Warren G ushered in what became known as the “G funk” sound of hip-hop, which Rolling Stone writer S. H. Fernando Jr. defined as “that fat-bottomed, mellowed-out sound” with “bouncing bass lines and hypnotic, high-end melodies” that was perfect driving music and suited the Southern California climate. As the younger stepbrother of famed West Coast rapper and producer Dr. Dre, Warren G worked to stay out of Dre’s shadow and build his own name in hip-hop music. He did so with the hit singles “Regulate” and “This D. J.,” and his 1994 debut album Regulata.. G Funk Era. Warren’s streak of success slowed with his follow-up releases Take a Look Over Your Shoulder and I Want It All, but he still earned a place on the all-star Up In Smoke Tour in 2000.
Warren G was born Warren Griffin III on November 10, 1971, the only son of airplane mechanic Warren Griffin Sr. and his wife, Ola, a dietitian. His parents divorced when he was four, and Warren grew up with his mother and three sisters, Felicia, Traci, and Mitzi, in East Long Beach, California. He moved to North Long Beach before junior high school in 1982 to live with his father and his second wife, Verna, whose three children from a previous marriage included Andre Young (Dr. Dre). Warren’s early teen years were consumed by school, football, and hanging out with his friends, including Calvin Broadus (Snoop Dogg). Warren soon got involved with gangs and landed in jail at age 17 for gun possession.
By this time, Dre was already an established rapper and producer with his group N. W. A., and he showed Warren how to program a drum machine. “I’d show him everything he wanted to know,” Dre told People. “He’d come up with corny beats, and I’d tell him, ’Get back in the lab.’ [But] he kept practicing…” Warren and friends Broadus and Nathaniel (Nate Dogg) Hale formed the hip-hop crew 213, which was named after their telephone area code. The trio practiced and recorded in a back room of Long Beach’s V. l. P. record store. Warren watched his group fall apart after he played Snoop’s demo, “Super Duper Snooper,” for Dre, and Snoop embarked on what would become a wildly successful solo career with the more experienced producer. Warren left Jordan High School in 1988 and spent time in jail for selling drugs before working in the Long Beach shipyards. “It was all about peer pressure, kids finding themselves,” Warren’s father, Warren Griffin Sr. told People. “I was angry, but I just knew he would do something positive eventually.”
In 1993, Warren met director John Singleton at Dre’s studio and produced “Indo Smoke” for the soundtrack to Singleton’s film Poetic Justice starring Janet Jackson. The song turned out to be a hit, and Warren signed to record label Def Jam, a decision based solely on the sound of “Indo Smoke,” Warren maintained, and not because of his famous stepbrother. Though he did contribute to Snoop’s recordings with Dre, Warren
Born Warren Griffin III on November 10, 1971; stepbrother to Andre Young (a.k.a. Dr. Dre).
Grew up in Long Beach, CA, with future rappers Calvin Broadus (a.k.a. Snoop Dogg) and Nathaniel Dawayne Hale (a.k.a. Nate Dogg); formed rap group 213 as a teen; single “Indo Smoke” appeared on Poetic Justice film soundtrack, 1993; single “Regulate” appeared on Above the Rim soundtrack and peaked at number two on Billboard chart, 1994; debut album, Regulate… G Funk Era, entered at number two on the Billboard 200 album chart, 1994; released Take a Look Over Your Shoulder, 1997’; released I Want It All, 1999; appeared on Up In Smoke Tour, 2000.
worked for the most part on his own, avoiding his stepbrother’s shadow. His next single, for the Above the Rim soundtrack, was “Regulate,” which peaked at number two on the Billboard charts in 1994 and became the “hottest hip-hop single of the summer,” according to Rolling Stone writer Jonathan Gold.
Fueled by the success of “Regulate,” Warren’s 1994 debut album Regulate… G Funk Era sold one million copies in its first three days, debuted at number two on the Billboard album chart, and remained in the top ten long after that. The sound of Regulate.. G Funk Era was based on vintage R&B rhythms with gangsta-lifestyle lyrics. Warren was both producer and rapper on the album, and his sound was smoother and more melodic than most rap. It was a plush sound that seemed “a little insidious, as if it’s turning violence into easy listening,” according to Entertainment Weekly critic David Browne. Warren employed the talents of several underground rappers, namely Nate Dogg—for whom the appearance generated interest on the hip-hop scene—but Snoop Dogg was conspicuously absent.Rolling Stone critic S.H. Fernando Jr. noted that, at the time of Regulate… G Funk Eras release, the market was saturated with like-sounding productions, but the album still had something to offer. Fans agreed as the single “This D.J.” became Warren’s second top ten single, and the album was soon certified multi-platinum.
People writer Jeremy Helligar wrote that Warren contradicted the posturing of gangsta rap “by offering a kinder, gentler hip-hop attitude and by balancing scenes depicting street violence with tales that celebrate the camaraderie that survives even in crime-infested neighborhoods.” Warren had had about enough with the “gangsta” label, he told People. “Gangsta this. Gangsta that,” he said. “They label us animals, but that ain’t me. If you gotta label me, then label me Warren Griffin Jr., an all-around cool guy.”
Three years after Warren introduced the G-funk sound with Regulate…G Funk Era, the artist released his follow-up, Take a Look Over Your Shoulder. The release showcased Warren’s “talent for springy beats and jazzily conversational rapping,” wrote Entertainment Weekly critic Ken Tucker.Rolling Stone critic Kevin Powell likened Warren to 1970s R&B talent Donny Hathaway in that neither artist was as charismatic or controversial as his contemporaries and, as a result, both were highly underrated. Powell stated that Take a Look had what it took to turn the spotlight on Warren. The album was built on Warren’s strengths, namely “sugary, melodic hooks; snippets of street sounds; rubbery bass lines; and lyrics that flow like a river…,” Powell wrote. Most reviews were not as positive, however, and record sales were weak.
Warren released his 1999 album I Want It All on his own G-Funk label, an imprint of Restless Records. As president and CEO of G-Funk, Warren’s approach to making a successful record was “to do every song as if it’s going to be a single,” he told Billboard, but I Want It All left something to be desired, according to critics. The album paled commercially and critically in the shadow of its predecessors because it did not “push much beyond the pop-soul hooks” that drove Regulate, wrote Matt Diehl in Entertainment Weekly. Warren kept the album’s tempo up and relied heavily on hot-name talents like Jermaine Dupri, Slick Rick, Snoop Dogg, Nate Dogg, Eve, El DeBarge, Drag-On, Memphis Bleek, and the Mary Jane Girls’ Val Young, among others.
The lack of response to I Want It All did not stop Warren from appearing on the 2000 Up In Smoke Tour with rap stars Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Eminem, Nate Dogg, Xzibit, and Kurupt. One Chicago Tribune critic suggested that Warren—with only two hits to his credit and a relative dry spell since—was on the tour to “wave the flag of nepotism” as headliner’s Dre’s stepbrother. But Up In Smoke was the first major gangsta rap tour to hit the road in more than a decade and was a box-office success.
Regulate… G Funk Era, Def Jam, 1994.
Take a Look Over Your Shoulder, Def Jam, 1997.
I Want It All, Restless/G-Funk, 1999.
Atlanta Constitution, August 6, 2000, p. D5.
Billboard, September 25, 1999, p. 26.
Chicago Tribune, July 10, 2000, p. 5.1.
Entertainment Weekly, July 29, 1994, p. 56; September 23, 1994, p. 70; September 8, 1995, p. 51; October 15, 1999, p. 82; March 28, 1997, p. 69.
Los Angeles Times, November 7, 1999, p. 88.
People, January 30, 1995, p. 71; April 14, 1997, p. 26.
Rolling Stone, August 11, 1994, p. 69; September 8, 1994, p. 94; March 20, 1997, p. 86.
“Warren G,” All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (May 3, 2001).
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