With the passing of Nate Dogg, the g-funk era has well and truly ended. It is time to remember the remarkable, revolutionary impact of Nate Dogg, Snoop Doggy Dogg, and indeed the whole of Tha Dogg Pound, on popular culture.
Let us cast our minds back to the early 1990s. Pop music was very different from what it is today. Phil Collins and Bryan Adams bestrode the charts like ageing warriors of middle-of-the-road rock. Kylie Minogue was a fixture in the UK top 10. Mariah Carey was just beginning her trilling rise to pop notoriety.
The rap music scene was burgeoning, but some of the artists held views which we can now see were wildly off-kilter. Some rap groups used the art form to promote radical political views, feminism even (Public Enemy); others, even more troublingly, sought to advance the cause of peace (De La Soul). It is shocking to us in the 21st Century, but these groups rarely, if ever, described women as bitches, or black men as n*ggaz.
With these groups dominating hip-hop, it was clearly the time for an alternative. Yes, there were tireless, hardworking folk such as Ice-T and Ice Cube advocating traditional American values of misogyny, homophobia, gun-love and laissez-faire capitalism. But these rappers, while essentially having the right approach, were too rough-edged for the mainstream.
If rap was to take over, something had to change. A new approach was needed. It was time for g-funk. Enter Tha Dogg Pound.
To all but the most underground fan, the key moment was the release of Dr Dre’s Chronic album in 1992. This album effectively ushered in g-funk, which used George Clinton and other classic funk samples with Dre’s beats, while giving the young Nate Dogg and Snoop Doggy Dogg room to express the full range of their talents.
A good example was Deeez Nuuuts, which featured, Snoop, Nate, Warren G and Daz (it has never been confirmed whether Daz was named after the washing powder – however I use the product to put a g-funk spin on my household chores).
While the rest of the chaps were spitting truth from the booth, the crucial role Nate Dogg played was delivering the gangsta lyrics in the innocent, honeyed tones of a classic soul singer.
So when Nate came with the inimitable line:
I can’t be faded, I’m a n*gga from the mothafucking streets
It made the heart soar, and nourished the soul. It was Nate who converted gangsta rap from being for hardcore fans only, to something your grandmother would dance to at a wedding reception.
Like many great artists who have died, the media has boiled his long and distinguished career down to just one moment: his work on the Warren G megahit, Regulate. There’s no doubt this is one of the greatest songs of all time, but Nate Dogg’s career went far beyond that.
I am fond of his contribution on Bitch Please, but particularly the follow-up, Bitch Please II, on Eminem’s Marshall Mathers LP.
Nate’s chorus went like this:
You don’t really wanna fuck wit me
Only n*gga that I trust is me
Fuck around and make me bust, this heat
With Snoop’s rejoinder:
That’s, the devil, they always wanna dance
I can also strongly recommend his work with Knoc-turn’al on Str8 West Coast, Ludacris (Area Codes) and of course Just Doggin’ with Tha Dogg Pound, from a packed discography.
So what was Nate Dogg’s impact? While he was often the sideman, it was Nate’s voice which meant that a generation of young gentlemen could listen to rap music which their girlfriends could find acceptable. The girl could convince herself that Snoop didn’t say what she thought he said, while the chap would be perfectly sure what was being said, roll a blunt and act upon it.
For me, Nate Dogg is a modern version of the old blues shouter, Jimmy Rushing, whose theme tune, Jimmy’s Blues, could be seen as the ancient template for Nate’s style.
When the dust has settled on his untimely death, we will remember a man who helped bring misogyny and gun-love back into fashion again with his once-in-a-generation voice.
Now I know there are a lot of people out there who favour ‘conscious’ hiphop over gangsta. Conscious is basically an umbrella term which covers ‘intellectual’ through to ‘preachy polysyllabic bollocks’. The essential difference is that it is substance over style, whereas g-funk was the other way around.
While I don’t mind a message in the music I listen to, when you live in suburban London and work in an office you want to listen to something with a bit of swagger to get you motivated to stare at Outlook for another eight hours. It acts as a thrilling counterpoint to my fairly tepid existence. I do like Saul Williams and Mos Def, but I prefer the gangsta shit.
Nate Dogg went for the gusto, the style, and he’s one of the big reasons rap is the dominant force in music it is today.
Massive love to Nate Dogg. All those up in the heavens: you really do not want to fuck with him.
RIP Nate Dogg