Nate Dogg, the melodic voice of G-funk who provided the laid-back hooks to some of the biggest hip-hop hits to come out of the West Coast and beyond, has died at the age of 41, according to his family. The cause of death was not immediately revealed, but the singer had previously suffered strokes in 2007 and 2008.
Nate Dogg—real name Nathaniel Hale—became friends with Snoop Dogg while the two were growing up in Long Beach, and after Hale served a short stint in the Marines, the two formed the early rap trio 213 with their other pal Warren G. In 1991, the group recorded a demo that caught the ear of Dr. Dre, who was especially taken with Nate Dogg’s voice: A soulful, butter-smooth R&B croon that still carried the rhythmic cadence of rap, Nate Dogg’s sound personified what would come to be known as G-funk. Dre took the trio under his wing and recruited Nate to sing some of the hooks on The Chronic; the world got its first introduction to Nate on the outro to that album's “Deeeez Nuuuts."
After The Chronic became a smash, Nate Dogg was signed to Death Row Records in 1993, and in 1994 he released what would come to be his signature hit with 213 partner Warren G. Built on a sample of Michael McDonald’s “I Keep Forgettin’,” Warren G. and Nate Dogg’s “Regulate” was a slow, hazy ride through the east side of the LBC, with the duo chasing down girls and running up against muggers and seemingly never breaking a sweat. In the lyrics, Warren G. avowed that it was “tweaking into a whole new era” called G-funk, and the track’s dominance of radio playlists that summer of 1994 certainly backed up those claims. It quickly climbed the charts, topping out at the No. 2 position, and its appearance on the Above The Rim soundtrack helped push that album to the top as well. In 1995, he and Warren G. were nominated for a Grammy for Best Performance By A Duo Or Group, ultimately losing out to Salt-N-Pepa’s “None Of Your Business”—but it’s obvious which one of those two songs has stood the test of time.
After “Regulate,” Nate Dogg continued to contribute hooks to several 2Pac releases—most notably Thug Life’s “How Long Will They Mourn Me?”—as well as to works by other Death Row artists. In 1998, he released his solo debut G-Funk Classics, Vol. 1 & 2—a record that had been recorded in 1996, but shelved for two years after Death Row had become fractured by infighting among 2Pac and Dre, and Suge Knight’s legal problems had crippled the label. Unfortunately, the passing years had already made G-funk seem like something of a relic, as West Coast hip-hop was rapidly waning in popularity, meaning Nate Dogg was robbed of the true solo success he could have had. Nevertheless, he managed to score a couple of minor hits with it, especially “Nobody Does It Better.”
He would release two more solo albums in his lifetime, including 2001’s Music And Me (which hit No. 3 on the Billboard hip-hop charts) and 2003’s Nate Dogg. He also continued to work steadily with a whole new generation of artists, lending his signature hooks to singles by then-up-and-comers like Eminem, 50 Cent, Mos Def, and Ludacris. Nate Dogg scored three more Grammy nominations for his work on Dr. Dre and Snoop’s “The Next Episode” in 2001, Ludacris’ “Area Codes” in 2002, and Eminem’s “Shake That” in 2007. All in all, he could be heard on over 40 charting hip-hop singles in his career, his soft touch leaving an indelible mark on the genre.