SXSW 2011: Snoop Dogg, Dogg Pound, Warren G, Dam-Funk and Mayer Hawthorne pay tribute to Nate Dogg, reconfigure modern funk
Though the officially advertised Nate Dogg tribute may have occurred later on Saturday night, it was clear from Snoop Dogg's Funk n' Soul Extravaganza at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, that the Death Row diaspora will spend the rest of its days paying homage to its prematurely deceased friend.
Backed by longtime crew Tha Dogg Pound and Warren G, along with recent collaborators modern funk messiah Dam-Funk and slick soulman Mayer Hawthorne, Snoop and company largely wore matching RIP Nate Dogg shirts. But a visual reminder was unnecessary. Nate Dogg's (a.k.a. Nathanial Hale) Swisher Sweet voice was omnipresent on nearly every hit the crew performed, including "Ain't No Fun (If the Homies Can't Have None)," "Regulate" and "The Next Episode."
The effect of Hale was simply galvanic. He had the rare ability to take a hook and make it an instant hit, with a sort of just-add-water instancy that hasn't been seen since. His gift was to blend his gospel roots with his street sensibilities, an alien gift for melody and hilariously profane ideas about gender relations. Needless to say, when you can get an entire crowd of men and women to shout out Long Beach's "Eastside Motel," you've got something special.
The other crew members performed hits of their own, including a particularly ferocious version of Kurupt's "We Can Freak It," but Nate's voice shone most within Snoop's red-eyed but deceptively clear vision. His absence was conspicuously felt on some of Snoop's later hits. Akon's "I Just Wanna Love You" and Pharrell's "Beautiful" worked fine, but it was impossible not to wonder how much better they would have been with Nate on the hook.
Yet Snoop performed with a focus that suggested the performance was more than just an attempt to honor Nate's legacy. Indeed, he offered up a singular vision for the future and a sign of just how much worlds have suddenly converged. A decade ago, when Snoop and Nate were selling multimillions singing about "The Next Episode," it was inconceivable that said episode would include the then-nascent underground rap powerhouse Stones Throw records.
But as times have changed, and arbitrary walls have eroded, the Doggfather has returned to his underground roots. After all, both Snoop and Kurupt were staples at the Good Life, the same spot that spawned Freestyle Fellowship and Jurassic 5. And of course, an appreciation for George Clinton and P-Funk is the bedrock for the entirety of the G-Funk sound. So, watching Stones Throw artists Hawthorne nail his talcum-smooth remix of "Gangsta Luv" and Dam-Funk wailing with hallucinatory funk on the keytar, one gathered the sense that they were watching the closest thing that this generation has to a "Computer Games"-era Parliament-Funkadelic, with Dam as Bootsy Collins and Snoop as the wild-haired head of the mothership.
With his onetime partners in the 213 area code dedicated to keeping his flame burning (after all, this is the man who told everyone to "Smoke weed every day"), Nate Dogg will never be forgotten. His legacy is indelible as rap's greatest hookman. The only question at this point is whether to consider him the greatest R&B singer of the '90s (I vote yes). As for Snoop, who turns 40 in October, he's proving to have a more wide-ranging vision and knack for evolution than anyone could have ever forseen on "Nuthin but a G' Thing." Twenty years into his career, the Dogg remains atomic.
-- Jeff Weiss, reporting from the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas
Photo: Snoop Dogg at the Pepsi Max Funk n' Soul Extravaganza in Austin, Texas. Credit: Joey Maloney. See more 2011 SXSW photos.