’t never heard nobody talking about Death Row. Period. Besides Luke. Luke was the only one who dissed me and Dre. Eazy-E was trying, but it wasn’t nothing major, like this sh*t I’m talking about.
You’re Death Row’s biggest cash cow, so aren’t they fighting or trying in some way to keep you from leaving the label?
They’re not trying to take me to court and I’m putting out records right now without their permission, so they must know they can’t beat me in court. But it ain’t about that. It’s about all I asked for is what I asked for, so let me move forward. Don’t hold me down because you’re locked up and you feel everything is against you. I’m not against you homie, I just gotta take care of my family and Death Row can’t provide for me right now.
What did you ask Death Row for?
A lot of sh*t. Man, I ain’t never been accounted for. At all. As long as I’ve been rapping for Death Row Records, they never accounted for me. I never received statements on my money, or none of that, man. They bought a n*gga gifts and sh*t.
What gifts did they get you?
A Rolls Royce, a penthouse suite on Wilshire, a motherf***ing Hummer, gold chains, Rolex watches, diamond earrings, hotel suites, anything a n*gga wanted. Anything to keep your mind off your money. They bought me this and brought me that instead of giving me my motherf***ing money, and when the court case came up. . .
You couldn’t afford the lawyers?
. . .not really afford the lawyers. But I couldn’t fight the system because they would have dropped my case and left me for dead. How am I gonna talk sh*t to the motherf***ers that’s putting up the money to fight for my life? And what was important to me was my freedom at the time.
So you would’ve gotten off Death Row back then if you could’ve?
Hell yeah. Cause I seen where they were going. When Dre left, what the f*** am I gonna be there for? I signed to Death Row Records for Dr. Dre. Point blank. Just like anybody else would have in 1991, when Dre was in N.W.A and they broke up and he went and did his thing. N*ggas would have went and signed with Death Row Records, Future Shock Records, whatever the f*** it was called, for Dr. Dre. I didn’t know nobody else. I was in it for the music.
When Dre left Death Row, did he ask you to go with him?
No, he didn’t ask me to leave. He didn’t say nothing. He just packed his bags and left. If he had asked me to leave, there would have been some violent sh*t. Cause n*ggaz will be n*ggaz. But I mean, I had fun and sh*t on Death Row, man. I can’t say I didn’t. I just hate that it ended like it did, man. I can truly say that to all the little rappers coming up in the game: money is a motherf***er and don’t believe the color, know what I’m saying. You might see a Black record label and be like, “I’m gonna sign with this label ‘cause they ain’t gonna be f***ing me and the white labels just be f***ing us.” Man, n*ggaz will f*** you over faster than white folks will too. We all the same: we all got blood in us and we all dream and think and do the same sh*t in the world, so it ain’t got nothing to do with color. It’s all about the person’s well-being and what their business attitude is. So for all the young rappers coming in, get you some attorneys. Even if you ain’t got no money, you gotta get attorneys so you can read over them contracts and know what you’re singing so you won’t be in the situation I’m in, where I gotta fight these n*ggaz to get my sh*t back.
What’s the main problem? Publishing?
Yeah, that’s the only problem. They don’t want to give that sh*t back to me because I know what is is now. And I’m signed to Suge Publishing, and he knows I know what it is now, so he don’t wanna give it back to me.
At least Dre never signed to Suge Publishing.
Yeah, cause Dre isn’t stupid. He had already been through N.W.A. That was my N.W.A right there.
At what point did everything on Death Row start to go bad? It was a good family for a while.
Yeah, it was a good family when all that gang-bang bullsh*t was to the side. But then n*ggaz start bringing their homeboys, letting their homeboys be a part of our business. When it was just us and we were doing the music, it was the sh*t. I was at fault too because some of my homeboys came and influenced and f***ed some sh*t up too. But all of us was at fault when we started bringing our homeboys who took the sh*t sideway and had n*ggaz doing stupid sh*t. That’s why n*ggaz is where they at right now.
Was there ever any conflict between you and Suge because he was a Blood and you were a Crip?
Never no conflict. We got over that from day one, but a lot of times out homeboys had problems with it and conflicts. That’s where sh*t went bad because some of the homies couldn’t understand how I could be a Crip and he could be a Blood and we could chill and make money and not hate each other. Suge always let a n*gga represent. He never told me to stop representing Crip. He never tried to make me change and represent his hood and claim what he claimed. He was the best businessmen in the world for me at first. I can’t take nothing away from him there. He put me in situations where all I had to do was shine and do what I do best. Without his push I couldn’t have been there. There’s real sh*t that I got from, learned from him, appreciated from him, but then there’s bad sh*t as well. And that’s part of life. It’s like a marriage: it’s good and it’s bad, and you take the good with the bad. Pull over here, I wanna get some diapers.
Snoop leaves the car, returns three minutes later with a bottle of barbecue sauce in his hand and talks to the tape recorder. “I had a diaper run, had to get some diapers for my baby. The store didn’t have none; them motherf***ers was too small.”
If you compare your two albums, Suge’s name blows up on the back and in the booklet to bigger than your name. . .
Exactly. His name is bigger than mine on my record. His name is all over my record: Suge Publishing. Executive Producer: Suge Knight. And he didn’t do a motherf***ing thing in the studio, no records, no producing, none of that. But I’m wrong for wanting my name on there, my logo on there? But Tupac can get it on his sh*t. But then get mysteriously killed a couple months later? So I say, man, those n*ggas was bad businessmen. It was fun while it lasted, but I’m older and much wiser and I’m ready to move on with my life. And I feel those motherf***ers shouldn’t be mad at me. It’s like an athlete. If Michael Jordan don’t wanna play for the Chicago Bulls and he won those motherf***ers seven championships, they gotta let him f***ing go. I won these motherf***ers seven championships. I been down with them since 1991. It’s 1998.
You have so many lyrics on the new record rapping about independence and talking about people like Master P. Do you feel that you’re free now?
Independence is freedom because you’re able to do what you gotta do when you want to. I look at it like I helped Death Row build an empire. I could have been one of the partners in the company when Dre left. N*ggaz know I was there when Death Row started. He [Suge] could have pulled me aside and said, “Snoop, there goes 20 percent of Death Row. Why don’t you take a little bit of Dre’s share. You were here from the beginning, you made Death Row with me. Here’s 20 percent of the company.” Better than that, n*gga could have said, “Here’s 15 percent,” “Here’s 10 percent,” “Here’s five percent,” “Here’s two percent,” “Here’s one percent.”
N*gga didn’t even give me one percent of Death Row and everybody in the industry, in the world, on the streets, in the pen knows you never heard of Death Row till you heard of Snoop Dogg. So how you gonna cheat me out of mine? And then don’t pay me? And then got all of my sh*t tied up in your name and Ms. Knight? All kind of sh*t that they tried to do to me. They just tried to use me.
Did you ever tell Suge that you wanted a piece of the company?
I shouldn’t have had to tell him. He was the business; I was just the artist.
How could you let the wife of your record label president manage you? Didn’t you see the conflict of interest there? That’s the cl*ssic mistake people make when getting started in the business.
Yeah it’s a cl*ssic mistake—when you don’t know. The thing was: I was in a situation where money was new to me, success was new to me and all this sh*t hit me at once. Sh*t was happening so fast she just seemed like she was handling business for me. And of course with his knowledge and him saying, “Well, you should make her your manager,” what am I gonna say? “No?” And we was all family so I’m not gonna second [guess] it. “That’s your wife, so what is she gonna do to harm me? If it get too hectic, I know you’ll pull me out of it.” And he never did, I swear to God, I asked him for a whole year to take me out of the contract with her. “Suge, please man.” Me and Tha Dogg Pound all went through the same thing. Nate Dogg would never sign with her, Rage would never sign with her because she was doing sneaky sh*t. Then tried to sue me?!
Didn’t Death Row freeze your assets because of it?
Man, they haven’t paid me since October. That’s why I don’t give a f*** about Death Row right now. I don’t give a f*** about going on the record—I’ll say it on TV and in public. Y’all should just let me go. If you had let me go, I would have never said f*** Death Row. But y’all don’t even wanna let a n*gga go. You wanna hold onto me like I’m a slave or some sh*t. This is 1998. This ain’t 1898.
It’s crazy because I know when Dr. Dre left they tried to make all kinds of false accusations about him. Trying to say that the n*gga’s gay and all kinds of sh*t. Man, n*ggas be trying to do all kinds of sh*t to bring a n*gga down when a n*gga don’t wanna be with ‘em no more. I wonder what they’re gonna say [about] me now. That’s why I’m shooting off hit rocks at their *ss before they say something about me. I’m just telling the truth though, I ain’t making up sh*t. I’m just straight telling the truth, and I’m getting back with Dre. We gonna make some motherf***ing hit records, and anybody got a problem with it n*gga, you all know where we at.
I heard that new song you did with Dre the other day, “Zoom Zoom,” on the internet.
I ain’t on that song no more. Interscope Records took me off and put LL Cool J on it because Death Row wouldn’t clear me on the record as far as doing sh*t with Dre, because you know they hate Dre because Dre left. Now they gonna be hating me. That’s why I’m doing records about them before they even get at me. I heard what Suge said about me in The Source magazine. What’d he say, that Tupac didn’t like me or something?
No, he said that you and Tupac had a falling out, after the MTV Video Music Awards.
Yeah, we had a falling out because I didn’t feel it was right for him to bring everybody involved into his feud. If he had a problem with Biggie Smalls or Puffy Combs, he was a grown man. He should have able to handle that sh*t on his own. Don’t bring all of us into some sh*t that you can handle on your own. From what I was looking t, them boys didn’t want no problem. Puffy and Biggie never said, “F*** Tupac, f*** Death Row, bring it on.” They always was like, “We wanna be peace, we wanna make it happen.” And I’m a grown man. If a motherf***er don’t wanna quarrel with me or don’t wanna shoot-out with me, why am I gonna force the issue? When I made my statement on the radio out there at the MTV Awards, I let everybody in New York know that Tupac is his own individual and Snoop is his own individual. I’m down with Tupac to the fullest, but if it’s a one-on-one fight, I’m not gonna get involved. That’s not my thing. But if he’s getting his *ss beaten in a one-on-one fight, then I’m gonna get involved. That’s not my thing. But if he’s getting his *ss beaten in a one-on-one fight, then I’m gonna get involved. But they didn’t even wanna fight him, so I didn’t see myself getting involved. And you can call me what you want, but when I have problems with motherf***ers, I don’t ask nobody to help me. All I’ll say is this: gangstas don’t talk, they take care of their business.
What happened to your relationship with Tupac after that?
We didn’t speak after he left New York. But I went to see him when he was in the hospital, all shot up, because I had love for that n*gga and I love him to death to this day. I look at myself as a real friend; a real friend is going to tell you the motherf***ing truth. There’s certain sh*t that Pac told me that hurt my feelings and made me mad, but I loved him for it because he was real and he told me the motherf***ing truth. And Suge Knight can’t speak on me and Pac, because our relationship was genuine, the same way his and Pac’s was. Like I can’t speak on how he had Tupac in the car with him doing stupid-*ss gangbang sh*t in Vegas. That’s on him. Bust a left. If I go in here, I’ll have to sign 8000 motherf***ing autographs and take 18 pictures.
We pull into a grocery store and I run and buy Pampers while Snoop waits in the car. Then we head back to his place, talking about one of his past Source interviews, during which he was driving around gang-banging instead of family-tending. While his wife and children eat lunch, we hole up in the studio and continue.
Were you scared for your life after Tupac and Biggie died?
I’m just an average motherf***er that read, the newspaper; I’m trying to figure out what happened too. So of course I was scared because I thought it was a plot on rappers. But as I got stronger in my faith in God, he took the fear away from me. I’m not fearing nothing now but God. If he ready for me to go, I’ll be leaving. Other than that, I gotta do what I gotta do. And I gotta make hit records.
What happened to the famous armored van you got to protect yourself?
It used to be on the side of my house, but I got rid of it. My armored van is God, man. He gonna get me through everything. ‘Cause if he ready for me to go, that armored van can’t do sh*t. I could be getting out of the armored van getting blown the f*** up.
What’s the closest thing you’ve come to dying?
When I was selling dope, man. I used to get shot at all the time. That’s why I left that lifestyle along because it wasn’t cool to me. I’ve seen a lot of the homies get shot and all kinds of negative sh*t happen. But that’s part of me rapping about it now because I’ve grown out of it. I want to tell my story. I don’t wanna be a story.
People think that now you’re living behind barred windows surrounded by armed security guards.
Man, you’re here. When you pulled up this morning, I let you in. When we went to the store, it was just me and you. Man, I’m chilling. N*ggaz know where I’m at. I ain’t bringing no problems to nobody, I’m just defending myself. If you say something about me, I’m gonna say something about you. If you steal on me, I’m gonna steal on you. If you jack me, I’m gonna jack you back. That’s just the way I do it. I’m defensive, man. I’m not offensive no more. I’m not the type to go out there and just beat up a n*gga for nothing. I’m just kicking back watching to see what you’re trying to do to me.
I’m just concerned with trying to provide for my family: my wife and my two kids. I’m happy and I’m trying to make the hardest gangsta-*ss music that you n*ggas have heard in a long time. That’s all I’m here for. That’s what you all want, that’s what you’re all gonna get. I think I’m gonna call my album I Apologize. Yeah, Snoop Doggy Dogg, I Apologize, album number three.
What’s happening with the Doggumentary EP Death Row was supposed to release last year?
Death Row or Interscope or somebody f***ed me over. They had me put together a tight-*ss EP and promote it and do a song with Rage Against The Machine. It was the number one song on K-Rock, I did Lollapalooza and take about it, “Midnight Love” was blowing up. And then they f***ed around and didn’t put the record out. That was the last straw right there that made me want to leave. Seeing how they mishandled The Doggfather album. I sold two million records. I’m thankful for that and I’m happy and I’m satisfied. I’m not upset with nothing. I thank those people that bought it and appreciated it. And those that didn’t, f*** y’all.
I was satisfied with that project, and Doggumentary was just a follow-up attempt to show people that I hadn’t went nowhere. But it seemed like Death Row didn’t want me to succeed no more. They didn’t want me to succeed no more. They didn’t want me to put no records out anymore. Then I started trying to do records with other artists and, for instance, the song I did with Jermaine Dupri. I think I was supposed to get $100,000 for that song, and Death Row ended up getting the money and I didn’t get sh*t. And I didn’t get to do the video because Death Row signed off on the papers saying that they would do it, then on the last day changed their mind. So I couldn’t do the video with JD. That’s why he had to do the remix with Usher and Da Brat. And I’m like, man, they just did too much sh*t to me.
But still, what’s the advantage in not releasing Doggumentary, because it’s a guaranteed instant number on record for Death Row?
I don’t know. I guess they’re trying to make me suffer, man, because they know I can’t make no money without no records.
But why do they want to make you suffer in the first place?
I don’t know, man. I’m just trying to be a child of God and do the right things and make good music. You see what I’m about. You’re at my house right there. There ain’t no 34 security people over here. It’s me, my two kids and my dogs in the backyard. We’re just kicking it. I’m not into all that extra sh*t man.
What else did Death Row keep you from doing that you want to do now?
It was tours, it was merchandising, it was all kinds of sh*t that they kept me away from. It was movies. I didn’t know that people want to do movies with me. I look at Menace II Society, them mother*ckers wanted me to be in that movie because the Hughers Brothers is my homeboys. I look at movies that came out that I could have been in or people wanted me to be in, but they was too scared to get at Suge or too scared to get at me because that’s the image that we had. We wouldn’t be f***ed with: we only did chosen sh*t.
I heard Death Row put a record out from a guy Top Dog, I think that’s his name [YGD Tha Top Dogg], where he’s talking about Puffy and he sounds like me. Some n*ggaz in New York think that’s me. That ain’t me. I love Puffy Combs. That’s some fake-*ss n*gga Suge Knight got to sound like me. That’s why God ain’t blessing Suge Knight, ‘cause he’s acting like the devil right now.
Have people said sh*t to you thinking that you did that song?
I had a talk with Puffy and Puffy told me that some of the n*ggaz thought it was me. But he was like, “N*gga, I know it wasn’t you, dog.” I wouldn’t even bust on no wack-*ss sh*t like that. I’m trying to make a song with Puffy, not talking about him.
Now that you’re off Death Row would you do a Bad Boy collaboration?
Hell yeah, I’m trying to do. When he gets this interview, holler at me. Let’s make something happen. I did things with Jermaine Dupri, it turned out well. I did things with Mack 10, Ice Cube, Westside Connection. I’m just trying to do things. When I get on my new label, I’m planning to holler at Warren G, Premier, Dre, Jermaine Dupri, RZA, whoever got the tightest beats. I wanna do a song with Lil’ Kim, I got this bad *ss motherf***in’ record I wanna do with her, some X-rated sh*t. And I’m making movies for home video. So anybody out there with some money that wants to get behind me on these home video projects, holler at a n*gga.