Once upon a time all of Southern California was one area code: 213. There was no agricultural 909, no porn producing 818, no status-conscious 310. When rap was young, the Southland was encapsulated into one big, three-digit neighborhood. “213 is not just a number, it’s a movement,” explains Snoop Dogg who, in the late eighties, was known as Calvin Broadus. Along with Warren Griffin (Warren G) and Nathaniel Hale (Nate Dogg), they founded the famous rhythm and ganster trio that would launch their careers. The results of their collaboration would produce a laid-back sound that later become emblematic of West Coast style, putting their hometown Long Beach on the map and defining the sound of a generation.
Fast forward 25 years or so, and the rap scene has completely evolved. Biggie and Tupac are dead, and Southern rap is now a national phenomenon, stealing thunder from both the right and left coasts. It’s only fitting that the three rappers from the LBC have finally regrouped and once again embraced a sound that became a symbol for Angeleno gangsta rap. Between the three of them, Snoop Dogg, Warren G, and Nate Dogg have sold 25 million units since 213 disbanded. Though they’ve explored different career paths on their own, they’ve remained friends over the years, surviving record deals with Death Row, Def Jam, and Elektra respectively. This time out, they’ve got over two decades of experience under their belts, as well as the world-weariness of having come a long way from the scrappy, early days where they struggled to build their musical identity and street cred.
The turning point occurred back in the day when Warren’s brother Dr. Dre heard a 213 mix tape at a bachelor party. Rather than trying to sell himself to his famous brother, Warren simply popped it into the cassette player. Not knowing what he was listening to, Dre liked what he heard and shouted, “Who is that? That shit is dope. Y’all come to the studio on Monday.” The rest is history, some key points of which include Snoop’s prodigious rap career and appearances in films like Starsky and Hutch, the invention of G-Funk with Warren G’s iconic “Regulate” album, and Nate Dogg’s silky voiced collaborations with artists including Tupac, Fabolous, and Ludacris. “It looks easy,” Snoop says, “because you see three successful artists together. But actually, it’s hard for us to get back together because of all that we’ve been through.”
The results– at least musically—sound effortless. The new album “The Hard Way” intentionally avoids overtly modern, trendy sounding production, sticking to the nostalgic sounds that recall the early days of 213. The Kanye West-produced “Another Summer” is a mellow, joyous celebration of that warmest season, and additional production from Hi-Tek (Talib Kweli), Battlecat (Eastsidaz), and DJ Pooh (Ice Cube) lend a sound that’s more analog than digital, more old school than avant garde. Listening to the album recalls the days when Nathaniel would sing in the church choir, and Calvin sat in the front row, enjoying his friend’s performance. Although the sound recalls the era of Impalas and Eldorados, the vehicular stars of the video for “Groupie Luv” are none other than two totally modern Dub Edition Chrysler 300Cs, one of which is Snoop Dogg’s personal car, outfitted with 22” TIS wheels and Pirelli tires. Warren G’s manager and uncle Wron G. describes the reunion of 213 as the fulfillment of an agreement: “They’ve never been apart. It’s just the business that kept them from working together. When I see them in the studio together, I get chills, because I know that most of us make vows early in life when we are young to achieve a goal together. Think of two buddies that you know from back in the day and the things you promised each other. It usually never happens. But for these guys, it did.”
And though the reunion has been discussed off and on for the last twelve years, ironically it was another mix tape that catalyzed their regrouping. Last summer, Snoop, Warren, and Nate remixed Monica’s “So Gone” into “So Fly”, producing a track that eventually became a number one hit at LA hip hop station Power 106. Ultimately, the creative collaboration flourished and grew into “The Hard Way”. Though friendship seems to be a big part of the supergroup’s reunion, an even bigger motif of the newly re-assembled 213 appears to be that of Westside harmony: “LA has no unity, no structure,” explains Snoop, “If you notice one thing about the South, it’s that they have unity… we [in 213] have great solo careers. But for us to come together, it shows unity, so it will say something to the public that the West Coast is uniting on the love tip… Southern Cali is on the move again. We are gonna be out front and revive the movement.”