His transformation into America’s most corporate rapper has been a pop-culture mystery. Maybe it shouldn’t be.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Henning Kaiser/picture alliance via Getty Images.
Snoop Dogg is rapping about Grubhub on my television. He materialized in the midst of one of those uncanny ad breaks on YouTube TV—where you’re confronted with the exact same 15-second commercial over and over again—on a set mirroring the icy black-and-white aesthetic of the “Drop It Like It’s Hot” music video.
Two backup dancers dressed like foil packets of mayonnaise and hot sauce sway behind him as he details, through silky G-funk couplets, the delicacies he likes to order from the continent-spanning food delivery service.
What you gonna do, boo?
Chocolate fondue, right on cue
Burger in the low low
Hope they kept the pickle in
Private jet in the night sky,
My man hang glide by with my fried rice.
It’s an odd collaboration. Snoop Dogg is still one of the most famous rappers in America, with irreproachable roots in hip-hop’s golden generation.
Meanwhile, Grubhub is a faceless tech conglomerate that’s currently laying siege to the restaurant industry. Like so many other parasitic forces of the gig economy, Grubhub has come under heavy criticism for worker exploitation, refusing to classify its ground-level staff as full-time employees (with the benefits that implies) by wielding the same old “independent contractor” technicality favored by Uber and Lyft.
All of this is to say that Grubhub is not the typical endorsement material for a rapper of Snoop Dogg’s pedigree. And yet: Wonton on a catamaran/ Oodles of noodles, thank you, my man.
This isn’t the first time Snoop Dogg has lent out his considerable abilities to strange corporate bedfellows. Consider: The rapper, in a half-sung cadence, espousing the virtues of the incredibly short-lived Burger King hot dogs.
The rapper, over a glitchy beat, rhyming “laid down so fast” with “hit you with the pass” in the theme song for Electronic Arts’ megaton football video game Madden 20.
The rapper, lounging on the beach, sipping a Corona, exchanging vibeless bars with Andy Samberg in what might very well be the career nadir for both men.
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Snoop Dogg has not recorded a hit since 2012 (“Young, Wild & Free,” a uniquely turgid Wiz Khalifa collab) and his most recent album, BODR (or Back On Death Row), peaked at No.
104 on the Billboard 200. Still, somehow, the man seems to be more adored than ever; headlining critically acclaimed Super Bowl halftime shows, partying with Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly on his 52nd birthday, while suffering zero consequences for his willingness to sacrifice his one-of-a-kind talent on unseemly altars. (Another line from the Grubhub rap: Even dipping in the sea/ I see food, seafood sees me.)
By any reasonable definition of the term, Snoop Dogg has sold out—and gratuitously so. He’s corny and proudly washed, utterly divorced from the hardened gun talk of his youth.
But Snoop was also smart enough to sell out at a moment in time when the culture was incapable of holding that transgression against him.
There was no chance the rapper could maintain his station in life through pure recording genius, not when hip-hop sales are tanking, touring revenue is king, and the levers of the Billboard charts seem to be capable only of supporting exactly one megastar at a time. (And yes, even Taylor Swift is accepting banking sponsorships.)
No, Snoop’s only chance to reap the rewards of his own legacy was to become a homogeneous, all-purpose celebrity, a king of the side hustle, offering sprinkles of general-use fame to all of his contractors for a modest fee.
Ironically, that mercenary status kept him in the public consciousness—and more importantly, kept him eternally beloved—in a way that a febrile and increasingly hollowed-out music business could never. It all makes Snoop one of the shrewdest men in show business. He’s been ahead of the curve for 30 years.
Nobody saw this reign coming. Snoop Dogg is of a songwriting generation in which authenticity was prime currency.
His debut album, 1993’s Doggystyle, was looser and more blissed-out on weed than the others in a realm dominated by insomniac Ice Cube soliloquies and bloodthirsty Eazy-E mania.
But Snoop was still writing what he knew, which were the bombed-out streets of Eastside Long Beach. (“Pumping on my chest and I’m screaming/ I stop breathing, damn, I see demons,” he wrote on one of the most vivid tracks on the record, in which he imagines his own murder via drive-by shooting.)
He has described his youth as bleak and violent. Snoop claims to have joined a gang at the age of 12, and says he was wielding firearms by 15.
It’s an origin story that intersects with his own criminal history: Snoop Dogg was arrested for cocaine possession in 1990, and dodged a murder conviction at the very dawn of his fame, in 1993, which sparked a genuine cultural panic about the personal conduct of the world’s newest hip-hop star.
Newsweek marked the moment by placing Snoop on its cover. The headline reads: “When Is Rap 2 Violent?” He has avoided any serious criminal issues since, save for a piddly string of extremely in-character marijuana misdemeanors. However, last year, Snoop was sued in civil court by a woman who claimed he sexually assaulted her in 2013 following a concert in Anaheim. (The case is still pending. He denies the allegations.)
And yet, despite all this trauma and malice, the biggest hits of Snoop Dogg’s career have always nurtured an airy effervescence that runs counter to the evil-eyed West Coast gangster phantasmagoria of his peers—which is exactly why Doggystyle enjoyed an overwhelming mass-market windfall.
The album sold a mind-boggling 806,000 copies in its first week and went quadruple platinum less than a year after its release.
A huge number of those records were purchased by young white fans in suburban enclaves who had zero connective tissue with Snoop’s life experience, hinting at the sanitized figure he would soon become.
After all, Snoop Dogg has always been at his most charismatic while indulging his inner hedonist, rather than his inner artist.
We came to know the man as eternally laid-back, euphorically sedated, and passively horny—the complete opposite of his enduring songwriting partner Dr. Dre, who has spent whole decades of his career hobbled by his perfectionist instincts.
The magic comes through most clearly on “Gin and Juice”—the biggest hit from Doggystyle—which singularly paved the way toward Snoop’s superstardom.
There isn’t a shred of darkened self-consciousness on the iconic hook. The party is jumping on a broiling summer night in Southern California. You’re rolling down the street, smoking indo, sipping on gin and juice.
That, my friends, is an enviable lifestyle, and Snoop would spend the rest of his recording career iterating on the same strain of low-stakes bliss.
This isn’t to say Snoop Dogg isn’t a serious artist, or that he doesn’t possess any auteurist aspirations.
The man has always been a clever writer with an attuned ear for beats. He was never a big-picture storyteller like Kendrick Lamar or Jay-Z, but few people on Earth have ever savored the phonetic richness of the English language more (Getting funky on the mic like an old batch of collard greens).
His records throughout the 1990s sold well, even if the singles rarely found major airplay. To this day, Snoop’s sole No. 1 Billboard hit as a lead artist is “Drop It Like It’s Hot,” released in 2004, during a fruitful period of collaboration with Pharrell Williams.
But even during the righteous heights of his music career, Snoop Dogg was eyeing avenues into a more hallowed, mainstream A-list.
He has appeared in a ton of movies, often playing disaffected stoners in doofy comedies. (Half Baked is a personal favorite.)
But more tellingly, Snoop Dogg has become one of the great cameo actors of all time—the vast majority of the roles on his IMDb page are credited as, simply, “Himself.”
Snoop wasn’t interested in reforging his celebrity into blockbuster-action-star status like Mark Wahlberg, or even in experimenting with leading-man gravitas like Tupac, a member of his L.A.
brethren. Instead, he understood that if he sanded away some of the hard edges on his Doggystyle persona, his innate magnetism could be leveraged as an infinite resource for countless casting directors and commercial producers with hardly any personal effort. From Corona to Pitch Perfect, the checks keep clearing.
That’s why Snoop Dogg is making mashed potatoes with Martha Stewart. Or why he’s judging singing competitions with Kelly Clarkson and filming reality shows with his family.
It’s all part of the same project, the story of a man who wanted something beyond the limits of gangster-rap celebrity.
So why hasn’t he been penalized for selling out?
Why have those who fell in love with the impious, devil-may-care Snoop of 1993 stuck with him through the questionable Grubhub raps of 2023?
Perhaps it’s because the audience Snoop inherited—the white teenagers who have now grown into white adults with white children—prefer to digest him that way.
The rapper provided an on-ramp for fans to participate in a cartoonishly debauched gangster fantasy: the indo, the gin and juice, the piles of cash, the decadent spoils of flesh.
But unlike his compatriots—Ice Cube releasing a blistering debut album entitled AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted, Ice T making Body Count famous with “Cop Killer”—his music rarely interacted with the fantasy’s underlying conditions.
(Snoop Dogg is not known for protest songs of the cultural permeation of “Fuck tha Police.” In fact, he briefly boosted Ron Paul in 2012.)
It’s a trait that has made so many elements of his character—the inveterate weed-smoking, the eye-popping jewelry, the suave Angeleno urbanity—surprisingly palatable to Middle America.
He’s equally comfortable in Long Beach and on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. Like I said, Snoop has been ahead of the curve for years.
Snoop Dogg will likely continue down this path as he recedes deeper into the twilight and his flavor of celebrity becomes increasingly divorced from the reasons he became famous in the first place.
More studio albums are surely on their way, but so is more corporate brokerage. Perhaps an Uber rap is next, and a Lyft one after that.
This would be a tragedy for any other G-funk legend, but for Snoop Dogg, it’s a spectacular success.
All the man ever wanted was to be famous, and stay famous, by any means necessary. Is that really so hard to understand?