M*therfuckin' Snoop Dogg: how the cultural icon's lasting legacy changed music and marijuana forever
Snoop Dogg’s iconic career spans three decades and embodies unprecedented generational clashes. A long-time advocate of cannabis, the two have never been more synonymous than in this culturally historical time. This year, Red Rocks Amphitheater welcomes "Snoop Dogg's Wellness Retreat" for a 4/20 celebration epitomizing a newly legal cultural paradigm beloved by the masses. Snoop Dogg’s position on legalization may not be popular with powerful elites, but he’s reached an inspirational status for future generations carrying the bong torch.
Snoop Dogg, born Cordazar Calvin Broadus, is the second of three boys born to Beverly Tate and Vernall Varnado. His parents met in Mississippi and eventually moved to California to raise the family.
Broadus says he doesn’t know for sure how the nickname “Snoop” came to be — his mother just likes calling him that — but he says he did look like Snoopy as a child. Before Snoop learns to walk, his father exits the picture and leaves Beverly Broadus to raise their three boys. It’s something Snoop speaks to in his 1999 autobiography “Tha Doggfather” as a valuable lesson in being a father himself.
“The truth is, he wasn’t around too much, and in that I guess I wasn’t much different from a whole lot of other kids growing up in single-parent homes in ghettos across the country,” writes Snoop. “I’ve come to believe that fatherless families are the curse of the American black, and my own history is the main reason I’ve made a solid promise to my own family that I’ll always be there for them.”
Even though his mother works two jobs and barely has enough money for bills, young Snoop doesn’t know they are poor. The purity of childhood innocence pushes him through life with unchallenged positivity and continues to be a factor in his hustling sensibilities.
Growing up, he meets childhood friend and eventual music partner Warren “G” Griffin III. The friendship develops in the neighborhood park.
It’s the early ’80s, and rap is new in the music industry. Heavyweights on the East Coast — Run DMC, the Sugarhill Gang and Grand Master Flash & the Furious Five — garner major airplay on both radio and MTV. Mass-media nods give the genre more of a priority in popular culture.
At this point the West Coast has yet to be taken seriously as the hip-hop powerhouse it would soon become. Andre “Dr. Dre” Young and his street associates in NWA have the ears of fellow bangers, but have yet to really take hold of the industry in any relevant way. Dr. Dre — Warren G’s half-brother — is busy making his own noise in the game and doesn’t pay much attention to the mixtapes G throws his way. It takes incessant pestering to finally get Dre’s attention pointed toward Snoop.
“G and I knew better,” writes Snoop in “Tha Doggfather.” “Just by instinct we realized that rap, which was nothing more than putting rhyming words behind a beat, was going to change everything. We just had no idea how popular the sound was going to get and how it was going to change our lives, for better and for good.”
Once they get Dre’s attention with the homemade tapes, Dre sees something in Snoop and features him on the 1992 breakout single “Deep Cover.” It’s Dre’s solo debut and is released on newly formed Death Row Records. The track slingshots Snoop’s career.
His thin 6-foot 4-inch frame never appeals to what the media pushes as the angry thug and moves across segmented boundaries with as much smoothness as his drawling rhymes. His music begins developing life-long relationships with suburban teens who have no fear of his low-key persona. Snoop’s “Gin and Juice” and “Who Am I (What’s My Name)?” anthems, along with his affinity for weed, define party atmospheres nationwide.
Consciously or not, the smoothness garners him acceptance in crossover cultures and is pivotal in allowing his voice to be heard through cadence and thought-provoking lyricism. Even though they’re at times violent, misogynistic and riddled with drug references, Snoop’s lyrics permeate through households untouched before by the rap game. His and other rapper’s words become a rhythmic voice of forgotten sub-cultures and confuse the world with blurred lines between reality and fictitious self-aggrandizing personas. The question on everyone’s mind is: Is it just a phony ruse, or are the streets really at war?
In his “Reincarnated” documentary, Snoop reflects on his earlier days as an artist and the topics he highlighted while making his music.
“Anytime you got struggle, you got a lot on your mind and in your heart. It’s great for an artist to come from struggle because he has more to say; it’s more relatable because more people are struggling than they are succeeding. We were writing music that people wanted to say but didn’t know how to say it, and it felt good at the same time. Those lyrics were just our life. I don’t understand why it freaked people out; it’s what we were going through. We lived that. It was just a matter of us taking our lives and putting it on wax. It wasn’t a make-believe situation, so I don’t know why it scared people. It should have forewarned them that we were on a mission to do something right because we recognized there was a problem.”
The successes in Death Row don’t last long for Snoop or Dre, and after being cleared of murder charges in 1996 for his involvement in an alleged self-defense shooting of a rival gang member, Snoop’s gangster persona grows larger than before, maintained by the company he keeps.
The battles between East-Coast and West-Coast rappers rage like an abandoned campfire and hit a tipping point when beloved members of each meet gruesome and cliché ends. Notorious co-founder of Death Row Records, Marion “Suge” Knight, is implicated by heresy — but never charged — in both. In 1997, he is sentenced to nine years in prison for unrelated probation violations. The label quickly falls without his controversial leadership. Dre distances himself from the negative label allegations and starts Aftermath Records. Snoop follows suit, leaving to eventually find a new family in Master P’s outfit No Limit Records.
Before the switch to No Limit, however, Snoop and his peers in rap are under attack by unforeseen factions in the music industry. Just a few short years before gangster rap’s popularity grows, the American government assembles forces in the wars on drugs with the always-rapped-about weed as a main subject of the attacks. Organizations such as the DARE program (1984) and the “Just Say No” (1982) campaign etch themselves into pop-culture nomenclature.
Cannabis is targeted with extra force because it’s labeled as the substance that holds the key to addiction, and the overall accessibility of it is flourishing nationwide. The claims from the opposition maintain that it acts as the gateway to all of parent’s worst nightmares. Those same attitudes are also commonly used to criticize gangster rap. Snoop and his cannabis companion are in the battle together.
“Experts will tell you that the war on drugs can only be won when we lock up all the dealers or get tough with all the users or build a 12-foot wall between us and the motherfuckers on the other side of the border,” writes Snoop in “Tha Doggfather.” “I don’t know about any of that shit, but I can tell you this, from firsthand experience: This war everyone’s supposed to be fighting won’t be over until someone invents a cure for getting high.
You take away all the cocaine, fools will still be smoking indo; you take away all the indo, they’ll be drinking; you bring back prohibition, they’ll start sniffing glue. Let’s face it: Getting faded is a basic human drive, like food and water and sex and sleep.”
While the war on drugs continues to be a nightly news mainstay, conservative censorship gains ground in legislation. What constitutes acceptable music becomes a headache for popular culture. Tipper Gore, wife of then senator and later Vice President Al Gore, forms the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) with the goal of increasing control over music deemed unacceptable to a few out-of-touch Washington wives.
It’s now that the comical “Parental Advisory” stickers start to appear on music albums that are labeled inappropriate for younger ears. Use of the stickers is completely voluntary to the recording industry and is used only on a handful of albums before gangster rap hits shelves. The ironic twist to the whole endeavor is whether or not the stickers actually work to keep albums out of juvenile’s hands, or if they give records curious allure, thereby increasing sales.
The advancement of the violent and misogynistic gangster rap genre floods with the bright lights of 1st-Amendment debates. Gangster rap pioneers Ice-T (who is the first hip-hop artist to use the sticker), Too $hort, Two Live Crew and the Geto Boys — along with Snoop and his peers — are portrayed in the media as the end-all to youthful innocence. The stigmatization of rap is paralleled with the stigmatization of drugs, and the high reference of use in most of its songs never helps either cause to gain widespread acceptance.
Keeping with his musical endeavors, Snoop doesn’t let the attacks change his course. In No Limit, Snoop finds leadership with Master P and builds his catalog the way he deems necessary. The wavering persona will come to define the now-iconic rapper. He continues to see demand for his music from all walks of life. Suburban teens love him, inner-city kids look up to him, and parents begin to chisel away the chips left on their shoulders from previous impressions of rap and its never-before-seen sub-culture.
With Snoop’s positive transformations, cannabis and the culture surrounding it see rising acceptance. New generations begin to accept both and catalyze further action toward widespread approval.
Nov. 5, 1996, voters in California passed a state medical marijuana initiative. Known as Proposition 215, it permits patients and their primary caregivers to possess and cultivate marijuana for the treatment of AIDS, cancer, migraines and several other disorders. Other states quickly follow suit while the stain of negativity crumbles, and the generations growing up with Snoop vote for cannabis’ dismissal as a scheduled drug. They demand more research on the benefits to the sick, and the wheels of full recreational legalization start to spin.
It’s around this time the era of gangster rap begins to fade into the books of music history. Suge Knight is in prison, Ice Cube of NWA fame is making family friendly movies, and even Ice-T finds new horizons in acting. Snoop, however, continues to grow into a dominant rap force and releases acclaimed albums on the No Limit label. He keeps with the tone of the rap game as it progresses toward a more radio-friendly sound.
Club hits are what the fans want, so club hits are what they get. Songs like “Still a G Thang” and “Slow Down (I Can’t Take The Heat)” don’t necessarily chart as high as some of Snoop’s more memorable anthems but do well enough to keep him ahead of the game where he’s comfortable.
Snoop works to keep his image changing and the fans guessing. But regardless of what he gets himself into, Snoop Dogg is a household name and one that shakes the image from bad boy banger to humbling and endearing icon, a man any grandma would have no issues inviting over for dinner. The two could share in one another’s glaucoma medicine, after all.
It’s just what Snoop is. Since the beginning, altering his persona to fit his mood is top priority. Being true to himself, even in the face of opposition, is how he maintains realism.
“Rapping is like life, if you know what I mean,” writes Snoop in “Tha Doggfather.” “You got a flow going, you think it’s going to keep up like that until the final fade, so you’ve got every move mapped out before it happens. Then one little thing happens, like a word you can’t quite fit into a rhyme, and the whole thing does a 180, and you’re back where you started trying to stay one step ahead of the next curve.”
Growing older and trying to understand his roots, Snoop takes on yet another persona — this time as Snoop Lion — a reggae artist called on by the Rastafarian movement. It would be a strange move for any other artist to maintain, but Snoop pushes forward with his ability to evolve with unwavering relevance.
“One thing about hip-hop, you just gotta stay true to it, and it’s gonna stay true to you,” Snoop told DJ Skee in a 2013 interview. “That’s why I chose to jump into reggae because I felt like, I’m not hip-hop right at this moment, you know, I’m fully into this reggae and into saying something right now. I couldn’t say it from my hip-hop perspective because my hip-hop perspective is gangster, and I can’t change that.”
What he will change is the way he moves himself and his family toward a positive future. Fatherhood remains Snoop’s priority, and now that his three children are older, the realization of past-meets-present becomes mandatory. His drug life eventually meets up with his home life in ways he now considers heavily.
“It’s not that I would ever push weed on our kids,” Snoop mentions in a 2006 interview with GQ magazine, “but if they wanted to, I would love to show them how, the right way, so that way they won’t get nothing put in their shit, or overdose, or try some shit that ain’t clean.”
And just like that, younger generations’ eyes open to the consequence and mistakes of legislation past. Images of once-treacherous and alarming topics gain acceptance and cultural knowledge.
Today, recreational cannabis is legal in two states, with more leaning toward Colorado’s leadership for guidance into the unknown. Like Snoop, weed has maintained itself wholly while opposing forces sought to break it down with little more than heresy and frivolous attacks. Like Snoop, the cultural standards shifted in weed’s favor, and both broke free of societal negativities.
The two have grown together, struggled together, fought together and even became beloved together. We see true manifestation of the legalization not just in Snoop Dogg, but in countless other hardworking men, women and MJ strains that just want their place in the world. Cannabis keeps growing, and so does Snoop. Their lifelong, herb-infused partnership is a history lesson for future generations, complete with its own hand-swaying, gangster-turns-companion soundtrack.