By Tamara Palmer
“It ain’t a hit ‘til Nate Dogg spit.”
— Westside Connection, “Gangsta Nation”
Nathaniel Hale, better known as Nate Dogg, charmed and disarmed with his singular baritone from early days singing at New Hope Baptist Church in Long Beach, Calif. to providing a different sort of soothing soul to an international audience. The West Coast and the world have just lost the original king of rap hooks, the golden-throated touch who was frequently called upon by artists both established and emerging to elevate a song to a street-certified hit. Nate Dogg answered with memorable fire, whether he was holding Snoop Dogg or Dr. Dre down, delivering 50 Cent his second-ever number one hit or helping to solidify Ludacris’ image as a ladies’ man.
Here, we remember 20 musical moments in the prolific and underrated musical career of Nate Dogg, who faced an untimely death at the young age of 41 but left behind a legacy of solid work that would take even the extraordinary a lifetime to build. Warning, the funk might fracture your nose.
1. Dr. Dre featuring Snoop Doggy Dogg, Dat Nigga Daz, Colin Wolfe, and Nate Dogg, “Deeez Nuts” (1992)
From Dre’s cornerstone album The Chronic, Nate Dogg improbably appears two-thirds of the way into this song with a flash of the haunting, minor key singing style that he’d continue to refine and perfect throughout his career. He also shows up on the hook for the song that follows, the Donny Hathaway and Gil Scott-Heron-sampling “Lil Ghetto Boy,” but it’s all about “Deeez Nuts.”
2. Mista Grimm featuring Warren G and Nate Dogg, “Indo Smoke” (1993)
Nate steals the show on this Warren G-produced marijuana tribute from the Poetic Justice soundtrack. His even more pronounced minor key melodies bend their way around the beat in fresh contrast to Mista Grimm’s relatively monotone delivery. The song reached number 56 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart (and number seven on its Hot Dance Tracks list).
3. Snoop Doggy Dogg featuring Warren G, Nate Dogg, and Kurupt, “Ain’t No Fun (If The Homies Can’t Have None”) (1993)
Snoop’s dynamic debut album Doggystyle would not have been nearly as thrilling without this classic ode to sharing amongst friends. Here’s where Nate’s sometimes shockingly misogynistic words would first be flipped into something the most self-assured women could sing loud through the sweetening from his honeyed tones. The birth of his true pimp flow finesse started here, a swagger that would later be jacked from coast to coast.
4. Thug Life featuring 2Pac and Nate Dogg, “How Long Will They Mourn Me?” (1994)
Poetic Justice star Tupac Shakur collaborated with Nate and Warren for the debut album of his first group Thug Life. This song is now a haunting artifact of two departed artists who will be mourned for longer than their earthly years.
5. Warren G featuring Nate Dogg, “Regulator” (1994)
Warren memorably flipped the instrumental of Michael McDonald’s adult contemporary hit “I Keep Forgetting” into the backdrop of a G-funk tale of the streets of the Eastside of Long Beach that’s largely narrated by Nate. The song hit number two on the Billboard Hot 100 and remains a quintessential partners-in-crime hood anthem.
6. Tha Dogg Pound featuring Snoop Dogg, Nate Dogg, and Michel’le, “Let’s Play House” (1995)
Daz and Kurupt (aka Tha Dogg Pound) sound great on their saucy summer anthem, but Nate’s interplay with Dr. Dre’s one-time girlfriend Michel’le on the hook couldn’t help but take the shine.
7. Nate Dogg featuring Snoop Dogg, “Never Leave Me Alone” (1998)
Nate is truly showcased like nowhere else on this song from G-Funk Classics, Vol. 1; his strong voice is backed by other singers (as well as multiple layers of his own vocals) for a lush and full overall sound. It’s a refreshing contrast from his typically supporting — yet constantly scene-stealing — role.
8. Dr. Dre featuring Snoop Dogg, Nate Dogg, and Kurupt, “The Next Episode” (2000)
“Hold up, heyyyy!” Clubs are still rockin’ this ‘til the wheels fall off when a DJ is smart enough to drop this at the right place and right time. Nate’s vocals were needed to herald something as vital as the second coming of Dr. Dre.
9. Mos Def featuring Pharaohe Monch and Nate Dogg, “Oh No” (2000)
From Long Beach to Brooklyn, they know that this tune is powerful sonic evidence that there never really was a true coastal rap war. Nate helped open up the then-rising talents to a much broader audience, dissolving superficial boundaries that might have still been lingering.
10. Fabolous featuring Nate Dogg, “Can’t Deny It” (2001)
More East Coast love for Nate, who again displayed his knack for delivering intimidation in the smoothest, easiest way, came as a result of Fab’s catchy tune. Nate’s harmonizing with an unnamed female backing singer is the kind of refrain that’s hard to flush from the brain.
11. Ludacris featuring Nate Dogg, “Area Codes” (2001)
Southern rap has always felt a kinship with the independent spirit of its cousins on the West Coast, and this might be one of the most humorous and lighthearted collaborations between the coasts.
12. Kurupt featuring Nate Dogg, “Behind the Walls” (2001)
Kurupt and Nate gave sonic life to the menace in the gripping HBO prison drama Oz with this haunting ode from the show’s soundtrack. Every rapper and his mama wanted to appear on the program when it aired, but these two gave the series its unofficial anthem.
13. Snoop Dogg featuring Nate Dogg, Master P, Butch Cassidy, Goldie Loc, and Tray Deee, “Lay Low” (2001)
From Snoop’s final album with Master P’s No Limit label The Last Meal, Nate’s deliciously callous lyric tossing on “Lay Low” might go down in history as a pinnacle of gorilla pimping and intimidation, with few words saying so much.
14. Nate Dogg, “I Got Love” (2001)
From the slept-on solo album Music & Me, which many industry insiders at the time felt wasn’t properly supported by his record label at the time and is worth unearthing now, “I Got Love” is another key showcase of Nate’s voice at the forefront.
15. 50 Cent featuring Nate Dogg, “21 Questions” (2003)
This became 50 Cent’s second number one single (in a career total of three) and the lone chart-topper for Nate. It showed both gentlemen at their most lovey-dovey.
16. Mark Ronson featuring Ghostface Killah, Nate Dogg, Saigon, and Trife, “Ooh Wee” (2003)
A swirl of disco-era strings and a propulsive beat helped this song’s trajectory as a favorite sound bed for television programs, but the instrumental of Ronson’s anthem “Ooh Wee” still smartly retained Nate’s infectious vocal punctuations as its focal points.
17. Jadakiss featuring Nate Dogg, “Time’s Up” (2004)
Jada and Nate borrowed a bit from The Sopranos playbook of mafia-style intimidation to deliver a wonderfully menacing threat of a song set to an undeniable boogie. “Call my bluff, start acting up, and I’ll leave you underground,” he sang, and we felt the smoothness of the wrath.
18. Houston “I Like That” (2004)
This number 11 hit would prove to accelerate a mental breakdown for the R&B singer Houston, who later reportedly gouged out his own eye in an unfortunate twist of events. But the song’s catchiness attracted McDonalds, who used it in a television ad campaign with just Nate’s hook intact.
19. Eminem featuring Nate Dogg, “Shake That” (2005)
19. Eminem featuring Nate Dogg, “Shake That” (2005)
Marshall Mathers recruited Nate for this bouncy joint at a time when Dirty South stripper anthems were ruling the roost. Buoyed by a fun, animated video, the duo reached number six on the Billboard Hot 100, earning Nate his final top 10 popular hit. Nate’s vocals pleasingly dip down into lower bass tones with the beat in contrast to Em’s higher-pitched nasal flow.
20. Warren G featuring Nate Dogg, “I Need a Light” (2005)
Nate is at his most refined and probably his most vocally honest here. Warren’s In The Mid-Nite Hour album is unfortunately the last and most recent release to show off Nate’s talent, though other guest appearances continued to straggle out even after his first stroke in 2007; he also appeared on the title track as well as the sweet slow jam “PYT” with Snoop.
What are some of your memories of rapper Nate Dogg? Tweet to us at @MTVRapFix or tell us in a comment below.