Snoop Dogg settles into the control room of a massive Los Angeles recording studio. The lanky rap star, dressed casually in a black-and-red athletic jacket and a gray knit cap, looks tired after just returning from a European tour with Diddy.
But Snoop quickly comes alive when talk turns to his new compilation album, "The Big Squeeze," which marks two milestones for the musician and mogul. The collection, which came out this week on Snoop's Doggy Style Records, establishes him as the premier recruiter and promoter of West Coast rap talent (the groups Westurn Union and Warzone, rapper Kurupt, R&B singer Azure, most of whom are in other sections of the studio relaxing and networking on this afternoon). The album also marks Snoop's entry into production, under the name Niggaracci. "Until I did this record, none of these guys had nothing ready to come out," Snoop says as he leans forward in his chair. "Nobody was knocking on their doors saying, 'Hey, man, when's your album coming out? I want to give you this opportunity.' So, this is me just bum-rushing the game, squeezing the game right now, saying, 'Forget that. Ya'll going to listen to this right now.' "
Like some other Los Angeles rap stars, Snoop Dogg has a history of releasing successful groups. Earlier this decade, he released one gold and one platinum album with his side group Tha Eastsidaz, and he had a deal for Doggy Style with MCA, which dissolved when the label folded.
Koch Records, an independent label based in New York that distributes Snoop Dogg's records released through his former recording home, Death Row Records, understood his clout (he has sold more than 17 million albums, according to Nielsen SoundScan) and was eager to do full-time business with him.
"It's still a star business, and he's one of the top three or four guys," says Alan Grunblatt, general manager of Koch. "He did have big records with Tha Eastsidaz, so it's not like he hasn't been successful in the past and he can't be successful again."
"The Big Squeeze" features enjoyable, funk-inspired production from Snoop Dogg and prominent appearances from Westurn Union and Warzone, the groups Snoop Dogg and Koch plan to release full studio albums from later in 2007. Westurn Union comprises longtime Snoop Dogg affiliate Soopafly, Columbia Records artist Damani and promising newcomer Bad Lucc. They're at different stages of their careers, but they know that working with Snoop Dogg gives them a tremendous advantage. "We had to mess with Snoop," Soopafly says. "He's the only one looking back and really reaching out to those that don't have it. He understands West Coast music the best, more so than any label."
The West Coast's affiliation with and promotion of the gangster rap lifestyle may also turn off the record companies that once championed that style of rap. Snoop Dogg would not comment on his extensive, ongoing dance with the legal system. He pleaded no contest this month to felony gun and drug charges. He was sentenced to probation and community service.
Warzone, made up of established rappers MC Eiht and Kam and Eastsidaz member Goldie Loc, felt that its veteran status, harsh street music and successful track record affected it negatively. "Being from the streets, everybody had their own circles that they ran in," MC Eiht says as he relaxes in a studio lounge. "I don't know if they were afraid that the person was going to get bigger than them. This is sort of like a competition."
Snoop Dogg is pleased that he's able to give artists a chance to become stars, just as Dr. Dre did with him more than a decade ago.
"It was just a matter of time before these record labels would give me a scenario like a Jay-Z or a Jermaine Dupri," he says. "All these labels call me when they get ready to put an artist out and they need a hot single or Snoop on a verse, but they won't give me that look for my people, so I had to really just be effective and efficient and say, 'You know what, I'm not going to wait on nothing because it's the same game every time.' I just decided to produce this record, put it out and shoot dice like I always do. If it crap out, we'll shoot again. If it hit, we'll still shoot again. That's what we do."