YEAR OF THE DOG

In soap operas, everyone loves a good catfight. But ratings really soar when old favorites return, resurrected from last season's plane crash or rescued
Author:
Publish date:

In soap operas, everyone loves a good catfight.

But ratings really soar when old favorites return, resurrected from last season's plane crash or rescued from the clutches of an evil twin. Hip-hop fans likewise love mudslinging, beef and all-star reunions — especially those that match the one-two punch of Snoop Dogg and Tha Dogg Pound.

After more than a decade of turmoil involving the original players of Dr. Dre's 1992 The Chronic and Snoop Doggy Dogg's 1993 Doggystyle (both on Death Row), the feuding members of Tha Dogg Pound — Daz Dillinger and Kurupt — and pack leader Snoop Dogg hunt again on Cali Iz Active (Doggystyle/Koch, 2006). And in 2006 — the year of the dog in the Chinese zodiac — the crew concentrates strictly on unity, ripping mics and restoring the West to hip-hop's throne.

As Death Row Records unraveled in the mid-'90s, Dr. Dre left first, shortly after Tha Dogg Pound's 1995 Dogg Food debut, and was blasted with vicious recrimination from his former homies and new label signee Tupac Shakur. Snoop exited next, followed by Kurupt and then Daz. Each departure was explosive, acrimonious and messy. Imprisoned Death Row CEO Suge Knight played dirty, even from the clink, and the defectors kept to themselves on the other side, although Daz and Kurupt remained tight (and Snoop and Dre later made peace). But when Kurupt returned to Death Row in 2002, the move sparked instant friction with Daz, and dis records volleyed between the camps.

Then in April 2005, Snoop called together the top echelon of West Coast MCs and producers for a West Coast hip-hop peace summit, and Tha Dogg Pound stunned everyone by squashing a beef that had seemed too heated to resolve. Now, with Cali Iz Active, flanked by crack West Coast producers Battlecat and Fredwreck and A-list East Coast beatmakers Swizz Beatz, Jazze Pha and The Alchemist, the early-'90s blood-brother vibe has officially been reinstated.

“Gettin' Tha Dogg Pound back together is the greatest feeling in the world, man. We family,” Snoop Dogg says. “We had an opportunity to just unite the whole West Coast through us, because when we started feuding, everyone else on the West Coast started feuding. So we figured if we got back together, everyone else on the West would follow suit. We were like the new NWA, so to speak, and now we back and just carryin' the torch to the next level, the next episode.”

“This is home, these are my brothers,” Kurupt adds. “We're coming out with the best records of our lives, we ready for the game and enjoying ourselves while we do it. Feels good to be home.”

Meanwhile, Daz puts it simply: “Just another classic Dogg Pound gangsta album.”

CALIFORNIA LOVE

Even as Tha Dogg Pound plot world domination, Cali remains home base. Battlecat and Fredwreck keep it true to the West Coast, serving up the head nod, the bump and the hydraulic bounce California is famous for.

Take lead single “Cali Iz Active,” produced by Battlecat (who also lent production skills to Snoop Dogg's “Stacey Adams,” Lucy Pearl's “You” and Kurupt's “We Can Freak It”), which combines robots and lowriding as only the West can. Computerized hype vocals sink into a slippery, deep bass groove, as midtempo drum claps and warbling, pitch-modulated synths keep it live and funky. Kurupt spits the rhyme menace, Daz reps the L.A. gang-bang grind and Snoop maneuvers effortlessly through the mix with signature confidence and drawl.

Reinterpreting both the 1983 vocoder-drenched Royal Cash funk joint “Radio Activity (Let's Jam)” and the subsequent 1984 remake “Radio Activity Rapp” by early West Coast rap act MC Fosty and Lovin' C, the record draws from the past to rep for the present. “‘Cali Iz Active’ is that original West Coast shit — G'd up, bangin' — with bass that beats motherfuckers' cars down,” Kurupt says. “That's what the West Coast is made of. Ooh, it's smokin', too.”

“What Snoopy and them wanted was to have a teaspoon taste of music from way back when,” Battlecat says. “‘Radio Activity’ was definitely a club disco record. People skated to it, and the way that I got it sounding, it still feels like that. You can hear it from the hi-hat pattern; it reminds you of the rhythm of skating.”

Revisiting hip-hop's beginnings is also about educating the younger fans. “[The '80s], that's my era,” Snoop says. “A lot of youngsters don't know about [MC Fosty and Lovin' C], so they basically figure that's a new song which we made up, but when they find out their history, they'll know what's up — that '80s West Coast, that old L.A. feel.”

After banging out the beat on the Akai MPC3000, Battlecat handed the track to Snoop, Daz and Kurupt with rough bass and keyboard lines as placeholders. Once everyone laid down rhymes, he recalibrated the Roland JV-2080, Yamaha Motif ES6 and Moog Minimoog to maximum fatness, vibing off the energy the MCs had brought to the track.

“When it's time to finish the record, what I usually do is feed off of the cadence and rhythms of the artist, to improvise more feel, especially in the bass,” Battlecat says. “I had a straight bass line [over which] they could just compose and do them, and then when it was time, I went back and added more. I wanted the bass line to be growling, so what I did was combine two bass oscillators — Minimoogs have three oscillators, where you can put three waveforms on one sound. I combined two waveforms and EQ'd them different, but then I grouped the bass lines to come out of one channel, turned on a couple of nice preset EQs, and it got that growl. It was full, melodic and big fat funk at the same time.”

A huge fan of Roger Troutman and Zapp, Battlecat then gave the track some retro-computer love by tweaking the recurring vocal “Let's bang, Cali iz active” with vocoder effects from his Korg MS2000.

“When I brought the hook to Snoopy, he was overwhelmed and ecstatic to the point where we went directly back in the studio so he could sing along with me over the record,” he says. “I laid it down, and he stacked it with me. I didn't use no talkbox on top of it — the original version is just vocoder — so it was just me and Snoopy singing along with the vocoder patch. And what made it so crazy is that Cali is active. We got everyone together again.”

In fact, the video shoot for the single built off the West Coast peace summit in a history-making display of coastal unity. A who's who of West Coast MCs and producers joined Snoop and Tha Dogg Pound for the shoot: Ice Cube, MC Eiht, DJ Quik, WC, King Tee, Too Short, Warren G, Xzibit, Soopafly, Battlecat, Fredwreck and Dilated Peoples, among others. It was a star-studded Golden State showing not seen since Dr. Dre's “Nuthin' but a ‘G’ Thang” video in 1992.

OLD-SCHOOL ACCENTS

The world first heard the reunited Doggystyle-era West Coast dream team late last year, when Snoop, Daz, Kurupt and Nate Dogg joined forces on the lead single “Real Soon” from Big Snoop Dogg Presents: Welcome to Tha Chuuch: Tha Album (Doggystyle/Koch 2005). The Battlecat-produced track set the stage for the full-length project and, like the “Cali Iz Active” single, showed much love to the old school.

Connoisseurs of '70s soul will recognize portions of Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes' 1975 Teddy Pendergrass/Sharon Paige duet “Hope That We Can Be Together Soon” in the track, especially in the distinctive delay of the wah-wah guitar, which lends a relaxed, aquatic texture to the proceedings.

“There was a kick on the original composition right where I wanted to sample, so I had to truncate the beginning, which gave it that ‘watery’ effect. Other than that, I just took the stab of each melody of the original song, sampling every individual chord,” Battlecat says. “It was easy for me to move the tempo of the track the way I wanted because I only sampled the stab. I learned early on in sampling that the only way I could get my own tempo to any sample was by chopping it up. And then, of course, I use a delay, as well, to sustain the sound of that sample, so it felt natural like in the original composition.”

To further finesse his samples, Battlecat also does some EQ surgery. “When you're using a kick on top of a sample that already has a kick on it, to avoid conflict I usually chop the attack of the frequency,” Battlecat says. “I make sure it has one solid kick drum, not really two. It just makes it more solid.”

Adapting the original's theme of lovers apart to homies missing their brothers in jail, “Real Soon” shows Tha Dogg Pound as still street-oriented, but at a more mature phase in life.

“I was very grateful that we could put a positive expression over the sample because we grew up on Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes and Teddy Pendergrass,” Battlecat says. “And for us to put a positive expression over that music, for anyone who's had a lost one or has unfortunately done time in the nasty system, made it that much better.”

One classic begets another. “It's a treat to be able to take an old-school beat, rip it and flip it and make it relevant to right now,” Snoop adds. “Teddy Pendergrass was a gangster around here. I grew up a fan of music — that's why a lot of times you see me going back grabbing old-school artists, using old-school samples and whatnot — because that's my world, I come from there, being raised off of music.”

For Snoop, Battlecat's creativity and reverence for the old school make the producer the ideal collaborator. “Me and Battlecat, we work together like, basically, brothers,” Snoop says. “He loves taking direction from me, and whatever I'm working on, I like to give him room and space. He really gets me and understands the direction I'm trying to go in. He's always stretchin' it and pullin' it and coming up with different sounds and styles. That's why we always use him to kick off that West Coast sound. Battlecat is one of the pioneers in this right here, so when we make music together, it always works. It's love and marriage.”

Kurupt feels the sentimental vibes, too. “I like tight, and I like dope, and Battlecat doing Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, that's tight and dope,” Kurupt says. “Battlecat's been bringing classics, shit you're gonna grow up to. Old-school, OG shit.”

SAWTOOTH-BUZZ MECHANICS

On the more sonically aggressive side of the equation, Fredwreck (known for Mobb Deep's “Have a Party” featuring 50 Cent and Nate Dogg, Westside Connection's “Gangsta Nation” and Snoop Dogg's “Paper'd Up”) enters the fray with “Get in My Car,” featuring B-Real of Cypress Hill alongside Daz, Kurupt and Nate Dogg. Juxtaposing an electric lumberjack Moog buzz with an aggressive horn line that revs up like a car engine, the track sounds as if the L.A. producer refused to settle for less than maximum vibration velocity.

“The horns were a sample that I chopped up, plus some horns I played over that,” Fredwreck says. “I chopped up the drum break with the MPC3000 and then put in some Moog bass but with the filter opened up real wide. So it wasn't like bass like brooo, it was more like aeeeh, like a buzz sawtooth underneath the horns just to give it a drive. And then I played some different bongo patterns through the whole thing, found an eight-bar loop I liked and sampled it with the drum machine.

“It's real aggressive but it's also, if you remember, most of the best Dogg Pound tracks have a bit of a sarcastic comedy type attitude to them,” Fredwreck continues. “Like ‘Ain't No Fun (If My Homies Can't Have None)’ [from Doggystyle], it's funny. This track sounds like some shoot-'em-up type of shit but with Nate Dogg singing smooth about women acting up in the car. It's funny, but it's still gangsta.”

According to Fredwreck, Nate Dogg came up with the hook for the track immediately after hearing the beat. “Then Kurupt came over and was like, ‘That shit is banging; let me lay something on that!’ So he laid two versions down, and we spaced it so Daz could be on there. Then B-Real came by while we were working, smoked us out and was like, ‘Yo, what is this shit for? This is hot!’”

“As soon as Fred played it for me, I was jumping,” Kurupt says. “Nate was already on there, so it was real simple for me, I just followed Nate's lead. Us and Nate is so classic, anyway, so it just felt right. Nate Dogg, Kurupt, B-Real and Daz — wow, what a combination. It's like a home-run hit.”

CALLING ALL COASTS

“There's no excuse for not getting down with Tha Dogg Pound this time — we got something for everybody,” Daz says. “I was like ‘Yo, we gotta come with something hard, where we just straight bustin,’ and that's what we did.”

Multiregional and radio-friendly, the album reaches out to all coasts. Second single “Sittin' on 23z,” produced by Swizz Beatz, aims for love in the East, chopping up the hook stutter-style, as on recent Swizz club tracks “Bring ‘Em Out” (T.I.) and “I'm a Hustla” (Cassidy). Elsewhere, “She Likes That” injects a smoothed-out Jazze Pha vibe, while “Wat Da Fuc,” produced by J.R., sees Busta Rhymes wildin' out to an approximation of Northern California's hyperkinetic cousin of crunk music, hyphy. Guest MCs similarly span the spectrum, from extended Dogg Pound family RBX, Bad Azz and Soopafly to Southern favorites David Banner and Paul Wall.

“We got the East Coast, we got the South, we just trying to merge everything and keep it crackin',” Daz says.

But while unity is the name of the game, the group still maintains West Coast loyalty. “California is the pinnacle of everything,” Snoop says, “and right now we got our groove down, our stroke is moving, and everybody is interested in what we got to say and what we tryin' to do, so we basically rolling right now. It's just going to get bigger and better as we go.”

In the year of the dog, Tha Dogg Pound ain't about to settle for scraps.

ANALOG CAT ADAPTS

A self-professed '70s cat, Battlecat takes his inspiration from the records of the '70s and '80s, but with the Roland JV-2080, he mixes old-school technique with rackmount innovation.

“The fact that I'm an analog fanatic, I always go for the analog, but I know how to adapt,” Battlecat says. “Like with the 2080, I use the sounds in the stock presets, but I also go inside. They have an editing selection in the module where you can go in and reinforce or reshape the sound. I'm an analog programmer, so I program today's modules in the same expression as the old modules, like the [Oberheim] OB-8s or [Sequential Circuits] Prophets.”

Sometimes whipper-snapper gear even exceeds expectations. “I bought that 2080 module because the sounds that came with it were like the records that I grew up with. Some were even cleaner and more accessible,” Battlecat says. “Opposed to the original instrument, man, if space is an issue or if you travel, that's where a 2080 saves you. For a rackmount module, it has the real vintage-synth sound — not something that's just half of the sound of the original keyboard.”

For Battlecat, the Roland JV-2080 offers a wealth of options, not the least of which is simplicity. “The 2080 has some of the same features as far as editing, just like the old school, but it's self-contained,” he says. “You can save internally instead of putting it on a card — which is something I suggest that any upcoming musician do. Always find a module that is hands-on friendly, easy to use and does a lot in a simple fashion.”

DOGG POUND SOUND

BATTLECAT

Computer, DAW, recording hardware

Apogee A/D converters
Apple Mac G5 with Digidesign Pro Tools|HD system running Pro Tools 7.1 at 96 kHz
Apple Mac G4 PowerBook running Digidesign Pro Tools LE

Console/mixer

Mackie D8B Digital 8-Bus Mixer
SSL G series console

Samplers, drum machines, turntables, DJ mixer

Akai MPC3000 sampler/drum machine
Pioneer CDJ-1000 CD turntables
Rane Empath mixer
Technics SL-1200 turntables

Synths, modules, software and plug-ins

IK Multimedia SampleTank 2 software
Korg MS2000 synth
M-Audio Oxygen8 MIDI controller
Moog Music Minimoog Voyager synth
Native Instruments Battery 2 software
Propellerhead Reason 3.0 software
Roland JV-2080 synth module
Steinberg Cubase SX3 software
Studio Electronics ATC-1 synth module
Waves Platinum Bundle plug-ins
Yamaha Motif ES6 synth

Mics, preamps, compressors, EQ

Avalon Design Vt-737sp preamp/compressor/EQ
Neumann U 87 mic
PreSonus BlueTube preamp

Monitors

Pioneer Electronics TADs: “As far as big monitor speakers, it's always going to be TADs until I'm in the grass,” Battlecat says.
Yamaha NS10s

FREDWRECK

Computer, DAW, recording hardware

Apple Mac G4 with Digidesign Pro Tools|HD running Pro Tools

Console/mixer

Mackie D8B Digital 8-Bus Mixer

Samplers, drum machines, turntables

Akai MPC3000 sampler/drum machine
E-mu Systems SP-1200 sampler/drum machine
Technics SL-1200 turntables

Synths, modules, software and instruments

Access Virus synth
ARP Pro-Soloist, Solina String Ensemble synths
Clavia Nord Lead, Nord Lead 3 synths
Fender Jazz Bass, Precision Bass, Rhodes Suitcase Piano
Fender Stratocaster guitar
GForce Minimonsta: “I fought soft synths for a long time because most of the ones that I'd heard were really cheesy,” Fredwreck says. “But then Mike Elizondo and Dr. Dre showed me the Minimonsta Moog sound on a laptop, and I was just like, ‘That shit sounds great.’”
Hohner Telecaster guitar
IK Multimedia Miroslav Philharmonik
Korg Triton synth
Moog Music Minimoog Voyager synth
Native Instruments Absynth, Guitar Rig, Kompakt
Novation SuperNova synth module
Oberheim OB-8 synth
Roland Juno-106, XV-5080 synths
Sequential Circuits Pro-One, Prophet-5 synths
Studio Electronics ATC-1 synth module

Mics, preamps, compressors, EQs

AKG Acoustics C 414 mic
API 550 EQ
Avalon Design Vt-737sp preamp/compressor/EQ
Moog Music Moogerfooger MF-101 Lowpass Filter: “If I'm using a live bass, I almost always use one of those Moogerfooger Lowpass Filter pedals,” Fredwreck says.
Sony C800G mic

Monitors

Mackie SRM450 powered speakers
Yamaha NS10s