Neva Left: The Musical Evolution of Snoop Dogg

Snoop Dogg performs at The Empire Polo Club on April 29, 2016 in Indio, Calif.
Joe Scarnici/Getty Images for Anheuser-Busch

Snoop Dogg performs at The Empire Polo Club on April 29, 2016 in Indio, Calif.

Long before the lyrical incoherence of today’s “mumble rappers” flooded the mainstream charts, at the nucleus of 90s gangsta rap was Snoop Dogg, the easy-going, then-protégé of Death Row Records founder Dr. Dre, whose acclaimed debut album, The Chronic, introduced a young Snoop as a force to be reckoned with.

The two collaborators went on to craft Snoop Dogg’s debut effort, Doggystyle -- released in 1993 -- which was certified 4x platinum and became the Long Beach native’s first entry into the Billboard 200. “I’m definitely influenced by that album," Kendrick Lamar raved to XXL. "The structure. The cohesiveness. The skits. The flow. The melodies Snoop kicked... There wouldn’t be a Kendrick Lamar without Doggystyle.”

Nearly a quarter centure since Doggystyle’s debut, one of rap's OGs has managed to maintain his relevance in the fickle hip-hop industry, despite venturing off into other genres (remember Snoop Lion?) and business endeavors. With the impending release of his fifteenth studio album Neva Left -- out Friday (May 19) -- Uncle Snoop prepares to take his fans through “the evolution of the dogg”.

As the “Doggfather” readies his forthcoming record, Billboard takes a look back at the storied rap career of Snoop Dogg, from gangsta rap frontman to his reggae transformation.

Snoop Dogg the Gangsta Rapper

With the guidance and exposure received after his assistance on Dr. Dre’s The Chronic, Snoop Dogg garnered enough clout to kick-start his rap career. Snoop’s debut single, “Who Am I (What’s My Name)”, weaved together his insouciant flow with a George Clinton-influenced beat (Clinton’s “Atomic Dog” was actually reworked to shout out Snoop himself), and the young MC rapped about his “bank roll on swole”.

Doggystyle led to further classic Snoop hits, like “Murder Was the Case” and the No Limit-blessed “Still a G Thang," before the rapper connected with super-producer Pharrell Williams on a heap of Dogg’s later cuts, including the 2002 summer earworm “Beautiful”. The duo earned their most famous hit to date, 2004's “Drop It Like It’s Hot”, due largely to the song's sparse beat, consisting mainly of tongue clicks and a hissing drum machine. 

Snoop’s Foray into Pop-Rap

Taking his “gangsta” persona further into the mainstream, Snoop Dogg recruited Justin Timberlake for the soul-tinged, Neptunes-produced “Signs,” featuring frequent Snoop Dogg-collaborator Charlie Wilson. The song was a minor hit, peaking at No. 42 on the Hot 100. Snoop Dogg later dipped deeper into bubblegum pop, offering his lyrical smoothness to pop hits like The Pussycat Dolls' “Buttons”, which peaked at No. 3 on the Hot 100, and Nickelodeon-birthed Big Time Rush’s “Boyfriend”.

However, Uncle Snoop’s best chart-performing pop hit thus far was his collaboration with Katy Perry on 2010's “California Gurls”. The single notched the No. 1 spot on the Hot 100 for six consecutive weeks and was certified 7x platinum. 

Snoop Dogg Resurfaces as Snoop Lion

After a long history of rapping about the fast-paced life of a gangster and the trappings of success, Snoop Dogg reinvented himself as reggae artist Snoop Lion, this time shedding the skin of his Doggystyle days to project messages of unity and hope. With his new name and spiritual awakening, Snoop Lion released Reincarnated, citing reggae legend Bob Marley as the inspiration behind the record.

Why the switch-up? “I used to answer hate with hate. Like if you hate me, I hate you more,” he told The Guardian in a 2013 interview. “But now I answer hate with love.” Reincarnated received support from reggae artists Mavado, Popcaan, Mr. Vegas and Collie Buddz. Snoop Lion even tapped pop princesses Miley Cyrus (“Ashtrays and Heartbreaks”) and Rita Ora (“Torn Apart”) for guest appearances on the album. The album debuted on the Billboard 200 its first week at No. 16.

Snoop Dogg to Snoop Lion to “Snoopzilla”

Snoop Dogg’s musical taste spans farther than his hip-hop and pop collaborations. The west coast emcee’s admiration for funk music is apparent throughout his repertoire, dating back to his debut album’s cuts like “G Funk (Intro)” and “WBallz”. Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg knew their history, and created gangsta funk magic on wax. On the 2007 single “Sensual Seduction”, Snoop’s vocals are bathed in Auto-Tune, a nod to the robo-funk era of Zapp and Roger and Parliament.

In 2013, Snoop Dogg renamed himself Snoopzilla and teamed up with modern L.A. artist Dam-Funk to produce 7 Days of Funk. The oft-overlooked effort was an appropriate tribute given the influence funk music had over both of the artists’ career, but failed to garner much chart impact.

OG Snoop Returns to His Roots

After a few diversions into other genres, Snoop Dogg returned to a sound and producer he's eminently familiar with, thanks to a re-teaming with Pharrell Williams. The sonic pairing of these two produced some of Snoop's biggest records and with the veteran rapper's 2015 album, Bush, the duo's chemistry was further confirmed. Although Snoop found himself toying with funk again, he enlisted Rick Ross and Kendrick Lamar on "I'm Ya Dogg" for a welcome splash of hip-hop. The album peaked at No.14 on the Billboard 200. 

Journeying back to his LBC-style rap roots, Snoop released Coolaid in 2016, a play off Beyonce's acclaimed visual album Lemonade. "The music is dope, and the visuals are fly as fuck. But I don't drink lemonade; I drink Kool-Aid," he quipped to Rolling Stone. "So I decided to call my s--t Coolaid, since I brought so much flavor to the game, and I'm what they consider one of the coolest motherf--kers in hip-hop and life in general." The artwork for Coolaid resembled the animated cover art for Snoop Dogg's debut album Doggystyle. 

With the days of Snoop Lion and Snoopzilla in the rare view mirror, Snoop Dogg is gearing up to take fans back to the distinct style and sound of '90s-era Snoop Doggy Dogg with the release of his fifteenth studio album, Neva Left. The album's lead single, "Mount Kushmore", salutes the G-Funk aesthetic that put the Doggfather on the map, with fellow rap vets Redman, Method Man and B-Real lacing their inimitable flows on the nostalgic track. 

The question is: Is this Snoop Dogg here to stay, or is the next stage of his evolution just another album away?


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