Helped define the sound of West Coast hip-hop
Singer, rapper and preeminent hip-hop session man Nathaniel Hale, better known as Nate Dogg, died Tuesday in Long Beach, Calif. He was 41.No cause of death was announced, though the singer had suffered a pair of strokes in recent years. Though he never attained much success as a solo artist, Hale’s smooth baritone voice was an omnipresent fixture on rap radio for well over a decade through his collaborations with Dr. Dre, Tupac, Snoop Dogg, Eminem, 50 Cent, Tha Dogg Pound, Ludacris and many others. He was a featured performer on more than 40 charting hip-hop singles. The son of a Baptist minister, Hale grew up singing in his father’s churches in Long Beach and Mississippi. After dropping out of high school and serving three years in the Marines, he formed hip-hop trio 213 with fellow Long Beach natives Snoop Doggy Dogg (as he was then known) and Warren G. The latter’s stepbrother, Dr. Dre, happened upon the group’s demo tape, and invited all three to record guest spots for his 1992 solo debut, “The Chronic,” which went on to sell more than 3 million copies and launch the West Coast G-Funk style that would dominate hip-hop for several years. Signing with Suge Knight’s Death Row Records the following year, Hale performed on two tracks for Snoop’s solo debut, “Doggystyle,” which sold 4 million copies, as well as making numerous appearances on Warren G’s “Regulate” in 1994. The latter’s title track, a down-tempo story-song in which Hale and Warren trade verses, went platinum and become Hale’s trademark single. Hale was an in-demand collaborator for most of the 1990s, notching crossover hits with Tupac (“All About U”) and 50 Cent (“20 Questions”). His soulful, Barry White-influenced vocal style often clashed humorously with his profanity-laced lyrics, and he was hugely influential in popularizing the now-standard practice of R&B singers contributing hooks to rap songs. His solo debut, double-album “G Funk Classics, Vol. 1 & 2,” appeared in 1998 and was not a particular success — a two-year delay in its release schedule meant that it arrived just as the popularity of G-Funk was waning — though single “Nobody Does it Better,” featuring Warren G, was a radio hit. Follow up “Music and Me” was released on Elektra Records in 2001 and fared far better, reaching No. 3 on the rap album charts. In 2004, Hale reteamed with Snoop and Warren G for 213’s long-belated debut, “The Hard Way,” which reached No. 4 on the Billboard album charts. Hale was arrested in Arizona on drugs and weapons charges in 2002, though he managed to avoid jail time. In 2007 he suffered his first stroke, which left the left side of his body paralyzed, followed by a second 10 months later.