The first thing to know about Snoop Dogg's keynote address Friday morning at the South by Southwest music conference: His interlocutor was his manager, Ted Chung. Not a disinterested journalist or even a fan -- the guy responsible for overseeing Snoop's career.
So right away, you knew not to expect a penetrating look into the 43-year-old rap icon's mind. This was image-crafting in its purest form, from the bit of showbiz news he and Chung unveiled to Snoop's anecdote about getting high and sharing a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken with Willie Nelson in Amsterdam.
But hey, how 'bout that anecdote?
Seated in a pair of low-slung armchairs onstage in a ballroom at the Austin Convention Center, the two men discussed Snoop's childhood in Long Beach, where the rapper said things were mostly happy until Reaganomics shook the neighborhood's stability by welcoming drugs and guns. That's the era he intends to explore in a new HBO series he's working on with director Allen Hughes of "Menace II Society" and "Dead Presidents" fame.
He and Chung discussed Snoop's discovery of rap through the Sugarhill Gang and Slick Rick, then Ice Cube and Ice T, the latter fellow Angelenos who made him believe he could be a rapper too. Snoop recalled how his friend Warren G took him to a bachelor party thrown by Dr. Dre and slipped Snoop's demo into the tape player.
"Dre was like, 'Who is that rapping?'" Snoop said, and soon one of hip-hop's defining partnerships was born.
When asked how he's stayed relevant, Snoop said he keeps "my ear to the street and my feet to the pavement." He pays attention to the industry, he said -- to "what's hot and what's not, what's in and what's out."
But he's not just "an old man trying to infringe," he insisted. Younger artists see him as "Uncle Snoop" (as one character on "Empire" refers to during his cameo on this week's two-part finale); the veteran said he's always happy to lend a hand.
"I'm a problem solver," he said. "I'm the answer. I'm what you need."
Of his upcoming album "Bush," due out in May, Snoop said the music represents "a ride through the funknosphere," and the silky lead single, "Peaches N Cream," suggests he might be right. He made the record with Pharrell Williams, who produced Snoop's relatively tender 2003 single "Beautiful."
At the time they were working on that song, Williams told him, "'You've never done a record for the ladies,'" Snoop remembered. "I was always like, 'I don't love those hoes.'"
But Williams told him to think about his wife and his daughter as he wrote "Beautiful," Snoop said. "That let me know that he cared about me. I was blindfolded before that. I didn't know I could make music for women."
Chung wrapped up the friendly talk by asking Snoop if he ever imagined he'd be where he is now.
"Hell, no," he answered, then went on to describe the way he'd been pilloried as a rising rapper by preachers and politicians and older entertainers, who pointed to him as "the worst black man ever created."
Because of that experience, he said, he tries to understand "my young homies" and communicate with them. "I didn't like the way I was treated as a young man," he said.
But, Snoop insisted, he has no regrets.
"I love everything I did and the way I did it," he said. "It was meant to be."
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