The hip-hop star has survived gangsta rap, charmed Hollywood and won over soccer moms – he's a hip-hop family man who's evolved from consummate thug to ultimate mack
It's a cold November night in Pomona, California, and Snoop Dogg's whole world has come to a virtual standstill because his favorite team, the Steelers, is just days away from the Super Bowl. He's put everything on hold – he could and probably should be out touring to promote his new album, Tha Blue Carpet Treatment – but nothing matters like the Steelers and winning that Super Bowl. "I had to tell management to leave me alone, record label leave me alone," he says, zipping down a desolate highway in his dark-blue Porsche Carrera, carefully rolling a blunt with both hands as he steers with his knees. "I don't wanna do no records, I dont wanna do no movies, I don't wanna do shit but football. Until I win this Super Bowl, the buck stops here. My business people always say it's a loss, because when I'm in football mode I don't go out and make money, but when I'm into these kids, it ain't about makin' money, it's about makin' they dreams come true on some real shit." Snoop is head coach of the Pomona Steelers, part of the Snoop Youth Football League, a cherub-faced gang of nine- and ten-year-olds that includes his middle child, Cordell, and Nate Dogg's son Nigel. The league, now in its second season, has ten teams and 2,000 players, and Snoop is at every Steelers game and nearly every practice. The team works out from 6 to 8 P.M. on a dusty baseball field behind a church, and on this Thursday night, Snoop wears a black Steelers jacket and a yellow T-shirt, with a whistle around his neck. He huddles with the boys after each play, and as they rumble in from all parts of the field, few of them taller than five feet, their spindly legs hiding behind thigh pads, they seem to all yell at him at once.
"Coach Snoop, lemme get the ball this time!"
"Coach Snoop, can you believe I wore these pants last year?"
"Coach Snoop, I'm gonna watch Ice Age after practice!"
"Good job," he says, patting one boy on the helmet. "Way to find that inside hole." He leans over from the waist to be closer to them and calls the play. "We goin' double tight left, full house left. G-Man, you gon' be the quarterback."
The boys know he's a star, but they love him because they know he cares about them. Aaron, a kid he coached last season, says, "He make it fun. Other coaches just want to win. He want to win, but he want you to have fun at the same time."
Snoop, government name Calvin Broadus, 35, loves these boys so much that when they lose, he's crushed. "One time last year we lost and I cried," he says. "I mean, I really cried at the end of the game, tears in my eyes. I was that hurt." He loves them so much he even quit smoking weed for them. For a little while. It was a few years ago, when he first started coaching youth football in a predominantly white league in Orange County. "I'd just gotten into heavily coaching football," he says, "and I saw me comin' to practice smellin' like weed, my vision half-blurred and me too relaxed, and the parents lookin' at me like Snoop Dogg the gangster. So instead of the parents checkin' me sayin', 'Hey, Snoop, you smell like weed, why you comin' to practice high?,' I took it out of my game so none of the parents would get at me foul, and they'd let me coach. I did it for two, three months."
He says coaching has exponentialized the amount of time he spends with his kids – his son Corde, called Spanky, is twelve (Snoop coached him to a Super Bowl win last year), his son Cordell, called Lil Snoop or Rook, is nine, and his daughter Cori, called Chocolate, is seven and a cheerleader. "I didn't never make time for my kids," he says. "I seen them through gifts and money. Now, through football, I spend time with them. Even if we sittin' in the house watching USC, we bonding. I used to put in zero time, but now I at least get moments with them." When Snoop was young he didn't know his father very well, but now they have a relationship, and Snoop, who bought his father a house in Atlanta, holds no grudge: "I forgive and forget, and I try to show that it's important right now, not what happened yesterday." He sees his football work changing other father-son situations. "I'm breakin' the chain," he says. "When I'm out there bonding with these kids, it makes their fathers want to become part of their lives, if they're not. It's a beautiful thing."
Snoop was a quarterback in high school, and he loves teaching football minutiae, like how to properly sell a fake. But he was also a Rollin' 20s Crip in Long Beach, so there's a much larger mission going on. "I'm savin' lives," he says. Out here, boys get sucked into gangbanging around nine or ten. The football league gets a few kids off the street. "Imagine if I was the nigga who was like, 'Hey, nigga, take this dope, go sell that, take this gun. If some niggas ride up, shoot them motherfuckers,'" he says. "Imagine that conversation. They at that age where that's what's happenin'. Instead of me doin' that, I'm doin' this."
One of those who helped Snoop understand the importance of his work with the kids was Stanley "Tookie" Williams, the notorious co-founder of the Crips whom Snoop says he saw as the big brother he never had. Snoop was inspired by Tookie's radical shift, how in prison he became an anti-gang activist and wrote children's books. "If you heard the stories of Tookie Williams as far as gangbanging – the gorilla, the viciousness – to meet someone who's that vicious and able to make a full 180-turn. and get on the right side and get his mental together, that turned me on, because I've always had it in me to want to do that as well, but I never knew how. And he gave me the way to be positive." On December 13th, 2005, when Tookie was just hours from his lethal injection on death row at San Quentin prison, Snoop was on the phone with him. "That was emotional for me, man," he says, breathing deep and slow, affected by the memory. "I cried my heart out. What the fuck could I say to him? I was trym' to keep his spirits high, but at a certain point he was strong and I was weak, and I broke down and said, 'Just give me the message man. What do I need to do, 'cause I'm weak right now.' Tookie just told me to lock head on them kids. I said to him, 'I know my mission now.'"
Tha Blue Carpet Treatment is Snoop Dogg's eighth solo album. All of his previous discs have gone at least platinum, and here, once again, Snoop comes with gritty gangsta records for the hood ("Vato," featuring B-Real, and "Gangbangn 101" featuring the Game) and melodic, R&B-ish songs that are pop-radio-friendly ("That's That Shit," featuring R. Kelly, and "I Wanna Fuck You," featuring Akon). That duality – sometimes gangsta, sometimes smooth, cuddly and pimpish – defines Snoop and has allowed him to have a long career in which he's loved by both gangbangers and soccer moms. He's proud of his achievements as a youth-football coach, but he also brags about his stint in 2003-04 as a real-life pimp.
He can come across as cute and harmless enough to, say, pose in a Santa Claus suit, but he's still got the gangsta in him – twice this fall he was arrested at California airports: in September at John Wayne Airport, for possession of an illegal twenty-one-inch collapsible baton, and in October at the Bob Hope Airport in Burbank, for possession of weed and a gun. (Snoop denies the charges.) Where most thugs-turned-rappers have a hard time ever losing their air of menace, Snoop is fluid enough to summon that air or to present himself as laid-back with an easy smile, slitted eyes and Shirley Templed hair, making him cool enough to be loved in suburbia, where they may not pick up his coded gangsta messages. In '92, when Ice-T was being attacked by politicians for "Cop Killer," Snoop wasn't attacked for rhyming about a 1-8-7 on an undercover cop, because most of the country didn't realize the numbers were L.A. slang for murder. "I was slick about it," he says. "I was like, I ain't gon' say, 'Fuck the police,' I'm-a say 1-8-7 on a motherfuckin' cop so nobody in the white world knew what I was sayin'. But every real nigga in the hood knew exactly what I was sayin'." Similarly, most of the country won't hear the words "Blue Carpet Treatment" and think of the Crips, but the homies will, and they'll appreciate him for it. "It's subliminal," he says of the title. "It's secret, it's quiet, and it's hood at the same time. My morn always used to say I was sneaky and sly."
Blue Carpet includes three surprising guests: Stevie Wonder sings on the funky "Conversations," a remake of his classic "Have a Talk With God"; D'Angelo, who's been a recluse in recent years, sings on "Imagine"; and Dr. Dre, whom Snoop hasn't worked with since 2000's Tha Last Meal, produced three songs on Blue Carpet, but Snoop said there was no need for a reconciliation. "We never was on bad terms," he says. "I was just tired of puttin' an album out and motherfuckers sayin', 'Is Dre on it?' But it wasn't about feelin' like I didn't need Dre, because I always need Dre. Because that's a great guy to have in your corner."
Snoop's career began at Dre's side in 1992, as he spat incendiary verses on the classic "Deep Cover," but Snoop was a star before he met Dre. "It's like I was a star in my own right," he says. "I just didn't have no cameras, no money. Whether it was for my rappin', my baggin' on a nigga, my persona getting at bitches, bein' a gangster, hanging with the Insanes, bangin' 20 Crip, I was always known no matter where I was."
In 1990, Snoop was convicted of cocaine possession and went to jail, where the older Crips pushed him to become a rapper. When Warren G, Snoop's friend and Dre's half-brother, brought Snoop to the studio, Dre saw a rail-thin guy who could talk about street life and gang wars with writerly detail, someone whose voice had more tone than most MCs, a man who knew the meaning of vocal restraint. Lots of rappers can make their voice sound menacing, but Snoop made his voice sound cool while saying menacing things. "The meaning is more vicious when it's calm," he says. "A man who holds a gun on a man who ain't nervous makes the man holdin' the gun nervous. So I was a soothing voice that wasn't on that regular West Coast shit. I had my own niche – supergangsta but cool and laidback. Not so aggressive. That aggression sometimes scares niggas away. My shit was warm, it was welcoming."
He also attributes his success to being a Seventies baby. "Any rapper who come from the Seventies got a little bit more flavor than the Eighties babies. The music we listened to as a kid gave us more melody. The Eighties was about a gold chain, ajheri curl-it wasn't about flavor. Everything in the Seventies was flavor: the basketball players, Redd Foxx, Al Green, Soul Train."
Dre also found that Snoop has tons of charisma, he's tough and clearly not to be tested, but he's also fun to be around. He smiles easily, is naturally funny and often breaks into rapping or singing for no apparent reason. The afternoon before football practice, as he waits to go onstage for a mini-concert sponsored by Power 106, sitting in a locker room surrounded by blunt-smoking friends, from Bishop Don Magic Juan to B-Real to his homeboy Soopafly, Snoop eases a blunt from his mouth and calls out to everyone in the room in a serious tone, "Don't do drugs!" Everyone looks up from their fat blunts and big bags of weed and gives him quizzical looks. Then he cracks a big smile. "I don't mean y'all, I just mean the kids." He takes a toke, and everyone laughs and goes back to doing drugs. A moment later, he suddenly begins crooning that Fifties classic, "Under the boardwalk/Got my first piece of head/Under the boardwalk/I was late for school . . . " His cell phone rings, and he snaps into business mode.
"How much am I getting?" he says. He pauses, then says, incredulous, "$10,000 and one PlayStation 3?" He turns the cell to his face so he can talk right into the mouthpiece without having to hear. "Tell that nigga," he snarls, "I want three PlayStation 3s and $15,000, or fuck off." He angrily snaps the phone shut. But Snoop's mood changes quickly when a man comes in with a beautiful brunette on each arm. "Snoop," he says, "I want you to meet these two fifteen-year-old girls." Snoop immediately breaks into song. "I don't see nuttin' wrong," he sings like R. Kelly, "with a little bump n' grind . . . " and everyone laughs again.
Snoop wasn't supposed to be the star of 1992's The Chronic. It was Dr. Dre's album. But Snoop was so charismatic and his style was so fresh (in the hip-hop sense and the dictionary meaning), he became an instant national celebrity. In 1993, his first solo album, Doggystyle, debuted at Number One and sold more than 5 million copies, and Snoop became the face of Death Row Records, then the most infamous label in the industry. It was helmed by Suge Knight, a muscled mountain of machismo who was the most feared man in the record business, whispered to have bullied other rivals by dangling them upside down off balconies. That same year, Snoop was charged with homicide in the shooting death of a gangbanger. After a well-publicized trial he was found not guilty, but Death Row soon fell apart. In late 1995, Tupac was signed, then he was murdered a year later in Las Vegas. (Asked if he thinks Suge had 'Pac killed, Snoop wouldn't say yes or no. "I can't even speak on that 'cause it was an ugly situation in general," he says. I'm just thankful I wasn't there, 'cause if I was, I probably woulda been in the car with them.") The next year, Suge was handed a nine-year prison sentence for probation violation, and few were sad to see him go away. 'When you get that kinda power, you gotta treat people right so when you get in a down situation, it'll be more favorable for you," Snoop says about Suge's fall. "It's like the minute he got locked up, everyone was like, 'Damn, I'm glad he got locked up.' If you got the power, why not try to make some of these people your friends? As opposed to makin' everybody really scared of you. When you like that – when you go down – ain't nobody gon' be there for that call."
Shortly after Suge was incarcerated, Dr. Dre left Death Row to start his own label, Aftermath, angering Suge. Then Snoop moved on to Master P's No Limit Records, and Suge was angered again. "The nigga threatened my life when he was in jail," Snoop says. "Niggas tried to get at me at concerts; they put my address on a tape. He was gonna give a nigga a Benz if a nigga cut my hair – all kinda fuckin' with me." In 2001, when Suge was released from jail after serving nearly five years, Snoop turned the tables. "I had to let him know I didn't give a fuck about none of that fake-ass power shit you was supposed to be on, and all this money and all these Bloods you hidin' behind," he says, his voice low and cold and angry. "I felt like challenging him would either expose his hole card or I would have to kill the nigga. And I was ready to do it. That's where I was with it. So when he got out of jail, I'm fuckin' with him." He wrote a song called "Pimp Slapp'd" – "This nigga's a bitch like his wife/Suge Knight's a bitch, and that's on my life." And then he took aim directly at Suge: "I'm bringin' all my gangster homeboys in your motherfuckin' mix and doin' the shit you normally do, how you step to niggas and make niggas scared," he snarls. "I stepped to him [four years ago] at the BET Awards with my niggas, and he was more scared than a mother-fucker. That was the scenario when niggas knew the balance had shifted. That's when everybody felt like the floodgates was open on Suge. Snoop dissed him in public, and he didn't do nothing."
"You weren't afraid that –"
He cuts me off. "Fuck, nah." He lets the words sink in. "Never was afraid of him. I was afraid I was gonna have to kill him. That's what I was afraid of."
Snoop says his friend the Bishop Don Magic Juan, the legendary Chicago pimp-turned-religious man, was crucial in keeping the beef from turning homicidal. "Bishop kept saying, 'I don't like that situation. Y'all need to talk.' I was like, 'Fuck talking. Fuck that nigga.' But after hearin' him say it so many times, it got to the point where I was on peace, like, 'OK, I ain't tryin to fuck cuz up.' A lot of niggas put fuel to the fire. Bishop put water. It takes a grown man to do that."
In 1998, while Snoop was in Master P's No Limit crew, he acted in some straight-to-video flicks made by Master P and quickly realized acting was a good way to make money and something he wasn't bad at so long as he was playing characters close to his own life. He's now working on Coach Snoop, a film about a famous entertainer who comes home to coach a local youth-football team.
Snoop pulls into a driveway and says, "This is my house." It's a nice, large, two-level ranch house with a white fence in a gated community in the hills of Diamond Bar, California. It's not a rapper's mansion, and nothing of the exterior says "Rap Star Lives Here," except maybe the two huge niggas sitting out front in an SUV. It's a big family home where each kid gets his own large room. In his oldest son's room, there's a Snoop Dogg doll on the mantle and limited-edition De La Soul-designed Nike high tops in the middle of the floor. There's lots of art on the walls, including all sorts of dogs in graceful poses and various images of Snoop. His daughter is in the downstairs living room doing homework with her tutor (Snoop says, "She like the brains of the house"); his sons frolic with their friends in the upstairs living room, in a corner of which is a recording console. Snoop says this room used to be his home studio, but he's lost the room; the kids have taken it over. "The kids was always in here, so I said fuck it." So he made a little soundproofed mike booth in a room off to the side that's smaller than a cell. There's a mike, a slouchy couch, a little TV, a T-shirt with Tookie's picture on it hanging on the wall and a little pocket thesaurus, dictionary and vocabulary builder.
Out back, by the two pools, there's a small guest house that he's turned into a clubhouse for himself with a big TV, a fridge filled with Miller Genuine Draft, an Xbox and on the wall, an oversize photo of him at his thirtieth birthday party wearing a brown fur hat and matching coat, standing beside Puffy and his wife's father, Cecil "Doc" Fuller, who he says was a pimp in Long Beach in the Seventies. Snoop puts in a DVD of his Steelers from earlier this season playing against the team they'll face in the Super Bowl on Sunday and starts rolling a blunt.
One of the more memorable and bizarre moments in Snoop's career came in 2003 when he walked the red carpet at the MTV Awards with two women on leashes who had looks of deference that suggested they were real prostitutes. Lots of rappers throw around the word "pimp," but there's no way a top rapper would take up pimping as a hobby midcareer with a wife and three kids at home. So what was the deal with the girls – named Delicious and Cream – on leashes?
"I was flexin' my pimp muscle and lettin' people see how real pimps do it," he says. "If you really a pimp, you should be able to get two bitches to walk on a leash with you down the red carpet and be yo ho's for the night. And when I did it, it really was pimpin'." I had thought it was all for show, metaphorical pimpin', but Snoop says it really was pimpin' with so much feeling, I can't help but think that he was a professional pimp. Indeed, for two years, he was.
"I wouldn't even say a real pimp," he says. "I'd just say I had it like that. See, that shit was my natural calling and once I got involved with it, it became fun. It was like shootin' layups for me. I was makin' 'em every time. 'Cause pimpin' ain't a job, it's a sport. I had a bitch on every exit from the 10 freeway to the 101 freeway, 'cause bitches would recruit for me. I had barracudas – seven or eight of 'em. When a bitch recruits for you, she goes out into the club or the environment and brings back other bitches and makes 'em my ho's. That's pimpin'."
He says that Max Julien, who played Goldie in The Mack, the zenith of movies about pimping, is like a father to him and helped teach him some of the rules of pimping, but Snoop says he was a natural. In the tenth grade, he and a friend won the school's Halloween contest by dressing like pimps. The following year, again they dressed as pimps, only to have a girl volunteer to be their ho. 'We was, like, fuck it," he says. "So we put the bitch on a leash and walks the whole stage. We pimpin', she's the ho, and we won back to back." When he got to the pros, Snoop knew exactly how to run his operation: "I made sure my bitch would never talk shit to me. She always got all the money upfront, she never looked in another pimp's eyes, she kept her head down. But I wasn't a gorilla pimp where I was beatin' the girls up. I was more Finesse with it, just givin' you a comfort zone and providing you with opportunity 'cause I know so many motherfuckers who like buyin' it, so if you come fuck with me, it's not as much of a risk as bein' with a gorilla pimp. He gon' be hard on you and rush you, as opposed to a nigga like me who's gonna relax and let you go get it. And if you don't go get it you just gon' be replaced."
Snoop met the Bishop Don Magic Juan – a pimp for more than three decades until he retired in 1985 – in Chicago, and years later when they became friends, the Bishop led Snoop into the world of pimping and away from Gripping. "Niggas would try to bang on me," Snoop says, "and I wasn't havin' it. I'm not gonna say I was putting in work, but I was into a lot of gangbang stupid shit. I would go do shit. And a lot of times, Bishop would say, 'Let's go to the Players Ball [a pimp convention].' 'Let's go get your hair did.' 'Let's go to Chicago to do this pimp thing.' Shit that I had never seen before but was always an infatuation of [gangsta] and into the P [playa]. Which may have saved my life."
Bishop says, "I encouraged him to be more of a man. More conscious about who he was and that he was a playa so he could step up his playa game. And the change is apparent. Then you seen him dressing with mink coats to the floor and the pimp music he was makin'."
Snoop says his wife, Shante Broadus, at first tolerated his pimping. "She went along with it 'cause she know and understand that was an infatuation of mine, a childhood dream, to be a pimp. Look at her daddy," he says, pointing to the oversize picture of his father-in-law in a red suit beside Snoop and Puff, saying without saying it that her dad's pimping enabled Snoop's. "She wasn't accepting; she was just lookin' the other way 'cause I never did it in her face. I was never bringin' bitches to the house. It was just in an entertainment light, where it looked like entertainment. It's easier to accept when it looks like part of your job, as opposed to me bringin' it home with me." But, of course, pimping soon contributed to the dissolution of his marriage. "She'd act like it didn't happen," he says, "but she knew it was happenin' 'cause the pimps would come over, get dressed, and then go to the Players Balls."
In May 2004, Snoop filed for divorce and got further into the life that had been his childhood dream. "When I stepped away, that's when the pimpin' was really heavy," he says. "I was goin' to all the Players Balls." Eventually, he says, he took twelve women with him to one Players Ball and, at a ball in Detroit, won the Bishop Don Magic Juan Lifetime Achievement Award. But in late 2004, he said, some of the pimps told him to go back home to his wife. They reconciled and ended divorce proceedings, though it meant Snoop had to accept a different relationship. "Before, I would never listen to her." he says. "Everything I say is law. But on the comeback, I'm more of an ear instead of a mouth, instead of a hand. Sometimes it irritates me to hear her talk shit to me, but when it's right, that's the way it supposed to feel."
He admits he's far from a perfect husband, but he's left pimping behind because he cares about his family and because, well, been there, done that. "If you dream of riding the Colossus at Magic Mountain and you get a chance to ride it, you gonna get on it," he says. "But I had enough. That pimping shit was cool 'cause I needed to do it–it's in me; but I'm into the family, I'm into this now."
He's retired from pimping, but don't expect Snoop to pull a Jay-Z. He doesn't believe in retiring from music. "Look at the forefathers who did it before me," he says. "Stevie, Marvin, Curtis, Teddy. In groups in the Sixties, solo in the Seventies, hits in the Eighties. C'mon, cuz! Talk to me! Only way they retire is through death. That's how I'm-a retire. Through death, nigga. I ain't fittin' to quit." And why should he retire? He survived Cripping in the wild streets of L.A. and survived Death Row. He outlived the gangsta-rap era and morphed into the most lovable gangsta in the country, an MC so popular people love him and his style and his cool more than his music. So he can be with Crips and Tookie and the Bishop and still make a lighthearted Hollywood comedy with Owen Wilson and go on tour whenever he chooses, whether or not he's got a hit on the radio. "I can go get $1 million in fifteen days anytime I want," he says.
Snoop also has more to say on the mike. He's working on a new group that will satisfy some of his pimpish urges. "A group called the Nine Inch Dicks," he says. "We basically a male-chauvinist group, and all we do is R&B songs with a twist. I had a song called 'Bitch, I'm Gone, I'm Through With You.' I got another: 'Can You Control Your Ho?' The name of the record is Coming Soon, and you can believe me, we coming soon."