It's late on a blistering Thursday afternoon in Sherman Oaks, but rapper Snoop Doggy Dogg sits in the cool of a darkened recording studio, his melancholy brown eyes pointed downward. He's not sad or angry--just pensive.
As one of the most visceral lyricists in hip-hop, Snoop specializes in imaginative, agile ways of communicating a variety of feelings--from rage to sexual braggadocio to hopes for a better tomorrow. But now, he says, it's hard to find the words to express his feeling of having spent more than two years contemplating the possibility of spending considerable time behind bars.
Snoop, whose real name is Calvin Broadus, was accused of being an accessory in the 1993 shooting death of a young man in a Palms area park and subsequently charged with murder and manslaughter. He and bodyguard McKinley Lee, who said the shooting was in self-defense, were acquitted of the first- and second-degree murder charges by a Los Angeles Superior Court jury Feb. 20, and the separate voluntary manslaughter complaint was dropped after the jury deadlocked. The family of the victim, Philip Woldemariam, has named Broadus, among others, in a wrongful-death suit that goes before a Santa Monica Superior Court judge Aug. 20. The amount of the claim will be decided by the jury. Unlike the criminal case, in a civil suit only a preponderance of evidence is necessary to convict.
"The civil case will be a whole different arena," says Anaheim-based attorney Daniel O' Sullivan, who, with Edi M.O. Faal, represents the Woldemariam family. "The family is dedicated to pursuing justice and vindicating the wrongful death of their son."
Snoop says he believes, despite the pain and stress involved on his side as well, that there have been some positive impacts from the case. "The trial helped me develop as a man," Snoop says softly. "It taught me to respect life and understand that I now have a [2-year-old] son who needs me to provide direction.
"Am I gonna do the things that will lead me right back to the courtroom, or am I gonna do the things that will make me a bigger artist and a better person? I've been down the other route. I didn't like that much at all."
While admitting that the trial has curbed the more rabid aspects of his personality, Snoop acknowledges that there's still plenty of canine in him.
His next album, "The Doggfather," which is expected to be released in November, offers more social commentary and overtly anti-violence statements than his debut album, 1993's "Doggystyle," which has sold nearly 5 million copies. But the new album will also contain some of the misogynistic and graphic themes that made him part of the controversial world of gangsta rap.
"I can't say I done changed with that matter. . . . I'm an artist first, not a gangster who raps," Snoop says, raising his voice as he defends his music. "The gangster [expletive] is just in me. You can take me out of the 'hood, but you can't take the 'hood out of me. Aspects of that are going to come out. . . .
"It's unfair that they accuse me of glorifying violence in my music. . . . Jackie Chan has been killing people for 20 years in his movies, and everybody laughs and claps about it. The minute Snoop [writes about] some violence, there's suddenly a problem--like I invented everything that's happening out here."
Surprisingly, given Snoop's retiring nature, he even wants to head a campaign to combat the sometimes ugly rivalry between East Coast and West Coast rappers.
He and Death Row Records (which has recently changed its name to New and Untouchable Death Row Records) are even going to launch a promotional campaign for the new album proclaiming Snoop a candidate for president--president of rap.
"People look at me like I can make things happen and move things in the right manner," he says without a glimmer of humor. "I feel that I can bring this East versus West Coast rivalry to a halt. We need to get some unity among these rappers and get organized so we can reap the benefits of this culture, because rap is our future. Let's control this music and make money, cause that's how this thing needs to be built."
Ever since Snoop Doggy Dogg emerged from the streets of East Long Beach and entered the rap world in the early '90s, the elusive artist has been the center of much celebration and controversy.
The product of a single-parent home, Snoop remembers that his father's absence made it a lot tougher for his mother to help him resist the temptations of street life.
"Somebody that helped you do your homework in the sixth or seventh grade might now be in a rival gang trying to kill you because you're from another street," he says, regretfully, as he retraces his steps. "It was rough coming up around my way."
A scant few months after he graduated from Long Beach Polytechnic High School, he was sentenced to six months in jail for selling crack. The time behind bars and the encouragement of other inmates helped him decide that he needed to make a change.