Mar 17, 2011

R.I.P. Nate Dogg (August 19, 1969 – March 15, 2011)

4:07 PM

Unless you had some underground dub of 213 playing a high school talent show, the first time you saw Nate Dogg in a live setting was probably the 1994 MTV Music Awards, when he performed "Regulate" with Warren G. As the beat dropped and the Young Guns dialogue started, Warren G coolly strolled out and started his verse. Nate followed a good 20-30 feet behind – head down and visibly stoned. He looked nervous as hell, but his voice never trembled when he raised the mic to his mouth.

That was Nate Dogg's career in a nutshell – playing the background, reluctant to show out and making good songs great (or, when paired with lackluster rappers and beats, making bad songs listenable.) He was the first singer to begin his career integrated into the world of gangsta rap, a role that would lead to much acclaim but never the superstar success reserved for the rappers he accompanied.

Nate Dogg made his recorded debut on Dr. Dre's classic album The Chronic, cleaning up Dre's lyrical mess on "Deez Nuuuts." (Dre sounds like he took a shot at writing his own lyrics. That's not a compliment.) Even on an album full of memorable moments, you'd be hard-pressed to listen through it for the first time and not leave singing, "IIIIIII can't be faaaaded" to yourself the rest of the day.

One of Nate's early features that doesn't seem to be getting much attention since he passed away is "Indo Smoke" by Mista Grimm. And that's sad, because it's one of the best examples of Nate making a hard song harder, rather than solidifying a softened radio single. Taken from the Poetic Justice soundtrack* and the first time that either Nate, Grimm or Warren G had been featured on a single, "Indo Smoke" shot up to Billboard's #12 spot on the Hot Rap Singles chart and #58 on the Hot 100. The chorus is pure Nate Dogg, plotting his smooth voice against profane lyrics: This ain't no stress it's the muthafuckin' indo smoke.

The thing I'll remember most about Nate Dogg is how he changed the format of radio programming where I grew up. While big cities like L.A., San Francisco and New York already had stations dedicated to hip hop and R&B, the Palm Springs-area stations would only play rap at night, well after the retired folks had finished golfing and drinking themselves to sleep. But then "Regulate" came out, and all of a sudden you could simultaneously eat lunch and listen to Nate shooting Warren G's assailants before rounding up some honeys for an Eastside Motel orgy. Soon Puffy perfected the art of made-for-radio rap, and the Palm Springs airwaves never looked back. Nowadays you can hear Flo-Rida's crappy new songs break literally minutes after they hit the big cities and Internet.

Sadly, Flo-Rida won't have Nate Dogg around to make those songs listenable.

*Weird: Poetic Justice and Above the Rim make two bad 2Pac movies that Nate Dogg and Warren G kept relevant with hit singles on the soundtrack.

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