Snoop Dogg Is Still King in India

Opinions about events beyond our borders.
Jan. 18 2013 2:11 PM

East Meets West Coast

Snoop Dogg tours India, where rap lyrics are under fire.

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Snoop
Snoop in Singh Is Kinng

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There was a long delay while Snoop got stuck in urban India’s legendary traffic. But finally the artist born Calvin Cordozar Broadus Jr. took the stage, backed by a goofy, minor-league-baseball-style “Nasty Dogg” mascot and three fly-girls—who began the concert in matching Adidas jump suits, but ended it in their underwear. Snoop’s repertoire was heavy on warhorses—the audience gladly dropped it like it was hot and duly chilled until the next episode. But the lanky, hammy superstar also made some charming concessions to the locals. When Snoop demanded “DJ, play me some classic shit!” the man behind the Mac blasted Dum Maro Dum, a 1970s Bollywood stoner classic that brought down the house. Snoop also reprised his own Bollywood number, Singh Is Kinng, minus the black turban he wore in the video and without his duet partner, local film star Akshay Kumar. (The leading man had tweeted with regret, “Snoop I’d love to come brother but I’m shooting,” inviting his former co-star for some Indian fried chicken when he’s in Mumbai.) With Akshay’s lines pumped in from a recording, the song didn’t have quite the same magic as the video—in which Snoop, king of the West, and Kumar, king of the East, seal their alliance by serving each other foods from home: palak paneer and chicken and waffles.

Was it the debate roiling India that prompted Snoop to close with “Sensual Seduction,” the closest thing in his repertoire to a feminist anthem? (“I’m gonna take my time,” he says on the track, “She’s gon’ get hers before I. …”) Perhaps. On the other hand, none of the women in attendance seemed to hesitate before singing along fervently with “I Want to Fuck You (You Already Know),” a, shall we say, less feminist song of Snoop’s that he performed earlier in the evening.

Between sets I chatted with concert-goers about the rap lyrics debate. Vinayak Londhe, a 26-year-old manager for Zodiac, a flashy Indian clothing label, was a little surprised he didn’t have to cross a picket line to get into Snoop’s concert. “I was thinking it was going to be controversial,” Londhe said, sporting a chic dress shirt with a black-and-white striped Nehru collar. “People complain about Honey Singh but Snoop Dogg is much bigger.” He chalked up the inconsistency to Snoop rapping in English while Singh raps in an Indian vernacular language that is more accessible to the masses of the subcontinent. When I asked to snap his photo, he obliged, flashing the gangsta hand signal for “West Coast.”

Stuti Shinde Patil and Jeunelle Rebello, both 19, signed petitions and attended protests in the wake of the Delhi gang rape. But they still came out for the D-O-double-G. Patil, a college student, said that while women in Snoop numbers are more often than not “bitches” and “hoes,” she doesn’t blame him. “It’s not just Snoop. All American hip-hop artists use those words.” Snoop just inherited the idiom, she said. By contrast, Singh consciously decided to go there, dragging Indian hip-hop down to heretofore unexplored depths in the gutter and was getting punished accordingly.

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“The standards are very different,” Rebello agreed. “India’s a more conservative country, so people have a problem with Honey Singh. He’s going against the community.”

This was a recurring theme: Many Indians feel a collective shame about Honey Singh’s lyrics. Snoop, on the other hand, doesn’t bother them, because they aren’t implicated by his words. Perhaps Snoop shames America; Honey Singh is an embarrassment to the world’s largest democracy.

In the wake of the Delhi rape, Indian sociologists and feminists have argued the crime is rampant in India because rape itself is not all that despised. Instead, it is considered shameful only when it becomes public—and not just to the rapist but even more so to the victim and her family. With Honey Singh’s lyrics too, it seems the masses of India are uncomfortable because of shame at Honey Singh’s explicitness more than outrage at his sentiments. If India had more of a problem with Snoop’s lyrics, it might be a sign of social progress.

India hip-hop insider DJ Sa, who spun for the b-boying contest, thought the Honey Singh to-do was a tempest in a chai pot and would ultimately blow over. Sa, wearing a T-shirt with a red, yellow, and black stencil of the African continent and a Black Power fist in the center—“since I’m supporting Snoop Lion, I went with the rasta colors”—thought the Punjabi impresario was being subjected to the usual media cycle of building up a star only to tear him down. “There’s a phase every artist goes through when he has a lot of haters,” he said, citing Snoop’s own career trajectory as an example. But ultimately the true superstar can come back with hit after hit. “Haters can hate,” he concluded, but “at the end of the day, money talks.”

Daniel Brook is a journalist and author whose latest book, A History of Future Cities, was published in February.

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