Bo$$ Dogg

Is Snoop selling out or just selling?

Photo by Anthony Mandler/
Capitol RecordsIt is a beautiful thing Snoop Dogg's done, organizing a benefit concert at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles and bringing together artists such as Red Hot Chili Peppers and Ice Cube to raise money so that poor kids might be able to play youth football . . . in the Snoop Youth Football League, which is the basis of an autobiographical movie pitch, called Coach Snoop, that Snoop Dogg recently sold to 20th Century Fox for $1 million.

"It's hard for a parent to get their kids involved in football when [it costs] so much money, especially when it [costs] no money to get in a gang," reasoned Snoop in an interview with MTV News. He should know, being the father of three young children—and still a gang member himself. "We're just trying to give the kids something to reach toward and look forward to."

Like we said, beautiful . . . and not just because the concert and the youth football league and the movie and the alternative-to-gangs rationale is such a crazy conglomeration of good works and self-serving side effects and mixed messages, but because it's all so obvious, and yet nobody—not Snoop, not the public—brings it up. Somehow, everybody's happy. And that's a beautiful thing.

That's the strange power of Snoop Dogg, in one sense a part of the great migration of hip-hop stars into mainstream show business—and its cross-marketing perks—yet in another sense completely apart from the rest of them . . . in fact, from just about everybody else. Somehow, Snoop has progressed through a string of tragicomic circumstances by making choices so bizarrely good-natured, self-indulgent and presumably sincere that acts of apparent career suicide have continually transformed into master strokes of celebrity marketing.

Snoop Dogg is everywhere—movies, TV, radio, magazines, newspapers, the Internet—but most significantly, Snoop is in commercials. There is no better measure of cultural influence than who advertisers pay to pitch their products, and Snoop has become the hip-hop generation's "Man in the Gray Flannel (Sweat)Suit."

In fact, the ascending profile of Snoop's long career can be best tracked pretty much by checking out the kind of products he's been fronting—and where—from the early days when he endorsed St. Ides malt liquor to last spring when Pony International footwear expanded its Snoop-influenced Doggy Biscuitz brand, which Snoop plugged during an appearance on the Tonight Show With Jay Leno. The way people used to trust Michael Jordan to pick out their shoes, sports drinks and underpants, they now turn to Snoop to choose their Internet service, their satellite radio station and their cell phone—which is why he's become the living, breathing embodiment of heavyweight corporate logos like XM Satellite Radio, Nokia and America Online.

Most interesting, however, is what Snoop Dogg is not—the cutest, cuddliest rapper this side of the guy we used to call the Fresh Prince. No, that would probably be Ice Cube, the once-snarling ghetto poet of AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted, who earlier this year applied the finishing touch to his complete smarmification by starring in the baby-sitting road comedy Are We There Yet? By now, a silly TV sitcom—let's say, an MC snatched straight outta Compton and dropped into his rich uncle's Newport Coast mansion—would be a step up for the erstwhile Nigga With Attitude. Of course, that's where the guy we now call Will Smith came in, slinging jingles like "Parents Just Don't Understand" before graduating into one of Hollywood's most bankable leading men, right up there with Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington—so high he portrayed Muhammad-freaking-Ali. Snoop Dogg isn't any of those guys.

* * *

Twelve years into his career, Snoop Dogg is still making gangsta-rap records. His latest, R&G (Rhythm&Gangsta): The Masterpiece, was released last November and was unrepentantly packed with the sex and violence and shady alliances that made him famous—and let's not forget, quite frightening—on the first.

I'm a gangsta, but y'all knew that
Da Big Bo$$ Dogg, yeah I had to do that
I keep a blue flag hanging out my backside
But only on the left side, yeah that's the Crip side

That's a verse from "Drop It Like It's Hot"—Snoop's first No. 1 single—in which he not only raps about his still-alive-and-Crippin' connection with gang life but models it too. The video features a prominent closeup of his skinny butt swimming in his baggy pants, and the focus is on the Crip-blue bandanna rolled into a tight tail and hanging from his left back pocket. Even after all these years, Snoop's unapologetic stance on the unpopular side of one of society's most polarizing issues is shocking.

Yet nearly as startling is the newest Chrysler commercial, in which Snoop trades in his ghetto duds for a pastel argyle sweater vest and portrays himself as the golfing buddy of Lee Iacocca—at one point referring to one of America's most lionized superexecs as "I-ka-zizzle."

"You know, I'm not too sure what you just said," Iacocca admits.

"Fo shizzle," Snoop replies.

The bit winds down with Snoop spinning his own version of Iacocca's trademark line, "If you can find a better car, buy it."

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