I’m not sure how I knew when Doggystyle would be released. The debut album from Snoop Doggy Dogg — as Calvin Broadus, Jr. was known before changing his handle to Snoop Dogg, then Snoop Lion, then Snoop Dogg again — came out in November of 1993, and I can’t imagine that I read about it in any of the newspapers or magazines that cluttered my parents’ house. We didn’t have cable TV, so Kurt Loder didn’t tell me about it, a cartoon globe spinning behind his head. I can only assume that my friends were talking it up: “Snoop Doggy Dogg, from The Chronic? I heard his album’s coming out next week.” That was how information spread in 1993. I was 14 years old.
I was also a huge hip-hop fan, with a long and checkered history of signing up for BMG and Columbia House, receiving the first shipment of CDs or cassettes — nine or 10 of them, an impossible bounty — before writing them frantic I’m-just-a-child letters when they later demanded their cash. I would buy whatever I could with whatever money I had — A Tribe Called Quest, N.W.A, Tim Dog; it didn’t matter much. And although I don’t recall loving Dr. Dre’s The Chronic at the time, I must have been taken by the then-obscure Snoop, who appeared all over it, his silky nihilism leavening Dre’s stern-uncle delivery and the album’s squealing synths. Or maybe I just got swept up in the hype. Either way, I had to have Doggystyle.
There was a CD store one town over that managed to seem simultaneously new and run-down, as if its owners, after hustling to finance its opening, had been too exhausted to properly set it up. Its interior was heavy on milk crates and cardboard signage. It was open for a few months at most, and none of my old friends remember it; when I bring it up, they frown as if I’m describing a poltergeist. But I know that it existed, and that it was open for business on the week of November 23, 1993.
I usually got my music from a shopping mall a few miles out of town, and I’m not sure why I didn’t go there for Doggystyle. I wouldn’t have faked an illness to stay home on the Tuesday of its release — I only did such a thing once, in the second grade, to obtain a few packs of Garbage Pail Kids’ long-awaited third edition — so I must have waited until that Saturday, only to find that, for whatever reason, I couldn’t hitch a ride to the mall. I had to take matters into my own smallish hands.
I’d only been in the store once or twice before, and I’d never bought anything there, but it represented my best chance at obtaining Snoop’s debut. My father had recently upped my allowance to a Zuckerbergian $20 a week, so I didn’t have to go through the ordeal of scraping up loose change — which I’d once done to buy a Bon Jovi cassette (the unlistenable 7800° Fahrenheit). Cash in hand, I likely lied to my parents about where I was going — playing basketball with friends, not searching for murder-and-misogyny-filled music — and set out.
It was about a mile and a half to the shop from my childhood home, but as I remember it, the walk had an epic, questing feel. I crossed the busy street perpendicular to my own quiet one and proceeded down a hill that bottomed out near the entrance to a soccer field. On game and practice days, the rutted, tree-hung drive to the field fills with cars; you can hear cheers and murmurs from the open space beyond. But it was too late in the year for soccer, and the place was desolate. The drive peters out at the lip of the field, where the trees recede and the sky seems suddenly huge above the expanse of grass. My first burst of vivid memory of that day occurs here: me, alone, walking towards the woods on the field’s far side. When I think of Doggystyle — and even when I think of Snoop Dogg — I think of myself, simmering with teenage need, moving across that empty field.
A slim path wound through a patch of woods into which was hacked the Department of Public Works, its snow plows and pickup trucks parked beside a junk-strewn creek. I curled around an abandoned, graffiti-wracked DPW outbuilding and climbed the metal steps of a bridge that led to a surviving copse of trees. The area had a forgotten, suburban-outlaw feel, the sort of hidden place where ’90s kids smoked joints and ’80s kids got drunk and — if the tabloids were to be believed — sacrificed their weak in praise of Great Lord Satan.
An overgrown path led through a second field — three baseball diamonds the merging outfields of which created another soccer pitch — until I got to the first street, the first real bit of civilization, in the neighboring town. I was almost there. A left, a right, and I was at a car-choked thoroughfare lined with shops. My objective sat wanly on the other side. I crossed the street and entered the store. A little bell might have rung. Of course, I was the only customer.
As I recall, the person behind the counter was a light-skinned black man who wore a tight paisley shirt and oversized glasses, like Get Up With It-era Miles Davis. Though there was never a guarantee of finding what you wanted there, I quickly located Doggystyle — success! — paid, and hurried out, excited to get home and listen to my treasure.
I’d like to say that I recall tearing up to my room, ripping off the disc’s cellophane, and blasting “Gin and Juice” and “Who Am I (What’s My Name?),” but that would be a lie. I have no recollection of actually listening to the album once I returned, or what I even thought of it in subsequent days and weeks. I probably thought, as I do now, that the record was crowded with filler, with too many lackluster skits and too many subpar guests. I don’t know. As is so often the case — as is maybe always the case — the getting of the thing was more important than the thing itself.