The Long Beach, California, rapper's stoned cadence is instantly recognizable. Everybody in the world knows it, and as soon as they hear it they can picture his image. And after they do those things -- hear him and see him -- they usually smile.
The weird part? These people used to hate him.
Recognizing his voice and face are nothing new; Snoop was sensationally world-famous from the get-go. It's the giant love-in that nobody could have predicted. Snoop's target demographic is suburbia, and kids have always loved him, but these smiling grandparents require reconciling against the scowling parents who once greeted Snoop's great cultural export -- West Coast gangsta rap -- as a sinister product.
These are, after all, the same people.
Starting out in 1992 as a rapping gangsta mack, the unapologetic member of the Crip gang (the blue one, for all you non-bangers) smoked marijuana all the time, shocked Tipper Gore by commonly referring to women as bitches and hoes, and added his name to the dictionary definition of "laid back." Classic albums with Dr. Dre (The Chronic in '92, Doggystyle in '93) introduced "gangsta" as a style and culture (think '64 Chevy Impalas, White Sox hats and malt liquor), and invented "G-funk" as a sound (greasy sine-waves over heavy Oakland funk).
Everything about Snoop was an archetype. His music and character immediately and indelibly became one of the most recognizable brands in the world.
He was dangerous. Scary to begin with, Snoop only got scarier when Johnnie Cochran made sure he wasn't convicted of the murder charges brought against him in 1993. If he wasn't killing rivals like he rapped about, he was being accused of it, and that was real enough to freak people out in '93. And Snoop wasn't above the profitable business of fear mongering: When he and fellow rapper Tupac Shakur made the classic track "2 of Amerikaz Most Wanted" in 1996, they were basking in perceived danger.
Now he guests on daytime soap operas like One Life to Live, performing for the generation that used to fear his influence over their children.
Take Snoop Dogg's Father Hood, his reality TV show on the E! Network. Watching the show, you see Snoop do things like love his wife, play with his kids and coach football. It's heartwarming, and the subtext is that Snoop plays a character on his records. At home, he's neither gangster nor misogynist.
So why does society now accept this gap between art and life?
Because everything changed in the '90s. People got less na & iuml;ve, more paranoid, and colder on the whole. They also got media literate, meaning they started to understand that every part of everything associated with all media exists to promote an agenda. We now transparently see Snoop's agenda and are not afraid of him. We like his style. We see him as an entertainer, the engineer of a wildly successful brand.
And he's going to keep doing Snoop as long as Snoop sells. He'll never reinvent himself, but why would he? Accepted by mainstream society way more than he has conformed, he still wears paisley-print Crip garb, openly smokes weed and says ignorant things. Instead of being scared, people have become comfortable with it. He's a fixture in this American life. Sure, he's turned himself into a caricature, but that's what happens when you're Snoop in a post-Snoop world. The threat is gone, but the Snoop is still Snoop.
So: Does Snoop Dogg still matter? That's not even a coherent question. He's post-mattering. He's gangsta. He's the West Coast. He's McDonald's. He's Batman.
He is legend.
Snoop Dogg with Tha Dogg Pound, Warren G, Westurn Union, Warzone, Mistah FAB and OG Domino at the Big Easy (soon to be known as the Knitting Factory, FYI) on June 21 at 7 pm. $34. Visit ticketswest.com or call 325-SEAT.