Still uncontested as the reigning King Of Hooks, Nate Dogg has earned his place as one of the most iconic names in hip-hop history.
In 1993, Death Row records signed a young man by the name of Nathaniel Hale to their notorious roster. Only a few years removed from serving three years in the United States Marines in Okinawa Japan, tasked with helping provide ammunition to soldiers stationed in the Pacific Ocean, Nate Dogg’s artistic development might never have come to pass under different circumstances. As fate would have it, Nate Dogg’s return to Los Angeles would find him reunited with his longtime friend Warren G and his cousin Snoop Dogg, both of whom happened to be aspiring rappers. Together as “213”, the trio’s demo would eventually find itself in the possession of Warren G’s step-brother Dr. Dre.
In the early nineties, Death Row was a haven for young creatives, a place where house parties would ring off in a perpetual state and studio sessions would make stars of the undiscovered. Deep in the throes of The Chronic, Dr. Dre’s first studio album since N.W.A broke up in 1991, Nate Dogg earned his first major label placement with a contribution to the iconic “Deeez Nuuuts,” closing the track with a lengthy outro. “I heard you want to fuck with Dre,” he sings, slipping into falsetto. “You picked the wrong muthafuckin’ day.” You can almost picture the vibe in the studio as he was laying it down, the dawning realization that the Death Row roster had a weapon on their hands.
Though Nate Dogg would only feature a single time on Snoop Dogg’s debut Doggystyle, the sexually-charged “Ain’t No Fun,” the following year would prove to be a turning point in his young career. Despite struggling with the remnants of his criminal past, with two robbery charges in 1991 and 1994, Nate Dogg would soon experience his first taste of commercial glory thanks to “Regulate,” his legendary collaboration with Warren G. Not only did the narrative-fueled duet serve as a revealing introduction to Nate Dogg’s melodic capabilities, it also provided a deeper insight into his character. People weren’t used to singers being so dangerous; the juxtaposition of his soulful voice vowing to “make some bodies turn cold” was as chilling as it was soothing. There’s a reason “Regulate” continues to withstand the test of time as a classic, and much like in the song itself, it’s Nate Dogg heroic presence that stands triumphant.
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While 2Pac Shakur went on to join Death Row in 1995, one year prior he released his first and only album with his group Thug Life, which featured Nate Dogg’s vocals on the highlight “How Long Will They Mourn Me,” a tribute to the late Kato. Co-produced by Warren G, who made sure to slide the track over to his fellow Regulator for a chorus, the song became the first of several collaborations between Nate and Pac. He would go on to appear on 2Pac’s All Eyez On Me, singing the hooks on both “Scandalouz” and the posse cut “All Bout U.” Unfortunately, heightened tensions both within and beyond the Death Row camp reached a climax with the murder of 2Pac Shakur on September 13th, 1996. Not to mention the fact that Snoop Dogg had been facing a murder charge of his own, all while stirring the brewing tension with Bad Boy during the volatile 1995 Source Awards. Though Snoop was ultimately acquitted of all charges, the dark cloud looming over Suge Knight’s Death Row Records would go on to send the Doggfather packing for greener pastures.
Though Nate Dogg decided to stick with Death Row to release his debut album, the double-disc and heavily Daz Dillinger-produced G-Funk Classics, the ambitious project was unceremoniously shelved despite its intended release date of 1996. It eventually hit stores two years later in 1998, but it’s unclear as to whether Nate had actively been recording new music for the album’s updated release date. Though he may very well have remained loyal to Death Row in the fallout of Pac’s murder, it soon became evident that the legal storm ravaging the once-prosperous label was proving detrimental to his music career. He was eventually able to part ways with Death Row, a process no doubt aided by Suge’s incarceration.
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As expected, Nate quickly gravitated toward his longtime collaborator Snoop Dogg, blessing his No Limit Top Dogg album with the iconic “Bitch Please” chorus. His Death Row ties likely played a role in earning him a pair of placements on Dr. Dre’s sophomoric 2001, the success of which helped build the foundation of the legendary Up In Smoke Tour. Featuring Ice Cube, Snoop Dogg, Eminem, and Dr. Dre as the headlining acts, Nate joined a stacked lineup including Xzibit, Kurupt, D12, Westside Connection, and many more. Unfortunately, Nate’s involvement was nearly jeopardized by his arrest on June 20th, 2000, which found him taken in by a SWAT team on alleged charges of kidnapping, domestic violence, making terrorist threats and arson. With Nate’s involvement in the tour no longer a viable option, Xzibit remembers how they desperately sought to find a last-minute replacement before settling on Tyrese. Unfortunately, the actor simply wasn’t cutting it, nor was he particularly willing to learn Nate's lyrics -- not even "smoke weed every day."
“Long story short, man, Dre bailed [Nate Dogg] out,” recalls Xzibit. “And he bailed him out just in time for the fucking show. He paid a million dollars to get that n***a out of jail. And so [Nate] came into the arena at the last minute, right before that song. The show had just started. When he walked out, everybody knew he was in jail, and they knew how much the bail was. When he walked out on that stage, dude, that motherfucking arena just blew up. It just blew up. It was like sounds of people screaming for Nate. And he stood there for a long time without saying nothing. And so when he put that mic up and started singing, dude, it was over.”
Following the release of Dr. Dre’s 2001 and the subsequent Up In Smoke Tour, Nate Dogg found himself experiencing a second wind, a heightened state of popularity fueled by his stellar contributions to “Xxplosive” and “The Next Episode.” It’s become common knowledge that Nate Dogg is regarded as the King Of Hooks, and this era is largely the time during which the field was sown. Bonds forged during the legendary tour were honored in the years that followed. Nate became a frequent collaborator to Xzibit and Eminem, blessing the former with hooks for “Been A Long Time” and “Say My Name,” and the latter with “Bitch Please 2” and “Till I Collapse.”
In 2001, he dropped off his stacked sophomore album Music & Me, and two years later came his final eponymous drop, complete with guest appearances from every corner of the rap game. Never one to forget his roots, Nate Dogg became a stalwart presence to his fellow west coast artists, many of whom he regarded as friends. In the early millennium, he lent his voice to Bad Azz, Shade Sheist, Knoc-Turn’al, WC, DJ Quik, and many more -- not to mention his former Death Row collaborators Snoop Dogg, Daz Dillinger, and Kurupt Young Gotti.
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Despite his hometown loyalty to the west coast, Nate Dogg’s reach extended far beyond his stomping grounds. The early millennium proved an especially fruitful time for Nate, who lent his voice to some of hip-hop’s iconic anthems, collaborating with artists from the East Coast to the Dirty South. When Jadakiss delivered his Kiss Of Death single “Time’s Up,” Nate Dogg was there with the hook. When Ludacris engaged in some interstate pimpery on “Area Codes,” Nate Dogg held it down as the quintessential wingman. When Mos Def and Pharoahe Monch, two of the game’s deadliest underground-adjacent lyricists, united on “Oh No,” Nate Dogg slid onto the Rocwilder-produced instrumental and elevated the classic to a higher plane of existence. Not to mention keeping the Aftermath ties thriving with a standout chorus on 50 Cent's "21 Questions."
Fueled by a love of music and celebrating the many friends he made throughout his storied career, Nate's inimitable talents continued to be sought until his health issues began to pile up in 2007 when a stroke left him partially paralyzed. After suffering another stroke the following year, Nate's conditioned worsened, though his manager Rod McGrew believed the rapper would eventually make a recovery. Sadly, Nate Dogg passed away on March 15th, 2011, due to complications from his previous strokes. He was 41 years old. Yet even today, nine years removed from his tragic death, Nate Dogg's shoes have yet to be filled. His status as the King Of Hooks remains uncontested, as it likely shall for as long as hip-hop thrives. Rest in peace to the Regulator, who forever altered the fabric of west coast rap and spurred a generation to form a new daily habit.