Big Respect

Rehearsal was scheduled to begin at 11 a.m.—that's about 10 minutes ago—but Warren G is still sitting in his Rancho Santa Margarita home, talking on the phone. A scoffing little laugh flutters under his breath. “They're not gonna be there on time,” he says, kind of exasperated but fondly. “Shoot, I know these guys.”

They're in their late 20s and early 30s now, Warren and Dre and Snoop and Nate, probably long past becoming punctual. Since they began making music—and a deep friendship—almost half their lives ago in the neighborhoods of Compton and Long Beach, their collaborations have always sprung from loose rendezvous.

“At first, we used to rap just for enjoyment, along with the sports and stuff we did, the activities they had for little kids at King Park,” Warren G—as in Griffin III—recalls. “But later, as we got older and just started hanging out, it seemed there wasn't nothing else to do but sit there and rap, beating off our chests and stuff. That and try to scrape up some money.”

Nate Dogg, the former Nathaniel Hale, has similar memories. “Me and Snoop used to kick it at Poly High School,” he told me in 1995. “He was a sophomore, and I was that bad-influence senior who had him skipping class and sitting out in the lunch area, rapping and singing and doing stuff to make people laugh, pretending we were preachers and passing the plate to earn quarters. We used to clean up.”

Nate did a stint in the Marines, and while he was gone, Snoop and Warren became best friends. “When I got out, I came right back to the same spot, in the same hood, and Snoop was sitting in the same spot with Warren, and we hooked up and did what we had to do,” he said.

They formed a group called 213, a reference to their telephone area code (which has changed twice since), their neighborhood on 21st Street and the fact that they were a trio. They used to play parties or small clubs like the Toe Jam in Long Beach and once opened at the Roxy in Hollywood, where Warren's older half-brother, Andre Young (later to become Dr. Dre) sometimes played with a glam band called the Wrecking Crew.

“Back then, we all used to dream of something like this,” Warren recalls, referring to the Up in Smoke tour, a huge hip-hop revue he's headlining with his big brother and old buddies, plus Ice Cube, Eminem and Xhibit. The tour begins Thurs., June 15 in San Diego, swings through the Pond on Friday and Sunday nights, and has scheduled shows in 25 arenas across the country. “This is big. Everybody is saying this is the biggest hip-hop tour since the Fresh Fest, that tour with Run-D.M.C. and everybody back in the early '80s. That's big respect right there, I know, because I went to the Fresh Fest when it came to the Long Beach Arena, and it was the ultimate.”

With the notable exception of Eminem, a recent megasensation, most of the artists on the bill have made their multimillion-selling marks in hip-hop over the past 10 years. However, they haven't been able to mount a tour of this magnitude until now because their music has been a lightning rod for chaos, from the controversy of Dre and Cube's “Fuck Tha Police” days in N.W.A to the ominous shadow Dre, Snoop and Nate helped cast as part of Suge Knight's mob-style roster at Death Row Records to the delicate tightrope Warren walked when he opted to sign with East Coast-based Def Jam Records. Even the legacy of the Fresh Fest loomed. Since the violence that accompanied that tour's Long Beach stop in 1984, the only major hip-hop show allowed to play the Long Beach Arena was M.C. Hammer.

Warren doesn't really want to talk about the dangers and embarrassments of the past. “We ain't even trippin' about that no more,” he says. “We're moving on, doing our thing. We been through a lot, and that's enough said about it.

“But yet, when you look at it, we're getting it done the way we always really wanted to. We always wanted to get past the problems and do something like this. It took a lot of hard work and dedication. But it also took the right person to be able to head everybody in the right direction —and that's Dr. Dre. I'm proud of him. And we're blessed that he did come back and scoop up all of us and take us on the road.”

Although each performer will do an individual set—and Snoop, Warren and Nate will also collaborate as 213—everybody on the Up in Smoke tour will ultimately be under Dre's umbrella. And the lines between those performances may get blurry at times, inasmuch as Dre's music has provided the foundation for just about every other artist on the bill.

“You look at all the N.W.A songs, plus the stuff we all did with him when he made the first Chronic album to the new Chronic 2001 and on to what Eminem is doing, and we've always been part of Dre's show,” Warren says. “And this tour is going to emphasize that—that this is the original family, and that we stayed family, and that it's all about pure love.”

The phone beeps and it's Snoop, so Warren puts him on the three-way, hoping he'll join in the conversation. “Naw, man, no time—we got rehearsal,” Snoop says, his soft drawl unaffected by the urgency of his words. “Dre and Nate are already on their way, and I'm out the door now. You're late!”

THE UP IN SMOKE TOUR AT THE ARROWHEAD POND, 2695 E. KATELLA AVE., ANAHEIM, (714) 704-2400. FRI. N Sun., 8 p.m. sold out.

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