Nate Dogg: Can't Be Faded

Nate Dogg's contributions, and the workmanlike way in which he executed them, frequently garnered praise and commendations from his associates.

Nate Dogg (Nathaniel Hale), hip-hop's distinguished crooner and hook man, passed away on 15 March 2011. He had suffered strokes in 2007 and 2008, portending things to come. Yet, he has a legacy that will continue. Iconic hip-hop artist Snoop Dogg, along with many other friends and peers, has paid tribute to Nate Dogg, but perhaps one of the best and most enduring shout-outs to him occurred in song.

In 2003, Westside Connection (Ice Cube, WC, and Mack 10) released the provocatively titled Terrorist Threats. On it, the group placed the song "Gangsta Nation", a bouncy slice of West coast bravado produced by Fredwreck and featuring Nate Dogg's distinctive and on point vocal work. "You know the side, trick, better get up on it," Ice Cube rhymes. "'Cause it must be a 'single', with Nate Dogg singin' on it." Kind remarks from fans and colleagues are so important to the catharsis following someone's passing, but it's just as important that people express their admiration in life, as the members of Westside Connection did here. Nate Dogg's contributions, and the workmanlike way in which he executed them, frequently garnered praise and commendations from his associates.

That's not surprising when we consider his body of work and his overall impact. By identifying and relying on his vocal strengths, Nate Dogg succeeded in carving a vital niche in hip-hop for his talents and the talents of other performers who followed. Not only was Nate Dogg's voice a pivotal component in successful recordings from '90s titan Death Row Records, but he also played an unmistakable role in shaping the sound and tone of West Coast rap music as a whole, and "G Funk" in particular. The vocal flourishes he added to many songs often made the songs what they were, offering elements that distinguished them from other songs on the airwaves at the time.

Specifically, I was always impressed by Nate Dogg's precision in delivering hooks, his expert and attentive role as a collaborator, and of course the sound of his singing voice. In the first place, the hook of a song tends to get dismissed by listeners as an afterthought, something to be tacked on once the "real work" is done. With hip-hop, the lyrical verses are densely packed, and then further enriched by such devices as imagery, slang, simile, and alliteration. A rapper can have so much to say, in quantity as well as content, that the hook gets short shrift by comparison.

The reality is that the hook can be crucial to a song's success. It's the part that gets stuck in the listener's mind, the part you hum when you're at work or taking a walk, the part you try to sing when you want to remind someone how the song sounded. A terrible hook can devastate an otherwise solid endeavor; a great one can raise the stakes. Imagine Jay-Z's "Empire State of Mind" without Alicia Keys rocking the chorus. And it's not enough for the hook to be "good", it also needs to be delivered in just the right way to be compelling.

Nate Dogg found a way to navigate this terrain, helping to turn songs into anthems by integrating his sound into the song's vibe. What's so cool is the way he generally retained a similar tone from song to song, yet he managed to give each song the touch it needed. In this way, he would give his personal stamp to a record without completely adapting to it or taking it over.

Undoubtedly, this is the mark of a skilled collaborator. This skill, which is a valued trait of any trusted team member, is important in the assembly of most songs, and it signifies something more in hip-hop. As a culture and a genre, competition creates the standard, as artists vie for attention over one another. At one point, it seemed this necessary competitive drive was balanced by a communal spirit, wherein artists represented their posses and regional connections. Lately, though, the individual side of the game has been most prevalent. The ability to collaborate, then, helps to maintain the balance, to tether hip-hop to its origins.

Nate Dogg's collaborations subtly spoke to this, lending his voice to projects as a team player. His most well-known song, The Above the Rim film soundtrack's "Regulate", presented him to a mass market in this fashion, working in partnership with Warren G. Built around a thumping loop of Michael McDonald's "I Keep Forgettin'", "Regulate" is essentially a duet between Warren G, who raps his lines, and Nate Dogg, who sings his. The subject matter embodies the type of street tale native to the "gangsta" category, albeit with a defensive twist. In the song's narrative, Warren G is about to join a neighborhood dice game when he is robbed at gunpoint by men with "gats" ("I'm gettin jacked, I'm breakin myself"). Nate Dogg, who's been looking for Warren, assesses the situation and comes to his friend's aid ("I gotta come up real quick before they start to clown").

Being a team player enabled Nate Dogg to join Snoop Dogg and Warren G as a member of their "213" collective. Named after the area code in Long Beach, California -- a signifier of geographic affiliation, as earlier discussed -- the group capitalized on the uniqueness of its members in crafting 213's The Hard Way (2004). That release covered such familiar themes as living the fast life of the streets and dealing with fast women ("Groupie Luv"), all wrapped in a confection of slick rhythms and wiggling bass lines. The synergy of the trio stands out most: Snoop's limber lyricism and Warren G's laidback flow, tied together by Nate Dogg's smooth crooning.

Lastly, but not insignificantly, Nate Dogg's place in hip-hop history emanates from the very sound of his singing. His conversational singing, along with its robust delivery, helped to bridge rap and R&B at a time when audiences were split between the two. His deep and rich approach to vocals kept him in a consistent range that worked quite well for the types of songs he made. "Gangsta Rap", which is lyrically graphic with a lean toward ethical ambivalence, demands hardcore, larger-than-life personalities. Personal weaknesses are sometimes brought to the fore, but there's no room to be "soft". Nate Dogg's exuded the stress of walking this tight rope, as his consistent tone would lighten at the end, and shimmer, hinting at the vulnerability resting beneath the tough exterior.

In 50 Cent's "21 Questions", the rapper searches for answers regarding his mate's fidelity, looking to satisfy his fears and insecurities. 50 Cent doesn't emote much of that fear with inflections or theatrics; he lets the lyrics do that. His tone remains hardened, almost stoic, impenetrable, and Nate Dogg's accompaniment fits this mode to the letter. Emimen's "Till I Collapse" walks a similar line between the revealing nature of the lyrics versus the heft of the delivery, with Nate Dogg's hook emphasizing the point. In "Area Codes", Ludacris enlisted Nate Dogg's talents to accentuate the player side of his persona.

However, the song that sticks with me the most when it comes to Nate Dogg is an oldie from Tupac Shakur's side-project, Thug Life. The song, "How Long Will They Mourn Me?", features Tupac, Big Syke, Rated R, and Macadoshis lamenting death and its prospects, paying elegiac respects to those who've passed away. Nate Dogg appears during the hook, while the song title is delivered as a chant, singing, "I wish it would've been another / How long will they mourn my brother?" The song itself barely manages to bottle its defiance -- against the narrow minded folks in society who stereotype the younger generation, against the unspoken expiration date on remembering the deceased, against trying circumstances; hell, against death itself. What always struck me was how these young men were rapping this song as if they were much older, like old men remembering their fallen comrades and resigning themselves to making the best of their final days.

Death invites an outpouring of sorrow, but, the song asks, how long will it last? Nate Dogg passed away at the age of 41, young by most standards. But the impact of his work will be felt as subtly, smoothly, and sincerely as he crafted it.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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