Warren G documentary ‘G Funk’ parallels his rise and the rap sub-genre

July 6, 2018

Warren G documentary ‘G Funk’ parallels his rise and the rap sub-genre

CLEVELAND, Ohio – Warren G might start calling himself Professor Warren G after his documentary, “G Funk,″ premieres on YouTube Premium.

Due out on Wednesday, July 11, the 84-minute film traces the birth and evolution of gangsta rap in Los Angeles more than two decades go, his role in it, and the origins of the sub-genre known as G Funk, which combines melodies, rap and beats.

“It was very important to make [the documentary], because it gives this new generation hip-hop history,″ said Warren G, whose birth name is Warren Griffin III. “It shows them what it took to become an established artist in the music industry and later on be called a legend.″

The stepbrother of Dr. Dre, who is in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as a member of NWA, Griffin was part of the trio 213. That group featured his best friend, Snoop Dogg (real name Calvin Broadus) and his collaborator and Snoop’s cousin, the late Nate Dogg (Nathaniel Dwayne Hale).

“For people older than me and people younger me, [the documentary] gives them a chance to know who we are as human beings,″ Griffin said. “A lot of people have the perception of hip-hop artists being criminals and gangsters.

″[With the film] they see another side of us,″ said Griffin, now 47. “We’re human and just like everybody else.″

The documentary, directed by then 22-year-old Karam Gill, traces the development of West Coast hip-hop, including the discovery and signing of groups like NWA to Death Row Records by Suge Knight. It features stark and honest – sometimes brutally honest – interviews with the likes of Snoop, D.O.C., Ice Cube, George Clinton, Def Jam Records co-founder Russell Simmons (who says the label was saved after signing Griffin), Wiz Khalifa, Chuck D, Ice T, Deion Sanders and more.

And while it does sort of gloss over the details, several of the interviewees note that there are no hip-hop artists of that era who didn’t spend time on the street dealing drugs. That includes Griffin, who was imprisoned for a while in 1988 on a drug conviction.

The treachery employed by Knight, who is currently in jail awaiting trial on murder charges in an unrelated case, is a key aspect of the film. Griffin had expected to be part of the entourage that accompanied newly signed Death Row artist Snoop Dogg on his first tour, but was left out in the cold by Knight.

“Everybody had an airplane ticket but me,″ Griffin says in the documentary, as he and Snoop both tried to tackle the question of just why Knight had such little regard for Griffin . . . until he was signed by cross-country rival Def Jam.

The bitterness comes through in the film, but so does the resolve it instilled in him.

“I’m very happy with the way it turned out,″ said Griffin in the phone interview.

“It opened up a lot of different new lanes for me to go out and explore independently and build myself as Warren G the producer, rapper and ‘Regulator,’ ″ he said, referencing the Grammy-nominated single that became the title cut for his 1995 album, “Regulate.″

That song and its predecessor, “Indo Smoke,″ which was written for the soundtrack for the film “Poetic Justice,″ is what convinced former Def Jam executive Paul Stewart, who explains the “discovery” in the documentary, to sign Griffin.

Both cuts shone the spotlight on the sub-genre of rap called G Funk, which featured Griffin’s spoken flow and Nate Dogg’s sung lyrics, over the slowed-down beats of West Coast rap, and had its own roots in Clinton’s Parliament Funkadelic.

“I told him, ‘Ima do four bars, and I want you to do four bars, but don’t sing it like you a straight-up R&B singer,’ ″ Griffin said he told Nate Dogg, who died in 2011 from complications following a series of strokes, when they were creating the style. “Sing it like you a rappin’.″

“I laid all my busses in a hip-hop gangsta fill,″ he said. “I did that for 16 bars, and from there, it was a story, so we left the hook open for imagination.″

He explained that once the foundation for the story is laid in whatever song he’s doing, it’s up to the listener to fill in the gaps.

G Funk as a genre helped make hip-hop accessible to the masses, black and white, and the documentary makes that clear. It was Snoop Dogg as a solo artist, who built a large part of his sound around the style pioneered by Griffin, that really launched its appeal among white and middle-class listeners.

As Ice Cube and Stewart said in separate interviews in the film, Snoop and later Warren G were able to commercialize hip-hop, and “make it less scary.″

And it continues to grow, to the point where hip-hop is now mainstream. There are rap groups like Ice Cube’s NWA and Chuck D’s Public Enemy in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Gangsta rappers like Ice T are shooting. not Glocks, but Geico commercials.

“I think it’s going to continue heading straight to the top,″ said Griffin. “It’s still being successful, and you’ve got everybody incorporating hip-hop. Even the president – Obama – was loving hip-hop.

“It’s big and going to continue to get bigger,″ he said.

The documentary chronicles where it all started. Call it the opening chapter in Professor Griffin’s syllabus.

PREVIEW G Funk What: Documentary on the rap sub-genre, produced by Warren G, directed by Karam Gill and featuring Ice Cube, Ice T, Warren G, Deion Sanders, Chuck D, Russell Simmons, D.O.C., Wiz Khalifa, Snoop Dogg and more. Running time: 84 minutes. Premieres: Wednesday, July 11, on YouTube Premium.

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