Naturally, the premiere episode of Martha & Snoop’s Potluck Dinner Party, which aired Monday night on VH1, is all about fried chicken. I say “naturally” because fried chicken is at once the most potent, and blatant, signifier of black American culinary supremacy and also one of its most loaded ethnic stereotypes. This show’s very premise obliges the cohosts to work through all of this history at the onset. It’s probably in their contracts.
Snoop Dogg and Martha Stewart can’t even agree on how or when to eat fried chicken, much less on how to cook it. Stewart wants to first bathe the raw meat in refrigerated ice water for two days before deep frying. Snoop prefers to season his in white flour with potato chips. Stewart explains that Scottish immigrants introduced fried chicken as we know it to the 13 colonies in the 18th century, and black American slaves improved the recipe by adding the one thing white cuisines tend to leave out: seasoning. “That’s right,” Snoop interjects. “It was AFRICAN Americans who took that BLAND-ass chicken and made that thang do what it do.”
As uncanny as the pairing supposedly is, it does seem inevitable that Snoop and Martha would end up hosting a star-studded cooking show together. The earliest hint of their kitchen camaraderie dates back to a November 2008 segment of Martha in which the chipper host invites Snoop to pour some cheap cognac into her mother’s Thanksgiving mashed potatoes recipe. From there, they’ve crossed brands once and again, such as when Snoop and Martha both took the podium at Comedy Central’s roast of Justin Bieber in March 2015. Shortly after the Bieber roast, VH1 president Chris McCarthy tapped the duo to develop a cooking program that had been sitting on the network’s back burner. The middle-class lifestyle maven plays it straight while the outlandish rapper acts a fool, and celebrity guests will egg them on in feats of messy, competitive cooking. Perfect.
Stewart has a quarter-century of kitchen and home-decor expertise on TV behind her; Snoop Dogg, not so much. And so Martha & Snoop’s Potluck Dinner Party is a late and interesting pivot for a 45-year-old rapper who still enjoys some critical acclaim for his music. More importantly, though, he’s aged rather charismatically in this golden era of #content. Since 2005, Snoop has coached the national Snoop Youth Football League, which AOL made the subject of a nine-episode documentary series that premiered last May. He shot two seasons of an E! reality TV series, Snoop Dogg’s Father Hood, from 2007 through 2009. And since 2011, Snoop has hosted GGN, a parody morning news show on YouTube, on which he’s developed his interview chops with the likes of Khloé Kardashian, Larry King, and Tony Hawk. Snoop isn’t the only oldies rap icon with famous friends, but he is the only one with that slick and unforgettable pimp’s drawl, that towering figure, and the easy sociability that makes him telegenic next to damn near anyone.
With Martha & Snoop’s Potluck Dinner Party, VH1 is placing a remarkable bet on Snoop’s ability to turn the grassroots viewership of GGN, and his aging hip-hop fan base, into viral millennial pop. For Snoop, the series represents a state of mainstream grace that few rappers achieve, and it’s a validation of the career-long softening that’s transformed him into an ageless ambassador of American pop culture. Which is, all things considered, a pretty unlikely outcome for the world’s most notorious Crip.
In November 1995, Snoop Doggy Dogg went on trial for murder. The Long Beach rapper, born Calvin Broadus Jr., hired Johnnie Cochran to lead his criminal defense team, as Cochran was fresh off the spectacular acquittal of O.J. Simpson. In general, Death Row Records was home to great legal turmoil from the label’s founding in 1991 through 1996: While Snoop and his former bodyguard McKinley Lee awaited trial on felony counts of murder, assault, and conspiracy charges, Dr. Dre was on house arrest following battery charges, and 2Pac was facing a criminal trial for sexual assault.
On February 20, 1996, an L.A. jury found Snoop not guilty of first- and second-degree murder. The jury reached a deadlock on lesser manslaughter and accessory charges, resulting in a mistrial. The L.A. district attorney’s office ultimately declined to retry Snoop on the remaining charges. Snoop would spend the next few years fighting minor drug possession charges, but the close of his murder trial effectively afforded him a new lease on life and music.
I dredge up all of his ancient history with the criminal courts to underscore just how unlikely it is that Snoop Dogg would have ever become one of the most respected and beloved, if not the very most adorable, rapper in American history. It’s arguably the most spectacular evolution that a rapper has ever achieved. Let’s break it down:
SIDEKICK SNOOP (1993)
In April 1992, Dr. Dre introduced Snoop to hip-hop on a song called “Deep Cover.” The song and its music video featured Dr. Dre rapping alongside a lanky novice in a black White Sox jacket and white “Long Beach” cap who rapped about his and Dre’s plans to murder some undercover cops. “Deep Cover,” along with “Dre Day” and “Lil’ Ghetto Boy” from The Chronic, are as grim as Snoop Doggy Dogg ever gets. These tracks bear the hard-boiled pessimism of a young and paranoid soldier of California gang culture and the War on Drugs. Snoop was the smoothest rapper since Slick Rick, but rough enough to credibly threaten cops, women, and children.
TANQUERAY SNOOP (1993–1997)
Snoop’s debut album, Doggystyle, released in November 1993, was a great commercial milestone not only for Snoop, but also for rap as a genre. The album, which Vibe alumnus Kevin Powell described as “the most eagerly anticipated debut in hip-hop history” two months before its release, would go on to be the first hip-hop debut to secure the no. 1 spot on the Billboard 200 sales chart. Between the name Snoop Doggy Dogg, the album title Doggystyle, and the album cover artwork (which illustrates George Clinton’s “Atomic Dog” in cartoon style), Snoop’s first LP hinted that the gangster rapper’s true knack was big party records with bounce and finesse. Snoop’s first solo hits, “Who Am I (What’s My Name)?” and “Gin and Juice,” both peaked in the top 10 of Billboard’s Hot 100 chart in December 1993. Twenty-three years later, both songs are classic entries in the American pop canon.
In 1999, Snoop would reconnect with Dr. Dre for the hit singles “The Next Episode” and “Still D.R.E.,” which formed a sort of epilogue to Dre and Snoop’s Death Row origin story.
NO LIMIT SNOOP (1998–2001)
There are two types of rap fans: (a) those who regard Snoop’s four-year No Limit stint as an unfortunate clerical error, and (b) those who see the rapper’s signing with Master P as a strange but admirable (and ultimately, delightful) declaration of independence from the terminal clusterfuck that was Death Row Records.
As as a better rapper and less tightly wound character than Silkk the Shocker, Snoop would spend much of his No Limit deployment cultivating the smoother elements of his persona. Once a young kamikaze gangbanger, Snoop became the sort of wise, old pimp who would sincerely come up with album titles like Paid tha Cost to Be da Boss and Da Game Is to Be Sold, Not to Be Told. This shtick kept Snoop squarely in the lineage of L.A. gangster-rap pioneer Ice-T while helping him shake free of so much drama in the LBC.
HOT 100 SNOOP (2002–2006)
In 2002, Snoop would leave No Limit to sign with Priority Records, where he worked with Pharrell Williams to produce the hit records “Beautiful,” released in 2002, and “Drop It Like It’s Hot,” released in 2004 — still Snoop’s lone no. 1 single to this day. Pharrell would later produce all of Snoop’s modestly received 2015 album, Bush.
Snoop’s hard turn to pop crossover in the 2000s coincided with an especially lucrative moment in the commercial history of hip-hop, when guys like Puffy and Xzibit had just begun to infiltrate mainstream TV. Snoop’s appeal would ultimately revolve around his good-natured love of weed, a substance that seems to have mellowed him in middle age to the point that today, he hardly resembles the awkwardly menacing beanpole freshman from the “Dre Day” music video.
DORM ROOM SNOOP (a.k.a. SNOOP LION) (2012–2013)
This is the phase that we might call Snoop’s “year abroad,” when he swore he was the weed-drenched rap reincarnation of Bob Marley, and then fucked around and made a reggae album. Called Reincarnated. I know, right. In any case, Snoop’s Marley phase was brief, and thus forgivable, as it marked his crucial transition from full-time rapper to whimsical on-camera interviewer and interviewee. He’s still got those long-ass dreads and smokes 80 blunts per day, but he ditched the name Snoop Lion to return to the classic Snoop Dogg brand that we all know and love.
Within hip-hop, Snoop has reached the rare, emeritus standing where even rappers who are barely younger than he is refer to him as “Uncle” Snoop — an honorific rap fans apply to the genre’s elder statesmen. As a graying mentor, Snoop is more active, accessible, and relevant than his contemporaries, and has reinvented himself more than any other rapper in the history of the genre. Snoop is cool with newer rap stars like A$AP Rocky and Wiz Khalifa, and he has experienced any contingency they could ever imagine and every war story they will ever know. The breadth of Snoop’s influence immediately proves to be a key asset to the format and potential success of Martha & Snoop’s Potluck Dinner Party, a concept that works as well as it does largely due to how naturally Snoop bridges the nearly 50-year age gap between Stewart and a guy like Wiz.
Stewart has a famous bit of criminal history herself. Having been convicted of federal conspiracy and obstruction charges in a high-profile 2004 insider trading case, she spent five months at the Federal Prison Camp, in Alderson, West Virginia. In the decade following her release in March 2005, Stewart has become — if not quite an eccentric — a cool mom whose perfectionism belies some understated mischief, and an unflappable embrace of the modern. On the set of Martha & Snoop’s Potluck Dinner Party, her half of the kitchen is conventionally decorated with white tiles and copper cookware, whereas Snoop’s station is a Cadillac grill with pink and purple headlights. There are plenty of popular rappers who might embody that sort of incongruity on a stereotypical level, but Snoop is especially capable of disarming those pimp and gangster tropes, and making them seem almost wholesome.
VH1 has billed Martha & Snoop’s Potluck Dinner Party as culture clash. Given the split set design and the stark disparity in the hosts’ temperaments and expertise, the subtext is that stuffy white ladies are like this, whereas black, pimptastic rappers are like that. Ultimately, it’s not as obnoxious as it sounds, if only because the conversations do seem geared toward reconciling the dissimilarities that premise initially plays up.
In the premiere, guest Seth Rogen disintegrates into private laughter every time Snoop and Martha hit upon some racial faux pas; which is to say, every few minutes. It helps that the first-season guests are stacked in Snoop’s favor; the inclusion of Ice Cube, Wiz, 50 Cent, DJ Khaled, Fat Joe, and Rick Ross suggests that Snoop is the generational lodestar for this kitchen experiment. Footage uploaded to YouTube a month ago shows Snoop, Rogen, and Wiz smoking together offstage after shooting the premiere, the show’s DJ interrupting them at one point to inform Snoop that despite the fried chicken challenge ending with a split decision, his Lay’s-crusted wings were the real MVP. As if there was any doubt.