Snoop on Pot, the Music Biz and His Movie 'Reincarnated'
The former gangbanger turned hip-hop mogul is as relevant as ever at age 40, with a string of chart-topping singles, a new movie and a lucrative line of Snoop-approved endorsements.
This story first appeared in the Oct. 5 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
On this blazing hot friday afternoon, Snoop Dogg is surrounded by family. Among them: high school sweetheart Shante, his wife of 15 years; her sister Sharelle; 13-year-old daughter Cori (who goes by "Choc" for "chocolate"); son Corde (who goes by "Spank"), 18; Uncle Reggie; and his day-to-day manager Kevin Barkey. They are all here, complete with their cushioned, fold-out minichairs, to watch another child (three in all) of Shante and the man born Calvin Broadus -- 6-foot-2, 185-pound son Cordell, 15, aka "Rook" -- play defensive back for Diamond Bar High School on homecoming weekend. In this city, an outpost of Pomona, Calif., whose population is 52.5 percent Asian and just 4 percent African-American, the 6-foot-4 rapper and his posse, complete with a thuggishly burly (but sweet) security guard radioing from the running track, totally sticks out, catching the lens of a pesky photographer from the school paper, The Bull's Eye, the instant Snoop saunters up the bleachers.
As the game nears halftime, a couple dozen of the school's more adventurous students slowly crowd around the hip-hop icon. The Broadus clan rotate formation to guard the rapper, but one underclassman breaches their practiced phalanx.
"Can you sign this, Snoop?" says the bright-eyed boy, no older than a sophomore, handing over his batting glove.
"Don't be interrupting family time, now," chides cousin and minder Joe Cool, but Snoop pays no mind, grabbing the blue marker and scribbling his name. The boy snatches it back and quickly realizes the ink already has smudged and likely won't survive the backpack trip home. Still, he's elated by the brush with hip-hop royalty, telling his buddy, "It'll be a story forever."
Snoop shares lots of traits with his two teenage sons. One of them is an affinity for football. Dad was a former quarterback at Long Beach Polytechnic about 40 miles south, and the little league team he built just saw its own graduate, De’Anthony Thomas -- already being hailed as a future Heisman trophy recipient -- grace the cover of Sports Illustrated. Today, Cordell's team, the Brahmas, will trounce Los Altos in a 40-3 victory. No wonder the sophomore has already been offered a full ride to UCLA for football. Meanwhile, tattooed older brother Corde, also a former footballer, is chasing his father's other great passion: rap.
"He's getting there," says Snoop of his boy's rhymes, whose songs have such titles as "Rollin, Rollin, Rollin … Stoned," "California Gs" and "Commemoration of Vaporization." Corde's stage persona is Spanky Danky, and Dad is trying to help spread the word on the music by cracking doors, not kicking them down. "I see myself in him, but he needs to walk in his own shoes," says Snoop, who was raised by his single mother.
In other areas, though, Snoop perhaps is more generous.
On Sept. 13, Corde posted a photo on Twitter that captured him sparking up Dad's 2-foot glass bong, an image that quickly made the stoner media rounds (yes, there is such a thing). As if to drive the family-that-smokes-together-stays-together point home, when this reporter showed up at the Broadus' understated, almost ordinary two-story craftsman (in an otherwise somewhat gaudy gated community) for an interview, junior was busy rolling joints in the outdoor hang area designated for Snoop and posse. (It was 4:20 p.m., after all.) "My kids can do whatever the hell they want," explains Snoop. "For me to say otherwise would be hypocritical. A lot of motherf--ers don't have a relationship with their kids, and that's when they get on drugs and have suicidal thoughts and drive drunk. Me and my son is mellow. I'm his father, so I wanna show him the proper way because he looks up to me. What better way to get it than from the master?"
Indeed, Snoop, who these days has renamed himself Snoop Lion (more on that later), certainly follows his own set of rules -- if he follows any at all. Courting controversy while playing role model, coach and parent, the former gangbanger has had a hand in selling about 50 million albums and is ranked No. 14 on Forbes' list of hip-hop's top 20 earners, with estimated annual income of $8.5 million -- seemingly undervalued judging by Snoop's smirked reaction: "I must've been coaching football that year," he cracks. Just as impressive, 2012 marked the rapper's 20th anniversary since first appearing as Dr. Dre's sidekick in the video for "Deep Cover."
And at 40, an age when most MCs would long ago have hung up their hoodies, Snoop maintains an astonishing relevance (just ask any white suburban boy who punctuates phrases with "izzle"). He's outperformed former contemporaries like P. Diddy and outlived departed greats such as Notorious B.I.G. and his lifelong friend Nate Dogg (whose March 2011 death from multiple strokes remains an unhealed wound). An in-demand international touring act who in April headlined two weekends at the 70,000-person-strong Coachella, where he shared the stage with a hologram of the late Tupac Shakur as well as rap heavies Dr. Dre and Eminem, Snoop also shoots and edits his own online satirical newscast (recent guests on GGN, the Double G Network: Paris Hilton and rapper-turned-actor-turned-director RZA), is a global ambassador for Adidas and CEO of his very own Snoopermarket, selling everything from $32 house slippers to, yes, official Snoop Dogg rolling papers (see sidebar).
But what's getting Snoop the most attention these days is his role as CEO of Snoopadelic Films, whose titles include the straight-to-DVD (at Snoop's insistence, he says) Mac & Devin Go to High School, co-starring next-gen stoner rapper Wiz Khalifa (released by Anchor Bay in 2010, it has sold about 200,000 copies). Snoop's latest project, the making-of-an-album documentary Reincarnated, recently premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. And while THR's own review of Reincarnated out of Toronto takes it to task for not questioning Snoop's rebirth, critic David Rooney also noted that "the rapper has always been a charismatic eccentric, and as an all-access pass to an artist embarking on a new path, this is entertaining stuff -- funny, disarming, even poignant."
The movie in itself is about Snoop's journey -- both figuratively and literally: as thug from the east side of Long Beach (where 20 percent of its residents live below the poverty line) to cultural icon, rapper to reggae star in the genre's homeland of Jamaica, and from vapid celebrity to the reawakened, spiritually sound Snoop Lion. Soon after unveiling the doc in New York City in July, Snoop started making waves when he claimed to be reggae legend Bob Marley reborn, stating quite simply, "I am Bob Marley reincarnated." The headline-grabbing declaration made the mainstream news rounds in an instant and was a no-brainer punch line for late-night monologues. Surprisingly, however, it didn't ruffle the Marley family's feathers. Not only does Marley scion Damian appear in the movie, but for good measure, Rohan Marley sat in the front row at Snoop's summer press conference so he could go on the record and say: "Music is universal. … We don't separate ourselves. We embrace Snoop. We love Snoop Lion."
Further explaining the backstory, Snoop's manager Ted Chung says: "Years ago, Snoop had referred to himself in a lyric as Bob Marley reincarnated. It was more on a peripheral level, maybe not as spiritual a level as it is now, but that's part of what he's referencing when he says that. Secondly, I don't think any of us ever assumed his name was going to be Snoop Lion from now on, but Snoop's going through a spiritual lifestyle change, and Rastafarianism is a serious undertaking, so we treated it that way." In other words: Lion ain't lyin'.
For his part, Snoop is staunchly unapologetic about the comment or the comparison. Nor does he see the exploitation of Bob Marley the brand -- whose face and iconic red, green and yellow Rasta colors can be found on everything from hats to beach towels to posters and plates -- a conflict of art and commerce. "It's awesome to have people discover a great artist who may no longer be here in body, but they're here in spirit and merchandise," says Snoop of the eternally profitable Marley estate. "Elvis Presley, Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra did it, and nobody had a f--in' problem with it."
To prove his commitment to spreading the Rastafari message of love and the traditions of its people, Snoop, as he does with many of his business ventures, is bankrolling the Reincarnated project. Although he's had plenty of film experience, making cameos in such comedies as Old School and Starsky & Hutch and starring as a parody of himself in a succession of low-budget flicks such as Soul Train and The Wash, Reincarnated is an entirely different beast. Bringing along his wife, a crew of eight and 25 team members to spend a month in Jamaica taking in the history, spirit, sights and, most important, sounds of the island nation, he ended up laying out somewhere in the vicinity of $200,000. The original plan, in fact, wasn't to make a movie but rather document his time in the recording studio with the in-demand Diplo and his music production team Major Lazer. But what ended up transpiring went much deeper in a life-affirming and life-changing way, you could say, and it's the main reason Snoop and his producing partners at Vice Films are planning to give this labor of one love a proper theatrical release.
That means putting rap aside for a moment, opting instead to try his hand at traditional reggae fare in the form of a full album recorded in Jamaica. It's part of the Reincarnated rollout plan, which manager Chung says he hopes will hit theaters in the first quarter (in time for Marley's birthday Feb. 6? "Certainly, that has been discussed in many meetings," says Chung) and includes a photo book to be published later in the year. Interestingly, Snoop has no Caribbean roots and is in fact "only 72 percent black; the rest is European," he says, recalling a DNA test conducted by George Lopez to see who was "blacker," Snoop or Charles Barkley.
For the self-declared "original gangster" who once bragged about "poppin' caps" and leaving no witnesses, viewers will see that the Doggfather of today is a decidedly different animal from the bad boy of his youth. Even his daughter makes an appearance on the song "No Guns Allowed." As aptly described by writer Toure in a 2006 Rolling Stone cover story, Snoop is "loved by both gangbangers and soccer moms." Yet reconciling the two poles to his career has led to a sort of creative crossroads. As he declares in Reincarnated, "I wanna bury Snoop Dogg!"
Says Snoop: "I have no regrets for what I've done. It's just when you know better, you do better. Back in my early days, I didn't know no better. But I was raised right and with a conscience. I know I can't make up for the wrongs that I did, I'm just trying to do more right than wrong."
Back at home, where Snoop has fashioned his own man cave -- the Dogg Pound, as it were -- out of an old toolshed in the back, filled-to-the-rim two-quart jars of pot are being passed around. Banished from the house by his wife and daughter, the non-air-conditioned space is where Snoop says, "I'm able to do what I need to do." Primarily, watch TV, play video games (an Xbox copy of FIFA 13 has just arrived) and smoke.
Like Marley and Willie Nelson, Snoop is a stoner symbol who has long espoused marijuana's positive uses as they pertain to health, creativity and recreation, even on the heels of being busted -- eight times and counting, most recently in Norway in June (he's been banned from entering the country for two years) and, before that, in Sierra Blanca, Texas, the same spot where Fiona Apple was arrested for hashish possession Sept. 19. For the record, Snoop is a proud holder of what he calls "a platinum medical marijuana card," though to be sure, most of his green is gifted. Better yet, as the ultimate sign of respect from the marijuana community, several boutique strains have been named after Snoop, including a head-heavy flavor called Snoop Dogg Platinum, which made its debut in front of THR staffers.
Still, for as much as he smokes (on an average evening hang at home, Snoop can easily light up 10 blunts each roughly the size of a Sharpie; to compare, Marley's intake was believed to have averaged 14 joints a day), Snoop Dogg straight up defies the notion that potheads are lazy. To the contrary, he's very much a stoner-overachiever. Snoop tries his best to perform cameos on other peoples' songs whenever he's asked -- more than 70 at last tally, with two to three requests coming every month, at times "for no money," he explains of the so-called "swap." "I'm not one of those rappers who's like, 'I'm hot right now, give me $100,000.' It ain't about the money, it's about respect. I try to make it happen because for them to even reach out to me to be a part of their project, I give them mad respect back."
When you're as in demand as Snoop, you hope guesting pays off, as did his appearance on Katy Perry's "California Gurls" in 2010. The No. 1 single has seen sales in excess of 5.4 million digital tracks, according to Nielsen SoundScan -- Snoop's bit, he says, took all of 45 minutes to freestyle. But sometimes, he ends up losing out, like a recent Raekwon (of Wu Tang Clan fame) track he was asked to rap on. "He called me and was like, 'I need to get you on this song,' " explains Snoop. "But the thing was, me and him had the same beat from the same producer. So I was like: 'That's your beat. You can have it.' Now I've just gotta find time to give him that verse because I love Raekwon and Wu Tang." (He's still hoping for a call from one of his favorites. "I'm waiting on Sade," he says with a smile.)
In another gesture of diplomacy, Snoop shows no desire to get into the lucrative headphone game by manufacturing or lending his name to a line of "cans" the same way Dr. Dre got behind Beats headphones. "That's Dre's lane," he says. Ultimately, his business philosophy comes down to an almost simplistic premise that Snoop applies to every facet of his life: "Whatever you put out will come back to you. If I project righteousness, righteousness will be around me. … The positive spirit is why negative forces always find a way to be near me, but they never get to me."
When it comes to profiting from an image, Snoop has a depth of firsthand experience few can claim. Originally signed to Death Row Records (in partnership with Interscope) during the early 1990s, just as gangster rap was building on radio and exploding on music television, he thrived during the industry's decade of excess, when CDs sold like crazy and label executives used their expense accounts to shower artists with lavish gifts and dinners. After extricating himself from the contract and the clutches of label head Suge Knight, he moved on to EMI-distributed No Limit Records, run by Master P, who, at his career height in 1998, ranked 10th among America's 40 highest-paid entertainers with estimated income of $56.5 million (he since has declared bankruptcy).
"A lot of people are still stuck in the '90s," says Snoop of the modern-day music business. "They think the days still exist where you get a lot of money upfront and labels give you two or three videos with big budgets. That shit's over with." But as Snoop sees it, all hope is not lost. Through every slump, starting with Napster picking the pockets of artists at the turn of the millennium to today's ubiquitous torrent culture, he has spied a profitable path. "There's certainly ways to maximize the mistakes that we've made with CDs and the crash and people stealing music: You can still control the material. Now, you can make a video and put it on YouTube and display your skills: record label staffers are sitting in an office all day, every day, looking for it. It's definitely not as bad as people want to make it."
Snoop Dogg might have a warped perspective, however. He has seen his popularity surge over multiple decades, transcending trends and defying formats -- for instance: 10 years after 1994's top 10 hit "Gin and Juice," Snoop reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart with "Drop It Like It's Hot;" two years later, he scored a top five hit with Akon and again in 2011 with "Young, Wild & Free," which featured heir apparent Khalifa and sold more than 3 million downloads. Time has allowed him a certain independence when it comes to navigating the music world.
As Snoop hilariously explains, "If I haven't dealt with every one of the majors, I'm pretty sure they've all made some money off me." Still, despite Snoop's nigh-legendary standing, consistent sales and hit-making magic, he's lost some value in an industry that now demands all-encompassing 360-degree deals of its artists. "F-- no," says Snoop, mid-cough. "More like 120 for me [meaning about 66 percent benefits Snoop Inc.]. … I started off as a player, but I'm an owner now."
"For Snoop, it's all about equity," affirms Chung. On the music side, he says, the tables started turning in his artist's favor seven years ago. "But to really put it in full effect as a business model, the last three to four years have involved investing his own financing to retain control and determine how his content will be exhibited to fans."
That includes which studio they'll ultimately hook up with for Reincarnated, along with decisions on whether to dole out cable, digital and DVD rights piecemeal. What barometer does Snoop, who's represented by Paradigm, use to size up Hollywood types? "The proof is in the pudding," he says (Snoop speak for: A company's track record and the quality of its product is key). "Mac & Devin was made up, a stoner movie; this is for real," demands Snoop in his most serious tone, which is to say barely above a whisper. "The people who made me who I am deserve to see it in its biggest form."
Today, Snoop Dogg-Lion is a free agent in nearly every sector of his career and certainly in music. Since 2009, he has held the title of creative chairman at EMI's Priority Records, the label that originally signed his hip-hop peers like NWA, Ice-T and Geto Boys, though new releases by other artists have been slow. Respect, Snoop reveals, is due to Cash Money Records, home to Lil Wayne, Nicki Minaj and Drake. "It's a great company that knows how to make money," he says. Not that Snoop or his Stampede Management team are stressing such old-school methods that rely on residuals of diminishing returns. Rather, says Chung, "Snoop is coming into his prime as an artist in the online space. In many ways, he's being talked about among circles of the Googles, the Twitters, the Facebooks, the Instagrams, the Vevos. You can count the most influential artists on social media on one hand, and he's certainly one of them."
These days, few celebrities leave Snoop star-struck. Not Madonna, Lady Gaga or the late Michael Jackson. He found himself tongue-tied in the presence of Muhammad Ali, however, for whom Snoop performed at the boxer's 70th birthday party in Las Vegas in January. "He was the ultimate," says Snoop, whipping out a quick scat of joy and gratitude. And again in Jamaica, sharing his California crop with Bunny Wailer and later sitting on the other side of the vocal booth as the reggae legend and Marley bandmate delivered a masterful overdub that nearly had Snoop in tears. That leaves only one more important figure on the rapper's bucket list: Barack Obama.
"I ain't met the president yet, but when we finally lock palms -- you know, give him the old soul shake, that bare vibe on the black man's side -- that'll be exciting," raps Snoop, adding that he gets most of his political news from Nancy Grace and Jane Velez-Mitchell. As for the deluge of almost comedic Mitt Romney stories? "I don't pay no attention to that," he snaps. "The shit's funny, but he's going up against my main man." Given Snoop's pro-pot evangelism, however, that White House invitation might not be in the cards.
Plenty of rappers have cleaned up their acts. Dr. Dre graduated from the Compton streets to Wall Street; 50 Cent, who was shot nine times before scoring a record deal in 2002, evolved from hustler to savvy investor. Even Jay-Z, the former Brooklyn drug dealer-turned-artist-turned-mogul, was rumored to have sworn off the B-word in deference to wife Beyonce and their angelic 8-month-old daughter, Blue Ivy (Jay'z reps later denied the reports). Snoop, on the other hand, can't fathom a world without his favorite gender-neutral catchall. "There's too many bitch-ass motherf--ers out there for me not to use the word, I'm sorry," he snaps.
But when it comes to that role-model mandate, given to him not by request but because of his very being and ubiquitousness, he does feel a sense of responsibility to the "homies" out there looking for their place. Says Snoop: "I'm not denouncing my past because it's part of who I am. I just try to give them ways to avoid it -- a football league, rapping, doing movies, making music. … Some won't become athletes or musicians -- they may only be gangbangers, but I still try to show them the righteous way to use their mind rather than a weapon or violence. They say sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me. I heard that years ago, and I still believe it."
Corrections: A previous version of this story misstated that Rohan Marley appears in the film Reincarnated (only Damian Maley does) and that Corde Broadus had been offered a scholarship to UCLA. It was, in fact, Snoop's younger son Cordell.