When Dr. Dre launched his landmark LP "The Chronic" in 1992, to see Calvin Broadus, a.k.a. Snoop Doggy Dogg, lounging in a suit would have been like catching the pope strolling around the Vatican in Karl Kani sweats--if you saw it, you must have been smoking some pretty strong stuff.
For that Snoop, then 21, to abandon his trademark look of baggy denim jeans (almost always blue), braids, baseball cap and canvas Chuck Taylor sneakers would have meant that he had not only thumbed his nose at his modest Long Beach upbringing and his gang roots (Long Beach Crips) but also had joined the establishment, that his success has changed him.
Formal wear, in Snoop's crowd, came out of the closet for three things: church, funerals and court dates. Back then, Snoop wasn't having any of the three.
Oh, how having a son (Corde, now 2), being charged with murder or hanging with the "in" crowd can quickly change your appearance.
Today when Snoop's out in public, either at the MTV Music Awards or at Westwood's steak and lobster hangout Monty's, more often than not he's wearing a stylish suit--an expensive Italian one at that. Sometimes he even abandons the braids, favoring a permed look, a la Ron O' Neal's Priest in the 1972 blaxploitation film classic "Superfly."
It's the look of gangsta rappers. Lately, everyone from the Notorious BIG, Nas, Jay-Z to the late 2Pac have been singing the praises of Versace, Dolce & Gabbana and other top designers. The elder gangsta look romanticizes an era when roughnecks like Lucky Luciano and Bugsy Siegel dressed to impress. Heck, even gangster rap icons from movies and real life like Scarface, Michael Corleone and John Gotti favored Italian designers.
But for Snoop, the reasons for the stylistic change run deeper.
"I noticed that when I was wearing suits, people treated me differently," he said on a recent break from recording "Tha Doggfather," due in stores Tuesday.
"My appearance itself demanded a certain respect. I didn't have to speak. People would look past all that they heard about me during the murder trial, the fact that I'm a gangsta rapper and say, 'This is a cool person.' "
When hired to style Snoop for the Ken Nahoum photo shoot for "Tha Doggfather," Barbara Warren got an ideal subject.
"Snoop has a very strong sense of personal style," said Warren, who also designed the costumes for director Bill Duke's 1930s period piece "Hoods," helping to set the movie's mood with dark Italian pinstripe suits and bowlers.
"He knows exactly what he wants. . . . He's so lanky and graceful, and the suits hang perfectly on his body, like a mannequin. He'd be a designer's dream, because the clothes fit him exactly as they imagined them on the design page."
Snoop's taste in clothes is eclectic. He still wears jeans and a sweatshirt in the studio, because to walk down the rough streets he re-creates there, he has to wear the appropriate creep wear. But elsewhere, he turns up in labels.
"I'm a Hugo Boss man," he said. "Polo, Armani and Tommy Hilfiger I like too."
Snoop acknowledges the change that his new look has had on people, but it's just one sign of his growing maturity.
"I ain't trying to let the clothes change me, but it's all a part of me growing up," he said.
"I plan on running an office, going back to school, and preparing myself for something different. I always felt like when it was time to make a change, I had to make sure that I changed my life on all levels. That's all this is."