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Ten years after gangsta rap came straight outta Compton (and zoomed through Long Beach) to become hip-hop's hardcore caricature of itself, Warren G is closing in on the new millennium as one of the genre's most surprising success stories. Rather than playing to his audiences by replaying the same tired Boyz in tha 'Hoodwink, Warren Griffin III has chosen to represent a reality that is both deeper and sweeter than the predictable games of cops and robbers—or caps in asses.
"I ain't hatin' nobody," says Warren, half-laughing into his cell phone as he struggles to be heard over the cackling racket in his tricked-out tour bus, which is swooshing up Interstate 5 toward a Reno concert date like a Gulfstream jet on wheels. Warren wouldn't have his life any other way—or, as he puts it, "That's why mine's what it is."Listen to Warren G's I Want it All:
Download the RealPlayer FREE! Warren G, who these days lives in Rancho Santa Margarita, came out of the same economically strained and gang-infested neighborhoods that generated much of gangsta rap's justifiable anger, not to mention so many of its biggest stars. But his state of mind and the quality of his career suggest that he's come much further than most of his contemporaries.
"I try to do good music, honest music," he says. "There's more to life than what gets talked about in most of the music we been gettin' lately. I don't have to talk about killin' nobody because there's plenty of others handlin' that end. I want to show that when you bring good vibes, it brings good things."
Things have never been better for Warren G. He may never match the impact of his 1994 solo debut, "Regulate," a single so powerful it propelled two albums—Death Row Records' soundtrack to Above the Rim and his first album on Def Jam, Regulate . . . The G-Funk Era—into Billboard's Top 10 (the latter CD went to No. 1, made Warren the first rapper with back-to-back Top 10 singles, sold more than 4 million copies, and attracted a Grammy nomination). But his second album for Def Jam, 1997's Take a Look over Your Shoulder (Reality), went platinum, and his just-released third album, I Want It All, has already gone gold. More significantly, the new CD is on his own record label, G-Funk New Millennium 2000, a joint venture with film mogul Arnon Milchan's New Regency Enterprises and Joe Regis' Restless Records, with all-important worldwide distribution by BMG. In addition to artistic independence, the association provides Warren with career-expanding opportunities in film and a cross-promotional hookup with Germany-based sports-apparel giant Puma.
Those achievements aside, however, the message that threads through the tracks on I Want It All reflects a man whose diligent introspection has brought him a large measure of serenity. The title song, a duet with Mack 10, may sound like a paean to hedonism, but Warren actually pushes his wish list far beyond conspicuous consumption. Sometimes he almost sounds like Krishnamurti—or at least Deepak Chopra.
"Every young person wants it all, and I'm sayin' you don't have to sell drugs to get it," explains Warren, now in his late 20s, who ran with the Crips, slung some dope, and did a little jail time for gun possession in his younger days. "You have to pay your dues, stay on the right track and master what you want to do. I don't have everything. Not that I ever expect to get it. But I am in control of my own destiny, and that's the most important thing."
To reach this place, Warren G has walked an often-harrowing career path through the hip-hop minefield that's claimed the lives of fellow stars (Eazy-E, Tupac Shakur, Notorious B.I.G.) and hamstrung the careers of friends (Snoop Dogg, Nate Dogg and Warren's half-brother, Dr. Dre). But he showed his independent instincts early. After working with Dre on The Chronic, the landmark album that was Death Row's 1992 debut, he declined an invitation to join the label that his brother co-founded—even as his best friend, Snoop, was signing on. That decision caused some bad feelings but provided the first indication that the balance of power at Death Row was shifting to the other co-founder, Marion "Suge" Knight, whose exploits eventually landed him in the state penitentiary.
Warren won't comment on those days anymore, and he's grown weary of answering for every rap tragedy and controversy that's followed. But he does have a general explanation for how he has endured tough times and emerged on top.
"I'm gonna answer that in one little sentence: by bein' Warren G," he says. "That's the key for any artist. That's the key for any person. Is that tough? Well, the right choices ain't always obvious, and that can make you wonder. But, no, it's not tough—not when you know that bein' yourself is the key to how people are going to accept you and how far you're gonna go. And bein' yourself is also how you don't get big-headed when you do something. It's even better to feel good about yourself when you don't have to do it by feeling better than anybody else."
This advice isn't articulated on I Want It All. Instead, Warren delivers these sentiments more subliminally, in beats that bump instead of bang, in lyrics that deliver their message with nudges instead of punches. But even as he's rapping a touching ode to the memory of his late mother ("Ola Mae") or reuniting with Snoop and Nate to comment on the march of time ("Game Don't Wait") or nursery-rhyme riffing off "A-Tisket, A-Tasket" ("Dope Beat"), Warren says this album is cutting with a double edge—making the point that being sensitive is not the same as being soft.
"I put my heart into this one," Warren explains. "I put it into all my albums. But with this one, I had to put it down. People had to know that Warren G ain't no scrub. I'm in tight with this game."
Wron G, the retired Marine who is Warren's manager (as well as his uncle), beams when he hears his nephew talk like that. "Warren has grown," he says. "He didn't sell out or jump on a fad. Instead, he's dropping this smooth record in the middle of a trend of hard, jungle-based beats. That shows me the best kind of confidence."
The same goes for the collaborations that permeate the album, which draw artists from all over the country—Slick Rick from the East, Jermain Dupri from the South and Crucial Conflict from the Midwest—itself a salient point in a musical form racked by so many regional rivalries.
"It's a beautiful thing, man," Warren gushes. "I called 'em, they came, and we built relationships. That's what we tried to do, and that's what we did. It's not always about the money. It's also showing people that bread is being broken between East and West, North and South. It's showing people there's love."