Daytime TV Goes Gangsta with Snoop Dogg
Hip-hop's top dog touches down in soap opera territory for two days of music and melodrama.
In May of this year, rapper Snoop Dogg gave me the opportunity to enjoy two of my favorite things at the same time: music and soap operas. The music? Hip-hop! The soap? One Life To Live (OLTL)! Snoop was scheduled to perform at the bachelorette party for the show's character Adriana Cramer (Melissa Fumero).
Writing this, of course, forces me to admit two things. First, I watch soap operas. There. I said it. I won't bother defending it, except to mention that in the promotion of Snoop's appearance on OLTL, Snoop claimed that he's been enjoying the show since childhood. Snoop's love for soap opera drama, if true, doesn't completely negate my embarrassment, but it at least puts someone else in the mix with me. Second: I wasn't sure what to expect from the experience of seeing Snoop hang out with the residents of OLTL's fictional town of Llanview, Pennsylvania. With Snoop performing two songs across two days (in episodes titled "Dogg Day Afternoon" and "Uncle-cest is Best"), as well as "remixing" the OLTL theme music and doing a little acting, I was keeping my fingers crossed that the whole thing wouldn't turn into an experiment gone wrong. I was trying to picture big tall Snoop Dogg on a cheesy soap opera set, saying stuff like, "Pass the drank and roll the dank, fool." It seemed a bit bizarre at first.
But it worked out pretty well, despite some silliness involving Snoop teaching one of the characters (Roxy Balsom, played by Ilene Kristen) how to speak the slang: "Rizzle, izzle, fizzle, nizzle, those are the fundamentals. But you can freak a 'izzo', 'izzay'.... You just gotta make sure you're shizzolating before you regulate and recreate. Can you feel what I'm sayin'?" Okay, like, what did he say?
Generally speaking, though, musicians have gained exposure and goodwill on soaps. My favorite musical turns include Chris Botti playing the sax on The Young & the Restless and Musiq Soulchild setting the mood for romance on As the World Turns. Recently, Ne-Yo was slated to perform on All My Children for the second wedding of Jesse (Darnell Williams) and Angie (the always awesome Debbi Morgan). You know All My Children's Jesse, presumed dead for the last 20 years, came back to his sweetheart Angie, right? If not, we gotta get you up to speed.
Meanwhile, OLTL's nightclub, Ultraviolet, has hosted the likes of Mary J. Blige and Timbaland. Nelly Furtado and Simply Red have also made appearances. If you like, we can go back even further, back to the '80s when a pre-Fugees Lauryn Hill played a troubled teen on As the World Turns and The Young & the Restless regularly built storylines around its resident chief rocker Danny Romalotti (Michael Damian). American Idol contestant Constantine showed up on The Bold & the Beautiful, trying his best to break up a relationship and snag another character's girlfriend for himself, but to no avail. On the same show, Jack Wagner, who scored a hit in the '80s with "All I Need", currently plays Dominick Marone (he was also on the nighttime soap Melrose Place -- remember that?). And do I even need to mention Usher's stint on The Bold & the Beautiful? Scandalous...
Snoop Dogg performs on One Life to Live
Considering the past and the ongoing synergy between soaps and musicians, I shouldn't have been so apprehensive about Snoop's cameo. He's got a certain "It" factor that people seem to like. Plus, among the many hip-hop artists in the field today, Snoop's endeavors tend to be well received. When he releases an album, we (critics as well as fans) might not rate it as being on par with his debut, 1994's Doggystyle, but we usually like it better than average, even if he's singing on some of the tracks like on this year's Ego Trippin'. Not only has he taken rap slang to the masses ("for shizzle", "for sheezy", etc.), he helped make "drop it like it's hot" a cultural catchphrase. In fact, I've been surprised at how often the phrase shows up in TV shows that have zero relationship to hip-hop. All the while, Snoop has been doing commercials, and appearing in movies and television shows.
Don't we like Snoop in movies and on television? All right, maybe Soul Plane was a jagged theatrical pill, but I liked him on The L Word -- and I'm not just saying that because I like anything featuring Pam Grier (although that never hurts anything). Like Ice Cube's often-mentioned ability to release "gangsta rap" albums while producing "kiddie movies", Snoop Dogg has hosted porn videos and also starred in his own reality TV series. On the second day of Snoop's soap opera visit, Rex Balsom (John-Paul Lavoisier), Adriana's groom-to-be, announces, "I want to make a toast to fatherhood." He looks at Snoop and adds, "That's right, I watch your show." Snoop's ability to stretch his brand into arenas outside of hip-hop has served him well.
On top of all this, soap operas and hip-hop aren't as oddly matched as I initially thought. Soap operas don't purport to be reality-based, as some hip-hop albums do, and nobody talks about "soap opera culture" the way we speak of "hip-hop culture", but there are similarities.
Soap operas, like hip-hop, are often maligned for highlighting over-the-top antics, showcasing villains, and celebrating underhanded behavior. Take One Life to Live as an example. Character Todd Manning (currently played by Trevor St. John) has spearheaded a gang rape, terrorized a blind woman, pretended to have Dissociative Identity Disorder to escape murder charges, and deceived his on-and-off love interest Blair into thinking her child was dead because he thought another man was the father (but it was really Todd's child) and had the baby sold to another couple. And that's not even scratching the surface with this guy.
On The Bold & the Beautiful, Storm Logan (William DeVry) was involved in a plot to shoot Stephanie Forrester (Susan Flannery) and frame his father Stephen Logan (Patrick Duffy, of Dallas fame). Guess how Storm created his alibi. After he set his sights on his victim, Stephanie, he called the police, identified himself, put them on hold while he shot Stephanie, and then continued his conversation with the cops like nothing happened! That's "gangsta", right?
As in hip-hop, daytime and nighttime soaps thrive on the devious tactics of divas and self-described "bitches", from the ruthless Alexis character made famous by Joan Collins on the blockbuster nighttime soap from the 1980s, Dynasty, to Susan Lucci's legendary Erica Kane on All My Children. Both hip-hop and daytime soaps use the b-word freely and frequently, and in both cases there are plenty of instances where females refer to each other as "bitches".
Add to that the formulaic approaches associated with soap operas and some hip-hop albums. What do the haters say you need for a hip-hop album? Let's see: beats recycled from old soul and pop hits (check), profanity (double check), a back-story that includes poverty and a broken home (check), songs about "gettin' money" (triple check), an obligatory track about "givin' back to the 'hood" (tentative check, these days), tracks about "keepin' it real" (check), an intro (check), and a couple of lame skits (check). Mix and stir and, there ya go -- instant rap album.
What about a soap opera? Okay, here's what you need: at least two ridiculously wealthy families (because "working class" soaps are no fun at all); at least two strong-willed females who are "conventionally" easy on the eyes; a ruthless male protagonist (we call them "anti-heroes" nowadays), usually with dark hair and an uncanny way with women; several generic locales, such as a courtroom, police station with a couple of jail cells, and a hospital (for those tender, must-have deathbed scenes that just happen to occur while the actors/actresses are renegotiating their contracts); a core pair of lovers who are "destined to be together", even though they will break up many times and get busy with many other characters along the way; a few pregnancy and paternity plots (i.e. "It's his baby, but I won't tell him it is!", "It's not his baby, but I'm telling him it is!", or "I'm not pregnant, but he thinks I am, so it's all good!"); a blindness plot; an amnesia plot; a character who returns from the dead (or a coma); and (of course!) a plot involving a long lost child born-out-of-wedlock.
On the other hand, soap operas, again like hip-hop, aren't given enough credit for their positive aspects. Soap operas often explore serious issues like rape, domestic violence, adoption, and drug addiction, sometimes with little public service announcements imbedded in the dialogue, but often by simply detailing the consequences of the characters' actions. In the past year alone, Guiding Light has tackled cancer, the intersection between low self-esteem and gastric bypass surgery, abortion and related issues of spirituality, alcoholism, and economic disparity.
Knowing all this, I nevertheless approached the Snoop-OLTL episodes with caution. I suppose I'm a little overprotective of hip-hop, which might be traced to the fear of "commercialization" and "selling out" that pervaded the "good old days" of the genre. These days, artists are on prominent display, and while some would say they are overexposed, high profiles are typically accepted. Hip-hoppers star in movies, dabble in fashion, endorse products, and engage in a host of other extra-musical activities.
There was a time, however, when this was unacceptable to the hip-hop audience, largely because we worried about the repercussions of crossover appeal. The story of MC Hammer presents a fine example of this. At his peak, Hammer, who was previously an enterprising underground act, became a household name by parlaying a Rick James-sampling hit ("U Can't Touch This") and his stutter-stepping dance routines into millions of records sold, tons of commercials, cartoons, lunchboxes, and action figures.
Problem was, and still is, Hammer's music is not considered "real hip-hop". At the time, even his peers were taking shots at him, despite (or, maybe, because of) the fact that the Hammer craze had reached a feverish pitch. In "Kamikaze" (from Act Like You Know, 1991), MC Lyte lamented the general audience's impatience for serious topics ("But when I talk of education, you fear that / Drugs and such, you don't wanna hear that") in contrast to the audience's high tolerance for fun and frolic, with a Hammer-related jab ("But if I talk that yang-yang sh*t / Like 'U Can't Touch This' / That sh*t'll hit"). Likewise, Ice Cube's "True to the Game" criticized an unnamed rapper whose music was considered "hardcore hip-hop" because he switched his style for mainstream acceptance. In the video for the song, this verse is bolstered by an awkward emcee in a red, glittery outfit doing jerky dance movements. The glasses, the clothes, the haircut -- all of it seemed designed to resemble Hammer.
Hammer rarely garners a nod for being a credible hip-hop artist, let alone for having a kick-ass stage show. He's hardly ever given his due for assisting in hip-hop's ascension as a lucrative vehicle. We might argue that the post-Hammer age of commercialism in hip-hop has damaged the integrity of the art form, but I think it's a shame that we've basically written this guy off as a joke. Young MC, Tone Loc, Kid 'n' Play, and Will Smith (The Fresh Prince) also fall in this category of rappers whose "pop" and "crossover" efforts endured some negative feedback.
We want you to sell records, but not too many, I guess. Now, rappers can do voiceovers and detergent commercials and what not, all on the backs of these folks who laid the foundation, without the earlier folks getting any credit for it. About the Fresh Prince, I recently saw Smith mentioned in a Top-25 list of hip-hop's worst rappers, which I hope was intended as a joke. There are so many things wrong with including Smith on that list, I don't even know where to start. Sure, he's not hip-hop's best rapper, but one of the worst? Far from it. "Brand New Funk" alone earns him a Get Out of a Worst Rapper List card. The point, though, is that Snoop Dogg's arrival in Llanview might have been doomed from the start if it had occurred between the late '80s and early '90s.
As it turned out, I enjoyed Snoop's "extended cameo" on OLTL. For one thing, he performed his breakout single "Sensual Seduction", which gives me a back-in-the-day vibe, not solely because of Snoop's Zapp-like vocals, but also because of the song's radio presence. Snoop performed the radio version, "Sensual Seduction", on OLTL, while the explicit version, "Sexual Eruption", appears on the album. Years ago, radio-friendly versions of "hardcore" rap songs readily graced the radio waves, so you didn't have all of the curse words being bleeped out.
Maxi-singles sometimes featured the radio version and the album version together, along with remixes, alternate lyrics, and/or guest verses. Rappers don't seem to like recording two or more versions of a single song anymore, so it was nice to see Snoop doing it again. Further, dual recordings tend to address the flap over offensive lyrics in two equal yet opposing ways: (1) by highlighting the artistic and commercial viability of a kinder, gentler aesthetic, and (2) by demonstrating that while the lyrics of a song might be adjusted, the concept remains the same, so a "dirty" song with "clean" lyrics can still be a "dirty" song (duh).
Snoop with One Life to Live's Bo Buchanan (Robert S. Woods)
Snoop's appearance was also cool because he didn't show up alone. He brought rappers Too Short and Mista F.A.B. for his performance of "Life of the Party" during the second day of his visit. On both days, Snoop was accompanied by Daz and Kurupt of the Dogg Pound, not to mention background singers and a band. The rappers I named weren't formally introduced to the television audience, but I liked the "posse" aspect of it all, where the big star brings his homies along for the ride. To take a Snoop song completely out of context, fame really ain't no fun if the homies can't have none. So, don't forget your peeps.
You don't see a lot of "gangsta rappers" on daytime television, and I have to admit it was totally surreal to see Too Short, sporting a salt and pepper goatee, on a midday soap. Even more surreal is the realization that Snoop and his crew significantly boosted the population of people of color on the daytime lineup. I don't see too many people complaining about this, as I'm sure there are bigger problems in the world, but American soap operas are not always models of "diversity". At least Layla Williamson (Tika Sumpter) was on deck during the Snoop episodes. Now, if only her sister could wake up from that coma! I mean, can a sista in a coma at least get a reflex movement up in this mug? Can she get a shout out? Some flowers? A fruit basket? Dang.
My favorite part of the cameo was the way in which OLTL blurred the line between fiction and reality. Snoop, of course, was being himself, and he performed his actual songs, with his real-life crew, but there was a twist. He was given back story that connected his life in entertainment with one of the show's main characters. Turns out, OLTL's Bo Buchanan (Robert S. Woods), the former Llanview police commissioner, gave Snoop his start in show business. Who knew?
"Cordozar Calvin Broadus, Jr.," says Bo, upon seeing Snoop, calling the rapper by his real name. Bo and Snoop create a little tension in their exchange, as if they might be having a showdown of sorts, but it all boils down to Snoop not calling Bo to let a homie know he'd be visiting Llanview. Bo asks Snoop about his wife and kids. Snoop extends his condolences regarding the recent death of Bo's father, big kahuna Asa Buchanan (Phil Carey). There's certainly a bit of irony in Snoop supposedly getting his start in showbiz with the help of someone in law enforcement, since Dr. Dre brought Snoop to the spotlight many years ago on the Deep Cover (1992) soundtrack. On the chorus of the single, Dr. Dre goes, "Yeah, and it don't stop", and Snoop's high mellow voice chimes in with, "'Cause it's one-eight-seven on an undercover cop".
Snoop's departure was as smooth as his performances. When the Roxy character invites Snoop to an after-party, Snoop declines the offer, saying, "That is so beautiful Roxy, but I'ma have to take a rain check, baby. My wife and kids are expecting me." This is, first of all, funny, because, you know, it's Snoop Dogg and somehow he became the moral compass of the episode. Second, it's an interesting statement of real life versus fictional life, and also of priorities, given that Dorian Lord (Robin Strasser), the mother of Adriana the bachelorette, secretly wants to wreck her daughter's upcoming nuptials or that another character, the ever-brash Todd Manning, is out trying to track down his now-estranged runaway daughter (Starr) and her boyfriend and (little does he know) baby daddy (Cole).
At last, Snoop exited the club ("Ladies, pimpin' has left the building"), rubbed a lucky tree stump situated outside, and then looked to the sky and said, "Llanview, what it do", as if a deeply nostalgic feeling had overtaken him. I'm not fluent enough in Snoop-speak to translate his words properly, but I think I kind of felt it too.