When Snoop Dogg hit CNN's "Larry King Live" Feb. 1, the segment may have brought into focus all of what's working for the rapper-turned-singer these days.When Snoop Dogg hit CNN's "Larry King Live" Feb. 1, the segment may have brought into focus all of what's working for the rapper-turned-singer these days.
For starters, there was his burgeoning hit, "Sensual Seduction," playing in the background as Snoop took the talk show host to the Los Angeles hangout Roscoe's Chicken & Waffles. The electro-funk, '80s-influenced song oozed funk—and Snoop's heavily vocoded singing voice—while the rapper enlightened King to the ways of fried chicken and waffles.
The song is shaping into one of the fastest-climbing crossover hits of his career. After just 14 weeks on Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart "Seduction" resides at No. 8, and No. 7 on the Hot 100. The song's clever, retro-themed video is reaping its share of buzz as well, getting played on the usual video channels, and perhaps more importantly, is a massive viral hit at YouTube. The heat the single has generated pushed the release date for Snoop's new Doggy Style/Geffen/Interscope album, "Ego Trippin'," up from May to March 11.
Snoop Dogg (born Calvin Broadus) has been full of surprises during his 15-year transition from gangsta rapper to lovable mainstream brand. That he's been able to tweak and have fun with rap's tough-guy image without losing street or mainstream credibility—despite well-publicized run-ins with the law over weapons and drugs—is a singular accomplishment.
Snoop attributes his career evolution to simply being a smart "PIMP": Player Into Making Progress.
"That is what that word has always meant to me," the Long Beach, Calif., native says in his signature drawl. "You may think it's a man sending a woman to a corner or someone taking something from someone else. That's the misconception. You've got to know how to pimp the game and not get pimped. Use situations to your advantage and flip the script like I did."
DOGGED PURSUIT OF HISTORY
Seated at a small table in a homey apartment above the legendary Hollywood corner of Sunset and Vine, Snoop Dogg exhibits the rigors of meeting the May-to-March push-up of "Ego Trippin'." With his hair flying loose in Gene Wilder-esque fashion, the visibly tired rapper confirms the album is indeed finally complete. "That's why I look like this, a mad scientist," he says with a short laugh.
But as the interview progresses, Snoop grows more animated when the discussion turns to artistic longevity and the creative impetus behind the album. Drawing inspiration from such musical mainstays as Marvin Gaye and Curtis Mayfield, Snoop says it was time for him to go outside the box.
"I'm the nicest rapper in the world," he quietly declares. "But at the same time I've got that bad boy persona and I didn't really want to approach it like that this time. I wanted to make a record that felt good the whole way through as opposed to trying to make a record that was so gangsta, so hard or so 'hood-appealing. I looked at people before me to see how they went through different decades with their music. Curtis and Marvin lasted, making their same kind of music even after disco came in and then played out. With my career lasting this long, I had to start looking at the changes in music and the changes in me, seeing what's needed to stay here."
Bumping into new jack swing guru and former Blackstreet frontman Teddy Riley while both were saluted during VH1's Hip-Hop Honors last year, Snoop says he felt God was telling him that he "needed to work with this guy." Joining forces with DJ Quik, Snoop and Riley executive-produced the album as the new production team QDT (Quik Dogg Teddy), with collaborative assists from Terrace Martin, Shawty Redd, the Neptunes, Khao and Whitey Ford (aka Everlast), among others.
The album comprises 21 tracks with just two featured rappers, according to Snoop: Too Short and Mr. Fab (on the track "Life of the Party"). Otherwise, it's a more musical Snoop this time out, aided by such guests as Raphael Saadiq, Charlie Wilson and his background singer Tone. Snoop also sings a cover of the Time's 1981 R&B top 10 hit "Cool," produced by Riley.
R&B isn't the only genre Snoop channels. He focuses on his love of country music on the Whitey Ford-written and produced "My Medicine," the guitar sound of which mirrors that of country pioneer Johnny Cash.
"When he goes against the grain, those are usually his biggest hits," Interscope/Geffen/A&M marketing executive Tim Reid says, citing the 2004 No. 1 crossover hit "Drop It Like It's Hot" featuring Pharrell. "That was a different departure for him and now he's setting the tone again with 'Seduction.' "
Snoop believes his foray into singing and working with other genres of music will resonate with consumers because the same Snoop essence that fans have come to love still remains. "I'm not trying to be a real R&B singer, holding notes and going for dramatic moments. It's just great songs with good melodies that I can hold but it's still within the world of Snoop Dogg," he says. "I always stay Snoop Dogg regardless of any change."
To take advantage of the lightning sparked by "Seduction," the label has booked Snoop on a promo tour. Kicking off in New Orleans during NBA All-Star weekend, Snoop hosted an album listening party for key tastemakers, programmers and retailers followed by a performance at the city's House of Blues.
A similar pattern will be followed during stopovers in New York (where he's booked to appear Feb. 22 at Winter Fest '08 with host DJ Khaled), Detroit, Chicago, Houston and Atlanta, before he returns to Los Angeles the first week of March.
Then it's back on the road during the week of release. Snoop will visit the David Letterman and Conan O'Brien shows, BET's "106 & Park" and "Rip the Runway," MTV's "TRL" and ABC's "The View." He'll also do an in-store at Best Buy, and an appearance on "Yahoo Live Sets" that will air the weekend after the album's release. The upcoming release is promoted on the E! Entertainment reality show "Snoop Dogg's Father Hood."
Meanwhile, second single "Life of the Party" is beginning to go to radio now. Its accompanying video was shot in Las Vegas. While in Vegas, he shot another video: a street-themed short for the autobiographical track "Neva Have 2 Worry." That video will be used as an Internet component to support the album.
A full-length domestic tour—possibly with a rock act—is in the talking stages. Snoop has finally regained his visa status for Europe (a declined visa led to the cancellation of a 2007 tour with Sean "Diddy" Combs) and the rapper has "big plans" for his welcome back there but declined to reveal details. "Ego Trippin' " is due for release in most international markets on March 11.
Other Snoop ventures include a new clothing line, Rich & Infamous, that will cater to specialty stores like Demo and Up Against the Wall. Due later this year, Snoop unveiled the line—between video shoots—during the recent fashion industry trade show Magic in Las Vegas. Unlike his earlier apparel venture, Snoop Dogg Clothing, the Snoop moniker will not be attached to this line. Also coming: Coco Ri, his wife's line named after their three children.
In the film and TV world, Snoop has the upcoming film "Golden Door" and another film in development at Fox based on his youth league experiences, "Coach Snoop." Through distributor Codeblack Entertainment, Snoopadelic Films will release "The Adventures of the Blue Carpet Treatment." Due later this year and done in Japanese style animation, the project is based on the rapper's 2006 album, "Tha Blue Carpet Treatment." Also in the works are more videogame ventures, two major league brand partnerships that are currently being negotiated for launch at year's end and more TV, including another animation project.
"TV is missing me right now," adds Snoop, who notes that he has been having meetings at NBC, Comedy Central and E! "Not just in front of the camera but behind the camera, behind the music, behind the everything: drama, comedy, late-night TV, Saturday cartoons, voice-overs, sports. I'm a creative force who's just trying to effectively put my paw prints all over the world."