A Hollyblog tribute: When Nate Dogg was accused of robbing our local Taco Bell
The year Nate Dogg stood accused of robbing our favorite Taco Bell, he signed a Bible for my little brother.
It was a very strange time.
We grew up in San Pedro, across the Vincent Thomas Bridge from the soon-to-be fascinating city of Long Beach. We loved hip-hop, but it felt very far away, because San Pedro is a town made up largely of Latino, Croatian and Italian immigrants, and hip-hop, in the early 90s, wasn't the melting pot of people talking about champagne that it has become today.
Also read: Nate Dogg Dead at 41
We had been to Compton, home to gangsta rap, a couple of times when we took the wrong bus to the Del Amo Mall. But mostly we stayed in our quiet, boring seaside town, appreciating hip-hop from afar. Until something bizarre happened in 1992:
A bunch of really good hip-hop artists appeared in Long Beach, the next town over. Bigger, industrial, and scary, Long Beach felt like a real city.
Of all the new rappers, Snoop Dogg made by far the biggest impression. Impossibly tall and skinny, with a face that switched between a puppy's (his dad nicknamed him after Snoopy) and a look of total disgust with whoever he was threatening to kill (this was when he still rapped about killing people), he conveyed a charisma unlike anyone else.
As an added bonus, he had talented friends.
He and Warren G and Nate Dogg had started out together in a group called 213 that Warren G got his stepbrother, Dr. Dre, to listen to. Dr. Dre, as responsible as anyone for all that gangsta rap coming out of Compton, was impressed. He made Snoop his chief vocal collaborator on “The Chronic.”
As Snoop put it on “Nuthin’ But a G Thang,” the album's biggest single: “Compton and Long Beach together, now you know you in trouble.”
Snoop was an amazing rapper; Warren G was a solid producer; and Nate Dogg did something that no one else in hip-hop did credibly at the time. He sang.
For nearly the next two decades, he would be the go-to guy for artists ranging from Snoop to Dr. Dre to Eminem, when they needed a deep, catchy hook on a song that would also be smooth, solid, and a little chilling. Like a church baritone, not showy, just assured.
Sometimes he would sing hilariously filthy things that were delightfully at odds with that tone.
The year I went to college, 1993, Snoop Dogg released his solo album, “Doggystyle.”
It turned out a whole lot of other clueless white kids liked Snoop Dogg, too — especially the songs with Nate Dogg.
I remember dancing at a party with a very progressive, liberal-type fellow freshman girl I was incredibly psyched to be dancing with — until “Ain't No Fun” came over the speakers.
“Ain't No Fun,” from “Doggystyle,” is a wonderful and horribly offensive song that starts with Nate saying he “had respect for you, lady, but now I take it all back” — because of the explicit sexy stuff she does that he goes on to describe.
The appalling moral of the song is that many women are disposable.
And the smart, cool progressive girl from Seattle was singing along with every word.
This is how I learned about irony.
All white hip-hop fans, it should be said, are a little skeeved out by other white hip-hop fans.
Yes, we think, I understand that this is an art form addressing some of the hardships of inner-city life with a sense of humor and the same literary license used by all writers. But how do I know my fellow white people understand this? Maybe they're just racists, making fun of (formerly) poor black people.
The attempts by white hip-hop fans to feel more authentic (read: less sheltered and suburban) than other white hip-hop fans result in all kinds of awful, stupid things: white people thinking it's okay to call each other the N-word, white people wearing Ben Davis shirts like Snoop's (guilty), and white people taking a lot of black studies classes and then accusing various black people of being sellouts.
I, and all white hip-hop fans, am guilty of all kinds of iffy transgressions in an attempt to be good guests in the home of a musical form we didn't invent. These include my brother and I violating some boundaries where Nate Dogg is concerned.
In 1994, Warren G released his solo album, “Regulate… G Funk Era,” featuring his and Nate Dogg's biggest hit, “Regulate,” a smoothed out gangsta-lite instant classic that found them out for a night of misadventures in Long Beach.
Warren gets accosted during a dice game, Nate helps him, they see that some women are having car trouble, and pick them up. The next line, sung by Nate, is innocent and silly and sly all at once, and Nate's delivery of it — give it a listen — can only be described as lovely.
“I got a car full o’ girls and it's going real swell/The next stop is the Eastside motel.”
Warren G and Nate Dogg were huge stars at this point. And Nate Dogg and Warren G sightings soon broke out all over San Pedro.
“Dude!” the waiter would say when we showed up late at Denny's. “Warren G was just here!”
One of San Pedro's Nate Dogg sightings, unfortunately, occurred during a Taco Bell robbery. Asked to describe the assailant, according to local legend, the cashier had said simply, “It was Nate Dogg.”
We were skeptical of the charges. My brother convinced his journalism teacher that he should be allowed to cover one of Nate's court appearances for his high school paper.
He went down to the San Pedro courthouse and caught Nate Dogg in the parking lot, where he asked if Nate would sign one of the small Bibles that fundamentalists sometimes handed out outside our school.
Nate was eventually acquitted. It was a found to be a case of mistaken identity — like, perhaps, the time Warren G showed up at Denny's.
Later we drove to “two-one and Lewis” – the intersection of 21st street and Lewis mentioned in so many G-Funk era songs. (They were even called the “two-one three.”) We got lost and stopped at a KFC, where my brother asked the cashier for directions.
“Ah,” the cashier said, laughing at us. “You looking for two-one and Lewis.”
He gave us directions. It happened all the time.
R.I.P., Nate Dogg.