or Snoop Dogg Could Be The Best Revisionist Historian In Our Epoch
By Doug Kenck-Crispin
Historians revisit the past. Many times the general public throws about a term called “revisionist,” and casts this word in a negative light. Honestly, this is what historians do – they revise the written record. They revisit sources, and make sure that the dead, old white male historians, who came before us, got the shit right. Remember when Sacagawea was portrayed as a noble woman, an accomplished and nearly equal participant in the Corps of Discovery? Yeah, no; she was a fourteen year old girl won in a gambling match – Charbonneau, her “husband,” was just straight up creepy. Or maybe the Shanghai Tunnels under Old Town, used to whisk drunken sailors away for years of bondage at sea? There just doesn’t seem to be much documentation to support that yarn. Revisiting, or call it “revisionism,” if you will, is by no means a “bad thing” for good history.
Another function of historians is to take aged documents found in dusty, tattered tomes, and make them relevant for our time, and in certain applications, relevant for our geographic area. Many theorists speculate that all interpretations of historical events are written for consumption in the present era, and indeed, are reflections of events happening in our current epoch. So for example, if a historian were to spend the next many months and write a book on the Mexican American War of 1846 to 1848, she would in fact be writing a piece in the context of our current era, and it would be a reflection, to some degree at least, upon our current conflicts in Afghanistan, or The Endless War On Terror, or The American Crusade of the Islamic World – depending on your particular political slant. In essence, some say than any examination and presentation is really just a repurposing of history. Not that “history repeats itself,” for it does not, as some condition in a historical construction is always somewhat different than some seemingly similar event today. But more like using a past event to help explain your current condition, and put some background around it. In this piece, we are going to frame a conversation around this topic in the format of rap music.
Before today’s discussion, I recommend, and indeed, just short of demand, that you spend a few minutes listening to the following songs found on YouTube, both entitled “Lodi Doddi.” The first is the original version of the song, by Slick Rick, released in 1985.
The second is a cover by Snoop Dogg, and this version was released in 1993.
First, I want to point out that both songs are fantastic. Pure gems. Two of the greatest hip hop songs, by two of the most iconic rappers in the history of music (and we have to give some proppers to Doug E. Fresh in this piece. Just the right thing to do.).
Now the first thing we notice on the original version of the song is the wonderful analog warmth of the track, hearkening back to an era remembered by the needle picking up snaps and pops from the vinyl of the EP. A wreck-id! A long forgotten experience for some of you readers, I am sure. But not only does it remind us of a sensual experience; this acoustic characteristic gives the production a sense of historical provenance; a layered and rich depth of descent. It’s an auditory act of foreplay that soon is filled with Doug E. Fresh’s unparalleled, near orgasmic beat boxing abilities. It is ubercomplex in utter crystalline simplicity. It’s just fucking dope.
The music in Dogg’s edition of “Lodi Doddi” deeply contrasts Rick’s version’s basement sound, bootleg reminding, raw and rough production, that is yet perfect in its simplicity. Dogg’s backing score is dense with melody, classic beats and reverberating bass; minimalism is never a consideration. Reginald Dennis, in his 1994 review in The Source called Dogg’s cover “total genius.” With the silky Death Row production, enabled by Dr. Dre manipulating all of the thousands of little mixing knobs, sliders and buttons, and the signature P-Funk influenced hooks, it is as richly produced of a mid-90s rap song as one will find.
By adopting this seminal selection, Dogg is giving historical relevance to the original work, and by his interpretation of the lyrics and music, he is presenting his version to his audience. He is highlighting what he feels as germane that Rick’s version has to offer, and at the same time injecting his own elucidation and analysis of how to use this historical document in a relevant way for his epoch and terrestrial position. He is practicing a form of historical revisionism, plain and simple, although a revisionism with some hype ass beats.
Plagiarism may be the first accusation leveled at Snoop Dogg, but in fact, Dogg accurately attributes the original source to Rick right off the bat when he raps “Gotta say ‘What’s Up’ to my nigga Slick Rick.” While certainly not resembling anything found in the Chicago Manual of Style, the source is nonetheless attributed. Furthermore, Dogg is unabashedly unapologetic when he states, “And for those that don’t like it, eat a dick.”
The first reclamation Dogg takes from the original song is demonstrated fairly early in the piece. Examine what Dogg raps:
La Di Da Di, we likes to party
We don’t cause trouble, we don’t bother nobody
We’re, just some niggaz who’re on the mic
And when we rock up on the mic we rock the mic (right)
Compared to Rick who had spit the song originally as follows:
La-di-da-di, we like to party
We don’t cause trouble, we don’t bother nobody
We’re, just some men that’s on the mic
And when we rock upon the mic we rock the mic RIGHT
Dogg starts the lyrics proper by breaking away from Rick’s innovative song, but in a somewhat subtle manner. Rather than manipulate much of the ditty, he simply replaces “men” with “niggaz.” A unpretentious word, one perhaps glossed over and missed by many contemporary admirers, yet with this simple act, Dogg is injecting his own sense of West Coast, “gangsta rap” into a classic treatise of East Coast rap, indeed an iconic vestige of this musical form, binary coasts be damned.
Then Dogg steps right up to possess these lyrics, and thus, the song.
For all my Doggs keepin y’all in health
Just to see you smile and enjoy yourself
Contrasted with Rick’s version, which states:
For all of y’all, keep y’all in health
Just to see you smile and enjoy yourself
Snoop Dogg gives this shout out to his specific posse, Tha Dogg Pound, whereas Slick Rick seems to direct the song to everyone who is listening to the record or cassette tape. By re-purposing this piece, Dogg is making this significant to his community. He owns this history.
The real narrative of the song, the story, begins. After waking up at 10 o’clock in the morning, both rappers describe in some detail their morning hygienic rituals; bubble baths, brushing of teeth, and other grooming customs. This is the stuff that social historians get they panties wet over, and Dogg and Rick give these academics their fill of it.
Rick’s version reflects the commercialism and status of affluence of the mid-1980s; he identifies brand names of the items he uses each late morning to start his day, “brand new Gucci underwear” and Polo cologne. Dogg, of course, needs to update and personalize the track, so his choice of parfum is Cool Water by Davidoff. His selection of undergarment is “Doggy underwear,” something decidedly less flashy or associative than the Gucci brand; unless you are a Dogg Pound member, or at least a wannabe. Then, this naming of britches imparts quite some import. Bitches.
Again, this disassociation with “throwback” styles and marquee names continues. Observe:
Rick: threw on the Bally shoes and the fly green socks.
Dogg: Threw on my white sox, with my all blue chucks
Dogg is identifying himself with a different age in popular culture – he is separating himself from the fashions of the mid-eighties, and at the same time removing some of the garish associations with this time period. But by even changing the specific footwear found in Rick’s version, Dogg is paying homage to the original by accentuating the differences in the song to the learned listener. In addition, his choice of “all blue” Converse Chuck Taylors could be interpreted as an association to a certain capitalistic criminal conglomerate [for all you Pac NW Marxist Historians in the house…], or at least some segments of Dogg’s listeners would make such a connotation. Dogg has never put in much work on distancing himself from association to his criminal past, in fact as recently as 2006, he has been accused by the LAPD as being an active member in the “Rollin’ 20’s Crips.” Certainly a departure from Rick’s version of “Lodi Doddi.”
Later, the primary motivation of these two men is revealed. While a deviation from the primary song, the continuity of the piece is carried on. In the original song, Rick states:
Stepped out my house stopped short, Oh no!!!
I went back in I forgot my Kangol
Slick Rick is pure pimp, and without his fuzzy Kangol hat atop his now clean head, what would be the point of venturing from his abode? How could he properly present himself to the ladies without this debonair flair? Dogg has another motivation. He raps:
Stepped out the house, stopped short, oh no
I went back in, I forgot my indo
Snoop Dogg, while certainly interested in the ladies, is a hustler. Or to quote another California rapper Ice-T, a “h-u-s-t-l-e-r, Hustler.” He is motivated by the money he makes from the crack cocaine trade, and as a compliment to this lifestyle, his use of marijuana is as common as breathing. Just as it is unfathomable for Rick to not be appointed with his Kangol, Dogg cannot be without his “Indo,” or marijuana (in this case, implying strains of the plant from Indonesia).
Both rappers run into a girl named Sally, who hails from a place referred to as “The Valley.” Rick identifies her as his “ol’ girl,” Dogg as “this smoker.” These monikers assist with the interpretation of the perspective of the respective rappers; love, and commerce from drugs. Dogg confirms his adoption of the song and adaptation to a new viewpoint.
[And while we are on the topic, the greatest song ever about a girl named Sally has to be the Gucci Crew’s Sally (That Girl). All Sallys across the globe should adopt this song as an anthem. “Mustang Sally?” Puhleeaassee… By the way, this discussion is referred to by historians as a “digression,” and would be best kept in the footnotes.]
Again, Rick’s motivation is purely lovin’ the ladies. His Sally tears up and explains that she is crying because Rick took his love away from her. Dogg’s motivation is amassing money from his sale of narcotics, and his Sally is crying because Dogg took his dope away from her.
At this point in the song, Sally’s Mean Mother comes on the scene, along with two unidentified smaller fellows, seemingly her younger sons. Although a bit unexplained, Sally’s Mother seems to have had a previous relationship with Rick. Sally’s Mother says “Hi” to Rick, and living up to her callous reputation, beats Sally senseless. She then proclaims that if she can’t “have” Rick, then Sally cannot “have” him either, again implying that there is some history between the two. Since this is Slick Rick narrating the tale, one would assume that there were romantic elements to the previous relationship. The implication in the Dogg version is that he had sold drugs to the Mean Mother before, and was not currently seeking any other mercantile transactions with her.
Sally’s Mean Mother soon turns her anger and desperation towards the rappers. As stated above, in Rick’s song, she says, “If I can’t have you she can’t either.” Dogg’s mean Mother wants some narcotic substance that he is purveying, and she tells Dogg, “If I can’t smoke none, she can’t either!” Entirely the same sentiment and the same emotional stress are displayed in these distinct versions. Both songs are consistent throughout in this theme and indeed, meme.
Attempting to escape the scene, both rappers take off quickly. Rick demonstrates his poetic mastery of metaphor when he pens one of the most iconic couplets from his argosy. He writes:
She grabbed me closely by my socks
So I broke the hell out like I had the chicken pox.
Dogg has poetic skill and the street sense of a corner crack dealer, and he interweaves this deep knowledge when he turns Rick’s words for his uses. He writes that:
She grabbed my closely by my socks
So I broke the hell out, and I grabbed my sack of rocks
Dogg avoids the sock clutching Mean Mother, but he is equally as cognizant of securing his wares of crack cocaine as he runs down the street, all the while acknowledging the literary contribution of Rick’s couplet, and indeed, enhancing that virtuous verse. It is some magnificent microphone mastery, the stuff of sheer lyrical splendor.
The Mean Mother and Sally chase after the narrators, and catch up fairly fast. With the lady (Rick) or ladies (Dogg) breaking into song, Rick demonstrates that he is certainly a man in demand, and Dogg shows that his narcotics are quite coveted.
Once again Dogg borrows the words of Rick and then endows them with his ownership. Examine:
So we can break it down the Long Beach way
Dogg is here adopting the song for an entire community, in fact for a large mass of people, as Long Beach is the sixth largest city in California, and a section of Los Angeles. About as far from The Bronx as one can get in this nation. Dogg continues his taking on:
Doggy, Doggy, Doggy, can’t you see
Somehow your words just hypnotize me
And I just love your jazzy ways
Doggy Dogg, your love is here to stay
As opposed to Rick’s same lines in the song:
Ricky Ricky Ricky, can’t you see
Somehow your words just hypnotize me
And I just love your jazzy ways, Oh
MC Rick my love is here to stay
Attempting to placate the now sobbing Mean Mother, Rick says “Cheer Up!,” and gives her a simple kiss. Dogg takes advantage of this opportunity to claim this composition as his chattel, for his own uses, and says “I said, “Cheer up!” so I gave her a hit,” meaning a hit of crack cocaine, one would assume.
In all of his machinations and mechanical manipulations on the song “Lodi Doddi,” one can see how rather than simply “cover” Slick Rick’s iconic rap song, Snoop Dogg paid respect to the piece and altered the words slightly to give it his associations. In so doing, Dogg acknowledged (and some might say strengthened) the song’s historical provenance, provided his own public interpretation of the selection, and indeed re-purposed that interpretation for his own time period and geographic situation. In examining this historical revision, we are allowed an opportunity to consider how this exercise is just a simile of what historians do on a daily basis, although in applications that rarely move so many asses on the dance floor.
Next week, we look at Ice Cube’s song “When Will They Shoot,” from the album The Predator, and examine how it represents a time capsule of commentary on the socio-religiouso-economic radical racial construction in the early 1990s on a simultaneously national and yet also municipal scale. [Just kidding. But honestly, as one of my professors would say, there is a master’s thesis in there somewhere, young historians!] And it’s a tight fucking lyric to boot.
You Stay Historic Oregon, (Keep Questioning the Old White Dudes’ Versions of Beaver State History), and Kick Ass!
Slick Rick Lyrics: http://www.mp3lyrics.org/s/slick-rick/la/ (DOC 6/15/2012)
Snoop Dogg Lyrics: http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/snoopdogg/lodidodi.html (DOC 6/15/2012)
http://pressrewind.files.wordpress.com/2007/04/ _doggystylesource294.jpg (DOC 6/15/2012)
http://www.hollywood.com/news/Police_Snoop_Dogg_Is_a_Crips_Member/3591655 (DOC 6/15/2012)