Though he’ll always be Snoop Dogg to the rest of the world, Duke Givens sometimes still calls the rapper Cordozar, the original alias of Long Beach’s favorite son, Calvin Broadus. Givens reminisces while pointing to a picture of Snoop as a young kid in a Poly High School football uniform. “Between me and him I don’t think either of us were 200 pounds between the both of us soaking wet,” he says. “We were some thin guys back then.” These snapshots of the world famous West Coast rapper are the foundation of Givens’ exhibit SNOOP: The Early Years of Snoop Dogg, opening this weekend at MADE in Long Beach.
Givens knew Snoop before he was Snoop, growing up with him in Long Beach’s sixth district Duke played Pop Warner football and discovered music with him. Givens’ father’s house became a sanctuary from the gang war in the streets in the late ‘80s, where Snoop could find loving support for his budding art form. “He’s always been able to put words together, I remember one time we were at my dad’s house, my sister, everybody over there just having a good time, he started freestyling and literally, for like 7 or 8 minutes,” Givens remembers. “Just going and going. A lot of people don’t realize the dude is very intelligent.”
Givens and Snoop helped and supported each other during their formative years from middle school to the end of high school. That kind of friendship was essential in a city as dangerous and flush with gangs as the eastside of Long Beach in the late ‘80s. When Givens went in to take the entrance exam for the air force, Snoop took the test too. Givens went off to fight in Operation Desert Storm while Snoop stayed in Long Beach, battling to make a name for himself in the music industry. When Givens got back to Long Beach in 1993, Snoop was a rising star, having appeared throughout Dr. Dre’s multi-platinum masterpiece, The Chronic, and about to put out his solo album, Doggystyle, which itself would go on to be a number one selling album. The rapper had officially morphed into Snoop Doggy Dogg, but he still remained Cordozar to his childhood friend.
Having been given a Canon A-E1 camera by his parents, Givens fell in love with photography. “My parents bought me an AE-1 Canon camera. I was like ‘What I’m I gonna do with a camera?’” he says. Givens enrolled in Long Beach City College. When he walked into the darkroom and developed my first print, as dark as it was in there, as bright as it became in there, it fascinated him. “As soon as you dip that print in that developer and the image comes alive, a spark in my heart just ran through my whole body.”
Givens began taking pictures of Snoop at home and in the studio, and his cousin Nate Dogg, and his friend Warren G, documenting his friend’s rise to fame, and a slice of Long Beach rap history with it. “I have a picture of him with his first child, I have a picture of him with his hair raw and uncut, just him at home with his family, kind of looking like Jimi Hendrix. It’s kind of a trip to see the image. But in that picture you can see the endearing love he has for his children.”
But in the time that Givens had gone to the air force, and Snoop had made it big, Long Beach was still suffering under gang violence. “Me and Snoop would talk about how said it was that we were losing so many people.” The conversations inspired Givens to begin taking pictures of gang members in the neighborhood. He started depicting the images of ordinary life through film. Gradually, the photographer saw a project developing, one he could present to young people to let them know to stay away from gangs. The first project Givens did was a Stop the Gang Violence calendar, featuring a photo of Snoop, Warren G and Nate Dogg on the front cover. Givens also interviewed the men and women in the community looking for answers on how to keep children out of gangs and putting an end to street violence. “They just gave me what their thoughts were on it, even though [some] were in [gangs themselves].” Givens says. “I came from a war, back to another war, this time as a war reporter.”
Givens has spent the rest of his career focusing on documenting advocating against the effects of gangs in Long Beach, producing a documentary soon to be available called Emerald in the Rough and getting his Stop the Gang Violence calendars hung up in high school classrooms around the city “to be up all year to constantly hammer home the message every day to these kids.”
Givens’ photography focusing on the early years of Snoop Dogg will be showing at MADE in Long Beach on February 20th, while an exhibit featuring photographs used in the Stop the Gang Violence calendar and portraits of African-American leaders in Long Beach will be showing at Breakers in Long Beach until February 27th, but you’ll find rare and excellent pictures of Snoop at both events. Asked about the importance of Snoop in his life, Givens says, “He allowed the dreams he had to manifest in his music. Whether good, bad, or whatever, he made it happen. He willed it to happen. My mission statement is accentuate the positive. The motto of never stop moving and hustle until you get it done is a model I can watch from him.”
SNOOP: The Early Years of Snoop Dogg by Duke Givens will be shown at MADE Gallery in Long Beach, 240 Pine Ave. (it will be up until the end of March). For full details, click here.