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Varnado has grafted Snoop's well-known nickname onto his own hip-hop identity-Papa Snoop, he calls himself -and he has included it in the title of a compilation of California gangsta-rap called Papa Snoop Presentz: Westside Riderz, Vol. 1. Besides the title, the album cover heavily emphasizes the father-son connection. It is decorated with photographs of Snoop as he flashes hip-hop's West Coast "W" hand sign and Varnado-that is, Papa Snoop-as he poses old-school flashy in a tailored suit and bejeweled sunglasses. The album, packaged inside a promotional calendar and offering a drawing for a classic '63 Impala convertible, was released Dec. 1 on the Mobstyle Muzik label. In the past six weeks, it has sold more than 100,000 copies.
"I always wanted to get back into the music business, from the time I was singing gospel with my family," says Varnado, recalling his early '80s days with the Sensational Varnado Brothers, who released a couple of records and played the 1984 World's Fair in New Orleans. "Now, suddenly, I'm the executive producer of a new album on my own record label!"
Actually, Varnado's deal with Mobstyle Muzik, an independent label based in the San Francisco-area town of San Bruno, is for 20 percent ownership of the company and a seat on its governing board. But it's still a pretty nice arrangement, especially considering Varnado's part of the bargain. "They already had a buncha rappers from northern California; my job was to get Snoop, Daz, Kurupt and Soopafly on the album," he says, chuckling. "So I called Snoop and told him I needed a song. He gave me two songs. Daz gave me three songs. Kurupt gave me a song. Soopafly gave me one. None of 'em wanted any money. They said: 'This is our gift to you. We owe you this 'cause you been in our corner for all these years.' So just like that, I'm in the record business. That's all I had to do. And by me being Snoop's father, that was really simple."
Varnado calls his son Snoop. Not Cordazar, the name on his birth certificate. Not Calvin, the name on his school report cards-or, later, on his arrest, court and jail documents. Varnado calls his son Snoop, the name on all those multimillion-selling albums. When he says Snoop, however, it's not an abbreviation of Snoop Doggy Dogg or Snoop Dogg, the shortened version of the famous alias that the Long Beach rapper assumed in 1997, when he switched record labels from Death Row to No Limit. "It's short for Snoopy-all that 'Doggy Dogg' stuff came later," Varnado clarifies. "Comin' up, everybody called him Snoopy. That was always his nickname from the time he was a baby."
That's what Varnado has heard, anyway. He wasn't around much in those early days. "Me and Snoop's mama, we grew up together in the same small town-McComb, Mississippi-and we used to be friends and lovers, and we had a kid together," Varnado explains briskly, trying to skip across his sentimentality.
But his words come slower and his voice gets lower as his emotions catch up with him. "Aw, the way things turned out-me goin' off to Vietnam when I was 19, us meeting other people, whatever, just things-well, she ended up havin' her life, and I ended up havin' mine," Varnado says. "We'll always have love for each other, though. And for Snoop. I always tell Snoop to respect his mama, seein' as she's the one who raised him. They went through some tough times together. But it was hard for me, too, man, knowin' I got a son-I'm talkin' to him on the phone, but I couldn't be with him."
Varnado and his son don't share the same last name. Snoop grew up as Cordazar "Calvin" Broadus, using the surname of the man his mother married. "Basically," says Varnado, "I didn't even much see Snoop until he was 12 years old."
Snoop was in junior high school when Varnado began to learn a little bit about fatherhood. Mostly, this was accomplished through periodic letters and phone calls, although for a few years, Snoop spent part of the summer living with Varnado in Detroit. During the many months between those visits, however, the teenager began to get into trouble. His mother worked full-time at McDonnell-Douglas, and Snoop was often unsupervised in central Long Beach neighborhoods where gang culture imposed the rules, the rewards and the punishments.
"He was a 16-year-old kid who got caught up in this gangbanging stuff because it looked good to him," assesses Varnado. "He didn't have much money, and he was surrounded by all his other little homeboys who were selling dope and stuff and flashing money and fresh clothes. He just got caught up in the flow and followed the crowd.
"But one night, his mother called me saying she found some crack in a cabinet, and she thought Snoop was selling dope. When he came home, his mother put him on the phone, and I asked him straight out if he was selling dope. He said, 'Yeah' and started screaming at me, and I started screaming back. Finally, when we both calmed down, I just told him to be careful. I knew for a fact I couldn't fly out from Detroit. And even if I lived out here and he was doing that, there wasn't much I could really do if it was in his mind to do otherwise. There was nothing to do but put him out. And that's what his mother did-for her own safety, since she was already having to worry about drive-bys. So Snoop left home at 16. He's been on his own ever since."