What's My Muthafuckin' name?
In praise of Snoop Doggy Dogg

Like most people creeping up on thirty, I don't listen to pop radio that much any more. And since they moved Top Of The Pops to Fridays, I've barely seen it. So for a couple of years there, I lost track of music outside of my narrow little rut. Then - for a complex series of reasons mainly to do with getting a cheap second phoneline for my internet connection - I got cable. And cable means having MTV, VH-1 and The Box. Consequently, I'm more than averagely conversant with the work of Christina Aguilera, Craig David, Daphne & Celeste and - god help us - Shania Twain.

I'm aware that MTV is widely blamed for the death of music, but at various points in my life - whenever it has been there, basically - I've been addicted to it. Ideologically, I believe that the pop video is a pretty barren artform. But sit me down in front of an endless stream of videos, and I can't move. MTV does have a social function, mind: I remember when I was living in Italy, and two friends of my sister turned up. Never having met them, and not being the master of small talk, I was at a lost to know what to do with them. So we sat and watched music TV. Four hours of shouting abuse at Guns'n'Roses later, we were firm friends.

Recently, I've been grateful to MTV and The Box for reminding me of how much I love Snoop Doggy Dogg. I hadn't thought much about Snoop for a while. Of course, there is a viewpoint that says you should never think about Snoop at all, gangsta rap being not only morally objectionable, but musically lazy: LA's answers to Mad Frankie Fraser over some nicked, warmed-over P-Funk.

It ain't true, and even if it was, it wouldn't change the fact that I would rather listen to Snoop at his best than, say, Company Flow, any day. There's a great danger in approaching hip hop with a puritan's frown. One of the great things about hip hop always was that it was funny and dirty and excessive and ego-ridden and often just ridiculous. I remember laughing and being terrified all at once by early Ice T records. That's why, much as I love them, hip hop would die if it was all Blackalicious. I once interviewed Mos Def, as enlightened as an MC as you could hope for, and the most excited he got was when he was talking about ultratrashy album covers used by Master P's dire No Limits label. 'Fuck Warhol, that's real pop art man!'

Anyway, Snoop is a great rapper: that almost-sung style is a hellish thing to pull off. Get it right - the Pharcyde - and it's genius. Get it wrong - Bone Thugz and Harmony - and it can be like wasps doing misogynist doo wop. I loved Snoop's voice the first time I heard Dr Dre's 'Nuthin But A G Thang'. And Snoop's 1993 debut Doggystyle is a terrific album: dreadful cover art, the indefensible 'Ain't No Fun (If The Homies Can't Have None)' and all. Why? Partly because Snoop's voice - and his weird, elongated face - cut across the macho boorishness of the worst lyrics. A gun-toting, swaggering gangbanger he may be, but there's something awful camp about him. Some credit also has to go to the way that Death Row Records used to work: not the beating their employees to a bloody pulp bit, but the tactic of making one album at a time, to which everyone on the label had to contribute their best ideas, and just hope that the system was still in place when it came to making their album.

It didn't last, which might be why Snoop went horribly off the boil right after that first album. I'm no longer sure how many albums he's done: most of them are buried somewhere in my room. Thanks to whatever record company was distributing it over here, I've even got one he did for No Limits, arguably the worst label in the history of recorded music. I presume I must've listened to it once when it arrived, but I can't remember anything about it.

So I left Snoop Dogg (he dropped 'Doggy' for legal reasons) behind and took refuge in indie hip hop: Rawkus compilations, Hieroglyphics, Rasco, Prince Paul. Until I was watching MTV and saw a song by Snoop and an underrated LA rapper called Xzibit. Something inside of Snoop seemed to have clicked back into place.

And then came the Dr Dre single, 'Still D.R.E.'. Video by Hype Williams, Dre and Snoop driving around in a convoy of old fashioned low riders. Gloriously defensive lyrics: Dre desperately trying to reassure us that he's the same homie he was before he became a multimillionaire. But although Dre does the verses, it's Snoop's slurred and insidious fills and choruses that make it the best single of the year as far as I'm concerned. And the Dre album, Chronic 2001, is smart, too. Not tasteful. Very confused: Dre can't seem to decide whether he's grown up or not. Genuinely, unlistenably offensive in places. But also better than anything else out there. And best of all, it's got some great Snoop moments on it. And like I said, I still love Snoop Doggy Dogg.

©Mark Morris 2000