Bo$$ Dogg

Is Snoop selling out or just selling?

"If the ride is more fly," says Snoop, "then you must buy."

"That's what I hear," surrenders Iacocca.

It's a funny commercial, probably Snoop's best since the America Online spot that paired him with Borscht Belt comic Jerry Stiller, who was ranting on and on until Snoop showed up out of nowhere to interrupt by dry-drawling, "Now wait just a minizzle!"

But this stuff isn't just funny-ha-ha. It's funny-whaaat? In an era hypersensitive to political correctness and so heavy with moralizing that it's spilled into censorship, nobody else gets away with what Snoop Dogg does.

Ford just dumped Eminem over the lyrics of his new song. The company had planned to showcase the new Ford Fusion in an Eminem video but backed out over lyrics in which the rapper complimented the rear anatomy of female stars like Jessica Simpson, Gwen Stefani and Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen.

When Kobe Bryant was accused—but never even tried, let alone convicted—of rape by a then-19-year-old hotel worker in 2003, he lost not only his squeaky-clean image but also millions of dollars in endorsements from companies ranging from McDonald's and Coca-Cola to a strange little Italian bread spread called Nutella. Only in July did Nike (which had just signed Bryant to a contract when the rape charges hit) dare to mention him in an ad again. Bryant was even ridiculed by the rapper Nas in a song called "These Are Our Heroes."

You can't do better than that?
The hotel clerk
who adjusts the bathroom mat?
Now you lose your sponsorships
That you thought had your back

When Janet Jackson had a "wardrobe malfunction"—a semi-second, single-boob shot, courtesy of Justin Timberlake, during the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show—the consequences went past her public appeal and marketability, all the way to the roots of the fight between constitutionally guaranteed rights of free speech and a growing governmental hunger for censorship.

First, an investigation of the halftime show was ordered by the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission; then Congress announced it would examine so-called indecent shows on satellite and cable TV. Within a week NBC edited an episode of E.R. to remove a scene that included a glimpse of an elderly patient's breast—in a show about breast cancer—and MTV began rotating controversial videos into late-night time slots. Speaking of Late Night, when Jackson made her first network appearance after the Super Bowl, David Letterman naturally asked her about the incident. In exasperation, she replied, "Jesus!" The word was bleeped by censors.

Where was Snoop Dogg during all of this? He was on TV, too—starring in a series of commercials for Nokia phones throughout the 2004 Sugar Bowl broadcast. Despite his checkered resume/rap sheet, it all went off without a whimper. Turns out that Snoop also had a run-in with a rape charge—but he was the one who pressed charges. Snoop filed a lawsuit in Superior Court last Dec. 10 alleging that a woman and her attorneys tried to extort $5 million from him by threatening to go to the NationalEnquirer with an invented sexual assault charge. The case was just settled out of court, quietly, but not silently: Snoop made a point of emphasizing that he was tired of paying for something he didn't do.

How does he do it? Well, the knee-jerk explanation is the accusation that he is simply selling out. At best, however, that seems only half true. Snoop is most definitely selling. But selling out? It seems like a mistake to automatically equate the success of Snoop's career choices with betrayal of himself or his art.

* * *

Think back through Snoop's life story, which has been told to death on Behind the Music and E! True Hollywood Story and their popumentary equivalents: his mother kicked him out of the house at 16 when she discovered him selling crack while she was at work, and he'd done time for that felony before he turned 20. He was tried and acquitted of first-degree murder while he was a rising star. He surrendered the master recordings to his greatest hits as part of his escape from Death Row Records. He's the poster child for pot smoking, has raised fighting dogs and a few years ago won several adult-film-industry awards for Snoop Dogg's Doggystyle, in which actors have sex in his home while he narrates, then picked up a camcorder and hooked up with the "Girls Gone Wild" franchise. Last year he suddenly filed for divorce from his loyal childhood-sweetheart wife (and the mother of his three children)—not even telling her personally, just moving out and dropping the news through his attorney—before just as inexplicably begging his way back to her. All the while that blue flag's been hanging out his backside, but only on the left side, yeah the Crip side.

Now ask yourself: Does this read like a map that anybody could have thought led to mainstream superstardom? But that's what's happened. Snoop is how the masses have come to access hardcore hip-hop—kind of like what Elvis did for rock & roll, Bowie for glam androgyny, the Sex Pistols for punk, and Madonna for every titillating fad of the '80s and '90s.

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