Nuthin' But a "G" Thang
by Dr. Dre
"Gimme the microphone first, so I can bust like a bubble / Compton and Long Beach together, now you know you in trouble" [Snoop Dogg]
Ask any real estate agent, and he or she will tell you the only thing that matters is location, location, location.Deep Thought
Before 1992, the geography of important rap acts was limited to a few spots on the map, mainly New York and various neighborhoods of Los Angeles. With the success of groups like N.W.A. and rappers like Ice-T and Too Short, though, rap music that was previously limited by region began to expand and garner national acclaim.
"Nuthin' But A 'G' Thang" is the song that essentially put Long Beach on the rap world map. While Dr. Dre had his start with the World Class Wreckin' Cru and N.W.A. in Compton, his success allowed him to move into a mansion in Calabasas, California. And while Dr. Dre never had much more trouble than parking tickets, his recruitment of Snoop Doggy Dogg brought him into collaboration with a real street gangster and his fellow gang members. Hailing from Long Beach's east side, Snoop was a Rollin' 20s Crip member who had spent time in prison after high school for cocaine possession. After N.W.A., Dre was looking to reestablish himself as a credible artist. With a huge number of new rappers jumping on the N.W.A. bandwagon hailing from Compton, or even dissing Compton, bringing in Snoop was a wise move. Snoop's Long Beach style could deliver a cool flow while owning the hardcore lyrics.
"Death Row is the label that pays me" [Snoop Dogg]
Since 1978, 13 inmates have been executed on California's death row, and there are currently around 700 inmates awaiting execution (source).Deep Thought
Death Row Records was founded by Suge Knight, a former bodyguard for Dr. Dre and a longtime member of the Bloods gang. Dre's former record label, Ruthless Records, was supposedly founded with $25,000 in drug money secured by Eazy-E. To start his own label, Suge Knight enlisted the help of a criminal defense attorney and an incarcerated businessman, who was a client on appeal for attempted murder. If Ruthless was founded on the backs of addicts, Death Row was created with threats, intimidation, and bloodshed.
When Dre became disillusioned with his Ruthless situation, Eazy refused to let Dre out of his contract, along with two other Ruthless artists, The D.O.C. and Michel'le. So Suge Knight "negotiated" a deal with Eazy-E and Ruthless co-founder Jerry Heller. Legend has it that, in a situation ripped right from The Godfather, Suge informed Eazy that he was holding Jerry Heller captive in a van and passed Eazy a note that simply stated: "I know where your mama stays."
Eazy never shied away from talking about that night—according to him, faced with the choice between letting Dre go and losing his life, he chose the former and later sued Suge Knight for coercion in releasing Dre. Now free to pursue its musical vision, Death Row Records became the dominant rap label of the 1990s, with Dre, Snoop, The Dogg Pound, Warren G, and later 2Pac turning out hit after hit. Nothing lasts forever, though, and the fall was just as dramatic as the rise: Knight's street tactics eventually alienated Dre and created rifts between the artists, and by 2000, every major artist had left.
"Well if it's good enough to get broke off a proper chunk / I'll take a small piece of some of that funky stuff" [Snoop Dogg]
Dre and Snoop aren't botanists, but they are talking about plants.Deep Thought
That funky stuff they're referring to is marijuana. The cultivation of marijuana for recreational smoking has produced different plant strains with differing levels of toxicity, depending on the treatment it receives during preparation. It's from this marijuana culture that Dre took the name for his album, The Chronic. Chronic, as marijuana, is a mix of the cannabis sativa and cannabis indica plants, which in their natural form, do not have as many cannabinoids that produce a pharmacological high. The chronic that Dre and Snoop refer to is generally treated with an extra dose of the primary reactive chemical, tetrahydrocannabinol, also known as THC.
As a chemistry term, chronic can also refer to the toxic effects from exposure to a reactive agent. Viewed in this sense, Dre's The Chronic represents a musical reactive agent, designed to take listeners to another level of musical intoxication and immerse them in G-Funk.
That Dre embraced this theme for The Chronic and his follow-up, 2001, is somewhat surprising, as he had previously rapped "I still express / yo I don't smoke weed or cess / cause its know to give a brother brain damage / and brain damage on the mic don't manage" on the N.W.A. song, "Express Yourself."
"It's like this and like that and like this and uh / It's like that and like this and like that and uh / It's like this and like that and like this and uh" [Dr. Dre and Snoop]
"What we cannot speak about, we must pass over in silence." —Ludwig WittgensteinDeep Thought
"Nuthin' But A 'G' Thang" never actually says what that "thang" is. At best, we get a few references to "gettin' funky on the mic," which suggests that the "G" thang is all about being a "G," and the thangs that Gs do, whatever those are.
Perhaps a little Wittgenstein can clear this up. Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein published his most famous work, the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (Logical-Philosophical Treatise) in 1921. Wittgenstein was a logical atomist, meaning he believed the world was understood linguistically through "facts" (example: "the ocean is blue"), which were in turn made up of "objects" (the "ocean" and "blue"). It's easy to make sense of the statement, "the ocean is blue," but that doesn't tell us the whole story: the "ocean" is actually made up of lots of things (animals, water, plant life, microorganisms, etc.) that aren't described by the term "ocean," but they're included in our understanding of the term. Likewise, the term "blue" describes a color state that results from environmental elements. As such, Wittgenstein concluded that language was inadequate for the description of objects, despite the fact that we understand language. In a way, language can only "show" or "demonstrate," but never truly "describe."
The analogy here is that language is more like an image. And that's exactly what Dre and Snoop give us in the chorus: "it's like this and like that and like this and uh..." The "this" and the "that" are never specifically identified, but the impression that "Nuthin'" leaves with the listener is that G-ness is a combination of many elements: smoothness (the music), gettin' funky on the mic (letting loose, swagger), location (Compton and Long Beach), and doing... something.
"Fallin' back on that a--, with a hellified gangsta lean / gettin' funky on the mic like a ol' batch of collard greens" [Snoop Dogg]
Mmmmm... funkiness. Whether it's P-Funk or G-Funk, funkiness can be experienced through sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell.Deep Thought
When Snoop mentions the batch of collard greens, he's referencing a traditional African-American cuisine that goes back to the beginnings of the slave trade. Today, it's commonly known as soul food. Collard greens are a staple of soul food, along with kale, mustard greens, turnips, beets, and the fattier portions of hog meat, including pigs' feet, intestines, stomach lining, and the jowls.
Because slaves (in both Europe and America) were harvesting food and tending animals that were primarily meant to sustain the master's household and earn a profit at market, slaves were fed from the worst of the harvest and given the leftovers of animal slaughters. Typically, the food was heavily seasoned with salts and spices to add flavor and ensure preservation when there was no refrigeration. These scraps had little nutritional value and a high fat content, so by necessity, slaves had to become creative with food preparation. While soul food is seen today as a category of ultra-rich and decadent food to indulge in, its inception stems from the oppression of African slaves who worked to feed people, but were ultimately denied the fruits of their own labor.
Pimpin' hoes and clockin' a grip like my name was Dolomite [Snoop Dogg]
Continuing to show that he is a child of the 1970s, Snoop references Dolemite (Dol-eh-might), a pimp character created by comedian Rudy Ray Moore.Deep Thought
Dolemite is a 1975 blaxploitation film, with a plot to match the characteristic wackiness of funk music. Dolemite is trying to regain control of his nightclub after being set up by a rival pimp, Willie Green, and a couple of crooked cops. With his karate-chopping hookers by his side, he sets out for revenge once he's released from jail.
If that storyline sounds ridiculous and full of stereotypes, that's because it is. The 1970s saw a wave of films that made light of the harsh conditions of urban neighborhoods (other examples are Willie Dynamite, Superfly, and The Mack). While pimps and prostitutes and drug dealers were real problems in the cities, blaxploitation films made these issues into farce. These films were partly inspired by a man named Robert Beck, who in 1969 published a book called Pimp: The Story of My Life under the pseudonym Iceberg Slim. The book detailed the incredibly cold and sadistic world of pimping, a life Beck lived from age 18 to 40. According to Beck, he earned the name Iceberg Slim because he stayed "ice cold" during a gunfight at a bar, finishing his drink even when a bullet went through his hat. The book is notable for its unflinching view of women as purely sources of money and sexual pleasure, and the means Beck would employ to ensure he retained power over them.
The image of the pimp as having power (especially over women) is a common trope in rap, and makes many appearances in Dre and Snoop's songs. By referencing Dolemite, Snoop places himself in a lineage of pimps who play it cool and make money, putting themselves above all others.