When he was 14, Nate’s parents divorced, and he relocated to Long Beach, California, with his mom and five siblings. Acclimating to the land of palm trees, hip-hop and gangbangers, Nate attended Long Beach Polytechnic High School, where he met Calvin Cordozar Broadus Jr. a.k.a. Snoop Doggy Dogg.
Influenced by the likes of LL Cool J, Run-DMC and Special Ed, Nate and Snoop would trade rhymes in the back of the gym. “We were 16 at the time,” Nate told author Nina Bhadrehwar early in his career. “I could rap, but not as good as Snoop could, so I’d sing and make hooks for what he was rapping about.”
In 2004, Nate Dogg told Vice magazine that he wrote his early songs at his grandmama’s house, on Lime Avenue. “My idols were Marvin, Stevie, Maurice White from Earth, Wind & Fire,” he said, “but I was also into Thompson Twins’ ‘Hold Me Now’—I listened to it all.
“I remember sitting up in my room, writing melodies. I didn’t know nothing. I was on some New Edition shit. The first song I wrote was called ‘Baby Darling Darling Girl,’ and you know what’s funny? It went, ‘Baby darling/Darling girl/I really love your Jheri Curl.’ I thought it was tight as hell.”
Nate joined the Marines for three years after high school. He was dishonorably discharged, though, after a bizarre incident in which he held his then-girlfriend and his cousin captive for two days, after finding them in bed together. Returning to Long Beach in 1991, he got back together with Snoop and another homeboy, Warren G., and formed a trio named after their local area code, 213.
“Those guys always supported one another,” says Los Angeles–based publicist Gwendolyn Priestley, who became friendly with Nate in 1998, when he launched a solo career on Breakaway Records. “The bond between all those guys was always so tight. They were like a fraternity.”
It’s an oft-retold story: the night that Warren G. played a tape of 213 at a house party and his stepbrother, Dr. Dre, who’d recently split from N.W.A and Ruthless Records, found himself entranced by Snoop’s smoky voice. Snoop and Dre would form the musical nexus that launched Death Row Records, and Nate, along with folks like Daz and Kurupt, RBX, and the Lady of Rage, became a part of the crew.
On the phone from her home in Los Angeles, Rage remembers her old friend. “Nate wasn’t much of a talker,” she says. “But he had a smile that could light up a room. When it came down to work, he was a complete professional. One minute he’d be playing video games, and the next he was putting his cool voice on tape. He developed his signature sound, and people from everywhere began to notice and sought him out.”
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