Snoop Dogg can still draw a crowd. All-star up-and-comer showcases have packed tiny venues and pushed lines onto Austin's streets, but the 43-year-old rapper's South by Southwest keynote filled an oversized ballroom at the Austin Convention Center to capacity – even at 10:30 in the morning. Hypnotic Brass Band "opened," then manager Ted Chung engaged Snoop in an informal back-and-forth about his L.A. beginnings, favorite collaborations and recent ventures. Willie Nelson featured prominently. Here are five things we learned.
1. Snoop and Menace II Society director Allen Hughes are working on a new show for HBO.
The series will be set in 1980s Los Angeles and show Reaganomics' effect on the area. Snoop recounted how the optimism of the late-Seventies – a time he associates with youth sports and his mother's R&B records – faded when the decade turned. He blames this on the government pulling the support they were offering to low-income families: "I think it was designed."
2. He and Willie Nelson shared a moment in Amsterdam.
"I don't know why people think me and Willie have nothing in common," Snoop deadpanned. "First of all, we like animals." When the two stoner icons realized that they were fans of each other's music, they decided to collaborate, and Snoop flew to Amsterdam – on 4/20, no less – to spend some time with his country counterpart. "We was chilling in Willie's room, and we was playing dominos – and he was whooping my ass in dominos! But at the same time, he passes me a paper, a cigar, a vapor, a bong and – what is that thing with the plastic bag? I don't even know the name of it – a volcano." Overpowered, Snoop suggested that they get something to eat, and the pair went to Kentucky Fried Chicken. "Me and Willie are sitting side-by-side.... When we opened it up, me and Willie, we stick our hand in at the same time, and we grab the same piece of chicken. And I look at Willie and I'm like, 'That's you.'" Snoop calls this one of the greatest moments of his life.
3. It was Pharrell who encouraged Snoop to get grown and sexy.
Snoop first approached the Neptunes producer around the time that he left No Limit Records, and in 2003 they released "Beautiful," their first hit together. The concept was Pharrell's: "He was like, 'I like the way you rap but you've never really made a song about the ladies, man. Ladies love you Snoop!'" The rapper doubted him but liked the track. He particularly appreciated that Pharrell told to him to write the lyrics with his wife and daughter in mind. "That let me know that he cared about me, to put me on a lane of writing records for my peoples," Snoop remembered. "I didn't know that I could make music like that."
4. He was an early Tyler Perry fan.
Snoop used the Madea director as an example of someone who could have benefited from Trapflix, his just-launched streaming service: "I was shooting a movie called The Wash [in 2000 or 2001] and one of my homegirls had brought a VCR tape to the trailer. And she put the VCR tape on and it was a church – it was like a church play, and it was funny, real funny. We were like, 'Go get us another copy of that!'" Half a decade later, the guy behind it released his debut feature film, Diary of a Mad Black Woman.
5. Snoop has a new passion: abstract art.
Plenty of rappers collect art, but now Snoop has taken to making it. The idea came from his fans. "They were like, 'Man, you should paint,'" he said. "I was like, 'For real?'" But now that he's tried it, he says painting has become a cathartic experience: "I'm in a whole 'nother galaxy. I'm smiling, I'm laughing, I'm crying. I'm everywhere."