Conventional wisdom holds that rap is a young man’s game. However, conventional wisdom is largely based on broad observations of what has gone before without taking into account one of the most infallible laws of nature: Things change. So long as rap has existed, it has focused on youth, but it is also one of the youngest genres of music — only about forty years, if one counts from the release of “Rapper’s Delight” in 1979 as its official origin. Few rappers have lasted long enough in the public eye to even be counted among the Greatest Of All Time, yet the dominant conversation in hip-hop, almost from its inception, has been the question of which rapper, MC, or entertainer deserves that lofty distinction.
To mitigate the difficulty inherent in dissecting so many divergent styles and approaches, rap heads have taken to asking a slightly milder version: “Who’s in your Top Five?” The list varies from person to person; for some Tupac and Biggie didn’t live long enough, Eminem is too silly, Nas has had too many lulls in quality. But for far too long, one name has been missing from that conversation: Snoop Dogg.
From his first appearance twenty-six years ago, in 1991 on the first single from Dr. Dre’s genre-defining The Chronic, “Ain’t Nothin’ But A G Thang,” Snoop Dogg has captivated the mainstream’s imagination, dazzling us with an air of nonchalant menace. Born Calvin Broadus in the Los Angeles suburb/city of Long Beach, Snoop exudes cool; he is as laid back as he is genuine, approachable yet inscrutable. He has reinvented himself any number of times through nearly three decades of relevance, from his debut album Doggystyle all the way through to his latest, Neva Left, which is releasing this Friday. Yet this one fact remains as immutable as the length of his hair; through Jheri-curls and perms, cornrows and locs, the Dogg is cooler than the breeze in the city he hails from, and his music has been every bit as consistent. It’s long past time for hip-hop to recognize his greatness.