Thursday, November 10, 2016

Music Culture: An Old "Dogg" in Constant Renewal

Naturally, the premiere episode of Martha & Snoop’s Potluck Dinner Party, which aired Monday night on VH1, is all about fried chicken. I say “naturally” because fried chicken is at once the most potent, and blatant, signifier of black American culinary supremacy and also one of its most loaded ethnic stereotypes. This show’s very premise obliges the cohosts to work through all of this history at the onset. It’s probably in their contracts.

Snoop Dogg and Martha Stewart can’t even agree on how or when to eat fried chicken, much less on how to cook it. Stewart wants to first bathe the raw meat in refrigerated ice water for two days before deep frying. Snoop prefers to season his in white flour with potato chips. Stewart explains that Scottish immigrants introduced fried chicken as we know it to the 13 colonies in the 18th century, and black American slaves improved the recipe by adding the one thing white cuisines tend to leave out: seasoning. “That’s right,” Snoop interjects. “It was AFRICAN Americans who took that BLAND-ass chicken and made that thang do what it do.”

In November 1995, Snoop Doggy Dogg went on trial for murder. The Long Beach rapper, born Calvin Broadus Jr., hired Johnnie Cochran to lead his criminal defense team, as Cochran was fresh off the spectacular acquittal of O.J. Simpson. In general, Death Row Records was home to great legal turmoil from the label’s founding in 1991 through 1996: While Snoop and his former bodyguard McKinley Lee awaited trial on felony counts of murder, assault, and conspiracy charges, Dr. Dre was on house arrest following battery charges, and 2Pac was facing a criminal trial for sexual assault.
On February 20, 1996, an L.A. jury found Snoop not guilty of first- and second-degree murder. The jury reached a deadlock on lesser manslaughter and accessory charges, resulting in a mistrial. The L.A. district attorney’s office ultimately declined to retry Snoop on the remaining charges. Snoop would spend the next few years fighting minor drug possession charges, but the close of his murder trial effectively afforded him a new lease on life and music.
I dredge up all of his ancient history with the criminal courts to underscore just how unlikely it is that Snoop Dogg would have ever become one of the most respected and beloved, if not the very most adorable, rapper in American history. It’s arguably the most spectacular evolution that a rapper has ever achieved.

 Within hip-hop, Snoop has reached the rare, emeritus standing where even rappers who are barely younger than he is refer to him as “Uncle” Snoop — an honorific rap fans apply to the genre’s elder statesmen. As a graying mentor, Snoop is more active, accessible, and relevant than his contemporaries, and has reinvented himself more than any other rapper in the history of the genre. Snoop is cool with newer rap stars like A$AP Rocky and Wiz Khalifa, and he has experienced any contingency they could ever imagine and every war story they will ever know. The breadth of Snoop’s influence immediately proves to be a key asset to the format and potential success of Martha & Snoop’s Potluck Dinner Party, a concept that works as well as it does largely due to how naturally Snoop bridges the nearly 50-year age gap between Stewart and a guy like Wiz.

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