Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Ten Summers Ago...

"Hip hop, I damn near hate y'all/
I'm sick and tired of all these Auto-Tune-ass n****s, I miss Nate Dogg/
- Freddie Gibbs; "Flamboyant (Freestyle)"

Summer begins today, I'm proud to announce. As the City of Angels attempts to shed off the June Gloom cloudiness we've been having - we've got it sooo rough - I've found myself revisiting DJ Steve1der's Nate in '08: The Best of Nate Dogg mix for some reason. Summertime and Nate Dogg hooks simply go together like gin and tonic. And it got me thinking about what hip hop was like just ten years ago, specifically what I was listening to on the radio - you know, like, when I actually used to listen to the radio. The summer of 2001 was a big deal in so many ways. It was special for me because it was the summer before I entered high school. On a national (and international) level, it was the last summer we could fly on an airplane without being molested by airport security. Thanks a lot Osama Bin Laden Saddam Hussein George Bush! But back to hip hop, it was a summer totally dominated by Nate Dogg. Most strikingly, it wasn't a west coast/regional thing.

In December of 2000, Snoop released his final full-length release with No Limit Records, Tha Last Meal. That album spawned a monstrous street single titled "Lay Low", produced by Dr. Dre (and Mike Elizondo), and featuring Nate Dogg, Butch Cassidy, Tha Eastsidaz and Master P. As he often did, Nate Dogg stole the show. That single dropped in March, but it stayed on heavy rotation - at least on my local radio stations - for months, in a similar fashion to Dr. Dre's 2001 singles which preceded it.

A few weeks later - on Juneteenth to be exact - Fabolous unleashed a beast of his own, the bi-coastal anthem "Can't Deny It", featuring Nate on the hook (with backing vocals by Lil' Mo). The track was produced by Bay Area legend Rick Rock and drew its inspiration from 2Pac's opening track on All Eyez on Me, "Ambitionz az a Ridah". Suffice it to say that record received extensive radio play on the West Coast. "Can't Deny It" was Fabolous' first officially-released single.

Just two weeks afterwards, another Nate Dogg-assisted single burst onto the scene: Ludacris' "Area Codes". The promotional value of "Area Codes" was two-fold: 1) it was practically the theme song to Rush Hour 2, the summer blockbuster film starring Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker which grossed $67 million in its opening weekend, and 2) it was the first single for Ludacris' highest-selling (and overall best) album, Word of Mouf, released a few months later on November 6, 2001.

That is sheer dominance. In just one summer, Nate held his own on home turf on the West Coast, at the same time lending his vocal chops to the South (Atlanta) and East Coast (New York/Brooklyn). In addition to the three aforementioned tracks, Nate also collaborated with Jermaine Dupri on "Ballin' Out of Control", all while readying his own solo LP, Music & Me, boosted by the street classic "I Got Love". The phrase "hit-or-miss" had no place in Nate's playbook. He cranked out nothing but hits. Much is said about Nate Dogg's phenomenal hooks. We ought to praise his work ethic too which was, clearly, impeccable. If you wanted to take a capsulated snapshot, a highlight of Nate's greatness, the early-to-mid '90s are a great place to start. But no one, absolutely no one, was touching Nate in the early-to-mid aughts. No one. Long live Nate Dogg, the king of hooks. Turn off the radio © Ice Cube