Tha Shiznit: How Doggystyle Made Snoop the First King of Gangsta Rap

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Snoop Dogg seen at the Essence Festival at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Friday, July 6, 2018, in New Orleans. (Photo by Amy Harris/Invision/AP)

On November 23, 1993, Snoop Dogg—then known as “Snoop Doggy Dogg”—released his debut album Doggystyle, which helped elevate hip hop from an underground genre to mainstream pop culture status. The album introduced the G-Funk era, pushing the parental advisory boundaries and making Snoop Dogg hip hop’s first superstar Gangsta rapper.

New Beginnings

FILE – Dr. Dre attends The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute benefit gala celebrating the opening of the “Karl Lagerfeld: A Line of Beauty” exhibition on Monday, May 1, 2023, in New York. Dr. Dre will need to make room in his trophy case for another prestigious award. The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers said on Tuesday, June 20, that Dr. Dre will receive the first-ever ASCAP Hip-Hop Icon Award. He’ll be honored at the organization’s Rhythm & Soul Music Awards on Thursday, June 22, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, File)

By the early 1990s, Andre “Dr. Dre” Young was already a household name as a producer/rapper and member of N.W.A. After a financial dispute with fellow member/best friend Eric “Eazy-E” Wright, Young partnered with former bodyguard Marion “Suge” Knight to establish Death Row Records. With Knight handling the business affairs, Dre could solely concentrate on the music, but as an artist, Dre needed a muse: enter Snoop. 

In 1991, Calvin “Snoop Doggy Dogg” Broadus was at a crossroads in his young life. He was feeling frustrated that his music group 213, which included cousin Nathanial “Nate Dogg” Hale and friend Warren “G” Griffin, wasn’t gaining success beyond their respected neighborhood. A native of East Long Beach, California, Broadus was also a gang member with the Rollin’ 20s Crips and had already spent time in jail for cocaine possession. Fate intervened when, after several failed attempts, Warren G finally got his older brother, Dr. Dre, to listen to the group’s demo tape. Dre loved Snoop’s voice and told his younger brother he wanted to work with Snoop immediately.

Old Teacher, New Student

Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg’s magical musical partnership was cemented on the soundtrack for the movie Deep Cover; their song was the title track for the album and shared a title with the movie. The song’s commercial achievement built a bridge for Dre’s solo album The Chronic, where Snoop’s rhythmic style became a standout in features on songs like “F*** Wit Dre Day”, “Lil Ghetto Boy”, and the timeless cookout anthem “Nuthin but a G Thang.The Chronic’s success fueled anticipation for a Snoop Dogg solo project.

The on-the-surface fantasy of Dr. Dre’s The Chronic album created a blueprint for the formation of Snoop Doggy Dogg’s Doggystyle album. However, the underneath reality was different. “I thought it was gonna be a cakewalk,” said Dr. Dre in a 2018 speech at Snoop Dogg’s Hollywood Walk of Fame ceremony, “I thought all we had to do was go back in the studio and do the same exact thing we did when we made The Chronic. But by that time, gang bangin showed up. There was a lot of money floating around, BUT me and Snoop, we kept our eyes on the prize, and we knew that this record Doggystyle had to be better or at least as good as The Chronic.”

Solo Shine

The organic relationship between Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre became Doggystyle’s first significant ingredient. “By hanging out with me, he [Dre] had learned who I was,” Snoop Dogg told Revolt, “and he knew I was into a lot of 70s old school Black exploitation. And when we would ride together, I would always have a cassette with old school songs on it. And I would always control the music from the passenger seat.” That 1970s groove is in the album’s intro where Snoop is playing out a bathtub scene with the late Curtis Mayfield playing in the background from the 1972 film Superfly, which set the album’s musical tone.

The album’s lead single, “Who Am I {What’s My Name?}?”, is a direct sample from Funk godfather George Clinton’s “Atomic Dog.” The synthesizer sound is an instant thump commanded by Snoop’s flow—he doesn’t let the hard bass sound get away from him. Then there’s “Gin & Juice”, a party anthem that became a staple in cruising car culture with the chorus “My mind on my money, and my money on my mind” becoming a household catchphrase. The 1970’s tribute continued with “Doggy Dogg World” featuring R&B soul group The Dramatics whose adlibs sang the closeout like a streetcorner church session.

The success of Doggystyle doesn’t solely rely on smooth beats and singable hooks; Snoop Dogg was a lyrical wizard on this album. His voice is distinctive, but his wordplay is superbly innovative. On “Tha Shiznit”, Dogg rhymes, “I lay back in the cut, retain myself. / Think about the sh!t, and I think it well.”England-born, New York City-raised Slick Rick planted the seeds of finesse flow; that tree took root and Snoop borrowed the fruit, which he honored by remaking Rick’s “Lodi Dodi.”

The album’s emotional depth is out front on the track “Murder Was the Case.” Snoop describes dying so vividly, as if he’s experienced it firsthand, when he says, “As I look up at the sky. / My mind starts tripping; a tear drops from my eye. / My body temperature falls. I’m shaking, / and they break in, / tryna save the Dogg.”

The Problem with Hindsight

The album also marks a period when hip hop transitioned from the “Rap is a fad” era to the “Rap is a problem” era. Critics protested that artists like Snoop were not only glorifying violence but promoting misogyny against women.

Besides the album itself being called Doggystyle, the cover art features an animated Snoop Dogg—depicted as a canine—reaching to touch a female’s backside which is pointing up in the air; protestors argued that the album cover implied all women were sexually available and for the taking of any man. Although Snoop stated that old Richard Pryor albums influenced the album cover, there’s no defense for the infamous song “Ain’t No Fun (If the Homies Can’t Have None).” The late Nate Dogg’s hood sing-along was an intro to “Tha Dogg Pound” rapping about a woman’s worth being valued one grade above a sex doll for the same purpose. The album’s reflection of West Coast street life and mirroring the social conditions of the inner-city was innovative, but the “Bitches Ain’t Sh!t” theme on wax was just a stale copycat of 1980s hair band rock.

And Now…

The impact of Snoop Doggy Dogg’s album Doggystyle was immediate, selling 806,858 copies in the first week and debuting at number 1 on the Billboard 200. It’s also certified 4x platinum according to RIAA. The album’s legacy has influenced multiple artists since, such as Nas, 50 Cent, and others. Despite a legendary career, Doggystyle remains Snoop’s best work, one of hip hop best albums, and one of music’s great pieces of art.

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