I was disheartened by the recent passing of Nathaniel Hale, affectionately called “Nate Dogg”, on March 15, 2011. The morning after his death I read ‘The Death of Nate Dogg is the End of a Very Dark and Creative Era’ an article by Dr. Boyce Watkins. This article suggests that Nate Dogg’s death was in part due to smoking marijuana. Over the last few years there has been a noticeable push to legalized marijuana, but not because gangsta rappers are smoking it, singing about it and not because minorities are smoking it, the force behind this push is middle class soccer moms and affluent whites that are smoking it. Whites who don’t want to have to hide, or get to it from dealers in an alley somewhere. Whites who see marijuana as a business model and cash crop. If smoking weed is what did Nate Dogg in you had better watch those pilots, teachers, business people, bus drivers and grandma. Nate Dogg’s death was not due to his affinity for the leafy green, but more due to his affinity for Soul Food and lack of exercise, just ask the people who know.
Inner-city Los Angeles of the 80’s and 90’s was the most violent place in America to live, but when VIP records had a studio and he was there fighting for studio time, we were there. When Nate Dogg, Snoop Dogg and Warren G formed the group “213”, we were there. When made his debut on Dr. Dre’s ‘The Chronic’ album in 1992, we were there. When his distinctive crooning helped Long Beach explode to a national audience, we were there. When he sung “Summertime in the LBC” we were there. When SWAT was called to his baby momma’s house, only to see Nate Dogg running and stumbling across the lawn with his child… while LAPD officers laughed on television, we were there too. When he dropped lines like “Smoke Weed Every Day”, “Indosmoke”, “Are You High Yet?” and “If you smoke like I smoke, then your high, like every day”, we were there. Yes, Nate Dogg’s songs were filled with smoking marijuana. Many of us could see that the end was near for the big homie due to strokes in 2007 and 2008, yet I still couldn’t help feeling some kind of way about his death. Nate Dogg’s hooks stood above all others in the game, his voice was the emotive side of West Coast Hip Hop and he never really got the ‘props’ he deserved.
Dr. Boyce also said “gangster rap is almost never positive, educational, empowered, politically active or otherwise productive”, this statement I see as problematic. When Gansta rap, put inner-city law enforcement on trial, and introduced itself to the word with this line from NWA’s Ice Cube “Fuck the police, coming straight from the underground. A young nigga’s got it bad because I’m brown.” , there was no more educational, empowered, or politically active statement than that. Is there a criminal element to the music? Yes, and that is why some have refused to listen, yet they listen to the Washington elect who happen to be robbing them every day. I respect Dr. Boyce immensely and I agree that “Gansta” rap, after corporations took over, became less the voice of the streets and a shadow of the power it has once demonstrated. Dr. Boyce it all comes down to perspective whether the negativity comes from a lyric or a Senate bill that claims to be for education, but cuts after school programs and school funding. It is true that Nathaniel Hale could have been doing something else, and you can say the same thing to each all the corrupt congressperson. Violence exists in films and books, but I have never seen anyone condemning Francis Ford Coppola, James Cameron , Stephen King or Stephanie Meyers. What I see is the masses rewarding Charlie ‘7 gram rock” Sheen’s drug usage with more money and prominence. What I see is network television shows rooting for the Lohans, Kardashians,Spears, Aguileras and Downey jr.’s of the world to get back on top after bad behavior, and I see people of color with similar transgressions being vilified, that is what society is embracing. Perhaps it is the perception that Gangsta rap is bad because it’s predominately Black. Case in point, Eminem is the most violent, misogynistic, homophobic, foul-mouthed gangsta rappers on the planet, but he gets 2 nationally televised commercials during the Superbowl and a ’60 minutes’ prime time special.
Today hip hop has blessed us with studio thugs and paper gangsters who rap about little more than partying, drinking and promiscuity, because the shooting deaths of Tupac and Biggie, showed Americans just how real thug life was. The realism of hip hop has been replaced by profit while underground music never gets heard on the radio. For all it’s relevance social realism and hard truth has a limited audience. Dr. Boyce, Nate Dogg’s music was many things but it spoke to those of us who knew that “Brenda Had a Baby” and nodded our heads to “Hail Mary” while quietly wondering if there was a “Gangsta’s Paradise” or if “Heaven had a Ghetto”. He spoke to those of us who knew “Murder Was the Case” and that “911 is a joke”. His music resonated with many of us who lived at “Tha Crossroads” and knew that “It’s Dark and Hell is Hot”. His music became the theme song for the hustlers who knew “That if You Stay Ready” you don’t have to get ready, because sometimes at “Six in the Morning” the police are at your door. He conversed with the trouble youth who wanted to be “Paid in Full” because he knew all about “C.R.E.A.M” and “How I Could Just Kill a Man”, when your “Mind is Playin’ Tricks on Me” or when you’re “Insane in the Brain”. Yes, his music even spoke to those who never wrote a letter to “Stan”, hit “Rock Bottom”, or ran “8 Mile”s. he spoke to those that heard “The Message” and cried “Gangsta Tears” because they only had “One Mic”. Nate Dogg knew that “Life is… Too Short” and though he has gone on to “The Next Episode” his impact, his music lives on within those of us who know, because we were there.