In the early ‘90s, hip-hop was spreading across the globe, while hip-hop artists from Los Angeles were putting their own significant stamp on the musical genre. N.W.A. was putting gangsta rap on the map, and Warren G, Snoop Dogg, and Nate Dogg were using elements from Motown, Funk, and R&B to create a new style of hip-hop, a style that would be later termed G-Funk.
The childhood friends formed the group 213 and were soon discovered by Warren G’s stepbrother Dr.Dre. However, when Snoop and Nate Dogg were signed to Death Row Records without Warren, it was up to him to break through on his own. In his feature directorial debut ”G-Funk,” Karam Gill sets that stage for Warren G to tell his very personal story about his contribution to West Coast rap and his determination to persevere.
Ahead of the film’s debut at South By Southwest (SXSW) this weekend, I spoke with Warren G and Karam about “G-Funk’s” origins, looking back in time and where hip-hop is today.
Aramide Tinubu: Hi Warren and Karam, how are you are doing?
Karam Gill: Hey how’s it going?
Warren G: Hello sunshine! I’m good; I’m just chilling.
AT: Dope! Congratulations on “G-Funk” and your upcoming premiere at South by Southwest (SXSW). The documentary is amazing, and it really opened my eyes up to some of the history behind West Coast hip-hop that I did not know about previously. Warren, why was it important for you to tell your own story, and how long have you been working on this narrative?
WG: The story has been in my head for years. (Laughing) Back in the day, they had that show on VH1; I think it’s called “Behind the Music.” So this has been in my head for so many years because I wanted to tell my story. A lot of dudes have been telling their stories, and I wanted to let people know what it was that I contributed to West Coast hip-hop and hip-hop culture in general. I created what people now consider the genre, G-Funk.
AT: Karam, how did you come onboard this film as the director?
KG: I met Warren I want to say two or three years ago. I was like nineteen or twenty at the time. I was in college, and I was just shooting photos, and I met him backstage. We went on the road together, and I did a bunch of tour stuff for him; just media work and marketing and branding stuff, and after awhile he would always mention these little tidbits from his life. They were these stories about G-Funk and whatnot. We realized that this was something that needed to be told right now. It’s this incredible story that no one knows, and so we started developing it.
AT: Los Angeles in the ‘90s is such a particular type of environment and space. I think John Singleton really was able to grasp it in his films, and more recently Ezra Edelman really got the tone right in his docu-series “OJ: Made In America.” You guys also got the aesthetic perfectly in “G-Funk,” how did you do it? Did you go through old home videos together? What was it like to unearth these things that probably hadn’t been seen in twenty years?
WG: It was incredible, and it just brought back so many great memories, like the moment when I played “Regulate” for Nate the first time. That feeling where you get the goosebumps; just seeing that and looking at it on the big screen was just so incredible. Everything from the things that Snoop said to Ice-T, it was just so incredible for me.
AT: Karam, what was your role in digging up all of this archival footage for the film?
KG: Well, when we first started talking about the film, Warren sent me the contact for someone who had two big tapes of a bunch of stuff. There was this guy who used to follow Warren around in the ‘90s. So I went through it, and I pulled all of the selects, and I showed it to Warren. Right when he saw it for the first time he said, “Wow, this is incredible.” He hadn’t seen it in awhile because it was in storage somewhere. So those were the main two tapes and then there was a bunch of other archival sources that we pulled from. We just kind of fit it together. Warren took a look at a lot of it, I took a look at a lot of it, and we just slid everything in where it fit. One thing we didn’t want to do creatively was force any archival that didn’t cater to the film, which is why we went with reenactments for some parts of it. So yeah it was a joint process for sure.
AT: Warren, one of the things I loved most about the film was your persistence. You knew from day one that you, Nate and Snoop had something with 213. You knew despite all of the setbacks and obstacles that you guys were going to make it. What drove you despite being pushed off “The Chronic” tour and Snoop and Nate being signed to Death Row Records without you?
WG: That moment right there when I didn’t get a ticket to go on tour to be with my brother and my best friends, that moment right there is what changed my whole shit. But, I turned that negative into a positive and I drained all of my energy into just creating music and not letting it ruin me or have me stressed out. All of that just made me work harder because I knew that I was talented because I had contributed to a lot of the successes that were happening at that time. So, I just poured all of the energy that I had into creating and writing music. I came out with “Indo Smoke,” and I also got to produce some music for Tupac and MC Breed called, “Gotta Get Mine.” They caught me at the right time because they caught me when I was trying so hard.
AT: You were hungry. It was obvious that you were hungry.
WG: I was major hungry, and I’m still hungry now don’t get me wrong. (Laughing) But at the age that I was, it just gave me that eye of the tiger, because that’s what I had in my heart it was about thriving to win, and that’s what I wanted to do. I wanted Dre to say, “That’s my little brother, I’m proud of him.” I wanted Snoop and everybody else to say, “We proud of Warren, he really worked hard, and he was successful in showing that hard work truly pays off.”
AT: What was it like emotionally for you to revisit this period in your life? Looking back, it must be surreal in some ways.
WG: Yeah. I mean I had a few flashbacks but I’m grown now, and I’m so numb that a lot of shit don’t even phase me. Losing your mom and tons of family members and tons of friends, and just recently losing three close friends.
AT: Oh no. I’m so sorry.
WG: You get numb to shit. So it just brings back memories; good memories too so I love it. I’m really happy, I may not show it a lot, but once you go through a whole lot, it makes you numb to the game. I laugh, and I clown, and I joke, and I play, but it’s a lot of things that has happened. But, I am just overwhelmed and charged up about this film. It’s like I’m starting over again with the G-Funk era, and it has a soundtrack. So that’s my baby! (Laughing) It’s going to pack in with this here. I get to get my Dr. Dre on and be more of a producer. I will be on the soundtrack, but I get to do what got me to this point, I get to really pour a lot into this, so I love it. I’m just really happy about this.
AT: In the film, Ice-T says something so important. He says, “Hip-hop is exactly where it should be at this moment.” That stunned me a little bit because sometimes you hear from people who have been in the game for years and years and they talk about how things have fallen off compared to the past. They’re nostalgic for the hip-hop of a past decade. So how do you all feel about hip-hop in its present state?
WG: We are where we should be as far as hip-hop being respected as a real genre because that took a minute. Everybody used to think we were gibberish at first. Now, hip-hop is so big that corporations have to incorporate it to sell their products. So, hip-hop is in a great position right now because it provides us with ways to feed our families still, and it still opens up the doors for people to get their messages across no matter who you are or where you’re from. You’ve got that lane to express yourself. It’s the top thing in music. A guy was on “Jimmy Fallon” recently, a newscaster, and he rapped the whole “Regulate” song. So I was like, “Wow, that was incredible.” So that’s what hip-hop is. It’s in very great shape right now.
AT: What about you Karam, what do you think about hip-hop now as a millennial, who grew up during the ‘90s when the genre was already established?
WG: (Laughing) Oh, so you tryna say I’m an antique?
AT: No not at all! (Laughing) You guys came up on funk, but we came up on you guys.
WG: Warren G., the antique. (Laughing)
KG: (Laughing) I think hip-hop today from a commercialization standpoint, kind of what Warren was saying is that it’s gotten so big. Everywhere you look there is something hip-hop related whether it is commercials on television or branding or marketing or whatever; hip-hop is there. I think when it comes to the musicality of hip-hop today, a lot of people sound very similar whereas back in the day, I remember it was either Warren or Snoop mentioning that you couldn’t sound like anyone else. If you came out and you sounded like someone else, you would get your ass beat. Now it’s cool to sound like everyone else, but it’s really interesting listening to G-Funk, it was soulful and melodic, and every single rapper sounded like a different voice. When Warren G or Snoop hopped on a track, it didn’t sound like anyone else. But now, and I’m not trying to bash anyone, but I couldn’t tell you if it was Desiigner or Future.
AT: For both of you, what is the most important thing that you want to say with “G-Funk?”
WG: No matter what you go through on your journey and in life, never give up. Keep working hard and going strong, and you gotta understand that you’re going to have a lot of bumps and bruises along the way, but you gotta try and ignore it and still push and keep doing what you have the passion to do; whatever it is in life. That’s what I want to say with this film. Also, to learn what I contributed as a hip-hop artist on the West Coast, and what I contributed to the hip-hop culture. I hear a lot of young artists, and they mention the West Coast guys, and they won’t mention my name, but they’ll mention all of my friends and all the people who I worked with. So, I was just like, “Wow, I gotta to let these people know what I contributed.” So this documentary is letting them know about the things that I’ve done, and it’s also an important tool for the artists that want to get into hip-hop and music period. It shows the trials and tribulations that I had to go through in order to be successful. It’s a lot of betrayals, cut throat shit, a lot of stuff like that you have to try to avoid and then when it does come your way, you have to learn how to put that fire out.
AT: For you, it was definitely about canceling out the noise, and unfortunately the whole East Coast/West Coast beef just really blew up, but even when it was simmering, you were focused in your lane, and you weren’t about to let anyone deter you.
WG: Yes, definitely.
AT: Karam what do you want people to take away from this film?
KG: I agree with everything Warren just said, but also just to build on that, the theme of family and friendship is so important. If you look at everything that Warren went through and what he overcame, it’s rooted in family and friendship. He never sold out. He always had his friends’ backs; they always had his back. I think that bond between Warren, Snoop, and Nate is something that you don’t see in entertainment. People are so cutthroat. So, it’s a rare breed to see this.
AT: Thank you both so much for taking the time to speak with me about “G-Funk,” and congratulations on your SXSW premiere.
WG: Thanks so much.
KG: Thank you!
“G-Funk” premieres at SXSW Saturday, March 11.
Aramide A Tinubu has her Master’s in Film Studies from Columbia University. She wrote her thesis on Black Girlhood and Parental Loss in Contemporary Black American Cinema. She’s a cinephile, bookworm, blogger, and NYU + Columbia University alum. You can read her blog at: www.chocolategirlinthecity.com or tweet her @midnightrami