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1993 was a tumultuous time in the city of Los Angeles. Still reeling from the aftermath of the LA riots where the Rodney King case became the symbolic face of police brutality, the city was still in recovery from the repercussions of racism that caused it to go up in flames. What began as a series of civic disturbances transformed into a definitive stance for an ignored and enraged African American community to lash out against the oppressive forces that have been apart of the very fabric of their existence for years.

The turbulence ensued when a jury acquitted four officers of the LAPD for the use of excessive force in the arrest and beating of Rodney King. The grotesque assault was captured on camera and was seen across the country on various news outlets. Upon the announcement of the verdict, city residents took matters into their own hands, and turmoil flooded through the streets of Los Angles for the next six days. It’s against the backdrop of this uncompromising, cataclysmic reality that Snoop Dogg‘s Doggystyle was released to the masses.

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Much of the music that emerged from West Coast hip-hop foreshadowed the LA uprisings, as rap steadily became the most dominant force on the scene during the mid ’90s. Because of the pervasive presence of gang culture, its resulting influence upon the development of West Coast rap is irrefutable. Gangsta rap not only became a subgenre of rap music, but it became extremely popular and profitable, especially the West Coast version. But California’s rap scene was not a monolithic space for a singular expression of hip-hop; it was an eclectic space for the renderings of a diverse group of rappers to use their art to reflect life in California.

There was Ice-T, who deployed a proto-gangster street hustler persona that established him as a pioneer in West Coast gangsta rap, and there was N.W.A.’s in your face, anti-establishment, hyper masculine, political rap. Upon leaving N.W.A., frontman Ice Cube’s hard-hitting, socially conscious message solidified him as a “woke” MC before the term came into fashion. The Latino-inspired, smoked-out funk of Cypress Hill represented the East LA contingent. The Bay Area’s own Too Short, with overt sexual references, created a pimp/player motif that’s still his calling card. Meanwhile, the rap version of Parliament Funkadelic, Digital Underground, was the collective that introduced the world to Tupac Shakur. All these acts, as well as others, created an atmosphere for West Coast rap to become a diverse and unique expression, not just clones of the East Coast rap scene as naysayers may have implied. This was the scene that inspired Snoop to try his hand at being an MC.

Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg during the 1993 MTV Movie Awards
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It was the good fortune of Snoop Dogg, alias Calvin Broadus, to be childhood friends with a young Nate Dogg (Nathaniel Hale) and Warren G (Warren Griffin III), who just happened to be the step-brother of Dr. Dre, the legendary producer and co-founder of N.W.A. It became Warren’s mission to introduce his brother to Snoop. Reminiscing on the first time he met Snoop on the documentary The Defiant Ones, Dre recalls, “The first time I heard Snoop, a friend of mine had a bachelor party. I’d met Snoop before that – he was selling drugs – and my stepbrother Warren G pops this tape in. I’m like ‘That’s Snoop?’ I’m like ‘man this is a fucking diamond in the rough and we need to polish it up!’”

As a result, Snoop would meet Dre in the studio the next week. This chance encounter would forge one of the greatest musical partnerships in recent memory. Dre enlisted the rhyming services of Snoop on the first release of his newly established Death Row label, a track entitled “Deep Cover,” a single from the soundtrack of the same name. Dre then featured Snoop prominently on his seminal solo project, The Chronic. The album sold over 5 million records, with Snoop appearing on eight of the tracks, including the singles “Nutin But a G Thang” and “Dre Day.” The critical and commercial success of The Chronic ultimately set the stage for one of the most anticipated debuts in hip-hop history, Snoop Dogg’s Doggystyle.

Death Row Records

From beginning to end, Doggystyle is an incredible body of work. The technical mastery of Dr. Dre as a producer, mixer, and engineer coupled with the harmonious flow, hilarious wit, and infectious vocal delivery of Snoop continued the winning formula of the hugely successful Chronic album. Doggystyle is one big gangsta party that features Death Row artists and affiliates Dr. Dre such as The Dogg Pound, The Lady of Rage, and the funk legend George Clinton among others. The true genius of Doggystyle is that it doesn’t attempt to be The Chronic 2.0. Undoubtedly the influence is apparent, but Doggystyle was created in the image of a 22-year-old Snoop Dogg and his musings about the “drama in the LBC.”

The LP is full of standout tracks where Snoop steps out from the large shadow of Dre and asserts his own musical identity. His relaxed, too-cool flow, penchant for storytelling, and remarkable spelling ability all come to together for a virtuoso performance. The first single, “Who Am I (What’s My Name)?,” is a spectacular way for Snoop to reintroduce himself as rap’s next solo star. Accompanied with an anthropomorphic video and sampling the funk classic “Atomic Dog” by George Clinton, the track peaked at number 8 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Elsewhere, on “Gin & Juice,” Snoop effortlessly glides over the George McCrae’s version of “I Get Lifted.” The track is one of the quintessential rap songs of any era; it became a popular ’90s catchphrase, another big hit, and one of Snoop’s signature songs.

Other highlights include the infamous posse cut “Aint No Fun (If the Homies Can’t Have None),” the eerie, art almost imitating life classic “Murder Was the Case” (which inspired a short film), the overlooked ode to Snoop’s love of ’70s R&B and Blaxploitation films, “Doggy Dog World” featuring The Dramatics, and the straight gangsterism of “The Shiznit,” are among the LP’s brightest gems. On Doggystyle, Snoop served up a smorgasbord of music, full of street bangers, comedically brilliant skits, and not a touch of filler.

The expectations could not have been higher come release day, and Snoop exceeded them all. He delivered a masterpiece that would redefine West Coast rap and further cement the dominance of Californian rap music during the second Golden Era of hip-hop. Doggystyle was a game changer that singled a seismic shift in hip-hop; Snoop Dog was here to stay.

In its first week, the LP sold over 806,000 copies, making it the biggest selling debut album at the time upon its release. Although the subject matter of the album is replete with sexism and violence, the rawness of it conveys an authenticity to Snoop and his comrades living their truth, as problematic as it was in those times. Doggystyle is an amalgamation and culmination of the culture that influenced and nurtured Snoop. It’s provocative, compelling, and controversial at the same time. It ranks among the very best of ’90s hip-hop debuts, from Wu-Tang’s 36 Chambers to JAY-Z’s Reasonable Doubt, and its influence is evident in the works of Kendrick Lamar, Vince Staples, Wiz Khalifa, The Game, and so many others.

Snoop Dogg in 1994
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The “G-Funk” production of Doggystyle, masterfully structured by Dr. Dre, was the perfect complement to Snoop’s smooth, gangsta lyricism. His laidback style was a clear departure from the aggressive motifs of previous West Coast albums, and he carved out a significant space of uncharted MC territory wherein he presented to the world his own perspective, flawed as it may be.

That it launched Snoop Dogg into a global icon goes without saying in 2018. Today, Snoop is one the most beloved and colorful personalities in pop culture. His legacy transcends all barriers, and his recent enshrinement into the Hollywood Walk of Fame is evidence of his profound impact. Who could have imagined that the “Murder Was the Case” rapper would be a mainstream star with a cooking show with Martha Stewart? Before he became an author, a star in plays, he was just Snoop Doggy Dogg, a lyrical prodigy from Long Beach. He dropped Doggystyle and music has never been the same since. Without question, it is a timeless, essential rap classic and a bedrock in the foundation of West Coast hip-hop.

For more like this, read about the legacy of Kanye West’s ‘808s & Heartbreak’ 10 years later.

  • Words: Rashad D. Grove
Words by Contributor
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