“One thing about making magic,” says Snoop Dogg, “is sometimes the ingredients don’t come with instructions. You’ve just gotta know how to put that shit together.”
This is a dressed-down Snoop in the opening moment of G-Funk, a new documentary about the groundbreaking work and enduring influence of Snoop’s friend Warren G. No ostentatious displays of wealth, no fat joint in hand, no posturing: just an earnest endorsement of his friend’s profound influence on hip-hop and, consequently, the whole of popular music. He’s not the only big name here: George Clinton, Ice T, Ice Cube and Chuck D all drop in, and they’re all here to say one thing: Warren G is G-funk’s forgotten hero.
The ’90s west coast hip-hop scene – N.W.A., Dre, Snoop, Death Row Records – is well documented. The G-funk sound that Warren popularised, typified by gangsta rap underscored by soul and funk samples, saw hip-hop go from a million-dollar industry to a billion-dollar one.
“It trips me out when new artists mention Nate and Snoop and Dre, but they don’t mention me,” Warren tells me. “I’ve helped a lot of people, started a lot of careers, and I’ve got to let these motherfuckers know just what I did for hip-hop.”
G-Funk is Warren’s story, and for director Karam Gill, it’s a travesty that the story isn’t better known. “Warren is why hip-hop is so big now,” says Gill.
The story goes like this:
Before G-funk took over, gangsta rap such as N.W.A., Ice T and Public Enemy dominated hip-hop with furious indictments of police brutality, institutional racism, poverty and street violence, atop beats that hammered the point home with urgency and rage. The music was tough because the streets were tough. “It was mean,” says Warren. “Drive-bys and gangbanging were at an all-time high, and the police was wupping our ass.”
Warren’s work on records like Dre’s The Chronic transformed the airwaves. “It was still hard out there, but we just made it sound fun,” he says. “There’s no need to be stressing all the time. You’ve got to get away from it all somehow. So we made people feel good. Our music was therapy.”
“You can’t play N.W.A. at a party and dance around,” says Gill. “It’s not that type of music. But you can put Snoop, Dre and Warren on, and people go out of their heads. They introduced melody.”
White America started buying hip-hop. Even white Australia started buying hip-hop. And yet when the story is told, Warren G is overlooked.
“But he’s the most influential piece of that west coast puzzle,” says Gill. “He brought Snoop to Dre. He brought Kurupt and Nate to Death Row. He played such a key part in connecting the dots.”
But it goes beyond that. The fingerprints of G-funk are still all over records by artists like Drake, Kendrick Lamar and YG. Without Warren, today’s radio would sound a whole lot different.
G-Funk is Gill’s first feature film. He’s only 22, which means he was born the year that Warren G put out his biggest hit, “Regulate”. When he was growing up in LA, Snoop and Dre were considered gods. Warren, less so.
Gill met Warren when he was 20, shooting photos backstage at a show. The pair hit it off and he became Warren’s creative director. “Over that time I met all these people, like Snoop, and everyone had incredible things to say about Warren.”
Warren, the film shows us, was a member of G-funk pioneers The 213, alongside Snoop Dogg and Nate Dogg. When they were signed to Dre’s Death Row Records, Warren was inexplicably left behind. But he persevered, contributing to Dre’s landmark album The Chronic.
So how did he, in the words of Snoop Dogg, put that shit together?
“It was all automatic,” says Warren. “The chemistry, how we worked, everything we did was dope. We were doing things other people wouldn’t do.”
It was bigger than just catchy singles. Making the music more accessible opened people’s eyes to what black Americans were going through. “A lot of people had never heard it,” says Warren. “They had no idea what was going on in our community. People were like, damn, this is interesting. This is a trip to see what these people are going through.”
And G-Funk is a chance to see what Warren went through. For him, this is a chance to redress the balance, to settle the score and to look after his own reputation.
“There’s this new track called “Feel” by Kendrick Lamar,” says Warren. “That’s me right now today. I’m always helping people blow up, helping other artists, but ain’t nobody praying for me. Who the fuck is praying for me?”
G-Funk is playing as part of the American Essentials Film Festival in Melbourne at Palace Como and Westgarth on May 15, 18 and 21, and Sydney at Palace Verona and Norton Street on May 15, 18 and 20.
Broadsheet is a proud media partner of Palace Cinemas.