Hip hop icon, West Coast legend, godfather of G-Funk – there are very few persons that have contributed to hip hop as much as Warren G. The stepbrother of Dr. Dre and best friend of Snoop Dogg has written music history with his smash “Regulate“, the most successful rap single ever written. We have talked to a likable, humble rapper about Covid, racism and G-Funk.
“And You Know That is a really good record. Its just a banger“, says Warren G and puts on his shoes, smiling. That is the iconic rapper today: Relaxed, bold, self-conscious. Sitting in his California home, it is not far from the wildfires stirring heavily in the state. But he is not affected directly by this. Which is not so with the other two crises his country is facing. “As far as Covid goes, its stressful because they got to keep a lot of things shut down. But they are finding ways to still do all those things in a more protective way“, he says, and elegantly mimics his way to breathe with a mask on. “Looking at the protests, people still protest and they gotta keep protesting because there is a lot of unnecessary violence.“ When he mentions the latest case of a young black man being shot in the back by policemen in Wisconsin, the desperation in his voice is detectable. “Its just gonna be another incident youre going to hear about. It was like… like murdering right there in front of his family. We gotta keep protesting so that we don´t have black people being killed every other day. I am not saying all police is bad, it is a few bad apples in the bunch. But it aint cool, man.“ When asked about his own participation in the protest, he denies it disapprovingly. “Ive been quarantined and I have been in the house. I ain`t trying to catch Covid“, he calls out and laughs a little.
But at least, and this is what anyone listening to todays hit lists has realized, he has been to the studio again. When Warren G released his single “And You Know That“ with Ty Dollar $ign, it immediately soared up the charts. “I wanted to make a record to feel good, where everybody can take a break from everything around. Im not saying dont focus on Covid and the protests, but sometimes you need a little break-away, to get a different vibe. To dance to it, make party to it, smoke to it.“ But for anyone for whom feeling good is not enough, it does not lack a message either. “Its also about a man empowering a female, saying he can teach her the game, too. She becomes a business woman, just like him, ending up in Malibu and eating caviar“. He laughs. While some people may have expected a more explicitly political song to be coming out these days, Warren G admits he deliberately avoided that. “If it had been political, it would have been heartbreaking and sad. And I made the song to take people away from the stress and the anger and the pain.“
His purposefulness and intellect coupled with an easy-going vibe is a line that reaches into today from the very beginning of G-Funk, that is, the first steps of its godfather. So is the ability to stand up to and face difficulties in the music business. Mr. Griffin was only a teenager when he formed the rap trio 213 with his childhood friends and equal legends Snoop Dogg and Nate Dogg, all of them having grown up in Long Beach, a city in the Los Angeles County. It was Warren G who introduced them to his stepbrother Dr. Dre and opened them the door to the promising world of music business. Being taught to produce and sample by no one less than Dr. Dre himself, and with Snoop Dogg and Nate Dogg developing their skills under his wings, it was here where the foundations of an entire genre were laid and the history of hip hop was changed forever. “I wanted to be more than just a DJ, so I started producing. I wanted to be part of what was going on, not just the guy who is always around. I sampled, and Dre listened to it, and then it went into the Chronic. The way things went, we were just having success.“ It being Warren who was to thank for bringing Snoop and Nate into the group and for contributing to Dres first legendary album “The Chronic“, it was a bad surprise that Dre led only Snoop and Nate into a contract with the label Death Row Records. “I had to find my own destination“, says Warren G retrospectively, who then went to Def Jam instead and started a solo career. “Of course I was hurt, not being and producing with my friends and brothers, the people I started with. But it all worked out, and looking at what I contributed to hip hop, I ended up being a legend of the West Coast. Thats what it is.“
In 1994, Warren G released the song “Regulate“, a duet with Nate Dogg, that has an iconic status in hip hop and is the biggest rap single in hip hop history ever written. His career manifested with the releases of the albums “Regulate…G Funk Era“, “Take a Look over Your Shoulder“ (1997) and “I Want It All“ (1999).
The legacy Warren G has built as one of the godfathers of G-Funk is an important one. “G-Funk is music, where music is life and life is rhythm. It´s a vibe – its being different – its chords, strings, we brings, melody. Its a genre of music that is very instrumental. G-Funk is not the story you tell, its the music you tell the story over“, explains Mr. Griffin and underlines his point by rapping – or should we say singing? – a few lines of “This DJ“. When asked if the role G-Funk has been taken over by other genres, and it might do with a rebirth, the otherwise deeply relaxed father of six becomes vehement. “It´s never gonna go away. It wasnt just meant for the 90s, it is a lifetime genre. Ima keep it alive. And it does not need a rebirth, because it is in everybodys music. When they are rappers but it kind of sounds like they sing it – I started that. They are all using G-Funk, and its in every generation and every culture.“
If he ever feels under-appreciated when people focus on Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre? “Sometimes. I feel like they forget someone to mention. Some people dont know the history and the role I played. But I aint trippin`. Everybody supporting me knows that and that cannot be taken away.“
With his songs also being a mouthpiece to bring to light young black peoples problems in the hoods, Warren G has also been a voice to engage in society. When Obama ran for presidency for the first time in 2008, he produced the track “Mr. President“, asking the new president to care for black peoples concerns and calling out for anybody to vote. 12 years later, an equally important election is coming up this November. “Na, I aint into doing something like that this time. But if I see someone calling out to vote I repost it. Ice Cube has developed a “Contract for Black America“ which is really good. Biden wants us to vote him in, but we need to know whats in it for us. If Biden wants black vote, he needs to earn it, because we need something in return. We need change in our communities. In other countries there is no gangbanging, no robbing, no violence in an amount like here. But we want to make people aware that we can be a better place.“ In some internet sources word is spread that also Warren G was a gangbanger in the past. Which is, obviously, something that makes him really angry and that he is fast to correct. “I aint no gangbanger! I was born in the gang culture, so naturally when people find out I grew up in California, they automatically say I am Crip, no matter what. You cant get around it. But I am not an active gang member and I won`t be a gang member, that is not my style. Hey, I got six kids!“
It is not only the gangs that are the same today as in the 90s, despite the hopes black people had with Obama as the first black president. “The situation in the hoods is still the same. Well, one thing has changed: People have become aware not to depend on the government, but to get jobs and work themselves, instead of waiting for some food stamps. This pandemic has made people work hard in order to survive.“ Moreover, Griffin has experienced police violence himself. “I have been beaten up a few times. We were accustomed to it, thats just how it was. Around the neighborhood where we lived there were some cops doing it all the time; as I said, a few bad apples in the bunch, not all of them. I got done pretty bad once in the back of a police car, but there is nothing you can do but take that a** whip and hope they are not gonna kill you. When I became famous that stopped. That’s one of the perks of being a legend“, says Warren G and laughs. When I ask Warren G about his hopes should Biden win the election, his answer is both clear and optimistic. “There will be changes, definitely.“ Definitely? “Definitely. He wants to help end the racism, so hopefully thats what he is going to do, and fulfill the contract Black America is asking for. And with Harris as the first female vice president, that would be incredible. I hope she does a good job. But it can`t get no worse because now we are right at the bottom. We can only go up. And if Biden and Harris win, I think there will be significant changes.“
Though there is one thing Griffin does not want to change: No, the gun policy in the US should not be stricter. “People need to protect their families. There are people here that just don`t care and would kill you. Otherwise you would be free game. Sometimes you got to use it. But only registered and trained of course. “
When we come back to talking about music, with him going on to 50, his outlook is clear. “Aint no age in music! You can do a hit record no matter how old you are. But thats the problem with the companies. They categorize – but you can`t categorize good music. If it’s a good record, buy it. Dre is 50 and put a record out, and anybody is going crazy to go buy it.“ His plans for further music are less decisive. “I am thinking about it. As far as production goes, yes. But as far as myself, I don’t know. To me, it is just not worth it pouring your heart into a whole album and just making 0.07 cents with the streaming. Then it is not even worth it to put the record out. Actually, streaming is a good thing, but the music industry should take time to meet the streaming companies and work out a deal for their different kinds of artists.“ His idea is followed by one of his favorite phrases: “It is what it is“, accompanied by a relaxed laughing.
With the ease and calmness he radiates, Warren G seems to have come up at a point in life that comes perfectly close to satisfaction; a man who can look into his own future with a relaxation that is just as big as his pride when looking in his past; someone who says “Its all good“ and means it. Yet, the situation worldwide worries him quite a lot. “The whole world dont feel right. Its like damn, is this the end? There is so much going on: fires, storms, police brutality, sex trafficking… Its crazy. Where are we heading?“ With his worries, he once again speaks people out of their heart, an ability he has been maintaining since the first rap lines coming out of his mouth. We can just hope that we are heading in the right direction, making things all good.
Autor: Katharina Moser