WORDS MICHAEL A. GONZALES
**THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARS IN THE MAY 2011 ISSUE OF XXL ON SALE NOW**
When Nathaniel Dwayne “Nate Dogg” Hale died on March 15, at the age of 41, following complications due to separate strokes in 2007 and 2008, rap music lost its all-time greatest hook man, a true blues-based godfather of hip-hop soul. In a career that lasted almost two decades, Nate sang in accompaniment with the biggest stars in the game, blessing many monumental hits with his velvety croon: Snoop Dogg’s “Ain’t No Fun,” 2Pac’s “All About U,” Fabolous’s “Can’t Deny It,” Dr. Dre’s “Next Episode,” Ludacris’s “Area Codes,” Eminem’s “’Till I Collapse,” Mos Def and Pharoahe Monch’s “Oh No,” 50 Cent’s “21 Questions.” The list goes on.
“I can still remember flying to Cali to work with Nate Dogg,” Mobb Deep’s Havoc recalls of the 2004 Cali-Queens collaboration “Dump.” “We had never met him before, but me and Prodigy couldn’t wait to work with him, because he was that dude. He was a low-key guy, kind of mysterious, but we was happy he was there. We appreciated him as an artist.”
Before Nate Dogg’s blunted baritone started creeping through America’s booming systems—beginning with the Donny Hathaway homage “Lil’ Ghetto Boy,” on Dr. Dre’s landmark 1992 album, The Chronic—having a soul singer on your record was often considered corny. “Hook singing in hip-hop goes back to, at least, TJ Swan on ‘Nobody Beats the Biz,’” says critic Nelson George, author of Hip-Hop America (Penguin, 1999). “But until Nate Dogg arrived on the scene, no one had made it into an art form. His voice was insinuating, sexy and sinister.” Charlie Wilson, lead vocalist for 1970s funk heavyweights the Gap Band, agrees. “Nate Dogg was just incredible,” he says. “He brought the real R&B element to hip-hop. He had that old-soul thing that helped strengthen rap songs. Nate Dogg put that puzzle together.”
Born on August 19, 1969, in Clarksdale, Mississippi—the storied delta town that birthed blues legends Son House and John Lee Hooker and soul stirrers Sam Cooke and Ike Turner before him—Nate Dogg came to singing as naturally as he did to breathing. Like so many of the greatest voices, his was honed in a gospel choir. “I literally grew up in the church,” Nate said in a Vibe magazine interview in 2001. His father was a strict preacher man who, years later, would throw his son’s solo record in the trash because he didn’t approve of the cursing. “We lived above the sanctuary. Even if we were sick, we had to turn on the intercom and listen to the service.”
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