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Wag tha Dogg

Snoop Dogg has worked to transform himself from bad-boy rapper to pitchman and actor, but his walks on the wild side seem to ...

December 01, 2006|Geoff Boucher and Chris Lee | Times Staff Writers

A year ago, the big Hollywood hip-hop story was that Snoop Dogg, a one-time murder suspect, had successfully recast himself as a sly but safe mainstream brand-name: As a movie star, an in-demand corporate pitchman and even as a celebrity coach for local youth football, the old gangsta scowl was gone and Snoop seemed almost, well, cuddly.

This just in: Snoop still has hard edges.

The 34-year-old rapper has three felony arrests since Labor Day, all related to alleged drug and weapon violations, which means his upcoming months will be tied up at best with court hearings and at worst with jail time. Neither of those prospects is alluring to Hollywood producers who had come to view Snoop as a favored icon of urban street culture with his roles in "Racing Stripes," the "Starsky & Hutch" remake, "Soul Plane" and "Old School."

Handcuffs and gavels don't scare off rap music fans, of course -- just the opposite. Snoop and his new CD, "Tha Blue Carpet Treatment," which entered the national sales chart this week at No. 5, will only gain street cred with the Wednesday morning footage of a dour Snoop leaving the Burbank jail dressed in USC cardinal and gold. In fact, these days it seems difficult for a rapper to climb the charts without a police escort. Snoop is one of four hip-hop acts in the Top 10 this week: There's the Game (arrested Nov. 16 for allegedly impersonating a law enforcement officer), rap-scene singer Akon (who did time for armed robbery and named his new CD "Konvicted") and the late Tupac Shakur (who was convicted of multiple felonies before his murder 10 years ago).

But unlike those others, Snoop (whose real name is Calvin Broadus) has also tried to win over Hollywood and Madison Avenue. The lanky Long Beach native played up the humor that has laced some of his biggest hits as well as his own laconic charisma and red-eyed reputation (he's long been viewed as rap's pot-puffing equivalent of Cheech & Chong) to become not just a comedy actor but also a pitchman for T-Mobile, Orbit chewing gum and XM Satellite Radio. For Nokia, he was the halftime act at the Sugar Bowl, and for a Chrysler television ad he and Lee Iacocca mugged together during a round of golf.

The pop-culture ubiquity has made Snoop a known name and face well beyond hip-hop and put his name on a dizzying array of products that include foot-long hot dogs, malt liquor, skateboards, toys, pet accessories, clothes and a Swiss confection called Chronic Candy that is advertised as tasting like marijuana. He's on the cover of the new issue of Rolling Stone magazine pictured in a crooked Santa cap. The headline calls him "America's Most Lovable Pimp."

It's a big role for Snoop, but is it a comfortable one? "I think he said, ' ... it! I'm Snoop, I've been a good boy for too long. If people don't like it, if the cops don't like it, ... 'em,' " said Jerry Heller, a music industry firebrand known for co-founding Ruthless Records with Eazy-E and for launching rap group N.W.A. Heller has known Snoop since the late 1980s. "It renews his credibility. And with a younger demographic, that's everything."

Much of Snoop's cross-media successes have been during his work with the Firm, the management and entertainment venture company that has a client list topped by Leonardo DiCaprio, Kelly Clarkson and Cameron Diaz. The Firm began representing Snoop three years ago.

Not only did the Firm guide Snoop to new millions from endorsements and Hollywood work, it was on its watch that Snoop became hailed for his urban youth football program. The Snoop Youth Football League has more than 2,000 players in 10 local communities. The Firm also works with Ice Cube -- the former N.W.A rapper who now collects his biggest paychecks as a filmmaker and star who came straight outta Compton into the PG-rated world of "Are We There Yet?"

Calls on Thursday to Snoop's manager, Constance Schwartz, were referred to his publicist, Meredith O'Sullivan, who declined to comment. Others close to Snoop, though, say the arrests have been a mixture of the rapper being in some unfortunate settings and situations. They also say that, as with other rappers, his art has amplified media coverage.

Be that as it may, Snoop is clearly in the middle of a bad run of luck, judgment or both. On Oct. 26, police at Bob Hope Airport in Burbank arrested Snoop for alleged possession of a firearm and marijuana. This week he was arrested in Burbank on suspicion of more weapon and drug violations, including cocaine possession. In September, he was arrested at John Wayne Airport in Orange County for possession of a baton weapon. Earlier in the year, the British Home Office put the rapper on the "do not allow entry" list after the rapper and his entourage were involved in "violent disorder" at London's Heathrow Airport.

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