Warren G Ain't Trippin, Ain't Mad, and Is Forever Hip-Hop's Unsung Legend
We sit down with the G-funk great to talk his new documentary, the birth of West Coast rap, and his legacy beyond "Regulate."
To have grown up in Los Angeles in the 90s is to have, lurking somewhere in your freeway-particulate-addled pate, the music of Warren G. Those beats and rhymes didn’t have to be drilled in; they’ve been there since birth, because G-funk is a foundational building block in all of our genetic codes. A small part of Warren G lays in wait inside of us, quiet and smooth as he is, ready to spring into action at the first hint of Michael McDonald’s “I Keep Forgetting,” the ur-text for his “Regulate.” But reducing the Long Beach native’s career to his biggest hit does him – and my genes – a disservice.
Although it was irresistible, "Regulate" – the lead single from Warren G’s 1994 debut, Regulate...G Funk Era – was an exception. Suge Knight, miffed that he’d let Dr. Dre’s kid stepbrother slip into the clutches of Def Jam, refused to allow Death Row artists to collaborate with Warren G. Knight’s dictum meant that Snoop Dogg and Nate Dogg – Warren’s best friends since early childhood and two-thirds of their LBC rap group 213 – were almost entirely absent from his album. It was a cruel, petty gesture from a man who willingly specialised in them – but it didn’t thwart the fresh-faced Warren G. Aided by a cast of young, largely unknown Long Beach rappers (and the popularity of he, Nate Dogg, and Mista Grimm’s “Indo Smoke” from the Poetic Justice soundtrack), Regulate… went triple platinum.
With previously unseen footage and appearances by G-funk luminaries like Snoop Dogg, Too $hort, and Ice Cube (and Deion Sanders), Warren G’s new documentary, G-Funk – out today on YouTube Premium – attempts to explain the early-mid 90s hip-hop zeitgeist at which he was the centre. In situating Regulate… as the logical successor to Dr. Dre’s The Chronic and Snoop Dogg’s Doggystyle, the documentary presents a clear, accessible storyline about each album’s creation and cultural import, and correctly argues that Warren G deserves critical recognition. That triptych of albums, along with DJ Quik’s Safe + Sound, are essential to understanding a metropolitan area in the throes of polarising violence and racial tensions.
As the 90s passed into the 00s, “Funky Worm” wail and Parliament-Funkadelic samples went out of vogue. Scores of Warren G’s peers fell by the wayside, but he continued to progress as a musician. With songs like “Annie Mae,” “I Want It All,” and the subtle, soulful “I Need A Light,” Warren G retained the melodic, breezy qualities of G-funk without falling prey to atavism and nostalgia. But, because he never appeared to embrace solo stardom to the degree that fellow rapper-producers DJ Quik and Dr. Dre did, Warren G’s robust discography remains critically under-appreciated.
Though it’s been nearly a decade since his last full-length album, 2009’s The G Files, Warren G is comfortable and unhurried. Middle age is treating him kindly: He’s a father of four, with a passion for barbecuing and smoking meats, and he shows up to our interview a tad stoned in the harmless, hardly perceptible way cool dads seem to get stoned. And although he’s on a press run for the documentary, and he’s being cajoled by two separate publicists, and it’s an apocalyptically hot day in Los Angeles, he’s dressed in olive-coloured pants and a matching camouflage hoodie – and a bead of sweat never crosses his unblemished brow. Warren’s childhood nickname is every ounce the truth: He really is Sir Cool.
Noisey: What was the electro, pre-NWA era like for you? Was it big in Long Beach?
Warren G: Herbie Hancock, he was kinda electric, you had Julio G and the Mixmasters at [seminal LA hip-hop station] KDAY. That the poppin and lockin era [pauses to do some rudimentary dance moves]. It was big everywhere; that whole era was huge. Those parties were huge, that’s where you were sweating. That’s when people were really getting their dance on.
How did you become aware of rap? Was it through Sugarhill Records stuff, or did you access it through electro?
It was both. You had guys Afrika Bambaataa and “Planet Rock” – it was hip-hop but it was electric, too. Like you said, Sugarhill Gang, Treacherous Three, Ultramagnetic MCs, Jimmy Spicer, Kool Moe Dee, Kool Herc, LA Dream Team, Ice-T...man...Fat Boys, Beastie Boys, Run-DMC, Captain Rapp that was out of Long Beach––
––That was the first LA rap single, right?
My buddy was involved in that! Money B, who helped us do our first 213 demo.
Were you still calling yourself Sir Cool when you made the demo?
Nah, I was called, uh…[ pauses before laughing loudly] It was Snoop Dogg and Woodstock! Sir Cool was my name for a long time, man. That’s still one of my nicknames. I had a jacket that said “O.G. Sir Cool” way back when – shit, I wasn’t nothin’ but 10, 11 years old, but I called myself a “G.”
"Shit, I wasn’t nothin’ but 10, 11 years old, but I called myself a 'G.'"
I’ve heard a couple songs from the demo. Can you describe the process?
We did it in my buddy Money B’s mother’s room. They had a one or two bedroom apartment, and we was in her room. She used to get so mad. Like, he was getting in a lot of trouble but we were still going in there recording. What we would do is, he had a little four-track or eight-track recorder. We’d put the beat on there and hit record.
I saw in the documentary that you and Snoop would see each other across a playground on your way to elementary school. Do you remember your first impressions of him?
Me and my sister Mitsy would play Asteroids and then go to school and, y’know, we’d walk through the park and [Snoop and I] would bump heads. Jerry, Snoop’s brother, was my best friend back then. Then me and Snoop ended up being best friends – but both of ‘em was my dawgs. Me and Snoop ended up super best friends. He was funny [laughs]. We used to call it “bagging” – he bagged on everybody, no matter who it was.
One of the things that’s notable about the 213 demo is that it’s basically pre-G-funk, and it doesn’t have the sway or “Funky Worm”-style wail. What was inspiring your production at the time?
I just wanted to make good, feel-good music. I was inspired by everything that was going on: N.W.A., Eazy-E, J.J. Fad, Ice Cube, 415, DJ Quik. All those people were inspiring us. Shit, we was like, “Shit, if Quik can do it, we can do it.” He got a mixtape out and that circulated and got to us, so we did 213.
You got passed over by Suge, and in the documentary it’s portrayed as being a shocking and devastating moment. In the long run do you think that was for the better?
Definitely. It was like a blessing. And for Dre to say, “Go be your own man and create your own lane,” it was definitely a blessing. He might’ve seen some shit I couldn’t see because I was so young. My thing is this: I ain’t got nothin’ against Suge Knight. I wanted to be down with my guys that I started with, but I was like, “It’s cool, I’m gonna do what I gotta do.” It hurted. But I had to do what I had to do.
"I ain’t trippin, I ain’t mad, and I ain’t bitter––and never will be."
Where we come from, if you’re down with somebody, you’re ride or die wit’ ‘em, so that’s just the way I was. It had felt kinda funny to be willing to put my all on the line, and I’m giving up 95 and only getting 5 back. I ain’t trippin, I ain’t mad, and I ain’t bitter – and never will be. And I still love Dre, Snoop, them is my brothers. If I have to call anybody, I’ll call them.
I have two very specific questions about The Chronic. First: do you know who the kid is in the “Nuthin But A G Thang” video is?
That’s my homeboy Dewayne’s son. That’s Lil’ ‘Wayne. He graduated college with an engineering degree from Arizona State. He’s doing stuff out there in Arizona.
Second: Who did you call in the “Deeez Nuuuts” skit?
Oh my god, that was my homegirl – god damn, you done messed me up – it’s right on the tip of my tongue. She’s gonna kill me. That was my homegirl, I called her, and what’s so crazy is I was trying to get at her. Like this was a real conversation. I told Dre to turn on the mic and said ‘I’m fixin’ to call this girl.’ ‘Cuz I was trying to get at her at the time, so I called her on the phone and asked ‘What you doin’ today?’ ‘Oh, gettin’ my nail done?’ ‘Is that right? Okay. Did what’s his name get at you?’ ‘Who?’ ‘Deeez nuuuts.’ [Laughs uproariously]
And we had some Rudy Ray Moore records we was listening to that and, Rudy Ray Moore said the perfect line: "If I had some nuts on my chin…" you know what I’m sayin’? "Hell naw, you’d have a dick in your mouth." We just did [the skit], just being creative. I did "1-900-2-Compton" on the N.W.A. album Efil4Zaggin, too.
In the documentary there’s a sense of destiny with The Chronic – you knew it was going to be big – but did you have the same feeling during the Doggystyle sessions?
Yeah, definitely. Just from the music I was hearing. You had one of the best producers working on it, and everything that was coming out of it – the sound was so crispy, so clean and clear and original. That was that shit.
Coincidentally, when I turned my car to come to the interview the first thing I heard was your verse on “Ain’t No Fun” on KDAY. What can you tell me about that song?
Well, I walked in on that session. They was already recording the record when I walked in and when I heard it I was like [affects a tone of childlike wonderment], "Can I get on this?" They was like, "Go ‘head write a verse." And, shit, I went right in the vocal booth and wrote that motherfucker. And I start that off with, "Whoo, hey, now ya’ know / inhale exhale with my flow / one for the money, two for the bitches, three to get ready, and four to hit the switches." That was my style right there, that I learnt listening to a lot of old school hip-hop.
After that you began doing your own thing, and I was curious as to how you found Mista Grimm, since he’s from West Covina.
We was at a open mic type of thing. I met him there. We just clicked, and I was pretty much on my own, just doing my thin, looking for artists to do records with. I said, "Let’s do a record together." That’s what brought on "Indo Smoke."
When you were making it did you think it was a hit?
I knew it sounded good. That was my whole thing; it sounded good, it felt good. A lot of those records, I’d get goosebumps just like, "Damn, I got that feeling, I got that vibe. This is my shit." That’s when you know it’s a good record.
I was just listening to Drake’s record when it came out. I like the song "8 Out of 10." Every record I hear, I usually call the single. I really think that could be his next single. That’s a pretty dope record. Either that or "Emotionless." Guaranteed. I heard Kendrick’s record – [ sings] "Bitch don’t kill my vibe" – [and said] that’s the one. Cuz you get that feeling. "This is it."
"That was my whole thing; it sounded good, it felt good."
I also wanted to ask you about Jah Skillz and The Twinz.
The Twinz was from Long Beach and they rapped. I brought ‘em along with me and said, "Let’s Go." And Jah Skillz, I met her [while] she was going to Long Beach State. I used to go up to Long Beach State all the time to parties. She was like, "I could rap," so I said "Bust." I’m sitting up there in the 600 Benz with the top back and she busts right there. I said, "You know what? I want you on my album." We’ve been tight ever since. And she’s still dope. Guaranteed she’s dope, dope, dope. I’m gonna get her on some new shit.
As the 90s progressed, your sound evolved. Were you consciously evolving the G-funk sound to match the times, or was that something you’d have undertaken no matter what?
It would’ve been undertaken no matter what. It was straight good feelin’ music. "Where rhythm is life and life is rhythm." Some of the records we had, I’d use some of the bass lines. I can’t remember what it’s called – it’s from the Moog – we’ll call it the "Farty" [impersonates a heavy bass sound] wahh wahh wahh wahh. We incorporated some of those sounds into our music along with live instrumentation.
Did you feel responsible for preserving G-funk?
Yeah, I could say that. Well Above the Law is who put me on. They was the first guys to start with G-funk. They took me in as a young kid and I was part of G-funk then. But what I did when their situation started fading out with Ruthless [Records] and it wasn’t happening no more, I kept it alive and took it and made it worldwide. And Dre and Snoop – they’re G-funk, too.
You eventually did get to do the 213 record––
—I know what you gon’ ask me.
––How come I didn’t produce nothin’ on it?
––I wasn’t gonna ask you that, but why didn’t you produce anything on it?
I have no idea. I guess Snoop wanted to work with all these other producers so I said, "It’s all good." The shit we did was dope. I’m not gonna lie. We need to re-release that ‘cuz nobody really got a chance to soak into it.
"Right now that  album would tear everything that’s out right now. It’s real, and everybody can relate to it."
I grew up in LA and I remember the 213 album coming out and hearing it, but I don’t know if it’s had the same resonance that it should.
Right now that album would tear everything that’s out right now. It’s real, and everybody can relate to it.
Was it a relief to do that album?
Yeah, it was a relief to get in there. That was some of the funnest times of my life. Because we did it up in Diamond Bar. Snoop had a whole, two-story house that we had made into a studio in the upstairs. It was some of the most fun I had recording throughout my journey in this hip-hop shit. It was so cool because we had a kitchen; we’d be cooking, sometimes we barbecuing, sometimes making chicken, everything. Just eatin’, having a good time, a lot of friends over, people downstairs playing cards. We upstairs working. It was nice and fun.
I know you cook, but did Snoop and Nate cook?
Yeah! Snoop could fry the shit out of some chicken wings! And pork chops! He make some of the best pork chops in the game. That motherfucker will throw a whole pound of bacon and fry that shit up with the chicken. Snoop crazy.
What can you tell me about your catering company, Sniffin’ Griffin’s?
It’s bite through. Music and food go together; listening to some good music and eating some good food is the best shit ever. I just like to barbecue. I’ve always wanted to do it. Even when we was on the spot, watching my parents do it as a kid. It just stuck with me.
A lot of guys who do it use those thermometers – I know how to cook my food where I don’t need none of that shit. I do it off of feeling. The temperature tells a lot – my ribs, I do those between 225 and 275 if I wanna go hot and fast – and I’ll get my damper to where it’s solid and holds temperature. Just keep feeding it after that.
I’ve always been doing it, but I did it on a regular pit, just with charcoal. I was heavy into wood, but I was using wood chunks and I’d throw that onto charcoal. Now it’s straight wood into a real smoker. I got a cabinet smoker with vertical vaults and a Santa Maria Grill.
I’ve read that you feel like In The Mid-Nite Hour is under-appreciated.
I ain’t never said "under-appreciated," but I think that it was one of the dopest records that I produced. It just didn't have the machine that I Want It All and Regulate...G-Funk Era had. I was dealing with an independent company that had never ventured into hip-hop, so they didn’t really know how to tap in with the right people to get it out there. I could re-release that right now and that shit would eat a lot of shit up right now. Hopefully, once the new generation learns who I am, they’ll dig into the albums.
In The Mid-Nite Hour is a more soulful, reflective record. What caused you to make that record at that time?
Just trying to make a dope record. Just trying to show how far I advanced production-wise. A lot of stuff on there, I was more hands on. I played on that record. On the song "In The Mid-Nite Hour," I was in the studio alone, on a Friday night, everybody’s out partying. I’m in there just working. Nate called and said, "Where you at?" I said, "I’m at the studio." It’s just me and the engineer. He said, "I’mma come up." He came by himself. I was in there listening to the beat [hums the bassline] And he just came in that motherfucker with "In the midnight hour ay-ay-ay, in the midnight hour."
"Artists of today, you gotta coach them on what to do. [Nate] just knew what to do. And he was just so talented. Whatever the concept was, he’d make it bigger."
What do you miss most about Nate?
Being in the studio. When I make some music, just him knowing what to do. Artists of today, you gotta coach them on what to do. He just knew what to do. And he was just so talented. Whatever the concept was, he’d make it bigger. Whatever you’re talking about, he’d make the hook. And him just being with us, chillin’.
In the documentary, there’s a lot of archival footage, a lot of which is of Nate Dogg. Is there stuff you hadn’t seen until recently?
Nah, I had a guy with me who’d film everywhere I went. His name’s James. And I’d just pay him to follow me and film. I took him overseas, took him around the shit we was doing, so I got at him to get the footage. He still had it – and the motherfucker charged me again. How you gon’ charge me when I already paid your funky ass? Shit. I was pissed off. But I could’ve went to a lawyer, ‘cuz I got all the paycheck stubs. I could’ve went into the court and said, "I want all my motherfucking footage." But I didn’t do that. I looked out for him still.
How did it feel rewatching all that old footage?
It brought back a lot of good memories of me, Snoop, Nate, The Twinz, Da 5 Footaz, everybody that was around then. Being the age I am now, looking back it felt good, like, "Damn, I was a good looking guy." [Laughs] I see why all the ladies was in love. I wonder, when my kids really get into me…they just look at me like I’m dad. They don’t even know the history.
Do your kids know you as a rapper and producer? Or just as a dad?
Mhmm. They think I’m mean. I ain’t gon’ lie. I ain’t mean. The way I was brought up, I gotta instil in them some type of morals. That’s what’s wrong with the kids today: No morals. They think it’s mean. I tell ‘em, "Look, when you get my age you’ll understand everything I’ve been trying to tell you. You’ll get when you have your responsibilities. You’ll dig it."
"It ain’t gon’ never change. That’s why I’m still doing it. I love it and it feels good to do good music."
Are there new rappers that you listen to?
Savii3rd, Kendrick, YG, Ty Dolla $ign, J. Cole, Drake, 21 Savage. I listen to Lil Yachty. I like D.R.A.M.’s song "Broccoli." I like that record ["XO Tour Lif3"] from Lil Uzi Vert. It’s some crazy shit that he’s saying, but the melody that he’s using it dead. [Starts vocalising the melody] That sounds like some shit from back in the day, the melody.
I was told you’re working on new music. Is the feeling the same as when you were young?Yeah, definitely. It ain’t gon’ never change. That’s why I’m still doing it. I love it and it feels good to do good music. I just love doing it.
Torii MacAdams is a writer based in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter.
This article originally appeared on Noisey US.