Friday, June 3, 2011

Nobody Does It Better: Remembering Nate Dogg

By Evan Trapp

When I first heard about the death of Nate Dogg a couple months ago I was as upset as any other classic West Coast hip hop fan. But as the days turned into weeks and the weeks into months I have become more and more angry about the lack of coverage for a guy who seemed to always create a jam whenever his smooth G funkified vocals hit a track. Of course, this wasn’t the case at all, he had way more misses than hits, but has there ever been a more anticipated moment on a hip hop track than the build up in “The Next Episode” right before Nate enters with the obligatory crowd sing-along line of his (or any) career, “Hold up… ehhh”? That in itself should warrant enough to place Nate Dogg in the upper echelons of hip hop history. And if not that, looking back a few months later, the very least this guy deserved was much more coverage of his passing than he actually got. I feel obliged to write this. Not just for hip hop and not just for the West Coast. Not just for those who have ever sang the lines, “When I met you last night, babaaaayy!” Not just for any artist who has found such a simple, beautiful niche that it became so sincerely simple and beautiful only they could properly do it. But rather for every underappreciated artist, who did their thing and did it well, but never seem to get the credit they deserved.

I don’t want to say only Nate could do what he did, because that would be wrong. Any singer can lay a chorus down on a hip hop track. But, as he said himself in a song that seems to epitomize his career, a song that never became as big as it should have but was just as great as any of his major guest appearances, “nobody does it better.” And that’s what makes this loss so tragic; a one of a kind individual in hip hop gets lost and forgotten in the current sea of Akons and T-Pains and others seemingly doing what Nate Dogg once did. No offense to those current singers, but without Nate’s historic guest appearances I don’t think we’d be hearing Akon on Dr. Dre’s Detox debut single, “Kush.” Dre needed a voice to push the track over the edge. But Dre was trying to fuse his classic sound with a newer, younger star to cater to the ever–changing youth of hip hop nation. Unfortunately, the attempt seems to have failed. One has to wonder how much greater the track would have been had Nate done the Akon’s vocals as well as the imitation-Nate vocals.

“When the Doc said that you couldn’t sing on the mic…/ What the Hell is going on?/ Niggas been bitin’ songs/ Hell nah, that ain’t Nate Dogg,”

A audibly frustrated Warren G spouts during his Nate Dogg tribute track, “This Is Dedicated To You.” One can’t help but wonder if Warren (or does he prefer Mr. G?) is referring the aforementioned imitation-Nate on “Kush.” And even if the line is not a Dre diss, every fan of Nate had to be upset about this imitator from Dre. “Hell nah, that ain’t Nate Dogg,” I heard several of my friends declare about this Nate-imitator on “Kush.” Sadly, I heard an equal amount of casual (and younger) hip hop fans saying, “Who is Nate Dogg?”

Who is Nate Dogg?!

“He was like Scottie Pippen or a lock down closer you acquire at the trade deadline. The team was good beforehand, but when you add him in it just solves all your problems and puts you over the top.” –Peter Stephens

Nate is Pippen because no matter how great Jordan was, no matter how much of a jam “All About U” would’ve been, it was Nate that threw it over the edge and made it monumental. Nate won World Championships instead of just Conference Championships. But not once did he get the MVP for any of these accolades that he obviously played a huge role in achieving. I’ve heard the argument made that Scottie Pippen is the most underappreciated player of all-time. The same thing could be said about Nate Dogg. Jordan didn’t win championships without Pippen.

The comparison doesn’t feel quite right because, other than the occasional 2Pac track, Nate rarely played with a Jordan. He just knew how to make the main artist appear like Jordan. Even the easily-forgotten Shade Sheist feels legendary on tracks like “Where I Wanna Be” and “Wake Up” thanks to the forever-solid performance of Nate.

It’s hard to compare Nate Dogg with any other musical artist, because I can’t seem to think of an artist that has been featured on so many hits but never once had a hit on his own. Perhaps the closest comparison is the Funk Brothers, the Motown studio band, who played on more number 1 hits than the Beatles, Stones, Beach Boys and Elvis combined. It took a major documentary released almost 40 years after their heyday to finally give the band the credit they deserved.

Still this comparison seems off. At least Nate got a “featuring” tag. And that right there probably explains how his death got lost in stories on Justin Bieber’s femme-hair and Chalie Sheen’s tiger blood. Yes, Nate got a “featuring” tag, but that is about it. His solo albums never had a single along the magnitude of “Regulate” or “All About U.” He will forever be known as the “featured” artist.

This can be explained when looking at his debut album G Funk Classics Vol. 1 & 2, an album when listened to nowadays sounds like a lost masterpiece. Because of legal troubles at Death Row, the album’s release was delayed several years and by the time it was finally released the popularity of the West Coast sound was slowly fading in the wake of the brutal murders of 2Pac and Biggie. I know what you are all thinking: legal troubles at Death Row?? Whaaa?? And because of the yahoos running Death Row (yeah, I said it, Suge. What now?), what appeared to be the breakthrough into major stardom for Nate simply turned him into, as Kenny Weigandt has proclaimed, “bacon.”

“The best way I can think to describe Nate Dogg: he was the bacon on a cheeseburger. Dre, Snoop, Eminem, Warren G...on their own, they're fantastic. But when you add Nate Dogg to a track, look out! His signature pimp hat combined with his propensity to randomly show up in the middle of West Coast rap performances made him even cooler. I own the "Up in Smoke" tour DVD, and when Dre and Snoop perform “The Next Episode,” and Nate Dogg's signature verse comes up, the crowd anticipation is electric. Once he drops the "Hold up!" everyone goes nuts.” –Kenny Weigandt

Maybe I’m pushing this to far and giving the man too much credit. Maybe he is just fucking bacon. Maybe the “Hold up, ehhh!” moment is just a lucky moment of beauty even the most amateur of artist can accidentally stumble upon. But moments like that don’t come along everyday or even every decade. He found the opportunity, did his job, and did it well.

It doesn’t help that his death wasn’t as glamorous as the typical “gone too soon” deaths of hip hop stars. He died of complications from multiple strokes, not exactly something you’d see headlining the sensationalistic media world we are all victims of. What his overshadowed death says about us is equally as intriguing as the musical career he created.

But bacon or no bacon, there is nothing that compares to that man’s voice during a bar-b-q on a summertime afternoon. Because whenever I hear him it always brings about such a good mood. What he stood for was not anger but confidence. A confidence that said, “Yeah, I’m fucking singing the hook for some so-called gangster rapper, but I’m still that hardest man in town.” Even to this day, with a song like "21 Questions" or "'Til I Collapse," he destroys anything the main rapper says with his chilled G-funked choruses. His greatness is there, people. But his less than romantic death and the unfortunate mismanagement of his solo career appear to be enough to cause him to be forgotten like so many others.

It's a damn shame he's gone. But I’m going to do my part. I’m not forgetting him. And I sure as hell ain’t going to attend any bar-b-q without his music ready in my iPod.

Definitely am going to bump some "Me & My Homies" and pour out some liquor tonight.

5 Nate Tracks That You Should Have But Probably Don’t:

5. “I Don’t Like to Dream About Gettin’ Paid” by Tha Dogg Pound & Nate Dogg

4. “I Need a Light” by Warren G feat. Nate Dogg

3. “Me & My Homies” by Nate Dogg feat. 2Pac

2. “Where I Want To Be” by Kurupt, Nate Dogg & Shade Shiest

1. “Wake Up” by Shade Shiest, Nate Dogg & Warren G

5 Fun Facts about Nate Dogg:

5. Nate ain’t got love for no hoes.

4. For anyone thinking Nate Dogg was soft, he didn't play.

3. Every other city he went, and every other video, Nate saw the same ho.

2. Nate never met a girl that he loved in the whole wide world.

1. It must be a single when Nate Dogg was singing on it.

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