Lovebox 2011 - Snoop Dogg

Performing 'Doggystyle'
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Last time Doggystyle was performed here in London, eighteen years ago, there was mayhem, aggro and media uproar. Who were these immoral uneducated thugs captivating the British youth? Most notably, Snoop's Doggystyle tour showcased a depth of talent, both instrumentally and lyrically, which forever and seismically shifted musical and cultural boundaries. Snoop's debut album 'Doggystyle' was the first album ever to enter the American charts and Number 1 and he's here at Lovebox nineteen years later to show why and to prove who were the truly ignorant ones. This 'gangster' has undeniably changed popular language and culture probably more than any icon in the 20th and 21st century.

It's been banging it down all day after the sunfest of Friday. Snoop doesn't like the rain; it messes with his hair. Still, he arrives in good time for his Nando's chicken (he has his own stall for his own dog pound beside his dressing room trailer) along with the rest of the Doggystyle crew. These include fellow rappers Daz and Kurupt of Tha Dogg Pound, the Lady of Rage, Warren G, djs, producers like Soopafly Priest and Sam Dogg, graphic artist Joe Cool, dancers, hairdressers...But not only have they depths of talent, they also seem to have super genes as nineteen years hasn't aged the Doggystyle artists; photos comparing them to when the album first came out show them now to have the same smooth baby faces. As they tell me 'Black don't crack'...or sag, it would appear. And their control of their art, their world and their audience remains as tight too.

Dead on 21.35, they bust on stage to front the legions of Londoners who have put up with the rain all day. They are not disappointed. With Joe Cool's cartoon Doggystyle album cover as backdrop, the crowd enter Snoop's world. Or rather he brings to them. Joe Cool wanders around the stage dressed up as one of the cartoon dogs. I tease him about it but he assures me he loves it and is well paid. He also is allowed double portions of chicken for his efforts. The Doggystyle djs are on the turntables and the original female power MC, Lady of Rage, throws out her Afro Puffs. This is a woman we heard and saw far too little of, thanks to Death Row's contractual hierarchy. With a breath-wrenching flow like a kidney punch, she demands your respect and attention. 'The big butted girl that's kicking it' displays her lyrical prowess: she was way ahead of the curve in fashion, female empowerment and politics back in '92 - and it's an indictment to the media's take on independent women that she STILL is.

Tha Dogg Pound are the fierce lyrically lacerating duo who rose to public attention on Dre' s'The Chronic' and 'Doggystyle'. With a quality of delivery and rhythm still putting contemporaries in the box, they show a density of understanding and entertainment currently lacking from hip hop as they reinvigorate their lyrics and style for an audience who weren't even born when they first appeared. Daz is dressed all in black, still with diamond encrusted medallions, but this time representing the DPG not Death Row. Kurupt is in his statutory crotch-to-the-knees jeans loose on his lean frame with a sharp white shirt, diamonds and boxfresh trainers to boot.

But it's Snoop's undeniable authority which engulfs the stage as the slim six foot four braided and bobble up gangster/entertainer elegantly moves across it. Gone are the awkward, aggressive postures and gestures from '92 and the defensiveness of youth. There's no fear here, nothing left to prove. He's an entertainer with credentials and history wearing a massive diamond Snoop Dog knuckleduster which could probably be exchanged for half of Hackney. Lest we forget their roots (because they haven't), there's a bike against the back wall and they all wear the 'G' uniform: razor-sharp ironed pants and clean cut hockey and t-shirts with trainers. But there are modifications: bright and plain colours unlike the territorial gangster plaids, khakis and shades of blue from of yore. This crew is not limited to LBC or even the West Coast - their territory is undisputed worldwide.

'Gin and Juice' sees Kurupt stride on and seize the audience despite the different instrumental arrangement. Snoop calls out 'Fuck this Shit!"and the whole crowd goes berserk. On the screen at the back, intermittent video clips of his updated versions of the gangster comedy skits are slotted throughout the show, just as on the album, but whereas before they were based around Snoop and his homies as youths, now they are based around grown men. It starts of with W Ballz - a parody of the many radio stations in Los Angeles which as a geri-curled up Snoop as the shade-wearing DJ introducing 'The Shiznit'. Comedy is a vital part of Snoop's character and entertainment: it demonstrates how he not only understands culture but how to turn it round.

'Who am I' sees Daz and Kurupt take on some of Dre's parts. The whole crowd has their arms in the air before Snoop's command: 'Put your mothafucking arms in the air.'

But Dre is not absent - returning in the following video clip taken (so we are supposed to think) from a crap table in Compton: 'Hey Snoop, why don't you kick some of that old school shit?' Which he does. Halfway through the track, it stops abruptly with a big bang. Snoop has ready banter with the audience before busting out with 'Nuthin but a G Thang'. Kurupt's incisive words ruin an enthralled audience while Daz's heavier, rhythmical funkier flow pushes the tune forward and deeper. The crowd are definitely dancing. Dancing to hip hop?

'Serial Killa' has been taken to a whole other level with its new arrangement. The next video clip shows a sniper on a roof before Snoop delivers an ice-cold manifesto as a quasi pimp/gangster/king - again revisiting a skit but displaying someone who can flick from sweetness and light to darkness in a flicker. He informs the crowd there will be a lot of problems if anybody 'fucks with his money or fucks with his honey'. It would appear nobody here today is going to attempt either. There's another weird video clip of a gorgeous beauty in bed with Snoop who decides, when she gets up (not to get a cup of tea, it seems) to shoot him instead. Not very friendly behaviour. Except Snoop shoots her first. OKKKK. Then Snoop looks very sad with his head in his hands. Oh dear. Anyway, the moral seems to be 'Never Trust a Bitch' which he declares afterwards in case there's any ambiguity in meaning.

But subtle ambiguity is not part of Doggystyle. 'Murder Was The Case' screams in with a new rockier arrangement. The whole place is by now moving from side to side so that I think the world is going to change direction of spin. This is followed by the G Funk melodic key intro followed by Kurupt's unapproachable declaration for 'For all my Niggas and all my Bitches'. The neatest sharpest statement of intent on Doggystyle, an anthem which has the whole park screaming. Is that Snoop dancing again? And he can. In '93, you felt like you'd entered another world when this was performed full of Gs and hustlers but now it's another world all over again - reclaiming new cultural, mental territories, renaming concepts in the way only rap can. The video clip comes after of the skit which on the album goes before, this time updated to grown men in the 70s not 90s gangster youths squabbling over young girls. Again, in case, we forget, Snoop's statement: 'I don't give a fuck about a bitch' precedes steel drums and a sexier song just to thoroughly confuse the sexual politicians. 'Where the ladies at?' he calls. Apparently they are all here, screaming their heads off. 'this song's dedicated to all the ladies in the house.' I don't know what the definition of a lady is to Snoop but apparently it will involve gyrating dancing in leather and fishnets - competently performed by three dancers who leave little to the imagination.

But it's true, the crowd love it as they do the next skit with the blackboard and substitute teacher with the classic line which changed the aspirations of a generation or two. 'What do you want to be when you grow up?' 'I wanna be a mothafuckin hustler. You better ax somebody!' Ax does not equate with axe. Certainly the career of a police officer or fireman compared to a mothafuckin hustla of Snoop's magnitude appears less attractive and secure in today's economic climate. Many have tried and failed to reach his calibre but what they don't see is how Snoop transforms whatever role he takes on and Snoop-ifies it. Your regular gangster is no more like Snoop than a busker is like a conductor. the nursery rhyme/ice cream van intro for 'Gs and Hustlaz' contrasts starkly with the thick heavy beats which follow. Snoop asks redundantly: 'Everyone having a good day today? Can I get a moment of silence for my homeboy, Nate Dogg?' As much as 50,000 odd excited fans can be silent. 'In the spirit of my homeboy, Nate Dogg, if he was here he'd say something like this...' and Snoop sings the lines of for 'Ain't no Fun if the Homies can't get None' - not as well as Nate, Nate had that special mellow, smooth-as-silk flow, but with the same feeling.' Warren G strides on stage with the understated presence of someone who's depth and input to the G-Funk legacy is legendary.

'Biiiyaatch!' Snoop yelps at the end while Warren G continues:' London! Where's my mothafuckin' Regulator?' and in we go to the era-defining 'Regulate' followed by 'Nate Dogg Rest In Peace.'

Snoop: 'We love you that you love our old music cuz we love it too but we've got lots more. I've got some brand new shit today' which he then gives us, more dance and upbeat with dancers on stage. Snoop is still totally in control: I done make you rap, I done make you clap, I done make you dance, I done make you wet but there's one more thing I want to see if I can make you do.'

'House of Pain''s relentless, irrepressible anthem, 'Jump Around' erupts with Snoop doing a phenomenal version. I think there will be a few subsidence reports handed into the council come Monday as the whole park heaves off on the Richter scale. Snoop cuts it off at 'Smoking your ho...' with 'OK now back to Doggystyle.'

He ends with 'What's My mothafuckin name?' 'Snoop Doggy Dogg' has the whole crowd singing back.

'Peace, London, I love you all.' Snoop leaves the stage but the next video clip shows a suited up Pharrell Williams asking us to sing one of his favourite songs to get Snoop to re-enter: 'Hi di hi de hi' as 'Snoop doggy doggy dogg'. the crowd obeys and Snoop re-enters to perform the last song, 'Drop it like it's Hot'. He ends with a genuine heartfelt address to the audience: 'Thank you all of you who fought to get me back in the UK. Take a good look at this black face because you will be seeing it again. I'm back in East London any fucking time you like. Peace, love and soul. Make a sound for yourselves.' The whole of London is appears does so and Snoop leaves with obvious joy etched on his face to stay on at the site til past midnight.
'East London, my name is Big Snoop Dogg!' Peace, love, gentle nods and curtsies replace aggressive snarls and gang throw-ups. Snoop has gone the full trajectory: a matured entertainer, leader, businessman, a professional, a cultural catalyst - everything the press, Dionne Warwick and the politicians said he wasn't. Snoop's triumph at Lovebox is the blessing East London needs - an appropriate affirmation of how music, creative thinking and community can restore the brokenness of urban life.

Snoop is Snoop because he has, yet again, unforgettably redefined gangster, music, and the world.

Words by Nina Bhadreshwar

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