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
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.