Snoop Doggy Dogma

Bow-wow-wow, yipee-o, yipee-ay,
Doggy Dogg's in the motherfuckin' house.
--Dr. Dre, The Chronic

The problem with Desert Sky Pavilion is that it's not close to anywhere.
In particular, it's a long way from Long Beach. And, at least for today, so is Snoop Doggy Dogg.

This is Lollapalooza, the traveling "alternative" rock festival which, for the most part, stands as an alternative to anything interesting or worth listening to. The Phoenix show had scheduled a bunch of generic, lame bands and two impressive names. But, now that Tricky's pulled out, the Doggfather is the only good reason to be here.

He's scheduled to take the stage at 6:20 and play for an hour. It seems strange that he'd be going on so early, and stranger still that they'd have a rock festival, with music starting at 3 p.m., on a Wednesday rather than a weekend. It seems logical that, on a weekday, work commitments would preclude a significant number of people from attending.

But that question only has relevance in the real world of real music, where people have real lives and real problems. And Lollapalooza is as far from the real world as Phoenix is from Long Beach or Compton.

The kids here stink of money. Bizarre as it might seem for a Snoop Dogg show, there's hardly a black face to be seen. It's like being surrounded by several thousand Stepford kids. Aside from their tattoos, the girls--and their boyfriends--look as though they've stepped out of the pages of Sassy or Seventeen.

There's something obnoxious about middle-class white kids experimenting with decadence. Usually, a drunk and stoned audience at a festival creates a warm, communal ambiance. But this crowd is simmering with testosterone and ego.

This is a pity, because Desert Sky is a fairly good venue. At the H.O.R.D.E. festival a few weeks ago, the atmosphere was terrific--as were many of the bands.

But today, I witness a couple of fights before I've been here even 15 minutes. Nobody seems to get hurt--the guys are separated by their friends pretty quickly, and it's just the standard drunk scuffling anyway.

I'm standing on the lawn area when a boy of about 16 walks past. Or rather, he tries to walk past. I don't know what he's on, but he's had so much of it that he doesn't know whether he's at Lollapalooza or the original Woodstock. He's stumbling forward with his arms stretched out in front of him, eyes half-closed, like a B-movie zombie. I move to get out of his way, but before I can, he projectile-vomits all over me.

People run away, the girls screaming and the guys making grossed-out noises. I stand there in shock, puke running down my arms and dripping off my hands. I wait for the kid's head to start revolving and for him to talk in Latin, but he doesn't. He seems ready to collapse.

I lay him down on the grass and ask him who he came with, where his friends are. He can't talk. I go and get him a bottle of water. It occurs to me that the greed of the organizers is dangerous--at an outdoor event in Arizona in the summer, there should be a supply of free water. Instead, they're selling it for $2 per bottle. You're not allowed to bring your own water into the venue (I tried), and if you go outside, they won't let you back in. This, after your ticket and parking space have cost you more than $30.

I make the kid drink the water. Then, fairly sure he's not going to die, I find my way to the rest room, doff my tee shirt and wash up as best I can. Maybe I shouldn't have bothered--considering how people scurried out of my way when I was covered in puke, I'd probably have gotten an entire area all to myself. As the show starts, I wonder if this kind of event isn't more to Snoop's taste than I'd realized.

Snoop Doggy Dogg is a cultural phenomenon, and, as such, he's a bundle of contradictions. A founding contributor to the gangsta-rap explosion, he's now performing for the white and wealthy. Controversial for the seething hatred displayed in his lyrics, he's good-humored and genial onstage.

Snoop may not be the most talented rap artist to chant his way out of the ghetto, but he helped define the form, and is still arguably the best-known among nondevotees. Even before the release of his own first album, his mean, sneering, strangely laconic vocal was one of the most memorable features of The Chronic, the seminal Dr. Dre album that spent nearly a year in the Billboard Top 10. Even on the album's opening track, we're told that "if you want to take a trip to the Row/Let a nigger like Snoop Doggy Dogg know." And from there on in, track after self-referential track, Snoop shares vocals with Dre.

What wasn't obvious at the time was just how important Dre was. A producer of genius, Dre invested Snoop's album Doggystyle with the same brilliance that permeates The Chronic. In spite of the misogyny, homophobia and advocacy of gang violence in the lyrics, it's difficult not to be excited by the sheer energy of the music.

When Dre split from Death Row Records, Snoop's limitations were exposed. He's never released anything that sucked, but, without Dre at the controls, his work has been noteworthy only for its ordinariness. What has kept him in the foreground of public consciousness is not what he's been doing, but what he's done before--and, most of all, what he represents.

An MC comes onstage and demands to know how many of us motherfuckers want to see Snoop Doggy Dogg. It seems that most of us do, because he pimp-rolls into sight soon after.

Live, Snoop isn't what you'd expect. He's known for the mediocrity of his shows--but today his performance is excellent from start to finish. His evil, goateed, blank-eyed face is iconic--but in performance he's comically manic, laughing and baiting the audience.

Snoop's best songs take their hatred from desperation. His is a voice that talks just to avoid being silenced, being edited out of history. His protagonists do drugs not just as a kick, but because it makes the cockroaches look better. Snoop and his contemporaries put on record the lives of millions of people that the ruling class didn't want to know about. . . .

And still doesn't want to know about, despite the numbers and skin color of the audience here. Look around and you can see how Snoop's sold millions of albums that focus on the experience of the underprivileged, young black male. It's certain that many of his "fans" just don't get it. It's obvious that, to these kids, Snoop's a novelty act. Little tank-topped white girls dance as he spits out lines about bitches and hos. His enthusiasm and likability bring to mind a host at a children's party, and, in a real sense, that's what he is right now. He exhorts the audience members to stand up and raise their middle fingers in the air. They stand on their seats and do it.

Unlike many performers, such as the Pain in the Ass Formerly Known As Prince, Snoop doesn't get uptight if an audience isn't overly keen to hear his new material. "You want some of that classic Snoop?" he asks. And when the roar comes, he delivers, including something from The Chronic. The complexity of the music's depths and textures is lost in the outdoor acoustics, but the familiarity, combined with the vibrancy of Snoop's performance, makes it soar.

A sublime moment comes when Snoop decides to indulge his fondness for South America's favorite export. "Who wants to see me smoke summa that Phoenix, Arizona, shit?" he asks. And immediately, somebody in the audience is passing him a spliff.

The MC has reservations, or pretends to. "I don't know, Dogg," he says. "There's some police here. It might not be cool."

"Okay," says Snoop. "If I smoke summa this shit, and a police officer wants to come up here and take me to jail, who's gonna help me?"

A few thousand hands fly up, and it looks like there actually might be a riot if the cops appear onstage. Snoop, the leader of Aryan youth. He takes a drag on the joint, and the kids cheer louder than they did for any song.

Contact Barry Graham at his online address: [email protected]

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Barry Graham