On a cold November morning in 2009 Snoop Dogg took a minute to check his reflection in an oversized black SUV, tuning out dozens of fans beseeching his attention.
Then, show time. With his black woolen trench coat trailing behind him like a cape over his pinstriped suit and his signature braids pinned back, the 6'8" rapper sauntered past guard rails into the New York Stock Exchange, there to ring the opening bell as part of an event to encourage entrepreneurship.
An hour later, facing an audience of a few hundred teenage and 20-something entrepreneurs hungry for Snoopisms, he slowly repeated a question from CNBC anchor Maria Bartiromo. "The most important decision I've made in business?" he said with a range of emotions flashing across his face, visible even behind the sunglasses. "The choices of people I have around me. When I first started I brought everybody with me, my homies from the neighborhood, criminals. I just said, 'Come on everybody, we made it.' Then I had to realize we didn't make it. I made it."
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Now homies like Snoop's manager Ted Chung, a 1999 Wharton alumnus, are helping him build a diversified business that hedges against the public's fickle musical tastes. This year, his 10th album, Malice N Wonderland, never gained traction, selling 263,000 hard copies and only 362,000 downloads, according to Nielsen SoundScan. But California Gurls, a song by pop star Katy Perry featuring vocals from Snoop, has generated 3.3 million downloads to date and has been hailed as the hit of the summer.
Partnerships like these helped land the rapper the seventh spot on Forbes' 2010 Hip-Hop Cash Kings list. Over the past year, he's raked in an estimated $15 million from music sales, a tour, acting gigs and Snoop-branded products that leverage his name, his look and deep baritone (Chung estimates that endorsement deals and branded products account for one-third of his income.) Snoop's so ubiquitous it's hard to remember that he was once held up on Capitol Hill as a poster boy for the idea that rap music bred a culture of violence.
"A lot of brands, you can't touch them," the rapper says. "When you're dealing with Snoop Dogg, he brings you closer to the brand and it feels like it's a part of you." Snoop's certainly trying to touch consumers in ways few rappers do. Among his products: For $12.95, TomTom GPS Navigator users can download Snoop's voice to give them directions; for $79.95, audiophiles can wear Snoop Skullcrushers headphones in black or blue paisley; and for $19.99, you can sport a Neff Snoop Micro Dogg Tee.
Making Snoop palatable to marketers was a long, calculated journey, says former manager Constance Schwartz, who retired from Snoop's team in the fall of 2009 but still serves as a consultant. "We weren't in the incoming call business. We were proactive and we were going out and courting businesses we thought he should partner with," says Schwartz, a former NFL marketing representative.
Cordozar Calvin Broadus--dubbed Snoop Dogg by his mom because of his lanky physique and unusually proportioned face--was born in Long Beach, Calif., in 1971, where as a boy he sang in the choir of his local Baptist church. By the time he was "discovered" by hip-hop producer Andre "Dr. Dre" Young, he had served several years in California's prison system for cocaine possession. In 1992 21-year-old Snoop dropped rhymes in several tracks on Dre's landmark album The Chronic, which quickly catapulted the duo to multiplatinum sales and superstardom.
At the peak of his Chronic fame, on Aug. 25, 1993, Snoop's bodyguard shot a man dead from the passenger seat of a Jeep that the rapper was driving. Snoop was acquitted of being an accomplice to murder in February 1996 by a Los Angeles jury, following a three-month trial. Afterward he invited the jury to celebrate with him at a club.
Nearly every popular press reference to Snoop in the mid- to late-1990s mentioned the shooting and other lesser brushes with the law. By 1997 Snoop's Death Row Records label-mate, Tupac Shakur, and rival East Coast rapper Biggie Smalls had both been shot in a well-known rap-world beef. Snoop canceled his 1997 tour and by 1998 defected from Death Row Records, citing fear and bitterness with then-owner Suge Knight. Knight at times ran the label from behind bars, and was rumored to have been involved in the two murders.
After leaving Death Rowand doing commercials publicly condemning violence, Snoop slowly moved away from his gangster image. He acted in several movies, most affectingly in Training Day with Denzel Washington, in which he portrayed a disabled drug dealer. But he still had rough edges. Among his business ventures: Snoop Dogg Hustlaz, a pornographic film that he directed and produced, and video partnerships with Girls Gone Wild.
Snoop's turning point for mainstream acceptance: Teaming up with Lee Iacocca. In a 2005 TV ad, the unlikely duo drive around in a golf cart while the former Chrysler chief struggles to understand Snoop's "fo shizzle" praise of Chrysler cars. "No one ever expected to see Snoop in golf clothes," says Schwartz.
Landing a deal with Chrysler took a full year, says Schwartz. "We had to convince them that Snoop was safe to work with and that he could sell their cars," she says. In turn, Iacocca's blessing made him "safe" for other endorsement deals, Schwartz says. She also pushed Snoop to end his risqué association with Girls Gone Wild.
Beyond Snoop's image change, Schwartz credits the rapper's success to his vision and seemingly endless energy. "We needed two managers working full time to try to keep up with Snoop," says Schwartz. Peers say his self-touted marijuana use isn't overstated, but he rarely drinks alcohol and naps often but sleeps little.
He also hopes to launch a sports management agency to go with a nonprofit football league he founded for young boys 7 to 14 in impoverished areas of Los Angeles. It recently expanded to Chicago. Oh yeah, world peace is on the Snoop agenda, too. "I like going to areas where the murder rate is high and dropping it," he says.
The consummate pitchman, Snoop never loses an opportunity to pitch the Snoop brand. "Get ready," he says. "Snoop is coming to somewhere near you." Hard to believe he won't.
"By the time I worked with him he had gained a reputation in the industry as a really hard worker and someone who always had it together," says Ernest Dickerson, who directed Snoop in the 2001 thriller Bones. "For me, he was always on time, knew all his lines and constantly had his ideas of where his character should go."
Snoop's partners also say he's not the kind of celebrity who leaves it to underlings to execute his moneymaking dreams, staying immersed in the details of all his business endeavors. Skullcandy's vice president of business development, Clarke Miyasaki, says Snoop personally changes the designs of his headphones and helps write the press releases for them.
Among his other ventures, Snoop is a global ambassador for Adidas and expects to launch a line of Snoop-branded sneakers in time for the 2011 NBA All-Star Game in Los Angeles. He's the chairman of Priority Records, helping the label re-release older rap songs and find new talent.
Snoop has grand plans for other areas where he wants to put his "pawprints," as he likes to say. He talks of opening a chain of Snoopermarkets that would serve poor urban areas and offer everything for under $20. A nightclub chain, Snoopies: "I want to build clubs all over the world where people can go after hours and have a good time, smoke their marijuana and drink their drinks," he says, admitting that he hopes to profit from what he sees as a liberalization in marijuana laws coming down the road. "Capitalism is a great idea. These things have to happen."