What’s his name again? While Snoop Dogg’s debut single was released some 20 years ago, ‘Who Am I? (What’s My Name?)’ now rings out like some kind of clue as to what lay ahead for his career. With all his various monikers and name changing, Snoop Dogg is damn well giving Prince a run for his money these days.
It’s hard to keep up – Snoop announced last year he was now to be known as Snoop Lion after converting to Rastafarianism, but in recent months the name has been forsaken in favour of Snoopzilla. ’Zilla – being an homage of sorts to legendary Parliament-Funkadelic bassist Bootsy Collins, who often referred to himself as Bootzilla – released 7 Days Of Funk last month, the result of his latest collaboration with Dam Funk. Let’s not forget DJ Snoopadelic, either; and that’s just touching on his musical personas before we get onto his forays into film and television. So who is the real Snoop?
Growing up in Long Beach, California, Calvin Cordozar Broadus, Jr. was nicknamed ‘Snoopy’ by his parents because of his appearance. He began singing and playing piano at the local Baptist church from a young age. “I grew up listening to a lot of old school and soul music, and I play a lot of that to this day,” says Snoop. While he listened to rap from Grandmaster Flash, Whodini and The Sugarhill Gang, he also looked up to soul artists like Curtis Mayfield “because he was a bad motherfucker”. As he explained to Playboy magazine back in ’95, “That’s why motherfuckers say that I sing instead of rap. That’s why I got more of an R&B sound. They say my shit is gangsta shit because of the words I use. But if you listen to it, it’s R&B shit.”
At school, Snoop spent his days hanging out with the likes of Nate Dogg and Warren G, the three of them going on to form the band 213 in 1990, named after the Long Beach area code. His music career didn’t really take off, however, until a couple of years later when he was discovered by Dr. Dre, who brought him onboard to collaborate on The Chronic.In 1993, Snoop unleashed Doggystyle onto the world, his first solo record debuting at number one on the US Billboard charts and selling almost a million copies in its first week, signifying Snoop was set to join the greats of the rap game.
From the outset, it was clear that he was never going to be anything but legendary. I managed to catch Snoop on one of his visits to Australia several years ago when he played a music festival on an island just off the Gold Coast. It was a typically hot summer’s day, and all the punters had to walk the long road that joined the island to the mainland to get to the festival grounds – a road lined with nothing but eucalypts and pine trees. Sometime around mid-afternoon, one festivalgoer made the grave mistake of throwing a cigarette butt into the surrounding bush, and so an almighty bushfire ensued.
With close to 20,000 people all stranded on this island with no other means to get back to the mainland, to say it was a chaotic scene is an understatement. All the bands had ceased playing, as nobody could see the stage due to the smoke. The First Aid tents were inundated while people were having asthma attacks left, right and centre. Police officers were standing around nervously assessing the situation, as they needed an evacuation plan. My friends and I were making plans to swim ashore and had all but given up on seeing the headliners we were promised later that night, for surely this was reason enough for the Beastie Boys and Snoop Dogg to forego their commitments. Then, to the astonishment of all onlooking, as if it were a clichéd gangster film, a limo burst through the wall of flames and pulled up at the festival gates. Yes, that’s right – it was Snoop Motherfucking Dogg. His pimpin’ fur jacket on (never mind the 40-degree day) and smoke in hand, he took to the stage. Dozens of police were standing by to see what Snoop had in store for everyone. And you better believe it, the motherfucker did it – he opened with N.W.A’s ‘Fuck Tha Police’. If anyone were to have the balls to pull such a stunt, it was Snoop.
“I’ve pretty much seen it all and done it all in my career,” he tells me with a laugh when I ask him about that festival. “That Australia show with the bushfire was a good one though.”
This time around, he’ll be heading back Down Under as Snoop Dogg to play the Big Day Out, with a touch of Snoop Lion thrown in for good measure. “You can expect all the classics with some new stuff sprinkled in,” he reveals. “And a live-ass show!”
As he tells it, Snoop Lion was a Rastafarian reincarnation of the artist formerly known as Snoop Dogg, while Snoopzilla is more of a branch of his truer self rather than another character altogether. “Snoopzilla is another extension of my personality, not so much of a Superman/Clark Kent thing. We do what we feel,” he explains. “Snoopzilla is into the funk!”
Will there be another incarnation of Snoop in the foreseeable future? “You’ll just have to wait and see,” he says. Only last month he told Rolling Stone, “One day I will go back to being Snoop Dogg, because I love him and he loves me. Right now, what’s necessary is Snoopzilla – because this is the funk, and may the funk be with you.”
But just as ’Zilla and his 7 Days Of Funk arrived, he left again, with a return to his Snoop Dogg roots set for this year. The Doggfather, it’s been announced, will be teaming up with Wiz Khalifa for a new album.
And what about the ‘family man Snoop’, behind closed doors? “Life as a family man is a whole ’nother side of me,” he says. “Family is very important to me. I started my SYFL [Snoop Youth Football League] program from being involved in my own kids’ lives and what they were doing. Shout out to my wife the Boss Lady and my kids.”
Of course, we can’t properly discuss the shifting personas of Snoop without reference to his widespread film career – both Hollywood and Bollywood. He’s had cameos as himself in over a dozen films and television shows, and then there’s the various characters he’s taken on: Huggy Bear Brown in Starsky & Hutch, Ja’Marcus in Scary Movie 5, Mac Johnson in Mac & Devin Go To High School, Dra-Man, C-Dawg, Blue, Rodney, Jimmy Bones… you get the picture. Snoop even had a cameo in the 2008 Bollywood film Singh Is Kinng, doing his first ever rap in an Indian movie.
After all that, who exactly is the real Snoop? Tell you what, I’ve still got no fucking idea.