We’re supposed to meet at 10 pm in a warehouse by the airport — a warehouse by the airport — sounds like the location for an old-time noir setup.
But I show anyway.
I pull up on a dark Inglewood street — around the corner from the LAX Firing Range and the iconic Randy’s Donuts — creep towards an imposing 10 foot steel gate, and announce into a shiny callbox who I’m here to see.
I roll in and park among a row of cherry-painted Cadillacs and Chevys — flawless DeVilles and Impalas — and step into an unmistakable waft of not-so-medicinal smoke.
I’m at Snoop Dogg’s brand-new 30,000-square foot studio. The paint’s not even dry on the walls. With cameras and imposing armed security, it feels more like a compound than creative space. As I wait in the lobby, the teenage wannabe rapper in me quaking, I try to exude a calm exterior, flipping through Love Don’t Live Here No More, Snoop’s semi-autobiographical novel.
Growing up in L.A., I worshipped the Long Beach rapper who burst onto the scene in ‘92 as Dr. Dre’s protégé. And I constantly wondered: Who is Calvin Broadus really? Gangster or entertainer? Both? Neither? Megastars are hard to get to, often hard to talk to, and I didn’t know what to expect.
I’m told I have to take off my shoes, deposit them in an adjacent locker room, then traipse up the stairs in my socks. Each step past gold records and classic rap memorabilia, the pungent smell grows stronger. I’m led to a plush couch in a room filled with massive flat-screens and computers, La-Z-Boy reclining chairs, dozens of bottles, broken down weed, instruments, and a steady 808 thump.
No PR, no handlers, no nothing, the boss steps through and sits next to me as if he’s known me for years. Still skinny, his hair dreaded and lightly greying at the fringes, glasses pushed up on his nose, Snoop looks more like a geek than a multiplatinum rapper. Let alone one who beat a murder charge, banged with Crips, rep’d Death Row Records, and rolled with Tupac.
And yet, he doesn’t seem like a man trying to show off. The vibe is sort of like a housewarming. Sophocles once said “No man loves life like him that’s growing old.” As Snoop gives me a personal tour of his spot, that line starts ringing true. And he’s not as much long in the tooth as he is a man loving life.
What was supposed to be a 20-minute interview runs over two hours. And we’re joined by Snoop’s friend and partner, DJ Skee, who he’s teaming with on the free streaming service Dash Radio, which since debuting earlier this year, has collected over a million subscribers, and rolled out 65 channels, including Snoop’s own Cadillacc Music, which will hard launch late September.
In between regaling me with stories I can’t repeat — and some I thankfully can — Snoop shows off an indoor basketball court, miles of mementos and studios that resemble Star Trek’s Enterprise, and details why he believes the Dash venture will change his career and radio — and eventually let him retire.
At one point, with blunt in hand, the Doggfather offers me a toke. The younger me would have flipped, but I quit nearly five years back. “That takes will power,” he responds, stubbing out the roach.
How many people get an offer to puff a blunt with Snoop, let alone say no?
How was growing up in Long Beach different than other parts of L.A.?
It’s not. It ain’t no different. Everybody’s neighborhood was the same. Just different names, different colors, different blocks and streets. But we all did the same things. We watched the same television shows, we ate the same kind of snacks, did the same kind of activities, we just was broken into different sections.
I don’t think anything on the West Coast was different. I think we were in different cities, different parts of the world, we all respected and followed the same code. We all loved a certain style of music. West Coast music was always West Coast music. Whether it was Roger Troutman and Zapp, funk, old school, R&B, slow music, before hip-hop. Then once hip-hop kicked in, East Coast rap dominated us. We loved that more than anything until we had our own rappers. King Tee, Toddy Tee, Mixmaster Spade, Ice-T: Those rappers, once they were created, gave us an identity. Then you see N.W.A. come into the foreground.
Who influenced you?
Slick Rick, KRS-One, Ice Cube, King Tee, Mixmaster Spade, I liked Special Ed too, his style and his look. There were so many MCs that were dope. Big Daddy Kane, Rakim was hard as fuck. I had many favorites. Many different styles enticed me to want to have my own style.
When did you know you had a nack for words?
When I was a youngster, freestyling. Music would come on and I would just bust to it. Talk about whatever was going on. And it would sound good. I would hear the words before I would hear the music. I would put the words together in my head and when they flowed out it was already programed. Sounded like I wrote it, but I didn’t. A lot of my records that I put out, people thought I wrote, but I didn’t. I just said it.
As a kid, did you allow yourself to dream?
Always. Not about this; this wasn’t the dream. The dream was sports. Football, basketball. Rappers wasn’t famous, they wasn’t making money, they wasn’t hip. Rap wasn’t respected.
I think rap is more respected than breathing itself. It’s the epicenter of cool. We connect the dots to everything. When I listen to country music now, I swear to God all them muthafuckas is rapping. Every last one of them. I love country, jazz, R&B, soul, hip-hop, bebop, rock — I fuck with everything. Hip-hop is the number one thing. When country music stars have to incorporate it, actually rapping on the fucking music. We’re not hearing rappers do country music. We’re hearing country music stars do rap. You’re hearing techno, rock stars call rappers. Who did Taylor Swift call?
Kendrick Lamar is the hottest muthafucka in rap right now. For her to have him on a record means she recognizes that — “I need him.”
How important is Internet buzz today? Is it true that if you don’t have that, you’re not successful?
I don’t believe that’s true. There’s a particular artist named D.R.A.M. He got a song called “Cha Cha.” It’s not about the views, it’s about the depth of the song and the artistry. If you’ve got what it takes to make a hot record, keep going and create more hot records. That’s what it all boils down to. Nothing else, no in-betweens. Can you make great music and continue to do it?
Once people get a chance to examine an artist, then they become a fan or they don’t. It’s not based on if he does the great amount of numbers on YouTube, or people like him, or I like him. There has to be something that connects, to make you want to follow and support him. That’s everything in life. You can try to candy coat it and make it like social media is controlling it — yeah, they dominant, because they give you the accessibility to broadcast and speak your mind — but you still have to have your own views to pick and select what you like.
Tell me about the way you work—what’s a typical day like?
Wake up in the morning, drink some water, watch the Food Network or Cooking Channel. I like to cook and I like to know more. That’s just interesting, I guess I’m getting old now. I used to watch First 48 and Gangland…
Exactly. That shit wasn’t depressing to me, it reminds me of what I used to be and what I’m not, and it’s always good to keep that mindset of what you don’t want to be and what you don’t want to become.
Sometimes we lose focus and drift back because we don’t realize the consequences. We need to see others make that mistake so we can say, “I know why I left that lifestyle. I left it for a reason.” And that’s the reality a lot of us face, and we don’t know how to deal with it. That’s why you see entertainers catching cases, doing things that make you say, “Wow, he made it, why would he do that after he became successful?” Because he’s not having a mirror to see why he made it and why he choose to do this.
Once you understand what your purpose is in life, and you do it for you and you do it for those that love you, you don’t have to go back and please everybody who don’t get it. And that’s usually where the trouble lies. When you try to explain it to people who don’t get it. And try to make them understand where you’re going, as opposed to where you come from.
What’s your purpose at this point?
I don’t know yet. Still learning, figuring it out, but I like what I’m doing. I like the ability to have my own football league, give back to young men and young women around the whole world. I like the influence I have on people. I like that I speak my mind and I’m honest and truthful. If I don’t like something, I don’t have a problem with saying it. I love being me. I don’t know how to do nothing but be me. As long as I continue to do that, my legacy and whatever I’m supposed to be here for will all become more visible.
When I started as Snoop Doggy Dogg, nobody thought 20 some years later I would be Coach Snoop, Snoop Lion, whatever comes with all of the things that I’ve done and progressed to — in the light — as opposed to the darkness that I started from.
When I was watching the Straight Outta Compton movie, it was beautiful to watch the N.W.A story come to life and see them go from almost knowing to what they wanted to do, to knowing what they wanted to do, to doing it, being trendsetters, going solo, and having other careers, other than just music.
Is that a trip to watch people you know, and yourself, portrayed on-screen?
Nah, it’s informational. It’s like a historic moment. History needs to be told by those while they’re still here to tell it. As opposed to getting a story that’s half-right or half-wrong. I believe that story was 98 percent right. I don’t know everything about it, but I just feel that it was right because it was told from the eyes of people who were still here — or were most connected to the people who were in the group. I always wanted to be in N.W.A, so I wanted to know why, and how close I was to it.
There were certain things in that movie I was a part of — the house where they used to make the music, I made my first demo tape over there, with Jinx. But I never did anything with it. I just went over there, and he was the first person I recorded with. To see them, in that house, doing what they was doing in that room, it was crazy, cause that’s the same house I came in to do what I was doing, so I know I was on the right path!
Could a new N.W.A happen? You’ve performed on-stage with the surviving members…
The moment passed its time. It was a special moment, and we was trying to do it for Eazy-E and the spirit of N.W.A, the legacy, but it don’t make sense to try to do it now. The legacy is theirs, it’s told. You don’t wanna fix something that ain’t broke.
Tell me what you’re doing with DJ Skee and Dash Radio?
Cadillacc Music. It’s a station that enables me to play the kind of music that I want as the program director. Great music, Monday through Monday, 24 hours a day, and to put great DJs, like Art Laboe, back to the forefront, where he can do what he’s great at. And do what I’m great at.
One thing about my station, you hear a little bit of everything. Patsy Cline, Eric B. & Rakim, Ozzy Osbourne, Bob Marley, Frank Sinatra, Harry Belafonte. I represent music. I’ve always wanted my own radio station. I’ve always wanted to be what I’m about to be. And it just feels good to be able to do it, from the ground up. Being able to do it with Skee and Dash Radio, in the beginning where they’re growing and we’re growing, it’s something I can have my hand in to make sure it grows.
When you said having freedom allows you to do whatever you want, you mean creative freedom to do films, books, to do Dash, right?
Not only that, but to be respected. To do it and not have respect is bad. But when you do it and they have respect for and appreciate it — and people want to talk to you about deals and situations, that’s what’s great.
I don’t have a record label, I don’t have a TV network deal, but I have my own studios, I have my own facilities, and I can create my own record label, I can create my own shows, which I’ve been doing. And they’ve been doing so well, to the point that networks want to pick them up. And I’m not ready to go to network yet, because I like the creative freedom. Some people are made to be players, some are made to coach. It’s football, it’s basketball, it’s sports, it’s life.
And at this point, you’re a coach.
Muthafuckin’ right. I played the game the appropriate way. I progressed into a great coach. Into an owner, not just a coach, because I own the team I coach. You progress into leadership by learning. The lessons I got on Death Row Records were valuable. People said, “Man, you didn’t make a lot of money.” I made enough money and I made a lot of great relationships with people to where — when I was able to leave Death Row, I was able to continue to be Snoop Dogg, and to build the brand with Master P and No Limit.
When I left No Limit I was able to go on my own. Some things worked, some didn’t. But it put me in a position where, if I want to become great, I have to go through some things. They ain’t gonna always be great, but it trained me and prepared me for now. Now, I can handle success and failure. And you can’t even tell if I’m going through success or failure.
What kind of songs can we expect on Cadillacc Music?
Music that feel good — that make you feel good. When people come here and walk in the room I want them to feel like this is a real radio station, there’s a real DJ in there.
Great DJs need to be seen, not just heard. And that’s a component that I plan on bringing, where you can see when a guest is doing interviews, as well as hearing them. I plan on having a morning show that I do from 3 to 7 am. It’s a smoke-based show; what’s gonna be awesome is, this is the trick — clubs usually close at 2 in the morning on the West Coast. So for me to have one of my homies up out the club, and say come on get on my radio show, let’s go smoke and finish the night out. Fuck around and do a song maybe, shoot some hoops afterwards. Come fuck with me. Plug in.
We seven minutes from LAX. Come see me, we got a Sprinter van to pick you up, get you in, gimme an interview real quick, get some drops in or drop off your mix. Or matter fact, you can go up there in my room and put together a mix. I got wax, CDs, whatever. To me, this shit is fun. Fucking with Snoop Dogg is fun. And now I just gave you Doggyland. When that studio really get done and we start making hit records, imagine if you make a hit record and you come out and play some basketball and play some video games.
And your competitors?
Dr. Dre has proven with [Apple Music and] the Pharmacy that people love good radio. But one thing about the Pharmacy is you can’t cuss, there’s commercials, and it’s watered down. Over here we smoking, talking shit, drinking, cracking jokes. I’m not even doing this for the money. I’ve always wanted my own radio station. Get that part, because that’s my exit plan.
What else is connected to me still making music and people still protecting the Snoop Dogg legacy? Radio. Music. Being able to play other people’s music as well as slide some of my shit in that you may have forgotten about or you want to hear. It’s the transformation. Most players when they finish their career, what do they do? They become analysts. This is the natural progression for an artist of my caliber. To transform into a provider of great music to the world. I want to be a station that starts from ground zero — I didn’t just want to blow it up like “Snoop Dogg Radio,” because it’s too much hype. I don’t believe the hype. I believe in letting this shit organically grow.
People are going to have a hard time believing this isn’t about the money.
I don’t mean to say anything negative, but the Tidal situation for example. Certain people wanted to make money off getting behind it — it went bad. I want to give you the thrill of enjoying life the way I do, hearing it the way I do. With no fee connected. No gimmicks. Some people make you subscribe and do all that. No, just tune in and listen. It’s a big difference when you start to put an attachment to it. “Listen now for 30 days, then when 30 days is up, we need you to use your credit card number.” Don’t fool me like that.
But Dash has tremendous potential: endorsements, sponsorships…
That shit is gonna come. Once I have the programing the way I want. Right now I’m so pleased with Sunday. I wanted to make sure I mastered Sunday because Sunday is a very important part of radio. Always has been since the days of yesteryear. But, what do you play on Sunday? People love hearing gospel music on Sunday. Because you’ve done so much wrong throughout the week, you need something to make you feel right. Then I throw in a little reggae. I don’t play any rap. Nothing violent or X-rated on Sunday. When I used to listen on Sundays I said ‘I’m mad. All this cuss music, and I make this kind of music,’ but I’m thinking ‘I want my momma, aunties and grandma to be able to listen.’
Are we going to hear you on the radio at 90, like Art Laboe?
That’s how I want to end my life, like that. With people calling making dedications — saying “Snoop Dogg, can you play…” And then a muthafucka will call and say, “Snoop, can you play this?” And then the phone gonna go dead and they gonna say, “Snoop Dogg, are you there?’
And then “Highway to Heaven” gonna come on, and we got you.
Adam Popescu is a Los Angeles based writer whose work has been published by publications that include the BBC, Fast Company, Mashable, The LA Times, and National Public Radio.