Snoop Doggy Dad

Vernall Varnado rides shotgun on his son's celebrity

"When I tell people I'm Snoop Doggy Dogg's daddy, the first thing they say is I look too young to be Snoop Doggy Dogg's daddy," says Vernall Varnado, grinning as he puts down his cigarette and his bottle of beer and reaches into his back pocket. "I tell 'em, 'Go ahead and look here in my wallet, and see for yourself how old I am.'"

Varnado has pulled out his driver's license. He's waiting for you to inspect it, watching while your eyes find the place where it reads "DOB: 12-13-49," enjoying it as you realize that his next birthday will be his 50th. When you look up, Varnado breaks into a loud, choppy laugh.

"That's right," he cackles. "I don't look it."

There's hardly a fleck of gray in Varnado's hair, he doesn't need glasses, his smile is straight and white, and his muscled physique exudes a relatively healthy aura, even as he brightens the end of another cigarette and takes a few gulps from a new beer. "Hell, I walked a mail route for 25 years-the last 10 in Detroit," he asserts loudly. "That tells you a lot about me."

A stream of smoke comes out of his mouth as he speaks, and Varnado watches as his words drift toward the wide-open sliding-glass doors of his 11th-floor apartment in Marina del Rey. On a wall is a framed poster, a huge photograph of stacks of cash that's titled "My First Billion."

Opposite it is a cabinet that features a pair of scratched-up trophies-one for third place in the Jerusalem Baptist Church's 1980 gospel sing-off, the other for first place in a Venice Beach basketball league in 1979. "And I still play a pretty damn good game of basketball," Varnado says, more mildly. "These young kids'll tell you that."

Varnado falls silent, and his smile disappears. It's a rare state for a man whose natural disposition is so outgoing as to sometimes border on overbearing, whose unrestrained friendliness is capable of making people uncomfortable or even suspicious. He stares beyond the balcony, where a supposed-to-be-breathtaking Southern California panorama of metropolitan beachfront hangs as perfunctorily as soundstage scenery. He is killing time, waiting. Rapper/producer Daz Dillinger -Varnado's nephew, Snoop's cousin-is driving up from Mission Viejo, where Dillinger bought a home after Dogg Food, his album with Kurupt and Soopafly and the rest of the Dogg Pound, went platinum in 1995, back when all of them were stars with Death Row Records. "Daz just called and said he'll be here any minute," Varnado offers. "We got business to tend to."

But his tone is not expectant. Varnado has been around these show-biz kids long enough to know that "any minute" means any minute-there's no predicting what time Dillinger will actually show up. Varnado shakes his head, scoffs at nothing in particular, takes another swig and blows more smoke as he finds his way back to his story.

"The next thing that happens when people find out I'm Snoop Doggy Dogg's daddy is they want to come at me with a tape of somebody that sings, somebody that raps, somebody in their family that's talented in some kinda way. Either that or they're just wanting to get at Snoop for the same thing," he says. "I always got these people on my ass."

Varnado sighs wearily. "I keep tellin' 'em: 'Man, the music business ain't that easy. Like the NBA or the NFL, there's a thin line between the ones that make it and the ones that don't.'"

He pauses as if to consider what he has just said, what he has learned by spending the 1990s riding shotgun on his son's celebrity, by intermittently serving as father figure, party animal, got-your-back soldier and good-natured gofer to rappers trudging some of the entertainment industry's most land mined career paths. "I been to war with these motherfuckers," he suddenly hoots, his eyes wide. "I been through some shit with them."

Varnado has watched his son walk a terrifying tightrope of a success story. Snoop has traversed from Long Beach gangland, through small-time drug convictions and a murder-one acquittal, past the assassinations of Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G., beyond the inspirational inferno and pathetic burnout of Death Row Records, to reach his own abiding, if enigmatic, superstardom. "It's timing," Varnado observes. "That's really true. Snoop'll tell you that. It's just that one little break."

Lately, Varnado has been testing that truism personally. He's finally said yes to one of those people coming at him with one of those offers. He's ventured into the music business. He's confident that the one little break that will help him make it big is having a son named Snoop Dogg. "When I went in to sign the contract, the attorney who was doin' the deal was sitting in this big San Francisco office-outta-this-world view of Alcatraz, the Golden Gate, everything-not knowing who I am," Varnado recounts. "I was talkin' to him for 35 to 40 minutes, and he kept lookin' at me until he finally said, 'You look like Snoop Doggy Dogg.' When I said, 'I'm his dad,' man, he went bananas. His eyes got big. To him, I could tell, it was a dream come true."

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