Film actor, author, even porn director – of all the elder statesmen of hip-hop, Snoop Dogg is the one who has used the fame gained from his talent on the mic to the widest extent. So much so, that his quality as a rapper can often be forgotten.
On these shores at least, this partly comes down to the fact that since 2007 the 38-year-old from Long Beach, California, has been unable to get a visa to perform in the UK following a fracas at Heathrow the year before. Now allowed into the country, this gig is one of a series of summer dates that have also seen him appear at two festivals, Glastonbury and Wireless .
It is a nice touch, then, that among his various festival appearances, Snoop has decided to do a short tour of smaller venues. As a result a sweltering Shepherd's Bush Empire has no need for a warm-up set from Tim Westwood, despite the gig's early start time (it is the first of two performances Snoop is set to play in the venue on the same night).
When Snoop does appear on the stage, it is with an entrance befitting the movie star greeting he receives. He's escorted by sharp-suited heavies who spend the night guarding either side of the stage just in case any of the crowd are foolish enough to consider trying to join him. Thankfully, Snoop – complete with sunglasses and a modified microphone bearing his name encrusted in jewels – is rather more friendly; a series of violent videos that permeate the set may see him playing up to his gangsta image, but onstage he is all smiles.
With a career spanning nearly two decades and 10 solo studio albums, Snoop may have seen a number of changes in his style, but tonight an impressive band have no problem working their way through his different eras, from the classic G-funk of "Gin and Juice" to the retro grooves of "Sensual Seduction". The subtleties of the beats of "Beautiful" and the minimalist "Drop It Like It's Hot", from his period working with the production duo The Neptunes, may not transfer so well to a live setting, but this doesn't stop them becoming sing-along highlights.
There are some moments that don't quite hit the mark. The audience doesn't seem to mind, but it's odd that Snoop chooses to cover a crowd-pleasing song such as "Jump Around" by House of Pain when his own back catalogue is so deep. There's also a rather ill-advised section when the band play an instrumental that sounds suspiciously like Euro disco.
Still, largely it's a night of highs. "Signs" (another Neptunes production) is a minor pop classic and makes a welcome appearance, while we also get to hear Dr Dre's "Next Episode", which features perhaps West Coast hip-hop's greatest beat.
Snoop manages to top it all, though, by repaying a favour from Glastonbury and inviting Damon Albarn onstage (whom, in sunglasses, it takes a moment for the crowd to recognise) for a storming "Clint Eastwood". It has been a long wait for UK fans of the Doggfather, but while he remains on this form, let's hope that it won't be as long until we see him again.Reuse content