As a new documentary about the birth of G-Funk is released, we meet Warren G in Los Angeles to discuss his relationship with his step-brother Dr Dre, the true meaning of 'Regulate' and making Annie Lennox so starstruck she forgot how to speak English.
Picture the scene. You’re deep in the sesh with a load of people you don’t really know and somebody asks you to pick the next tune. What do you choose? You need something everybody loves. You need a song any person between the ages of 18 and 39 knows all the words to. You need Warren G. You need Nate Dogg. You need ‘Regulate’.
I’ve been to a lot of parties in my life (yeah, I know. Legend.) and I’d estimate that I’ve heard ‘Regulate’ played loud and late more often than anything else. It’s rivaled only by Biggie’s ‘Juicy’ for its sheer ubiquity, and only by the Fresh Prince theme for the likelihood of someone being able to recite all the lyrics off the top of their head while mashed. Altogether now: ‘It was a clear black night, a clear white moon…’
What I’m saying is, ‘Regulate’ is a seriously big tune. It’s so big that it’s easy to let it overshadow what an integral figure Warren G has been for West Coast hip-hop. A new documentary, ‘G-Funk’, streaming from today on YouTube Premium, goes some way to redress that balance. It follows Warren from his early days in Long Beach growing up with Snoop and Nate Dogg, forming 213, his sometimes tense relationship with his step-brother Dr Dre, his influence on ‘The Chronic’ and how his signing for Def Jam – and not Death Row – changed the course of rap history.
To mark the release of the documentary, I hit the east side of the LBC on a mission trying to find Mr Warren G. We talked family, fame and G-funk. But first, a question that’s been bugging me for years:
What does ‘The rhythm is the bass and the bass is the treble’ mean?
“I don’t know! ‘Rhythm is life, and life is rhythm.’ I learned that from Jimmy Spicer. He always used to say that, so I said it, and then Nate took that part with his singing: ‘The rhythm is the bass and the bass is the treble.’ Chords. Strings. We brings. Melody. [Laughs]”
That’s made my day, just hearing you recite that. How does it feel to have created a song as universally loved as ‘Regulate’? I don’t think there’s any song that gets played as reliably at parties in London to this day.
“It’s all good, man! It feels so good. I got the chance to go over to London and just really get a chance to feel it. I’mma tell you, I was thinking different because there were a lot of Jamaicans there! I was like: ‘This is crazy!’ but it was cool. You guys’ accents and everything, it was incredible to me, and the love I was getting was just incredible. I performed at Wembley when Snoop was doing it. He asked me to come out in his show, and when he pulled me out they lost it. Wembley went crazy! I was like: ‘Oh, shit!’ I was so nervous, but then I was like: ‘Damn, they really love me!’”
We do, it’s true. We really love you. In the documentary it’s clear that when you and Nate were making it that you were just trying to tell a story about your lives.
“That record was things that I went through, and friends of ours went through. We’d witnessed that and we’d been a part of it. We just told the story, and then on the hook we just let everybody’s imagination flow. After hearing that you’re going: ‘Wow, he went through this’ and then: [sings] ‘I laid all them busters down, I let my gat explode’ and you roll right back into it. It’s on again!”
You had no idea when you were making it how big it would become?
“No we didn’t know, man. I got to meet Annie Lennox, and so many different people that I didn’t think I would ever get to meet.”
Are you a big Annie Lennox fan?
“Annie Lennox couldn’t even hardly speak English! I’m serious, I was like: ‘Wait a minute! You’ve got ‘Sweet Dreams!’ She could speak English, but not fluent. I was like: ‘This is crazy!’ I told her: ‘You just don’t know how much I love you! You carried me through so much shit with ‘Sweet Dreams’.’ That was one of my theme songs when I was travelling from the United States to Europe. That was my theme song, my song to get myself right and think: I’m really out here. I’m really international.”
The title and the opening sample comes from the 80s cowboy movie Young Guns, don’t they?
“Yeah. I was a fan of Young Guns, that was one of my favourite movies at the time. I ud to watch it all the time on VHS. I would watch it two or three times a day. We used to always say ‘Regulate’. Like: ‘Man, we’re gonna have to regulate this shit in here!’, ‘Fool, regulate the spot!’ or ‘Get on out of here, we’re gonna have to regulate this situation.’ We used to always say that, so when I heard him say: “We work for Mr. Tunstall as regulators. We regulate any stealing off his property – we’re damn good too!” it made me think of our crew, and who we was. The Death Row crew. I was over there, and I was part of it. I took the RCA jacks right out of the VHS and plugged it into a quarter-inch into my MPC60 – which I’ve still got! I’ve still got the Moog that ‘The Chronic’ was done on, and all the record crates. Don’t tell Dre! [Laughs]”
Dre is your older step-brother, but it comes across in the documentary that even though you worked on ‘The Chronic’ and introduced him to Snoop, he maybe didn’t always appreciate your contribution. There’s a moment where you turn up at the airport to join Dre and Snoop’s first tour, and everybody’s got a ticket but you. Were you upset with Dre for that?
“I wasn’t upset with him. I was upset at the way I was treated when I was ride or die. It wasn’t Dre! Suge [Knight] was the head of the company. I got treated different, and it just wasn’t cool. I wasn’t getting ready to sign or anything. Dre was like: ‘You should go and be your own man. Create you own life so you don’t have to deal with this shit.’”
Do you think if you’d signed with Dre and Suge Knight at Death Row at that point, maybe you’d never have made ‘Regulate’?
“Exactly. He was kind of like a saviour. He purposely did that to push me into doing my own thing. He knew I was dope already, and he would help me with whatever I needed. If I’d signed to Death Row I probably wouldn’t have made my own record. I’d probably be in jail. That’s how a lot of motherfuckers ended up, in jail, and I probably would have been right there with them.”
This documentary is a real reminder of how influential you were on G-Funk, and how influential G-Funk has been on hip-hop. Are you making new music?
“Yeah, I’m planning on dropping seven new songs around this documentary. Me and Snoop have been in the studio together. I’m constantly working. It would drive me crazy if I didn’t do no more music. I have other passions that I love doing too, like barbecuing. This is me. I always say: ‘Music and barbecue and love’ and then I say: ‘G-Funk’. That’s the good shit.”