Memories Of Nate Dogg

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Following Nate Dogg's untimely passing last month, Clash writer Nina Bhadreshwar, who knew the singer from L.A., put pen to paper to remember "the loyal protector, respectful friend, and the amazing singer and storyteller".

I first met Nate Dogg when I was a prepubescent just moved to L.A. and had gone up to the Death Row offices on Wilshire Blvd, Westwood to interview Daz and Kurupt of Tha Dogg Pound. After Kurupt had finished and bounced out of publicist George Pryce’s office, a well-built, long-lashed black man dressed in a crisp Adidas blue and yellow tracksuit and white sweatshirt entered, accompanied by his mini me, Lil Nate.

I was perched on the edge of George’s leather sofa, trying to work out my own shorthand and keep my specs from falling off my nose. Lil Nate came right over and rested his hand on my knee. He said nothing, just stared and held onto my knee for the next half hour with his father’s long lashes and deep dark eyes. I smiled at him and looked helplessly at George, the bald camp publicist who was chainsmoking, chain phone-calling at the desk. He nodded at Nate.

‘How are you, Nate? This is Nina. She’s from England and lives in Watts. She has a magazine and wants an interview with you,’ barked George, leaping up in between calls and cigarettes to give Nate a copy of the magazine, The Real State. Nate flicked through it. I had never met him before but knew and loved his music. Plus, I was now living in Watts, gang central and a close cousin to Long Beach, where Nate came from.

‘How you doing?’ Nate looked at me directly, not smiling but nodding. ‘You live in Watts?’
‘Yes.’
‘Cool. That’s my son, Little Nate.’ He indicated the toddler. ‘Yeah, fine,’ he agreed to George.
‘How old is he?’ I asked.
‘Lil Nate? Two.’
‘Ok…’ I stammered and looked down at my notepad. I was sweating, overwhelmed by the way the afternoon was panning out. Nate nodded.
‘Uh..how did you start out rap…I mean singing?’
‘I used to sing in church with my mom, little brother, Sam, and my sister, Pam. The group was called The Hale Family. I went to school with Snoop. We were friends before that but at High School we hooked up. We used to be in the P.E. area in the back of the school, rapping. We were sixteen years old at the time. I could rap but not as good as Snoop could so I’d sing and make hooks for what he was rapping about. Snoop and Warren G were best friends so we three started hanging out together. We’d go to the VIP record store together, rap, sing and make our own tapes. We called our group the 213 after the area code for Long Beach. Even though they’ve now changed the area code, we’re still in the 213.’
‘How did you get your name known?’
‘We’d make tapes and sell them to make ends meet so we could go to Cal State where they had the parties at. We’d go off in a car called ‘The Green Hornet’ which we used to ride in. I got signed to Death Row Records by Dr. Dre in 1992 through some songs I’d done with Snoop.’
I scribbled shorthand frantically. Thankfully, he spoke slow and deep, just like his monotone vocals, but the information came thick and fast.
‘What’s that? Arabic?’ he asked, peering over.
‘No, shorthand.’ I blushed. ‘What are your musical influences?’
‘Primarily, my mother and all her sisters and brothers. They used to sing in choirs. Every year there would be a Gospel Special. My family does the Gospel Concert each year. I love the way my family sing. I get shivers just to hear them. Other influences were The Whispers, The Temptations, many gospel groups, Andre Crouch and people like that because when I was growing up my father, as a pastor, wouldn’t let me listen to everything that came on the radio. Marvin Gaye – he was another big inspiration. Really any group that had harmonizing.’
‘Whose idea was this rap/blues singing, G-Funk thing? I mean how did you develop your style?’ I asked, pausing to swig some cold coffee.
‘It was never an ‘idea’ that I sing and Snoop and Warren rap. It was just what I knew how to do. Most singers whose style I liked were just singing love songs about their woman and marriage and ‘I want you to have my baby’. That wasn’t the reality I was living. I had the heart of rap but my style was to sing so that’s what I did. The romantic stuff wasn’t the most pressing thing in my life. What me and my homeboys are going throughin life – that’s our reality, that’s what I sing about.’
‘Can you tell me what ‘One More Day’ is about? What inspired you to write it?’
‘’One More Day’ is about how I’ve experienced things and what I’ve seen happen in my life. Things that really didn’t have to happen. At that point in time, you made the wrong decision. You couldn’t take the pressure no more. You just come to a point where you don’t know what to do and the choice you make ends up being the wrong one. That song is really about me and how I’m feeling. Not about anybody else. Right now, I’m going through things that are really painful. Something ain’t going right but at least I’m living. Maybe I can change some of the problems cuz I’m still hanging around. There’s a chance to make a right decision. I’ve got one more day. When you’re dead, you don’t have any more days.’
‘What do you hope your music accomplishes?’
‘I want people to listen to my music and have fun but still to learn from it. There’s a moral to everything I write. Put a little something in your brain cells instead of just drugs! For the future, I don’t want to be doing just anything. Ineed to write. I call my music the blues cuz that’s what it is: 1995 blues.’
I looked up and found him staring at my shorthand notes still.
‘What’s the key to breaking the cycle?’
‘Determination is the key. You’ve got to be educated. You got ot have patience. You’ve got to wait your turn. You can’t make it overnight. No place. Nobody can, doesn’t matter how good you are.’
Nate’s son put both hands on my knee and looked up at me. I felt brave.
‘How do you feel about Tupac? I know you featured on Thug Life’s ‘How Long Will They Mourn Me?’’
Pain and anger flicked across his face.
‘I can understand Tupac and Thug Life, even if our music is so different. I feel that one. And Tupac – he’s just my people. I’m wit him. Tupac and his court cases and everything that’s happened – he know the time, if no one else does. I’m wit him.’
‘Thank you, Nate.’
‘You’re welcome, homegirl. Come on.’ He picked up his son. ‘Where’s Suge?’ he asked George.
‘I don’t know.’
‘Well tell him I need to holla at him. Fed up of waiting.’

Nate’s trust in me was immediate and unconditional and, throughout all the drama of the next two years at Death Row, he remained like a gentle giant big brother to me.

When I was down at the Tarzana studios, it was Nate who would genuinely ask how I was doing and offer to buy me food when the runners were taking orders. He would ask me to sit in when all the other Gs were smoking indo, playing cards or games of crap. Once he’d asked me,’How come you don’t speak?’ I replied,’I don’t have anything to say.’ Well, I didn’t back then. I was still growing up. My job was to be their mouthpiece, to listen to those who had grown up too fast and seen more than I ever would or wanted to. Nate, unlike the Death Row satellites, never pressured me to smoke or drink and treated me like an equal, like a sister or a friend instead of a Death Row employee.

He would come to me to ask about his per diem or if I had heard from Tupac recently, as he knew we corresponded when he was in jail. One day he came in to my office just to ask for his address at Clinton Correctional Centre so he could write to him. And he did. Long before Tupac’s signing to Death Row. Whenever I got into rows at Death Row, Nate always, always had my back. He was solid as anything, as impressed by my Baptist and gospel singing background as by my riding a bike to work when everyone else wanted a car. There wasn’t a phoney bone in him yet he had the class and style to woo Hollywood and recreate the glamour of the gangsters of the early twentieth century.

I had not seen Nate since 1996 but he was a big part of my growing up and education, my real education and how I turned out today, the things that are important to me. He made it past 25 – many of our common friends didn’t. We witnessed and went through dramas and situations too terrifying even now to share with outsiders but we also reached heights few will ever know. What we accomplished so young and so quickly we didn’t appreciate at the time.

Still, somehow we survived the Death Row fall out but I was sad to hear of his strokes and heartbroken to learn of his passing. I was privileged to have known him and he helped raise me. The media can say what it likes – he told me to go for mine. I’ll always respect and honour him for the loyal protector, respectful friend, and the amazing singer and storyteller he was.

See you later, Nate.


Words by Nina Bhadreshwar


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