Snoop Dogg: Why the rapper is unfazed by his bad-boy image

Matilda Egere-Cooper meets the star as he works on his 15th album
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Whoever said you can't teach an old dog new tricks obviously hadn't been introduced to Snoop Dogg. It's been an integral part of his surprisingly lengthy career – that is, the ability to evolve his music in an instant, branch out in new directions (Hollywood), and take on new ventures (marijuana-flavoured candy, anyone?).

It's small wonder the MTV Europe Music Awards picked him for hosting duties in Munich later this year, following the likes of Justin Timberlake, Christina Aguilera and P Diddy – because if there's anyone who can, it's Snoop.

At his small West Hollywood apartment, he's doing what he does best, with Teddy, a mild-mannered producer who's fiddling around on a laptop, while, on another PC, there's a nerdy-looking kid.

A simple but catchy soul melody blasts from the speakers, and Snoop rocks his head as he sings the chorus: "It's the Hollywood night – it's gonna be crazy!" He starts to dance around in his seat, and turns Teddy. "Awww, that's shit so hard Ted! It's the Hollywood night – it's gonna be crazy!" It's a track that may or may not be on his forthcoming album, Ego Trippin' – his 15th including mixtapes – which he feels makes a very timely statement.

"I'm at the point in my career where I'm just ego-tripping," he drawls, with little irony. "I got an ego, I can do what I wanna do, and I can make the kind of songs that I wanna make. I don't have to do the regular or do the normal. I can step out of the box and do it my way because I'm ego-tripping and it's just what I'm on right now."

Who can blame him? Unlike Kanye West, whose arrogance is arguably unwarranted, Snoop has been making records for 14 years; he's been iconic since the moment his debut, Doggystyle, sold more than four million copies Stateside. Throughout that time, he has been heralded as one of the purveyors of gangsta rap, spouting his grimy testimonials with a mesmerising drawl that's his own personal X-factor.

As he puts it, some hits like Pharrell's "Drop It Like It's Hot", or Akon's "I Wanna Love You", just wouldn't be that great if he wasn't in the mix. "Every time you hear a hot record, who's on it?" He waits for a response. "OK, then."

But for all his achievements, he has still to shake off his controversial past, which includes everything from cocaine-trafficking, rolling with the Los Angeles gang the Crips and a murder charge (of which he was later acquitted), to various lawsuits and charges for carrying illegal weapons and marijuana. He's currently banned from entering Australia and the UK, following an incident at Heathrow airport where members of his entourage were involved in a fracas after being turned away from the British Airways first-class lounge. BA has been happy to see the back of his cornrows ever since.

"When you have a bad reputation, that's a jacket that's so hard to take off," he says, frowning. "No matter how old you get, or where you get to, that's a jacket that's hard to remove. And once they label you a bad guy, you're always a bad guy. "

Quite why the 35-year-old (born Calvin Cordozar Broadus Jr) has become the dude many governments despise is perplexing – he's hardly public enemy number one. Plus, when a rapper like Jay-Z – who allegedly stabbed a record executive in 1999 – can get through customs with less furore, you almost be forgiven for thinking someone's got a vendetta against him. Sure, he's not a sparkling role model, with his colourful language and some of those overtly sexualised music videos, but some parents would rather pick him over Pete Doherty any day.

"I used to sell drugs, gangbang, shoot, get shot at, and didn't give a damn," he admits. "Now I got a conscience. I got kids. I'm a little league football coach. I got my own league with 3,000 kids. I'm an inspiration, I'm a role model. I'm looked up to. I do a lot of things and help a lot of people in life. We're all gonna do some wrong, but as long as you do more right than wrong, everything's gonna be all right." Does he regret how his past affects his career today? "I'm a nigga," he replies frostily, "so I'm not gonna ever be treated fair."

A lot of people don't like Snoop. And he probably doesn't like them either. But in person, he's an amicable guy. Although his flat is the epitome of narcissism, with magazine covers of his angular profile decorating his walls.

He entertains his company with decent, joke-filled conversation, with occasional forays into contentious territory. Mention the war in Iraq, and he bristles visibly. "Look at the president. How many niggas has he killed while he was in office? And he ain't gonna stop the war until he's out of office. There's no nuclear weapons. You got Saddam, you ain't catching Bin Laden, what's going on?"

As for the rumbling N-word debate, he's equally defiant. "It's merely a word. It's not the word, it's what you do with it. If that word becomes an action, then it becomes a threat." So no chance of the word being scrapped for good, then? "I don't think it'll ever stop because there will always be some new niggas coming out, talking shit, going hard on a bitch, gangbanging, not giving a damn, just living their life, because that's what America breeds."

He sighs. "It's like anything you breed. You breed a shark to kill, and you bring him home and put him in a fish tank. You put your hand in there, you think he gonna be your pet? We're bred to do that shit, so you can't get mad at us... you gotta get mad at the system."

Snoop talks a lot about being frustrated. And victimised. It would seem that he's living a conflicted existence: part family man who's nearing 40, part rapper trapped in a hip-hop industry where middle-aged men don't really have to grow up, thanks to all the shiny toys and fun girls they have to play with.

But he's trying to come of age, starting by putting himself in a more positive light. He recently signed up with a US television network for a Meet the Osbournes-like reality series, which he believes will show a different side to him. It's not the most radical move, but it's likely to be worthwhile. "There's not enough positive publicity on me," he says. "There's not enough real shit that I do that's being broadcast on TV. It's like people are so in love with the negative shit. The shit that can be degrading, as opposed to the good shit that I do.

"When I do my TV show, you're gonna see all the good shit that I do and now you get a chance to judge me by reality – rather than fiction."

He's even hoping to go for better acting roles – his highest profile role to date has been as Huggy Bear in the remake of Starsky and Hutch. "In Hollywood, they have certain stereotypes that they like to put you in," he explains. "If you're not really with that, you have to break outside the box and either create your own movies, or try to find movies that allow you to become more characters. I just can't see myself doing the same characters that Hollywood keep offering – either the comedian or the pimp or something that's too easy. I need diverse characters. And if they won't create it for me, I'll do it myself."

What does he have in mind? "A criminal defence lawyer," he declares. "Someone who's coming from the opposite side of the law, you know, because I'm from the criminal side. You'd expect me to be a criminal or a thug, but you wouldn't expect me to represent a criminal, like a Johnnie Cochran would do. I'd just show the knowledge of laws and terminology in court to where it's astonishing the way I'm handling the DA and representing my client. Even if he is guilty you gotta love me for the way I conversate."

From the outside, it would appear that Snoop has got it made. But even with his career coasting along nicely, you get the impression that he feels that he has only scratched the surface. Unlike other rappers, he doesn't boast a record label with a healthy roster, nor has he established a comfortable place in the corporate world like a Jay-Z or a Jermaine Dupri. "I sometimes wonder why my struggle to be a chief executive has to be so hard," he admits. "Why do I have to go to the independent labels to put out my acts? But that is what it is."

Nevertheless, he doesn't like to brood on these matters. He suddenly brightens up, and reaffirms that status that many have come to love – and hate. "You can put me in the room with a hundred biggest stars on any planet, and Snoop Dogg gonna shine, regardless. And that ain't cocky, that ain't conceited – that's just real. I'm hot.

"They don't wanna let me in this country, they love me in this country, I'm the king over here... in the country they don't wanna let me in, I'm probably God to all them rappers. Just go to the hoods."

He nods knowingly. "That's why they've banned me. They know my impact."

The MTV Europe Music Awards take place on 1 November in Munich and will be on MTV at 8pm; 'Ego Trippin'' will be released next year

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