On a recent rainy and quiet Sunday night in Soho, I sat patiently on the top floor of an apartment owned by Esquire magazine, waiting for Snoop Dogg to grace us with his presence. By us, I mean a varied array of my music-press peers and others lucky enough to snatch the free food and drinks provided. (The only real reason to go to a press event, right?) Aside from the fact that the rapper's new album, Malice N' Wonderland, was blasting from the speakers, the scene could have easily been mistaken for a lame and boring party. Most people quietly typed on their cellphones or stared at their notepads. Not the type of thing you would associate with one of the godfathers of gangster rap. And if you remember the music video for "Gin & Juice," this is a man who knows how to throw a party.
When Snoop finally emerged from a room in the back, flanked by two security guards, what seemed like a whole other party emerged to catch a glimpse of the man. Sitting down in the middle of a half-circle of online music writers, Snoop seemed -- not surprisingly -- tired. He was reaching the end of a long press tour that saw him visit most major talk shows, as well as make public and radio appearances across the country. As we learned pretty quickly, this is not the same Snoop Dogg that cemented himself in our minds more than 15 years ago with his lanky frame and clear, smooth flow. Instead of partying, Snoop Dogg is most likely sleeping at 9 o'clock on a Sunday night.
These changes are evident on the new album. According to the rapper, this time around his main inspiration has been his family. Snoop talked about raiding his children's iPods to see what's hot, and holding small focus groups among his family, asking them their opinions on his music of the past. His daughter, for example, turned him on to jerkin', which served as an inspiration for the album's first single, "I Wanna Rock." He knew he tapped into something genuine when the kids on the peewee football team he coaches told him it was their favorite song.
Staying in touch with the youth, whether through his football team or his children, has helped him be successful for this long. But he's also looking toward the past more often for inspiration. Strains of this tendency have been creeping up the last few years, most notably on cult hit "Sexual Seduction," but recently he has been looking outside his musical sphere for ideas. The title of his new album was given to him by legendary composer Lalo Schifrin, famous for his soundtrack work on film and television. After watching Schifrin perform the Mission:Impossible soundtrack in Los Angeles, they met backstage and agreed to collaborate on a track. While in the studio, Schifrin told the rapper he should name the album Malice N Wonderland. Snoop thought it sounded great, but he never asked the composer what it meant. His mind had already started rolling with new ideas.
But it can fairly be said that Snoop is bigger than rap. And so the conversation quickly turned to his many other endeavors. He didn't seem much interested in talking about the many products that feature his name and likeness (the GPS, the hot dogs), but he became far less laconic when talk turned toward his burgeoning acting career.
"My star power is as big as any actor in Hollywood," Snoop exclaimed, saying that he hopes to pursue more roles that are out of character for him. He has run into issues with producers not being able to separate the public image from the character in the script. Until more people in Hollywood let him prove he has true talent, he said, he's making his own movies. His latest film project is a companion piece to Malice N Wonderland: "I play a superhero named Malice, trying to bring happiness to Wonderland." The film was made because, as Snoop proclaimed, "the video game is fucked up," with MTV barely playing music videos anymore, and BET quickly headed in the same direction. It was time to do something different that the fans could see and enjoy.
He spoke most passionately, though, of his new position as head of the reformed Priority Records. He said his main concern at the moment is to "keep the lights on in the building," but hopes to soon reissue classics from the label such as Eazy-Duz-It by Eazy-E and Strictly Business by EMPD. And he would love to continue to work with artists from all over the musical map. He's scheduled to work with Anita Baker soon, and he still wants to work with Mick Jagger one day. Why? "'Cause the bitches love him."
Snoop may be confusing the Mick Jagger of 1969 with the Mick Jagger of 2009, but we imagine these two would get along perfectly. Is it too much to hope for a "Dancing In The Streets Part 2?"