Another 2008 interview, this time from the “G Child” Warren G. With a new album on deck at this time (The G Files), he sounded renewed and energized. Warren discussed with me his sessions with the late Roger Troutman, what went wrong with the 213 album, and the status of Dr. Dre’s Detox (and here we are 2 years later still waiting!).
Music always came natural to Warren G. When your best friend is named Snoop Dogg and your stepbrother Dr. Dre, it’s not hard to understand why.
But instead of riding the coattails of his more famous colleagues, the self-proclaimed “G-Child” went on to craft a highly successful solo career featuring a triple platinum debut [Regulate...The G Funk Era], two gold albums [Take A Look Over Your Shoulder, I Want It All], and a well-received independent release [In the Mid-Night Hour].
Now on the cusp of his sixth solo album The G Files (January 27) and celebrating 15 years in Hip-Hop, Warren G explains how he’s retained his passion for creating art in spite of the cruel mistress that is the music industry.
Ismael AbduSalaam: The new album The G Files features Ray J on the first single. How did that collaboration come about?
Warren G: I’ve been knowing Ray J since he was a young buck to now being a grown man. I used to see him all the time at Snoop’s, and we always said we wanted to do a song together. And then it just happened.
I was in the studio and let one of my cats hear “The Crush” instrumental. He said “you know who would sound good on there…Ray J.” I was like “wow, ok,” but I didn’t do nothing with it for awhile. Another day I let someone else hear it. And he said “you know who should be on that…Ray J.” So now I like damn two people have said the same thing.
I didn’t know if it would fit him, but they’re hearing something I’m not hearing. I called up Ray J, told him I had the hook ready, and all you had to do was sing it. He heard it and then laid it down. Bam! It’s been popping and bubbling ever since.
Ismael: Your last few albums have been independent, so you’ve now experienced both sides. What’s the biggest adjustment or differences in going from a major to an independent?
Warren G: I haven’t had to make any adjustments as far as me. I pretty much do the same thing as far as production. But as far as the business side, [I'm] having to do [sample] clearances, a lot of radio promotion, and all the things normally a major would do for you. I’m having to do all that myself. That right there is definitely difficult, but it’s teaching me more of the deeper side of the business.
But I’m enjoying it and seeing how things really go. So from here on out I should be able to do everything on my own because now I know all the same people the major labels know. The only difference is the label has unlimited funds! [laughs] When you’re indie you gotta work with what you got.
Ismael: Every producer has their own routine in regards to how they select samples and construct songs. How does Warren G go about producing a track?
Warren G: I listen to [old] records, that’s a part of it. That’s where you get a lot of ideas from. I don’t know no musician, producer or artist who doesn’t get ideas from listening to the people that was putting it down before. You do the same idea, but you upgrade it.
When I did “Regulate” I listened to Michael McDonald’s “I Keep Forgettin’.” So I can take this, put some Hip-Hop drums up under it with a cool bassline, and I can rock this.
It’s about making an idea bigger than what you just listened to. But one thing Dre always told me [was] “if you can make the [cover] better than the original, keep pushing.” That’s what I follow.
Ismael: There’s a lot of different music sources you pull from when you’re sampling. It could be jazz, rock, or R&B. Is there a particular genre you prefer sampling for Hip-Hop?
Warren G: Let me see…I don’t think I’ve used the same artist more than once. But you know what I’ve heard a lot of ideas from certain incredible artists. But I’d only take the best idea and roll with it.
There was a record from…remember Sugarfoot? [Was he] from the…Commodores?
Ismael: The Ohio Players.
Warren G: Yeah, the Ohio Players! He had a solo record that no one really knows about, Sugar Kiss, that was incredible! You gotta be a deep digger to know that. I discovered a lot of great ideas from that cat. I was like wow! He must have been the guy that was really behind a lot of production with the Ohio Players.
That’s sorta like how I am. I was the guy that brought all the ideas and came up with all the hit records. The diamond in the rough that no one knows about. People know me as an artist, but I’m a producer, DJ, and I dig deep and collect records.
Ismael: A lot of fans who look at your resume point to the third LP I Want It All as a project that retained a good balance between your production and guest artists. They never overshadowed you and fit perfectly into the mix. With the new album, do you have a significant amount of guests or is it mostly yourself?
Warren G: I don’t like to put a lot of guest appearances of known artists, but I like to take the unknown talent and let them be a part of my album. [That way] I can help them jumpstart their career.
I’m a producer. I’m not one of those cats whose gonna get on and say I’m an incredible emcee and should be in the Top 5 and all that. I’m a producer first who knows how to rap.
A reason why I’m exploring new talent is that I can be a door opener for a lot of talent out here (West Coast). There’s a gang of talent out here but they have no avenues. Either you go through Interscope or…shit…I don’t even know who else! [laughs] A lot of the doors aren’t being opened.
I can’t just go knock on Jimmy Iovine’s door and say “Jimmy, listen to this.” I can set up a meeting, but who knows? My avenue was Dr. Dre as the door opener. But he’s working on Detox and his company, so he doesn’t have time to really help out like he wants to. But he can set up that meeting. [laughs]
Ismael: It’s somewhat died down now, but over the last year a lot of East Coast artists were complaining about not getting the same mainstream chances as Southern artists. The ironic thing is that a lot of West Coast artists have been like “join the club,” since many of them felt they’ve had that same issue for 7-8 years. Why do you think it’s so hard for certain artists to keep up?
Warren G: What’s going on is that there are a lot of cats in company positions that really don’t know music. A lot of these people went to college, got degrees, and they get a job as an A&R and don’t know real talent. They’re only working with the people that they know.
I helped make the West Coast pop with the talent I’ve discovered and artists I’ve worked with. And I’m still gonna make it pop. [laughs]
It’s a crazy industry right now; those 360 deals take your publishing, merchandise, film, and TV rights. Now you can’t negotiate other revenue options. That’s why I’m not on a major. I’m not giving those things up, except maybe film and TV. [laughs]. At the end of the day I make hit records, and those can’t be stopped.
There are some solid people on the labels. Most of the people getting clout that you hear about, I’ve worked with.
Ismael: When you analyze the music that is popular today, what do you like and dislike about it from a production standpoint?
Warren G: I like that a lot of the music you can really party to, straight club music. One dislike is that you hear a record and it’s not as full as it should be. You hear one note and some drums! Now that part I’m kinda like damn. And those records sell a million.
Now if I do something like that, [the fans] are gonna be like “oh that Warren G was wack.” [laughs] So I don’t try to copy what’s going on and try to stay instrumental, using up to 5 instruments. On this album I have a lot of synthy songs combined with the live instrumentation.
Ismael: The 213 group album was critically and financially successful, but the label TVT bankrupt. Do you guys still plan to release a follow up or is that not possible with the bankruptcy?
Warren G: They still owe me money! We got an attorney on the case trying to work everything out. We put our hearts into the record and a never got a royalty check: me, Snoop, or Nate (Dogg). We never got nothing from that record, even on the backend. We don’t even know the international sales. That’s how crazy the situation is. Hopefully we’ll get our past due.
Ismael: You would think it would be in the label’s best interest to work something out as the album is well past gold with over 600,000 copies…
Warren G: And you know as well as I do that the album should’ve sold 5 to 10 million off top. That’s Warren G, Snoop, and Nate Dogg. Combined we’ve sold at least 100 million records [over our careers].
Ismael: Conventional wisdom would say that album should’ve dropped in the mid 90′s when everyone was at the peak of their commercial success. Was it a matter of you guys doing too well solo-wise to make time or was it label complications?
Warren G: Everybody was on different labels and they weren’t trying to share instead of letting it come out and build their artists up. The labels just wanted to shut the whole thing down. But we worked through all of that and finally got to do it. I really enjoyed it.
Ismael: You’ve worked with everyone from Bishop Lamont to George Clinton. Recall a time when you worked with an artist and their talent just completely shocked you in the studio.
Warren G: Who shocked me the most was Roger Troutman. He was incredible. This dude came in the studio with the talkbox. You look at it and say “what the hell is that?!” You look at it like “I don’t know what this nigga got.” He had a little keyboard about 15-20 inches long and a green ball with wires on it and taped up. I didn’t understand it man, I was tripping.
Then he got to playing the guitar, hitting notes, and then started singing. He’d sing it first then do it with the talkbox. I didn’t know he could sing like that. He was doing it all. I told him he was so incredible I had to take him out to eat.
So I took him out to dinner at this place called Georgia’s, and called my homegirl and told her “look, get about 15 girls.” We were sitting at the table like bosses with all the girls. And I told him “Roger, any one you want, she’s yours!” [laughs]. He was great, and I was very hurt when I heard what happened to him. Roger was very talented.
Ismael: You also worked with Mac Dre back in 1999 before he passed…
Warren G: Right. Actually when he got out of prison I went up to Vallejo to see him at a party in the park. I didn’t know what was up, so I come in and everyone is like “damn, that’s Warren G!” But I was going to meet up through a mutual friend. [Then] he came on the stage.
Remember he was fresh out [of jail]. There were stripping girls up there. As soon as one breast got showed, the whole place erupted. They started fighting and I’m like “what the hell have I got myself into?!” [laughs] I put my back against the wall and let everything flow past me since it wasn’t no beef with me.
Afterward we linked up at his buddy’s house. I gave him the track and he put it down. Dre was a real cool cat.
Ismael: What other artists are going to appear on The G Files?
Warren G: Travis Barker produced a track on there. We’re trying to get the lead singer from Sugar Ray to get down on that one. Paul Wall and Lil Keke are also doing verses on one of my records. We’re working on that right now. Snoop is gonna be involved, too. I talked to the drummer of Green Day, and we’re supposed to link up.
I’m still working while I’m finishing [laughs]. I’m going to keep working and bringing new things to the table. The main thing is having the new talent on the record get heard.
The tour is all being put together right now. It’s not set in stone but it’s all being put together. And I have an international thing as well. I’m letting people know Warren G hasn’t gone nowhere.
Ismael: Will the tour use a live band? I know that’s a staple of a lot of your music.
Warren G: Now c’mon man you know I’m the first dude to rock a live band! [laughs] I was the first Hip-Hop artist to bring a live band overseas in ’96-97. Now everybody does it.
It gives the show a different feel and you can stop without having to push a button. You can look at your band and they’ll do a breakdown for you. Or you can go over if you want to. The band is in tune and they know what to do. It’s a great feeling. When I was in Asia it was great. Snoop still goes over there and tells me people always ask “where’s Warren G?”
I’m definitely going back to that circuit. I still look good, haven’t aged a bit!
Ismael: Any closing thoughts to the Hip-Hop world?
Warren G: I just wanna say to the Jay-Zs and Lil Waynes of the game to come holla at your boy. Warren G is the diamond in the rough [on production]. Come stay with me for a week in the studio and I guarantee I’ll make y’all some hit records, not that quick-fast stuff. You’ll see what Warren G does. I got a lot of records and I’m like “damn, Jay-Z would kill that.”
One of these days when I ready to hang up my Adidas I think I’ll join one of these companies and show them how to really do it.
Another thing [in regards to working with other artists], I like Max B! He’s tight to me. He reminds me of myself. He gets out there and handles his business while being against all odds. The boy can go, he’s creative, and he knows how to make hooks. He can write songs that can captivate you. But I like Cam and Juelz too, all of them.
Ismael: Sounds like Max needs to be hollering at Warren G for some production.
Warren G: Oh I’d have him off the chain. I know what goes on in this whole industry. I’m the eye in the sky. Russell [Simmons] and Lyor [Cohen] holla at your boy…Kevin Liles too! [laughs]