Today is the birthday of Calvin Cordozar Broadus Jr – aka Snoop Doggy Dogg. Now at the age of 46, the evergreen rapper has remained a staple in pop culture since his 1992 breakthrough on Dr. Dre’s Deep Cover.
His debut heralded a new sound of hip-hop on the West Coast, and with Dr. Dre they pioneered the era of G-funk and gangsta rap. Before he was signed he was just a skinny teen from the Eastside of Long Beach, California, riding with the infamous Rollin’ 20 Crips.
Fast forward to today and he’s now one of the elder statesmen in hip-hop culture, a staunch campaigner for the decriminalisation of marijuana in America and host of a TV show with famed homemaker Martha Stewart. And they say gangsta rap is nothing but bad news.
However Snoop’s illustrious career nearly came to a grinding halt, just as it was kicking off, which almost robbed us of one of the most influential personalities in pop culture.
In 1993 Snoop, along with his bodyguard McKinley Lee, were charged with first and second degree murder of Philip Woldemariam – a known gang member.
The incident in question took place when Snoop heard a disturbance outside of his LA apartment. A friend of his, Sam Abrams, was involved in an argument with a group of gang members when he and his bodyguard went outside to end the dispute. The LA Times reported from Snoop’s defence later that day he, Lee, and Abrams spotted a group of men outside a Palms park which triggered an altercation.
The result of the altercation left Woldemariam dead from a gunshot wound. The shot was fired by Lee, however Snoop and Abrams were both charged with first and second degree murder. After a brief stint on the run Snoop eventually turned himself in at that year’s MTV Music Awards show. The charges against Lee were dropped but Snoop and his bodyguard had to post bail for $1 million, both were placed under house arrest for two years before the trial began.
Woldemariam’s death happened just months before the debut of Snoop’s first LP Doggystyle, and while he could’ve done with out the negativity surrounding the release it nonetheless made for good promotion at the time. Doggystyle went onto sell over five million copies with classic joints such as Gin and Juice, Who Am I? (What’s My Name?) and (perhaps the ill-advised titled) Murder Was The Case.
Even before the beginning of his trial the media and general public were quick to paint the Long Beach rapper as guilty due to his fame and his gang affiliation. Over in the UK tabloid newspapers such as the Daily Star dedicated a full front page spread to him, even labelling him as an ‘Evil B*stard’ who wasn’t welcome – which is the sort of rhetoric and sentiment which remains today, only it’s reserved for supposed benefit-cheating immigrants and those who look like terrorists.
1994. When they hated me for keeping it g. Now everybody loves me time brings change ✨????? pic.twitter.com/tMs0Qy2xY4
— Snoop Dogg (@SnoopDogg) January 17, 2016
No matter the outcome of Snoop’s commercial success, he and Lee were facing a longtime in prison, it didn’t matter if he was famous or that Lee shot Woldemriam in self-defence. His past with the Crips, and perhaps his affiliation with Dr. Dre – who played an integral part in NWA’s F*ck Tha Police, made sure the odds were stacked against them.
It was in that moment Snoop turned to the only man who could get both him and Lee out of this situation, Johnnie Cochran. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, or you haven’t watched American Crime Story, Cochran was the lawyer who got OJ Simpson acquitted from his infamous murder trial a year before.
Due to the success of the Simpson verdict Cochran was a celebrity in his own right, after all he had just won case for man who – by all accounts – was facing a lifetime in prison with the amount of evidence against him. It made him seem invincible in the courtroom.
When Cochran represented Snoop and Lee, he only needed one witness while the prosecution called up two dozen, he also pointed out to the court that the LAPD had ‘lost’ crucial evidence. It was an key issue in proving Simpson’s innocence a year prior and a recurring controversy in cases of police brutality (i.e. the death of Alton Sterling last year in which police allegedly ‘stole’ surveillance tapes from the store where he was killed).
In the case of Snoop and Lee, the court discovered key evidence such as Woldemariam’s bloody shirt, a bullet, and a shell casing mysteriously went missing while in the possession of the LAPD.
On 21st February 1996 both men were found not guilty of first and second degree murder. The juror’s accepted Lee had acted in self-defence, while Snoop was cleared of both second degree and manslaughter charges.
According to the LA Times’ court reporter:
Lee sank back in his chair and sighed, and Broadus held his hands as if in prayer and bowed his head. Afterward, the two men clasped hands.
Straight after the court case a relieved Snoop gave an off-the-cuff interview with MTV (when they were still about the music) to talk about his ordeal, their relief at the verdict and to criticise the justice system which tried to setup both men up for the fall.
The moment proved cathartic, it changed the course of his career and he started to move away from the more ‘gangster’ elements of his persona. It was still part of him, yes, but he’d be damned if he’d let it define his whole career.
Once he left the negativity surrounding his record label, Death Row (with Dre leaving in March and the death of good friend Tupac Shakur in the September after the trial) Snoop was able to transform himself into an artist who was accessible to both the streets and the mainstream market.
Today Snoop Doggy Dogg has transcended his music career. He’s a bona fide one man brand who’s not afraid to step outside of his comfort zone. Be it cooking with Martha Stewart, adding his voice to sat navs or heavily investing/monopolising in the cannabis industry (actually that one was always a given), Snoop is now a cultural icon up there with Johnny Cash, Elvis, The Beatles and Michael Jackson.
When he eventually leaves this old Earth his gravestone should read ‘Here lies the D-O-double-G, he did whatever he liked, he was damn good at it and he had a damned fun time while doing so’.
And to think, it never nearly happened because of one day in LA.