Where Rhythm is Life & Life Is Rhythm: An Interview with Warren G

The G-Child talks Nate Dogg, collaborations with Mac Dre and Roger Troutman and visiting Tookie in Death Row.
By    August 25, 2015

Art by Connie Lodge

The G Funk era is eternal. Dre, Snoop, 2Pac, Nate and Warren G are the holy quintet. “Smoke weed everyday” is their sacred mantra. Thirty years after Above The Law and Dre conceived Gangsta Funk, the influence continues through DJ Mustard’s minimal bounce. Kendrick and YG tried their hand at it. Quik never stopped. Rap fans recite the “California Love” chorus quicker than their national anthem. You can be anywhere in the world and theoretically know how it feels to roll through Long Beach in a Dickies suit with a bottle of Malt Liquor. I could Crip Walk before I really knew what a Crip was. My fingers involuntarily twist into W’s anytime Doggystyle plays. I still miss Nate Dogg.

In the late 80s, a teenaged Warren Griffith III, Nathaniel “Nate Dogg” Hale and Calvin “Snoop Doggy Dogg” Broadus formed 213. The trio connected through church, Pop Warner, and high school. As football scholarships faded further out of reach, they performed at clubs for free and earned a reputation for battling other crews. During one of the verbal clashes, Snoop, then known as Snoop Rock, took on DPG partner Kurupt and they almost came to blows. 213 were hood famous, but struggled for label support and criminal enterprise became increasingly tempting. The group even considered robbing a store for production equipment before Warren convinced them otherwise.

NWA had solidified Griffith’s half brother Dr. Dre as a star, and after hearing 213’s demo at a bachelor party he invited them to his studio. During the recordings for The Chronic, Warren supplied record samples, beat drafts and called a girl for the “Deez Nutz” skit. When it came time to create Snoop’s debut Doggystyle, he produced and rapped on the anti-monogamy classic, “Ain’t No Fun If The Homies Can’t Have None.” Warren infused a sterling ear into Suge Knight’s empire and helped record two of Death Row’s biggest albums, yet he was never fully included in the crew. The former DJ wasn’t given team merch, missed royalties, and was left stranded at the airport before a tour.

Roughly a year later, Warren G’s fortunes changed and his multi-platinum debut, Regulate…G Funk Era, saved Def Jam from bankruptcy in 1994. He went on to record three popular tracks with 2Pac and put together the underrated Twinz debut, Conversation. Despite his success, G’s work was overshadowed by the Death Row powerhouse; there’s a strong argument he’d be a greater part of the rap canon if label rivalry hadn’t intervened. Fitting to his wicked reputation, Suge retroactively claimed Warren was his artist and argued Def Jam owed him money. Nate was the only affiliate to appear on Warren’s debut, Snoop was removed from “This D.J.,” and Warren has still never worked with Dre. When I asked the otherwise smooth spoken G about the rumor that Knight tried to change or remove his verse on “Ain’t No Fun,” he gave his only terse answer of the interview “Suge never made me do nothing.”

Regardless of what could have been, Warren remains appreciative of his career and on good terms with his lifelong friends. He continued to work with Nate Dogg until the latter’s death five years ago, collaborating with him on well over 60 official releases. After Nate died at 41, Warren released a tribute with proceeds going to the Hale family. G released a new EP this month called Regulate… G Funk Era Part 2 featuring Nate on all five tracks and reportedly has several albums worth of unreleased music. I interviewed Warren about his connection to the Bay Area, working with Roger Troutman, visiting Crip founder Tookie Williams on Death Row, and The D.O.C’s unrealized potential. We kept the “Regulate” conversation to a minimum as he’s answered every question you can think of, elsewhere. — Jimmy Ness

I always see you on Instagram showing love to buskers. People typically ignore them. Why do you do you show them love and can you share any memorable interactions you’ve had? 

Warren G: It was a cold windy day in Chicago and I saw one of them on the corner hustling and trying to get money to eat, so I went over to hear what he had to play. I was loving what he was doing, so we had a conversation and he said he was one of the guys around a lot of the Motown stuff back in the day. I just thought it was crazy that he was a part of such greatness and now he’s where he is. I love showing love to other musicians that are just trying to hustle so I gave him a couple hundred dollars and now every time I’m on the road and I see him or others like him, I just want to look out for them. I just like showing people love and getting them some shine because you never know where they can end up if you help them out.

I was happy to hear the return of DJ Easy Dik on your EP. Do you remember how that character came about?

Warren G: Well, it’s Ricky Harris, that’s DJ Easy Dik and he’s one of our good friends. He’s a comedian so we would just come up with skits and ask him to be the character and he’s so good at doing different voices, it worked out. He came up with the concept. He freestyled that. We turned him into a character and just kept him as part of a lot stuff we’ve done.

E-40 and Too $hort are featured on “Saturday.” You’ve actually had a relationship with Bay Area rap for a long time.

Warren G: I started with Richie Rich and 415. That was one of my favorite groups and actually that inspired me and Snoop to do 213, to represent for our area. We loved their music, but we did our own sound. Richie Rich and I are still good friends to this day.

E-40 also, I used to love “Captain Save A Ho,” all of his music, and Too $hort. Once I became who I am, Warren G, I got a chance to go hang out with them and we have become cool friends. We always have each other’s back, whenever they need something I look out for them. It all started just from me being a fan of them and finally meeting them and gaining a relationship.

Do you remember how you met E-40?

Warren G: The first time I met him, we talked on the phone and I was down in Oakland for a Raider game and he came to my hotel room. Him and all his brothers and sisters and cousins, and they made a big giant jug of Hurricane. We partied and had a good time man, went to the club and just had some fun.

In 1999, you did a record with Mac Dre called “Fast Money.”

Warren G: It’s crazy because one of my buddies was locked up in the feds with one of his buddies and when they both got out, he [Dre’s friend] was managing Mac Dre. My buddy and him were cool, so when they got out they were chopping it up and he told him that I was one of his best friends and that’s how the connection started. So I met Mac Dre and he came down to Long Beach, we hung out, kicked it and I got him some tracks and went up to his studio up in the Bay and we recorded and it turned out to be a good record.

I’ve always liked how you didn’t try to act super aggressive and portrayed your real personality. Is that something you’ve always aimed to do?

Warren G: My nickname was Sir Cool back in the day because I was always cool and calm and not all rowdy and shit. It just stuck with me, I’m just not into all the rowdy stuff. I’d rather just kick back and chill, but don’t think that people can run over me or push me over either, I’m just not into drama so I just be myself and not let what I do get to my head cause a lot of people get into the music business and lose touch of who they are. Then when shit hits the fan and they lose everything they have to get back to being what they was and start going crazy. That’s when suicide or alcohol and drugs happen. That’s why you just gotta stay the person who you were from the start, I mean you should always better yourself, but be humble. Just do what you love, I love doing music and treat it as a job that I love doing.

You used to work at the Long Beach Naval Shipyard.

Warren G: Yeah, I was a fire watch and then after so long I moved up to electrician where I was pulling wires and that was pretty cool. I was underage too. I lied to get the job, but then I got it and it was cool man. I got the experience and a lot of guys that worked there were guys that I knew from back in the day. OGs that were working there and I was the youngest guy working with all of these older cats that I used to be around as a kid.

As you’ve got family in Alabama and spent a lot of time out there, did you hang out with many Southern rappers in the 90s?

Warren G: Not at all. Every time I went to Alabama it was for family reunions and to see my grandparents so I wasn’t out in the streets, I was just visiting family.

Tell me about the VIP Record Store.

Warren G: VIP Record Store was somewhere the whole neighborhood would go to. It was our hang out spot and then we found out they had a little studio in the back so we were there all the time trying to do demos in there. They would let us come back there sometimes, mainly just Snoop though, but it was a landmark where everyone would kick it. It was at the Highway Center where everything was going on. VIP had all the latest mixtapes so we would always be there listening to music. Snoop did a lot of music there, but our first demo ended up being done at our friend Money B’s house. Money B is now my DJ.

DJ Quik released a mixtape that was making noise around L.A. before you, Snoop, and Nate put together your demo, Long Beach Is A Motherfucker. Did you know Quik at the time?

Warren G: Nah we didn’t know him at the time, but we thought that his mixtape was really dope and it inspired us to do it. I mean it was Quik, it was him and it was his style.

We know about your relationship with Dr. Dre, but you were also close with The D.O.C during the NWA era.

Warren G: Yes indeed, he took me under his wing and just embraced me. That was my partner. Incredible man, very talented writer and very talented artist. He was off the chain and I just miss having his voice around. We used to hang out at Solar Records a lot and at Dre’s house, me, him and Snoop. We used to be at Dre’s house chilling, working and having a good time. We were having a good time just being one family man.

How big do you think The D.O.C would be right now if he hadn’t injured his voice?

Warren G: I think he would be one of the greatest of all time. That’s how good he was. I still talk to him on the phone here and there, but he’s definitely one of those guys that would’ve been right up there with Biggie and Pac and everybody because he was that dope and his wordplay was just way advanced. He was major advanced like Rakim.

A lot of the G Funk videos were based around parties you guys were having. Which party stands out the most?

Warren G: Well the most memorable one for me and for the world was “Ain’t Nothin But A G Thang.” That was a very, very crazy day. You had barbequing, you had the girls playing topless volleyball, you had a lot of marijuana going around, low-riders hopping. It was all of the above, there was everything there and it was wild [laughs].

How was recording with Roger Troutman?

Warren G: That was incredible, Roger was a special cat and he showed me a lot. I really miss him man, because he was very talented. He showed me his, not vocoder, but the instrument he used to do his voice. It was a trip because it was just a little, bitty ball with wires coming out of it. Just to see him take it and make the noises that came out of it with the guitar and then he had a little, raggedy keyboard and just to see the way the sound came out was incredible. We just recorded a bunch of stuff, I have a bunch of stuff recorded. It’s on ADAT, one of these days I’m going dig it out and see what’s on there. We did a studio session together and we were in there all day. It was a very special session. It was dope and I had a good time just being around someone I looked up to all my life. Just being able to record with him was just incredible.

You’ve also recorded with Ron Isley, who was a favorite of your parents.

Warren G: Yeah, Ron Isley, him and Angela Winbush. I met both of them at the same time and they were both cool people. They were teaching me a lot about the business and it’s just a good thing to be able to vibe with people like that and them give you knowledge. You being a young artist, being able to vibe with them.

You, Snoop, Dre, etc. have shown a lot of respect to George Clinton and Parliament/Funkadelic over the years. You’ve been in the studio with him too.

Warren G: [In the studio] He was cool, just a cool dude, a teacher. We sung on the songs so he was teaching me and a few of my buddies how to sing P-Funk style. We were in the studio, he would just go “do de do de do de do, dah dah do de do, dah dah de day, do de do de do do do de day, dah dah dah dah de day.” That’s what he had us doing and then we would put the words to it. He helped us build the melody and he showed us how. It’s been a while since I’ve seen him, but we bumped heads at the Namm show this year and got a chance to say hi to each other but he’s been on the road a lot out on tour, that’s what he do. Uncle George.

I’ve heard Nate Dogg had a famous Jacuzzi.

Warren G: He did, we didn’t call it the Jacuzzi, we called it the Shacuzzi. We called it that because it was in the living room and it was kind of raggedy, but Nate loved it. He’d hurt you over that thing. There was definitely a lot of parties around it.

I saw an interview where Lil Half Dead said you couldn’t tell if Nate was happy or sad because he didn’t show a lot of emotion.

Warren G: He never showed no sign of nothing. Except for when I went to go see him when he was sick, when he had the stroke. When I went to go see him, we’d talk and stuff and I was talking to him because he could hardly talk and when it came time for me to leave, he got kind of emotional and I even got emotional at the same time, I started crying, but that’s my dog you know.

You used to fight like brothers.

Warren G: Ah we’d just argue about anything. Whether it was songs, if he didn’t like it he would voice his opinion or if there something I didn’t like I would voice my opinion. We would get into heated arguments. There was a song called “Dolla, Dolla Bill,” I wanted it to be on 213 and he was like “no.” I wanted it to be on my album. It was his song so he won that one.

I read Nate Dogg would motivate you, like if you didn’t want to go on tour he would tell you to “get out there and work for your family.” Is that true?

Warren G: I never said I didn’t want to go on tour. I just didn’t like some of the people setting things up for me because it wasn’t professional, but Nate definitely would keep pushing me to go out there and get that money.

What collaboration with you and Nate still hits you hard now?

Warren G: “Nobody Does It Better” because around that time, we just felt like no one was giving us a lot of support. We had done “Regulate” but people were still treating us like a one hit wonder. Then we did this and showed people that we can really do this. So every time I hear this record it reminds me of what we’ve done together.

When is the last time someone completely unexpected came up to you and mentioned “Regulators?”

Warren G: I was in the train station yesterday and a lady, she had to be at least in her late 50s, she was old, and she knew who I was and came and took pictures with me and everything and that was pretty cool.

Nate found religion before he died and was making gospel songs. Do you think that means we would have heard a different style of music from his future releases?

Warren G: He was gearing more towards that way. He always talked about that.

What do you think it was about Nate that people loved so much?

Warren G: He just kept it real. He would tell you how he felt, and at the same time he was just down for the cause. Wherever we were at or whatever situation he was just down 110%.

We know you were involved in the recording of The Chronic and Doggystyle, but what about Chronic 2001?

Warren G: Yeah I was there, I wasn’t there a lot because I was on the road and overseas, but I was there. That’s actually like one of my favorite albums, especially when I hear “The Watcher.” That’s my song, because that’s how I feel about a lot of artists. “Things just ain’t the same for gangsters.” The whole story, that’s me and it felt like he was talking to me and it was a song for me to the artists out there who forgot what we’ve done and the work that we’ve put down.

On “What’s Next” you misspelt a word. “What’s next, what’s next, what’s N-X-E-T it’s me, Warren to the motherfucking G.” Was that an accident?

Warren G: I did that on purpose man [laughs]. I was freestyling and I was like “you know what, I’m not getting ready to change this shit.” So I was like “fuck it.” They ask me all the time about it man, but it’s all good.

In The Midnight Hour is one of your favorite albums you’ve done and you’ve always felt it was underrated.

Warren G: Yeah, it was real fun because it just felt good being independent and being on my own doing that record. I had a lot of my friends come and get down on the album. It was just fun, we recorded it in the G-Spot Studio, it was like a party. We had musicians, ladies, and thugs all in one, in there having a good time, there was no craziness, nothing.

You’ve instilled in your son to create his own wave and not be on Instagram saying “I’m Warren G’s son.” Is that a lesson you learnt from Dre telling you to be your own man back in the day?

Warren G: Not at all. I just don’t want to take none of his shine away and I don’t want people to paint that he’s getting by or doing what he’s doing because of me. He’s doing that on his own, him being an athlete, and I’m always going to brag on him cause he’s my son, but I don’t want people to say he’s only doing it because he’s my son. So I stay out the way and let him create his own lane.

You and Snoop Dogg spoke to Crips founder Tookie Williams before he was executed in 2005. How was that experience?

Warren G: I mean just talking to someone who is getting ready to get executed is emotional. There wasn’t really nothing you could say or do, but just pray. He was just himself, he had talked to God and was a man about it, and if that was his destiny, that was his destiny. He was like, “This is what it is, I won’t be crying and all of that, this is what it is,” and that was it.

Have you experienced people trying to befriend you so they could get to Dre or Snoop? 

Warren G: All the time. A lot of people that be around Dre came through me. Not everyone, but a lot of people who are around my brother met him through me. People have tried to come between us too, but Dre and Snoop know I’m down for them 100%. We’re just all out here trying to represent for the West Coast.

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