Saturday, March 26th, 2011

Warren G & Nate Dogg – Regulate

How else were we gonna end? RIP Nate.


Kat Stevens: I was very excited to return from my semi-regular Saturday trip to the Uxbridge branch of Our Price with a cassingle of “Regulate” in my sweaty paws. Until that morning I’d thought of the tune as a harmless whistling pop tune with a good bassline and some dudes chatting about going for a drive. It was down as a ‘maybe’ on my mental shopping list for Our Price, along with “Absolutely Fabulous” by the Pet Shop Boys and “Searching” by China Black (Prodigy’s “No Good” and “Swamp Thing” by The Grid were definites). I bought them all eventually (once my pocket money replenished itself) but that day I bumped up “Regulate” to top priority when I saw it on the shelf with a black and white sticker on the bottom — tiny, but no less thrilling. I had no idea this song was at all naughty! I had a new-found respect for Capital FM for daring to play something so illicit. As soon as I got home I shoved it into the tape deck and listened to it carefully all afternoon to see if I could hear some swearwords. Alas the only vaguely rude thing I could pick up was about going to a motel with some girls they’d just met. My disappointment at Warren and Nate’s failure to say ‘shit’ was significant, but thankfully it turned out that saying “chordz…stringz…we bringz…” was just as good. I kept the cassingle case hidden underneath Stiltskin’s “Inside” in case Mum ever opened my tape drawer and saw the sticker.

Edward Okulicz: One of the most generous records of all time; Warren G gets mugged, Nate Dogg saves him, but it’s you, the listener, who gets to feel like a total bad-ass when it plays. More than rapping, this is a convincing enough narrative and performance to feel like acting. Warren G never suited another role like this one, that’s for sure.

Zach Lyon: Just astonishing how utterly ludicrous this story is when you play it out in your head (Nate apparently kills a dozen-or-so armed men just by open-firing at them I guess) but how convincing it remains. I listened to it for the first time last week (take away my music card or whatever) after learning about the death of a guy whose name meant very little to me at the time. Yeah, it’s pretty good.

Alfred Soto: Nate’s breakout single happens to be his best, and it’s impossible to separate my memories of how it seized control of my imagination in a summer dominated by Lisa Loeb, Soundgarden, All 4 One, and Erasure’s “Always.” Seventeen years later, I still haven’t parsed the lyrics. Pure sensation — fake outrage, Nate so euphoric he chokes on polysyllables, minds switched to freak mode thanks to a Michael McDonald keyboard sample. I would argue that “Regulate” represents so complete a distillation of the West Coast sound that I need never listen to period Dre, but that’s no way to persuade naysayers from removing their feet from my neck.

Jonathan Bogart: One of the iconic singles of the g-funk era. Although much of the supposedly classic music of the 90s has faded into a sort of dismal phoniness, the menacing stillness underlying Nate Dogg’s deceptively smooth vocals as he rides that chirping, night-crawling beat remains fresh. Warren G is almost as good, switching up his flow so that the two interlock. It’s the rare great pop song without a chorus, but when you have “next stop is the East Side Motellllll,” who needs a chorus?

Ian Mathers: I’m sure that we’ll get some contrarions (and that nostalgia is affecting me, and probably most of us), but at an age where my conception of rap was Vanilla Ice and MC Hammer (you can imagine the contempt), “Regulate” was the first song I heard to make me think I could love the stuff. Warren G has always seemed a bit ineffectual to me, so of course he gets into a scrape that Nate has to rescue him from, via lots of violence, followed by picking up some women and then some casual sex. That cheesy Young Guns dialog, the Michael McDonald sample, “the rhythm is the bass and the bass is the treblllle,” Nate’s touching ode to violent brotherhood, Warren’s surprisingly effective distress, the video… everything is about as close to perfect as it can be.

Martin Skidmore: By the nature of a site reviewing new singles, we don’t often get to review solid-gold classics that we’ve loved for ages, so this is a rare delight. From the tense opening beats, this is a masterpiece. Warren G is expressively nervous and distressed as he gets mugged, then Nate rides to the rescue. I usually find macho stuff offputting, but I’m a sucker for a rescue in a doomed situation, and Nate’s sweet, controlled tones as he is killing people is a beautiful contrast. There’s nothing about this I don’t adore, and I’m not sure there are any hip hop tracks I’ve listened to more often – much the easiest ten I’ve ever given.

Jonathan Bradley: Uncomplicatedly classic, with an ambience chilled like the dropping mercury at twilight, a groove that glides like a gas guzzler on an L.A. freeway, and just a hint of approaching danger, like getting caught alone in a bad neighborhood. Whether speaking to the narrative or the arrangement, few duos achieve this level of coordiantion; Nate Dogg and the Warren-to-the-G go together like rhythm-as-bass and bass-as-treble. The machine is so efficient it dispenses with the narrative after two verses, leaving the last to act as a genre thesis. PhDs have been awarded for less.

Anthony Easton: The narrative here is amazing, the story telling, and the regulating voice to tell that story. I cannot say anything more really, cannot explain with an intellectual rigour why this is as genius as I think it is.

Al Shipley: That part where Nate sings a couple bars of “Let Me Ride” and in the video looks off in the distance with this suddenly disarming earnest, wistful expression? That always gets me, man.

Mark Sinker: What happens when ugliness is not just pretty, but lovely? Obviously we often resolve the conundrum simply by declaring one side the winner — and cheering or booing accordingly. The music sweetens the crime, and to some that’s just bad. For others, the pleasure is redemptive: he’s obviously pretty much a villain, but oh! That voice! For many, the crime simply ruins the music: such people are protected by intensity of revulsion from confronting any contradiction. But the questions the contradiction asks are worth not dodging, even if your real feelings or tastes are encouraging you to slip away safely. What do we do when ugliness is — not seems, is — gorgeous? What does it mean? How is the world changed if the balance is exact, equal and opposite, not just in this song, but other situations too? Lots of other situations? I wouldn’t want to live there — and actually I doubt Warren G does and Nate Dogg did, much of the time, but some people do — and it’s worth discovering there are zones of the world that you wouldn’t find remotely decideable, and maybe a little of what that feels like. “For beauty is but the beginning of a terror we are just barely able to bear, and it stuns us as it serenely disdains to destroy us.” And no one believes they’re angels, obviously.

20 Responses to “Warren G & Nate Dogg – Regulate”

  1. I think this entry is single-handedly convincing me that there should be a monthly-or-so feature here where we “re-evaluate” a classic. Remind me of this one when next year’s best music writing noms come around.

  2. (“Single-handedly” because I’ve been loving all of Nate Dogg week, despite not feeling 100% comfortable participating in it for complicated and practical reasons. I’ll write something about “Regulate” in the comments soon, though. It’s one of those “not just a 10” songs for me, since it was pretty formative in my own life.)

  3. There used to be a great looooong plot synopsis at wikipedia, but it’s been taken down. Somebody posted it here.

  4. Agreed — I’ve been somewhat absent this week (less because of the music than a ton of excuses — jet lag, illness, personal things [no, not bad ones], etc.) but it’s turned out great.

  5. Agree with Dave fully. I was thinking a classic amnesty week, whenever there’s a dry run of interesting new tracks.

  6. After ploughing through a slew of dull singles, thinking about Nate Dogg seriously was just the thing. I also endorse the idea of a Classic Artist Week, maybe once a month or every six weeks.

  7. Great writing by everyone here, but Mark’s blurb is particularly stunning.

  8. I was about 10 years old when “Regulate” came out. I distinctly remember a particular view of the recess black top, hearing this song in my mind and thinking about some basketball movie I’d cobbled together in my head (not actually “Above the Rim,” which I’ve never seen) and wondering if I’d ever really learn to play basketball (I didn’t, which didn’t stop me from being on a basketball team for two miserable years). I imagined that if I ever could play basketball well, it would mean I’d become some other, better person. I always associated the opening quote with Michael Douglas, before I knew who Michael Douglas was, and that made Michael Douglas the basketball of acting, just impossibly, unattainably cool.

    I was a relatively sheltered, suburban white kid but I *needed* this song, was waiting for this song to come into existence. For about four minutes I *was* a basketball player; I *was* Michael Douglas. And I related to the song pretty directly in my own warped understanding of it. There was no difference between the thugs shooting craps and the invisible enemies that I might have conjured in my mind out of Power Rangers out in my backyard, air-punching and -kicking because a kid needs to air-fight. Better than picking on or being picked on, anyway.

    I guess I both did and did not “get” this song’s narrative. But I got the feeling of it — you’re alone, you want in, and all of a sudden things go bad but someone’s got your back. To me Nate Dogg was always kind of a phantom, not a real person so much as a part of Warren G. who comes out at a crucial moment and convinces you to fight. A kung fu superego, maybe.

    But no, in a way, *Nate Dogg* was always the narrator. He was the one who saw this situation for what it was. Warren G. second-guesses, sweats a bit. Nate Dogg surveys the landscape impassively, omniscient and a little wry about the whole thing. Here we go again.

    “I can’t believe this happening in my own town.” That line struck me at 10. I often fantasized before drifting off to sleep, when my mind was most feverishly imaginative, that something would go wrong in my own town. I’d be left to prove myself, maybe for a girl, or for a faceless crowd, and all of a sudden I, like Nate Dogg, would have the power, the guns or the fists or the laser-beam-eyes, and I’d beat the bad guys and everyone would recognize me for the hero I could be if given the chance. And I wouldn’t even recognize them, would just solemnly nod and move on.

    This is an adolescent narrative to say the least, maybe prepubescent. KILL ALL THE BAD GUYS AND THEN DRIVE OFF WITH THE GIRLS AND WE ARE THE AWESOMEST. And thank god they didn’t get much more explicit than that, because I didn’t quite understand sex yet, so I always imagined that the East Side Motel was a kind of rendezvous for a next assignment, and the girls were just kind of hanging around (because things are always better if girls actually want to hang around with you).

    Sure, there was implied sex there, but “Nate Dogg and the G-child were in need of something else” didn’t scan to me as intended, not even as a chaste kiss from the ladies, let alone what these horn-dogs had in mind. I imagined it more like “Nate Dogg and Warren G. demand satisfaction!” Which I guess they did. But I saw ’em as lonely samurais lost in an amoral world. Which I guess they also fancied themselves, just hornier.

    And then finally came “the rhythm is the bass and the bass is the treble,” three terms I understood from studying music. So I got, however vaguely at the time, that the real point was that music makes you FEEL a certain way; regardless of what the song’s literally saying, it’s *doing* something undeniable. The narrative was to some extent an after-thought, then — it’s a song about songs, what songs might mean to you or do for you, or to you.

    Which is good, because frankly if I’d had any idea that the culture I was so casually appropriating had stakes beyond imaginary goons coming at you and proving your prowess to nameless beautiful ladies and cheering on-lookers, I probably wouldn’t have been able to use it so comfortably. And what’s weird now is that, even knowing what I know now, I *still* feel that way, that this song is about songs first and situations a distant second.

    When I was 10, Snoop Dogg flipped out a pocketful of rubbers in the “Gin and Juice” video and I thought, “this is not for me yet, maybe ever.” Not sure I could even fathom how condoms worked. There were markers in that song (gin, for example) that told me I couldn’t relate to this directly, this wasn’t for me. Same year, Offspring sang about road rage that *only* a 4th grader could identify with (in “Bad Habit”) and I identified because I didn’t know enough to know how stupid it was. But at this age I was also naive enough to think that “gangsta” and “busta” and “nigga” were schoolyard social categories, like “skaters” versus “posers.” When I expressed this understanding to a teacher I was reprimanded, though it took me even longer to figure out why.

    “Regulate” allowed me to live in that naive fantasy, both low-stakes (objectively “safe,” or safely within my own head) and high-stakes (what felt like my whole world at the time) for a brief period — let a scrawny, dorky 10-year-old feel like the baddest motherfucker in the universe. It had a pretty major impact on my own sense of identity at the time (suffice it to say that few things to this day make me feel like the “baddest” anything), even though the literal impact of it — limited to six months of wearing a backward baseball cap and constantly playing this song, presumably taped from the radio between Metallica songs, on a Walkman — was short-lived.

    I hear it now and I can still feel the same machismo, the same cool, the same power in it, and somehow all that complicated social context — the sex, the politics, what’s *really* happening — falls away every time. I’m not sure whether or not that easy falling away is a good thing. But it’s as close to a pure, transporting feeling (maybe pure nostalgia?) I get listening to any song. Or doing anything, really.

  9. To give you a sense of how big a dork I was and remain, I put a period after the G in Warren G :/

  10. Amazing stuff from everyone here. Kat’s story is too classic as well.

    “Regulate” is a really important record for me. I stopped listening to music some time in 1992 at age 11 after having devoured the charts religiously for about 5 years before that. The only modern pop record I think I was aware of in 1993 was “Constant Craving” because AM radio stations played it. I didn’t really enjoy the wave of hip-hop that had produced the big hits in the early 90s.

    In 1994, my music teacher implored me to start listening to pop music again. There was great stuff in the charts, apparently. Sadly, that week in Australia, “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm” was Number One. I gave up again.

    A few months later, I thought I’d give it another go, and watched the chart countdown on TV. Number 40 was “Regulate”. And suddenly, hip-hop was a genre I knew I could grow to like.

  11. Yeah, great work from everyone (all week, really), but special kudos to Dave for that comment. That one’s got to be tied with Edward’s “Born This Way” essay for the greatest thing in any of the comment sections here.

  12. Was curious how well this song did in the fanzine Radio On when it came out. Turns out it averaged a 6.67, based on scores from 12 voters — placing it, that issue (Summer 1994), in eighth place, behind Beck’s “Loser,” Coolio’s “Fantastic Voyage,” Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage,” Blur’s “Girls & Boys,” Aaliyah’s “Back & Forth,” Crystal Waters’ “100% Pure Love,” and Ace Of Base’s “Don’t Turn Around.” I gave it a 7.0 myself; my blurb, which I have no idea whether I still agree with (have not gone back and listened yet — been swamped, between SXSW and book-proof-proofing stuff, and to be honest I’m a little confused about why we did all this for Nate Dogg and not for, I dunno, Teena Marie or Captain Beefheart or Loleatta Holloway) is below:

    Unintentionally ridiculous parts: 1) the G-funk era stuff; 2) The better-know-how-to-handle-the-steel stuff; 3) Monologue stolen from Evasions’ 1981 British funk parody “Wikka Rap” (“where rhythm is life and life is rhythm”); 4) “I can’t believe they took Lawrence Welk (so hide your polka LPs!). (7.0.)

    Longest reviews were both 6.0’s, written by Arsenio Orteza and Phil Dellio. Rob Sheffield gave it a 9.0, and also mentioned Lawrence Welk. (“And why not — Welk used to drop some crazy smooth beats, and you just know he was handy with the steel when it came time to regulate.”)

  13. Frank Kogan’s Radio On review:

    At the beginning of the video, with night shadows and the music real moody and the voice intoning about ‘regulators,’ it’s real dramatic and portentous, like the thrill I sometimes get when the lights go down in the movie theater and I don’t have a sense of what’s coming but I feel it could be dangerous. Unfortunately, the rap itself here doesn’t gather much intensity. The movie doesn’t know how to get started. 6.0, for the mood.

    Phil Dellio, for his part, predicted innacurately that Tom Jones might cover the song someday (“Think I better regulate now!”), and pointed out that “Regulate” is “the only song of the entire G-funk era to employ the Noel Cowardish adjective ‘tad’.”

  14. We did it in order to confuse you.

  15. You know, I’ve still never heard this song. The closest I’ve come was when I heard the first minute of it driving back from a monster truck rally I attended as a young aspiring frat boy in Raleigh. At the time I thought the beginning seemed pretty cheesy, and I suppose I’m generally allergic to music I particularly associate with that period in my life, so I’ve never felt a need to hear the rest. In fact I’m rather startled to read about all the feelings of machismo, cool, power etc. the song triggers because that’s not at all the impression I got from how it started. But I assume it must get better to engender such enthusiasm.

  16. Ha, it also helps to be 10! When I manage to take the nostalgia goggles off now, I mostly see flexing and posing; I get the distinct impression that both Warren G and Nate Dogg are actually a couple of losers making this fantasy up for themselves to make their lives more dangerous or interesting. But when it came out, I needed two losers like me to make power palatable or accessible.

  17. Just to counterbalance — as per my blurb — all the stuff on one side (“machismo, cool, power etc”), the other element that pours out of this song is (a fantasy of) loyalty and friendship. It’s the West Coast answer to “Two Little Boys”, except better at making the battleground seem like something you might actually find yourself on…

  18. By “dangerous” I mean something more like “adventurous,” since I obviously can’t actually speak to how safe or dangerous their neighborhoods may actually have been.

  19. I’ve thought this for a long time, but I’ll say it out loud: I’d love to see a Classic/Vintage Jukebox spin-off of this site.

  20. That I would not volunteer for, as I’m generally only capable of explaining why I don’t like something. It’s really quite frustrating.