Nathaniel Dwayne "Nate Dogg" Hale, who tragically passed away at the age of 41 on the night of March 15, was hip-hop's ghetto troubadour. There were other hip-hop singers that came before him, from the vocally-inclined Cold Crush Brothers and Fantastic Five to Biz Markie's right-hand man TJ Swann. But Nate Dogg was the first to fully complement the MCs he performed with, and not just serve as an out-of-tune foil. He was akin to a great character actor who effortlessly stole scenes from the headliners. His deep baritone and unapologetically gangsta persona defined the G-funk era just as inimitably as Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg. Ice Cube put it best on Westside Connection's "Gangsta Nation": "It must be a single with Nate Dogg singin' on it."
Though Nate Dogg is inextricably connected with West Coast hip-hop, his deep catalog of side appearances and three solo albums (most notably 2001's Music and Me) ranges from Mos Def's and Pharoahe Monch's "Oh No" to Ludacris' "Area Codes." When "Oh No" was released in 2000, those two stalwarts of independent hip-hop came under heavy criticism from their fans for allegedly selling out. In hindsight, it's clear that "Oh No" was more than just a commercial ploy; Nate Dogg enjoyed widespread respect in the rap industry, even among those who considered themselves opposed to the mainstream. It didn't hurt that Nate Dogg helped Mos Def and Pharoahe Monch achieve their only top 40 hit to date. He tended to do that. Even 50 Cent scored one of his biggest hits when Nate Dogg sang the chorus on "21 Questions."
Other Nate Dogg jewels include his smooth-yet-rough refrain on Dr. Dre's "Deeez Nuuuts" ("I can't be faded, I'm a n*gg* from the muthaf*ck*n street") and his deliciously obscene verse on Snoop Dogg's "Ain't No Fun (If The Homies Can't Have None)" ("'Cause I never met a girl/ That I loved in the whole wide world"). My personal favorite was on Shade Sheist's "Where I Wanna Be." It personifies how Nate Dogg could completely overtake a song, leaving you to believe that the song is his alone. I can't remember Shade Sheist's verse and can barely recall Kurupt's, but Nate Dogg's evocative chorus rings in my head: "Where I wanna be/ Right here with my loved ones." Cruising with the homies as the sun sets on a West Coast day - that was the essence of Nate Dogg.