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."
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