Snoop Doggy Dad

Vernall Varnado rides shotgun on his son's celebrity

Snoop stayed with various friends and worked on his rap skills while he finished high school. "We stayed in contact -I knew about him goin' in and out of jail," says Varnado, "but I really didn't start seein' him again until 1991."

By that time, Snoop had a record deal and a burgeoning career, the wildest nickname, the most infectious style and the biggest hit in hip-hop. "When 'Nuthin' but a "G" Thang' came out, man, that was like the national anthem," Varnado roars. "I was out there delivering mail in Detroit, and everyone on my route was playing it, givin' me love because everybody knew I was Snoop's dad. It made me popular in Detroit. I mean, I'm a mailman, and my son is doin' this and doin' that?"

As Snoop became more successful, Varnado began making more trips to the West Coast to see his son. "Snoop wanted me here, and I told him if he sent me a ticket, I would come," says Varnado. "I could sense that as a young kid in all this big-time drama, he might need me. That turned out to be true."

A few years later, Varnado took a leave from his job and started living in Southern California full-time. Since then, he has officially resigned from the post office.

"I think I'm a damn good father, myself, for what I gave up to come out here to support my son," he says. "Really, I gave up my whole future. And really, I'm starting all over again. But then again, it's all to the good for the simple reason that the future here is looking a whole lot brighter than at the post office. Let's just say I ain't mad." Varnado breaks into a laugh. "I ain't mad at all, man."

Snoop Dogg doesn't exactly gush when he's asked about the joys of helping his father launch a career in the recording industry. "It's just music to me, music and business, wherever I put it out," he says in a voice that, even in conversation, crackles like dry brush and flows to a faint cadence. "My pops wanted to get into the rap game, and I wanted to help him."

As tall and skinny and nonchalant as ever, but now 27 years old, Snoop is lounging around his sprawling ranch-style home in Claremont. He's just back from a promotional tour in Japan and getting ready to move on to his new digs in Baton Rouge. He relocated to Louisiana last year to be near the headquarters of his new record label, No Limit, and his new boss, Master P.

His mother lives in the Southern California house now. Snoop has stopped over for a few days, catching up with family and friends and giving his mother and father a chance to see their two young grandsons. He's also been spending some creative time with Dr. Dre, who was his producer when both men were at Death Row. "Me and Dre are working together again, and the results are going to be groundbreaking again," says Snoop, who teamed with Dre to make hardcore rap marketable to the masses on the albums The Chronic and Doggystyle. "Mostly, we're just vibing now. But we got serious work done on five songs, and we're going to split them-some on his record, some on mine."

This is the music Snoop wants to talk about. On the other hand, he's sensitive to the discussion of his father. He realizes how the situation could be perceived: absentee dad suddenly becomes the world's proudest poppa when his prodigal son suddenly becomes the world's most famous rapper; he then parlays the revived relationship from mailman to music mogul. And as he answers questions about the favor he did, it's clear his priority is to safeguard his father's reputation.

"See, this rap game is hands-on music. Once you're around it, you find you got to be a part of it-it just draws you in," Snoop calculates gently. "It doesn't surprise me. I don't resent him. He feels he's young, and he thinks he can still do it. I feel the same way about myself. We're two grown men. This is a hand-in-hand thing. It was us helping each other, not just me helping him."

As famous as he is, Snoop still considers himself musically underexposed. He has released only three solo albums in an eight-year recording career. For most of that time, he was restricted by the tight control and internal politics at Death Row Records, not to mention the murder charge that kept him electronically leashed to house arrest for two and a half years after the 1993 release of Doggystyle, his solo debut. "There was a long period of time when I couldn't be heard," Snoop explains, "and so I'm still in a mental process where I'm always tryin' to be heard. That was the process I was in when I gave him [Varnado] that record. I was trying to get it heard anywhere."

The song, "Let Me Hit Somethin'," was recorded a few years ago and probably would have stayed in storage until a Snoop boxed set is someday compiled. Lyrically, it's just another ode to smoking weed. But the song becomes one of the strongest on the album because of Snoop's hissing-fuse style, in which an almost subliminal stomach-turning tension is present no matter what the subject, and because of a whip-cracking track that repeatedly startles you into bobbing your head. And, of course, because he's the biggest star on the album.

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