Nearly a quarter century after the heyday of West Coast hip-hop, several of the movement’s key players remain fixtures in the entertainment industry. Ice-T has ironically been a cast member on Law and Order: SVU since 2000; Dr. Dre is worth nearly a billion dollars thanks to Beats By Dre; and mean-mugging Ice Cube has appeared in more big-screen comedies than most of us are able to keep up with. They’ve all gone on to achieve incredible extra-musical success, but no one has evolved into such an omnipresent cultural icon as Snoop Dogg.
While it’s easy to mock images of Dre shaking hands with Apple executives or Cube comically overacting in a Coors Light commercial, in 2015 Snoop’s cool is unimpeachable, and the beloved former gangbanger from the L.B.C. is all but beyond reproach in the court of public opinion. Wherever he is, that is the place to be. If you’re packing a little green, all the better.
On Friday that place was the Austin Convention Center, where the hip-hop legend took the stage in a navy bowtie and gray Ralph Lauren sweater vest as SXSW Music’s 2015 keynote speaker, following in the footsteps of luminaries like Lady Gaga, Bruce Springsteen, Quincy Jones, and Lou Reed. Snoop Dogg, however, was the first hip-hop artist to be honored by the nation’s preeminent music conference.
Instead of delivering a direct address about the state of the industry, Snoop's keynote took the form of a largely promotional conversation between the icon and his longtime manager Ted Chung. They touched briefly on Snoop’s forthcoming album Bush, for which he re-teamed with Pharrell after a hiatus (“the mothership has reconnected”), but the majority of the discussion centered on his humble beginnings, how he’s continued to evolve, and his many business endeavors and efforts to provide opportunities for the less fortunate.
The Doggfather’s latest venture, it was announced for the first time, will be an HBO show he is developing with Menace II Society director Allen Hughes and Boondocks writer Rodney Barnes about life on the West Coast during the ‘80s, when gang violence first began to dominate the region’s inner cities, particularly in Snoop’s home of East L.A.
“Early in the ‘70s and toward the latter part of the ‘70s everything was beautiful because we had ways to have fun and communicate, and those who were underprivileged, the low economic side of life, the government would provide for us, which helped us get by,” Snoop said. “It was a society and we all needed it and we all had it and we all helped each other. Then when Reaganomics kicked in, certain things were taken away, after-school programs and things of that nature. Guns and drugs were shipped into the neighborhood. So it was a shift of having fun and playing football to selling drugs and shooting at each other. To me it was a system that was designed, because when the Reaganomics era began, that’s when this began.”
Snoop, or as he was called in the ‘80s, “Snoop Rock Ski,” was able to emerge, but countless others were not, and the show figures to explore the stories of those who weren’t so fortunate to go on to sell 30 million albums worldwide. Neither Snoop nor Chung, who will executive produce, elaborated on the project, but Deadline reports that the drama will revolve around a single family whose life was turned upside down after Reagan took office.
The 43-year-old mogul’s effort to give a voice to the less fortunate and bring opportunity to those in the inner city doesn’t end there. An avid film buff, he created Trap Flix, a website that gives a platform to urban filmmakers with limited resources, and the Snoop Youth Football League is entering its eleventh season. In the past three years, 58 players from the league received Division I scholarships, including his own son Cordell Broadus, who in February committed to play wide receiver at UCLA. “One of the happiest day of my life was seeing my son pick a school and knowing that he’s going to college,” said Snoop.
It’s this desire to connect with the people that's also at the core of his continued career success. He describes his fans not as his fans, but as “his people,” and he relishes the idea that they're “right there with [him]” through his journey. He also makes a point to show love for up-and-coming musicians, whom many veteran rappers might consider competition. His perpetual relevance is no accident.
“I always pay attention to what is going on in the industry that I’m in,” Snoop said. “Whether it’s the new talent or the old talent, what’s hot, what’s not, what’s in, what’s out. To have a pulse and to be able to stay relevant is key. I’ve always maintained a level of respect with the artists whether they’re new or old, and they treat me with respect. So it’s not like I’m an old man trying to infringe; it’s like, ‘That’s Uncle Snoop and it’s all good.’”
Considering how his career started, as a lanky, weirdly-voiced phoenix emerging from the ashes of L.A.’s gang culture, did Snoop ever imagine how ingrained his presence would be across the widening spectrum of modern media? “Hell no!”
The funniest moment of the morning, though, came as Snoop explained his friendship with country music legend Willie Nelson, whom Snoop had been hanging out with at Nelson’s ranch an hour outside of Austin the previous night. The pairing seems unorthodox to many, but to Snoop it makes perfect sense. “I don’t know why people think me and Willie have nothing in common,” he said. “We like animals, we like good music, and we like grass. It’s a natural relationship.”
As Snoop hilariously recounted, the two weed-friendly icons first hit it off when Snoop flew to Amsterdam to meet Nelson for a recording session on 4/20.
“We performed together and the day after the show we were chilling in Willie’s room playing dominos, and he’s whooping my ass at dominos. But at the same time he’s passing me a paper, a cigar, a [vaporizer], a bong, and a little volcano. So I’m like, this old man is really trying to challenge me right now.”
The next move was to head to the KFC drive-thru, as is often the case after sessions of passing around the aforementioned paraphernalia.
“We ordered chicken, a bucket of this, a bucket of that. Me and Willie are sitting side-by-side, so when we get up to the window to pay for the food, we pay for it and they give us the buckets of chicken. We open one up and me and Willie stick our hand in at the same time, and we grab the same piece of chicken. I look at Willie and I’m like, ‘That’s you, dog. My bad,’ and I let him have it. That was one of the greatest moments of my life, that me and Willie Nelson grabbed the same piece of chicken at the same damn time.”
As memorable of a moment as that may have been, we have to think that learning his son was going to be the first member of his family to attend college has to have the edge in the “momentous life event” department. No offense to Willie or KFC.