Snoop Dogg’s Dippin’ From Death Row To No Limit May Have Saved His Career & Life (Audio)
In early 1998, Snoop Dogg left Death Row Records for No Limit. In a reported $4 million deal brokered by Priority Records, the Long Beach, California MC went from the breakout star signed by Dr. Dre at the top of the decade to the key acquisition of the reigning independent Rap label at the close of the millennium. Snoop, who released just two solo albums in six years while at Death Row (compromised by a murder trial and Dr. Dre’s abrupt 1996 departure), was to No Limit what his friend Tupac Shakur was to Death Row: a key free agent status chip.
Master P, a New Orleans, Louisiana rapper and businessman, had made a name for himself hustling tapes and CDs in Richmond, California. There, he studied the formula laid out by E-40, JT The Bigga Figga, San Quinn, and others. The man who released West Coast Bad Boyz loved Left Side Rap. Snoop represented No Limit’s power and appeal. For Snoop, No Limit represented safe passage and earning potential. The artist had watched Dre leave, ‘Pac get murdered, and close friend Warren G passed over at the label. Instead of controversy, No Limit thrived on getting paid (whereas Snoop had been previously managed by Suge Knight’s estranged wife, Sharitha).
However, the music would be the key product in the mix. Less than six months after inking with No Limit/Priority, Snoop Dogg released his third album, Da Game Is To Be Sold, Not To Be Told. The 1998 multi-platinum #1 album was a leap of faith for one of the 1990s biggest Rap stars. “Still A G Thang” told audiences that it was the same slick MC, but it was a major departure. DJ Pooh (who replaced Dre at the helm of 1996’s Tha Doggfather) contributed one track, as did DPG affiliate Soopafly. “Uncle” Charlie Wilson maintained his working relationship with nephew on a song. Otherwise, Snoop traded low-riders for tanks, G-Funk for Bounce, and Dogg Pound for Beats By The Pound. From Entertainment Weekly to Rolling Stone, Spin to fledgling AllMusic, Da Game… was panned. While he was a household name with a Top 20 hit, Snoop was dogged out.
As was the No Limit way, Snoop did not sit still for long. Whereas Da Game brought the rapper to Nawlins, 1999’s No Limit Top Dogg brought the tank to the LBC. 1999 represented a keystone in West Coast Hip-Hop unity. Dr. Dre would reenter the lives and music of Snoop, Ice Cube, MC Ren, and others. Dre’s 2001 would follow, and the Up In Smoke Tour. However, Top Dogg was the first real sign of a new air in California—with Death Row kept squarely in the penalty box (thanks to Suge Knight’s ongoing incarceration). Dre would take on three tracks for the album. “Bitch Please” would be a memorable single, and proof that Snoop, Dre, and Nate Dogg could light The Chronic vibe anywhere they pleased (with Xzibit in tow). However, people may overlook “Just Dippin’.” It features Dre and onetime Death Row songstress Jewell.
The song celebrates the Dre and Snoop reunion, which was close to five years in the making, following just “Murder Was The Case (Remix)” since 1993’s Doggystyle. The mentor and pupil capture old chemistry, on a song that’s all about riding through the same neighborhoods that Suge Knight and Death Row artists said they could go to. While neither artist addresses bad blood in their past, Snoop lucidly spits a series of bars that capture his grave outlook on life: “I skirt out, I hit a corner on ya, fuck doin’ halfway / I do it to the fullest, I’ll probably catch bullets on my last day / I hope a prayer come through, so I can eat.” Less than a year ago, Snoop recalled Suge trying to take his life. The two would later make peace, before Knight’s latest incarceration and pending murder trial.
Two weeks earlier, Suge had sneak-released Suge Knight Represents: The Chronic 2000. Not only did the double album steal Dre’s working title of his sophomore LP, it strongly dissed Snoop, as well as Master P. Tha Dogg Pound were involved in that release, explaining their absence from Snoop’s return to form. So on this Dre groove, Snoop merely focused on the good, and laid the proper next step in his pathway to safety, creative control, and Rap greatness. The Dogg was back on top with his pack, and basking in it.
Outside of Dre, the album featured heavy contributions from DJ Quik, as well as Meech Wells, Bud’dha, and even Too Short’s right-hand at the time, Ant Banks. The album was Snoop’s first not to reach #1. However, the effort did score a platinum plaque. Much more importantly, it was aimed at Snoop’s core more than any since his debut. Instead of searching for hits, Calvin Broadus and company made music their way, take it or leave it. As people often overlook the Snoop from those 1998-2002 years, this is a blunt reminder that it’s all there, if you know where to look.