Thursday, March 17, 2011

Featuring Nate Dogg

Nathaniel ("Nate Dogg") Hale Nate ("Nathaniel Hale") Dogg passed away last night from complications brought on by a pair of strokes he suffered -- one in 2007, another in 2008. He was 41 years old.

Nate Dogg's music meant a lot to me. And, yes, I can appreciate -- even embrace -- the irony of that statement. He was an undeniably limited artist who played the role of second banana on even his greatest audio achievements. His harmonizing (holding long, low notes for profanities, vulgarities and miscellaneous misogynistic slurs) was easy to lampoon -- as m'man Nick'a and I did frequently during our run in my old Friday Music News Bootleg weekly column. And, even I can't defend the zoot suit, spats and bowler hat ensemble Nate Dogg wore during his Harlem Nights days with
Death Row Records.

But, Nate Dogg was part of the west coast's burgeoning commercial rap scene in the early 1990s. The sonic epicenter just happened to be my hometown of Long Beach, California. Nate Dogg had achieved a modicum of notoriety for his work on Dr. Dre's seminal album The Chronic, but his first real break came in 1993 on the weed anthem "Indo Smoke".

1993 was also the year in which I got my own s**t together. Many long bus rides across town to work or to school or to the next bus stop, so I could transfer to another bus were accompanied by my omnipresent Sony Walkman and a backpack that -- at any given time -- was two parts college curriculum and 20 parts cassette tapes.

Personally and professionally, the summer of 1994 was the best time of my life to that point. It coincided with Warren G's multi-platinum album Regulate...The G-Funk Era. There was no place in Long Beach where one could escape the Nate Dogg-infused first single, "Regulate". Everyone in my city was OK with this.

For obvious reasons, Long Beach -- the sixth-largest city in California and second-largest in Los Angeles County -- was slow to collectively celebrate its gangsta rap roots. Snoop Doggy Dogg and his impending murder trial weren't being trumpeted by our chamber of commerce. But, Nate Dogg (mostly by way of Warren G) were seen as less threatening peddlers of the parental advisory label.* In turn, Long Beach -- a city with staggeringly stark delineations along ethnic and economic borders -- pretty much unified behind these guys.

* -- Mrs. Bootleg often tells the story of her unsuspecting mother buying a copy of Warren G's album for herself in 1994 and her freaked-out reaction over the lyrics. When you're convincing old black women to buy your rap album (which included clearly-identified skit titles on the back cover like "Gangsta Sermon" and "'94 Ho Draft") you're having a good year.

I moved to San Diego in 1995 and enrolled at San Diego State University. Comically homesick, the highlight of my first few months was my roommate's booming stereo system that could be heard from one end to the other on the second floor of Zapotec Hall. I was able to bring Long Beach 100 miles south and Death Row was gracious enough to release Tha Dogg Pound's Dogg Food album...featuring m'man Nate on "Let's Play House".

By the start of 1997, I'd met the future Mrs. Bootleg. But, in even better news, Nate Dogg's debut album was finally set to drop! I vividly remember walking through a Wherehouse Music and seeing one of those CD placeholders on the shelf that promised "Nate Dogg -- G-Funk Classics, Volume I, Release Date: January 14". But, I didn't know at the time that Death Row Records had lost their distribution deal with Interscope. The embattled label would never release his album. A shame, because the first single ("Never Leave Me Alone") was really good.

I finished college in December 1997. The once untouchable west coast gangsta rap scene had long since surrendered its scepter back to the east coast as lyrical dexterity once again ruled the airwaves. In the summer of 1998, Nate Dogg finally released his first album. He paired his shelved original with a second album of new recordings and called it G-Funk Classics, Volume I & II.** At 31(!) tracks, it was bloated, already a little dated and inadvertently underscored Nate Dogg's vocal shortcomings.

And, I absolutely LOVED it.

I felt like it validated my loyalty -- almost as if it were made only for me. Judging by the album's poor sales (peaking at #58 on the Billboard 200 charts), maybe it was. Oddly enough, the out-of-print album is tremendously popular today on the secondary market. Not long ago, it was selling on eBay for $70-$80. I bought a copy the day it was released. Years later, I found the ultra-rare clean version (which literally omits ALL of the lyrics on one of the tracks, leaving only the instrumental) in a used CD shop for six bucks. And, I still have the CD single for "Nobody Does It Better".

** -- Can we all agree that the double CD is Tupac Shakur's greatest legacy? I love the guy's body of work for the most part, but is there any other aspect of today's rap game that Pac influenced?

In the years that followed, Nate Dogg would achieve his greatest success. He basically established a "hooks for hire" gig that allowed him to pair up with whomever was the hottest hip hop commodity at the moment. "Featuring Nate Dogg" became the de facto surname of several artists from 1999 through 2003. He parlayed this musical ubiquity into a record deal with Elektra, but after releasing 2001's Music & Me -- a CD that was so bad, even I won't acknowledge its existence -- Nate Dogg gradually faded away. His never-released second album on Elektra does include the criminally slept on "Get Up", though.

I specifically asked the DJ at my wedding reception to play this song for the introduction of the wedding party. I've drunkenly called m'man Nick'a and left several consecutive voice mails full of boozy Nate Dogg crooning. And, believe it or not, when Jalen was a baby, I'd try to soothe him with negligibly less boozy Nate Dogg crooning.

I lost a part of my life's story with Nate Dogg's death.

Ain't no fun.


Other Joe said...

Great read, Cam. I know you had a specific tie to the music being from LBC, but even as a white kid growing up in Northwest Florida, I was raised on that patented West Coast G-Funk sound and will miss his contribution as the King of Hooks. I do find it funny that the big newspapers referred to yesterday as the day RAPPER Nate Dogg passed away, though.

My friends and I used to ask each other "If you could have one person narrate your life with a theme song, who would it be?" I always chose Nate, a la Head of State with Chris Rock.

I heard "Nobody Does It Better" on Backspin this morning, and gave it the respectful volume bump for all to hear that it rightfully deserves.

Jag said...

I was hoping you would do a post for Nate Dogg.

Ann-Lisa said...

This was terrific! I was a huge fan back in the day and nearly lost my mind when I saw the Source ads hyping his Death Row debut. Thanks for taking me back!!!

Aaron C. said...

@O. Joe -- It was crazy to hear the "somber voiced" tribute guy on the Backspin bumpers talking about Nate Dogg, yesterday. I had to smile at the stilted overpraising.

Back when I had my weekly music news column, there was a section in it written by my friend, Nick. He once proposed "a win a day with Nate Dogg" contest that included a bit with Nate following the winner around in a grocery store.

The punchline involved "Doritooooooooos".

that mexican guy said...

I loved the very first and very last sentence.

The thing about Nate is that he seemed to be in on the "joke" to a degree. He'd openly sing about calling him if someone needed a single.

The sad thing is that HIS catalog as a solo artist is lacking and he probably doesn't get enough credit for making good tracks like "Oh No" into *really* good tracks or helping to carry acts like E-40 and Xzibit into the mainstream.


Lew B said...

When you ended the piece I kinda thought that was a bit of an over-reaction. But then I thought about how I felt when I heard Sam Kinison had been killed in an auto accident.

I can dig it.

Ms. Kee said...

I still can't believe he's gone. This was an amazing tribute Bootleg Guy!