“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.”
“Nuthin’ but a ‘G’ Thang,” from Dr. Dre’s 1992 album, The Chronic
I first heard Snoop Dogg’s voice when I was about eleven years old, and I distinctly remember assuming that he grew up somewhere in the Deep South, spending his free time sitting on a rocking chair and drinking sweet tea. It didn’t make sense that anyone born elsewhere would have such an effortlessly relaxed voice, let alone someone from the streets of Los Angeles, where I’d never been but (based on the trailer for Boyz in the Hood) assumed was far too scary to inspire such a mellow tone.
Snoop came along at a pivotal time in my musical consumption — rap had certainly been around for quite a while at this point, but with the possible exception of Another Bad Creation (I spent much of my free time at a playground as well), I can’t remember a rapper who felt quite so relatable. In case you don’t know me personally, there’s pretty much no overlap between Snoop Dogg’s life and my own, nor has there ever been, and there certainly wasn’t when I was eleven years old and not making rap records with Dr. Dre. However, in the video for Gin and Juice, 23-year-old Snoop is seen doing things like riding a bike down the street, sitting outside with his friends, and discussing a party that continued jumping because his mother wasn’t home, all of which (aside from actually having the party), were right up my alley. Do you know how much time 1990s suburban preteens spent riding bikes, sitting outside, and dreaming of throwing parties while their mothers weren’t home? Other than playing video games and walking around the mall, it was pretty much all we did, and while our differences increasingly overshadowed our similarities (he was facing murder charges, I was not, etc.), the foundation had already been established, and Snoop was like a cool older cousin who lived out of town and let you tag along when you came to visit for the summer.
Along with Dr. Dre’s signature G-Funk production, Snoop’s voice helped make “Nuthin but a ‘G’ Thang” one of history’s coolest songs, despite Dre‘s insistence upon regularly saying all kinds of meaningless nothing, from “Never let me slip ‘cause if I slip then I’m slipping,” all the way to “I told you I’m just like a clock when I tick and I tock.” As far as the latter is concerned, well sure, Dr. Dre, I suppose you’d be almost exactly like a clock if you ticked and tocked. You don’t tell time, however, and since some would argue that telling time is one of the most important elements of clock-dom, we can’t really say you’re just like a clock, now can we? Actually, if you tick and tock but don’t tell time, I guess that would make you a metronome? I don’t know for sure, and to be honest, you don’t have to worry about it, because you neither tick nor tock, sir. Sorry, just had to get that off my chest.
Anyway, Snoop’s vocal cool reached heights previously thought unreachable in 1994’s “Murder Was the Case,” where he found himself the victim of a drive-by shooting. Things seemed pretty touch and go for a while, but in the second verse, he provided an update regarding his medical condition:
“I’m fresh up out my coma,
I got my Momma and my Daddy and my homies in my corner.
It’s gonna take a miracle they say,
for me to walk again and talk again but anyway…”
I can’t say for sure that they don’t do it like this already, but if they don’t, doctors should definitely take a page out of Snoop’s book and start referring to no-longer-comatose patients as “fresh up out their coma,” as in, “Good news Mr. and Mrs. Jenkins, your son is fresh up out that coma.” It just seems like a fun little way to share that information. Conversely, they should definitely not take the page out of Snoop’s book where he decides to downplay that whole part about most likely never walking or talking again — I feel like that approach is probably a bit more lackadaisical than most would prefer. His ultra chill voice makes that update sound less ridiculous than it would coming from literally anyone else, but even with Snoop, you’re still like, “Hold up, what do you mean ‘but anyway’? You don’t want to take a little more time to unpack any of that news? Well, if not, do you mind if I take a little more time to unpack that news, Snoop?” Even in the face of life-altering medical reports, Snoop stays relaxed, which just might be the secret behind that voice.
“Go on with your big a-s, let me see something,
Tell your little friend he can quit mean mugging.
I’m lit and I don’t care what no one thinks,
Now where the f-ck is the waitress at with my drinks?!”
“Stand Up,” from the 2003 album Chicken-N-Beer
One of the things I love most about rappers’ voices is that they’re often just like their regular voices. While we notice a disparity between a traditional singer’s speaking voice and singing voice a bit more often (a British singer might lose their accent, for example), many rappers have normal speaking voices that happen to be incredibly distinct, and the first time I hear them in non-rap settings, I always find it to be a little bit jarring. It’d be like if the voice of Elmo belonged to some guy who naturally talked like that, and you became aware of this when you saw him giving an interview on CNN, or testifying at a congressional hearing.
While Chuck D’s voice is naturally authoritative, and Snoop’s voice is just cool, Ludacris is one of those people with a voice where it’s just fun to hear them say things, regardless of the topic at hand. To be honest with you, it doesn’t just stop at rapping; imagining Ludacris do anything is funny to me.
Don’t ask me to explain it, because I couldn’t even begin to formulate a theory, but even though Ludacris strikes me as a perfectly normal person, it’s also hilarious for me to picture him doing normal person things, like eating a bowl of cereal, riding a bicycle, or going to the grocery store and checking a melon to see if it’s ripe. The more mundane the task, the funnier I find it. He just has a hilarious essence, and I really have no idea why.
Having a naturally fun sound (and aura, at least to me) certainly helps, But Ludacris also has an extremely colorful delivery, and he decorates his percussive lines with all manners of arbitrary emphasis. The last word of a Ludacris sentence is often an adventure, and you’re never quite sure how it’s going to be delivered until you get there. If Ludacris’ voice provided its own closed-captioning, the final word of each sentence would be some kind of oversized ransom letter looking thing, like in these lines from 2004’s “Yeah,” his collaboration with Usher and Lil’ Jon:
“Forget about game I’ma spit the truth,
I won’t stop ’til I get em in their birthday SOOOOT”
“Left the jag and I took the rolls,
if they ain’t cutting, then I put ’em on foot pa-TROLLLL”
Or from 2014’s “IRS,” featuring Pharrell:
Send it over by turbo-FAX,
Eat some Pringles, turbo-SNACKS,
Corduroy dockers, turbo-SLACKS.”
Just kidding, that last one’s not a real song — it’s just the kind of thing I imagine Ludacris saying to himself when he sits down to prepare his taxes. I don’t think he always talks like that, by the way, but I do feel pretty comfortable in assuming that he does it far more than you (i.e., probably never) or I (i.e., not that often but definitely not never) do.
It doesn’t keep me up at night or anything, but I’m concerned that Ludacris’ contributions are going to be increasingly underappreciated as time goes by. When you sit down and look at his catalog as a whole, he really doesn’t get enough credit for his wide array of solo hits and scene-stealing features. Furthermore, he certainly isn’t given enough credit for releasing “Area Codes” in 2001, then following it up four years later with “Pimpin’ All Over the World,” two entirely different songs about meeting attractive women who live very, very far away from one another. Sure, Jay Z released “Girls, Girls Girls” in 2001 as well, but he never actually specified where the French and Chinese women he mentioned lived at the time. The two probably lived right down the street, and he was just mentioning their countries of origin for the sake of storytelling. Meanwhile, Ludacris specifically told us where he traveled to see all these women (he actually meets a local girl at the start of “Pimpin’..” then proceeds to abandon her halfway through the song in favor of, well, more pimpin’), and unless he happened to be in those places anyway, maintaining that many relationships just sounds exhausting.
I wonder if a scenario ever took place where Ludacris went on a date in one of the cities from “Area Codes,” and the woman he dated later ended up hearing her area code mentioned as one of the ports in which he has hoes, as per the song’s “I’ve got hoes, in different area codes” chorus. Would it be more offensive that she was being referred to in such a manner, or would she be like “He’s probably talking about someone else from my city,” only to wonder if he’d come through town without saying hello, and instead opted to meet with that other woman, or if she was just his backup date if that other woman already had plans for the evening. Basically, what I need to know here is if Ludacris ever called someone from one of those area codes and had to tell her either a) “Don’t worry, I’m not referring to you” or b) “Don’t worry, I’m specifically referring to you.”
By the way, the only logical follow up to “Area Codes” and “Pimpin’ All Over the World” would be a song where Ludacris travels across the solar system romancing women from different planets, and while that’s a very dumb idea for a song, you know good and well that if anyone can pull it off, it’s Ludacris.
Man. Okay, so, here’s the thing: I started writing this piece back in November of 2020, and I kept tinkering and writing, and writing and re-writing because I wanted every word to be just right. I can’t begin to tell you just how much I’ve enjoyed these voices over the years, so I didn’t want to feel like I’d put forth anything even remotely resembling a sub-par effort when it came to discussing them. Things have obviously changed since then, and DMX is no longer with us, so I removed everything that I’d already entered in this space. I felt like I should leave his name here, because his voice unquestionably remains one of my absolute favorites, but I also felt that I should delete all the goofy things I had written. Don’t get me wrong, they were by no means cruel or negative, it just didn’t feel right anymore.
If I remember correctly, the last time I saw DMX was his July 22, 2020 Verzuz battle with Snoop Dogg. He looked significantly older than when I’d last seen him, but seeing DMX get older felt like watching a man in the midst of a tremendous accomplishment — he looked like he’d made it to an age where a great day just meant sitting on the couch and watching the game, or mowing the lawn and firing up the grill, and since so many of his stories made “relaxed, middle-aged dude just living his life” status seem like a place he’d never get to see, it was wonderful to see him in a different light. He still delivered those rhymes with every available ounce of his signature fury, but between songs, he danced, he smiled and he laughed. He seemed happy. I hope he was.