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.
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.