“[G-Funk] still got a little bit of a hard edge, but makes you feel good at the same time," Warren G explained in 2017. "I don’t want to do music that has you scared—that diminished sound, the scary movie sound. I want something to make you feel good, so you can ride in the sunset on PCH. You can smoke to it, barbeque, get your groove on. It feels good.”
Warren Griffin had famously come up with his friends Calvin Broadus and Nathanial Hale in Long Beach, CA. Deejaying as "Warren G," and with Calvin rapping as "Snoopy" and Nate singing, they formed a crew called 213, that also featured Snoop's cousin Lil 1/2 Dead. But when Snoop (now christened Snoop Doggy Dogg) signed with Death Row Records in 1991, Warren didn't follow suit. He'd even advised Snoop against signing to the new label without legal representation, and that bit of offhand advice irked Death Row head Suge Knight, so much so that he physically confronted Warren G, and then rebuffed Warren at every opportunity.
“From that point on, we didn’t see eye to eye,” Warren shared in 2022 on Talib Kweli's People's Party podcast. “I didn’t hate him, but when it was time to start hitting the road and doing things like that, it was like, ‘We don’t got a ticket for you, you ain’t going.’ I’m like, ‘Why? Shit, what the fuck is that?!’ Dre was like, ‘Go and be your own man. Do your thang.’" Suge's scorning angered Warren, who now had to rethink his situation. Death Row was suddenly the biggest label in rap music and he'd been a part of the success. But now, because of bad blood with Suge, he couldn't enjoy the fruits.
“It hurt. It was fucked up," Warren G admitted. "I had to go back to the hood, sleeping on the floor and all I had was my crate of records that I was helping out with The Chronic. I had my MPC60 drum machine, my Teknik and my Numark mixer.”
Part of why it hurt was because Snoop, Nate and Warren had always been a unit. Long before Death Row, they'd been a brotherhood. Warren was always the laid-back self-described nerd who wanted to make music, even before anyone else took it seriously. The hood was what it was, but he steered clear of problems. “I’d still have to walk through that shit,” he said in that 2017 interview with Rebecca Haithcoat. “I was always ‘Little Warren’ or the 'Professor,' because I had glasses. I don’t get in anybody’s mixes, I just hold my own lane and have a good time. I don’t look for nothing like that, but I’d kick somebody’s ass fast! How I am is how my music is. A cool motherfucker.”
“Those guys always supported one another,” explained former Nate Dogg publicist Gwendolyn Priestley. “The bond between all those guys was always so tight. They were like a fraternity.”
Now, it was like Warren G was estranged from his brothers.
But Warren G was still Death Row-affiliated, even if he ultimately would find his path elsewhere. He contributed to the Above The Rim soundtrack, a major release for Death Row that was executive produced by Dr. Dre. Warren had also seen success with Mista Grimm's "Indo Smoke" on the soundtrack for 1993's Poetic Justice, and produced "Definition Of A Thug Nigga" for 2Pac on that project, as well; but this could be a very high-profile look for him. He and Nate would team up for a new song he was working on.
"He just knew what to do. And he was just so talented. Whatever the concept was, he’d make it bigger. Whatever you’re talking about, he’d make the hook. And him just being with us, chillin’."
He just knew what to do. And he was just so talented. Whatever the concept was, he’d make it bigger..."
- Warren G on Nate Dogg (VICE, 2018)
"I was a fan of Young Guns, that was one of my favorite movies at the time," he explained in 2018. "I used to watch it all the time on VHS. I would watch it two or three times a day. We used to always say ‘Regulate’. Like: ‘Man, we’re gonna have to regulate this shit in here!’, ‘Fool, regulate the spot!’ or ‘Get on out of here, we’re gonna have to regulate this situation.’"
The track samples Michael McDonald's "I Keep Forgettin'" (a fact that led to a hilarious episode of Yacht Rock many years later), and features Warren recounting a night that takes a dangerously dark turn before ending with a rendezvous at the Eastside Motel. Nate Dogg's distinctive croon melds perfectly with Warren's laid-back lyrics, even as the song's breezy vibe belies the sinister events in the lyrics.
"We’d witnessed that and we’d been a part of it," Warren told NME about the song's subject matter. "We just told the story, and then on the hook we just let everybody’s imagination flow."
"Regulate" became one of the biggest songs of 1994. It shot all the way to No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 that spring, and was nominated for a Grammy in 1995. It's become Warren's signature song, and it helped push the Above The Rim soundtrack past the double platinum mark. It also perfectly set the stage for his debut album, Regulate...G Funk Era.
Warren opted to record the album on his own, then signed a deal with New York-based Violator Entertainment; which led to a distribution deal for the album with Def Jam. The once-mighty label was struggling through an uncharacteristically rough patch: the platinum-selling Slick Rick had gone to prison in 1991; EPMD acrimoniously broke up after 1992s Business Never Personal, their best-selling album at the time; LL COOL J's 1993 album 14 Shots To the Dome and Public Enemy's Muse-Sick-N-Hour-Mess-Age hadn't been well-received. With the emergence of Death Row and the success of "Regulate," landing a high-profile West Coast hitmaker like Warren G was perfect timing for the label.
And for Warren, his debut album gave him an opportunity to showcase his production bonafides, as well as highlight his eye for talent. Taking cues from Dr. Dre's approach to The Chronic, Warren would use the album to announce the rappers like The Twinz, The Dove Shack and Jah Skillz; artists in his burgeoning G-Funk Entertainment stable.
"The Twinz was from Long Beach and they rapped. I brought ‘em along with me and said, 'Let’s Go,'" he once told VICE. "And Jah Skillz, I met her [while] she was going to Long Beach State. I used to go up to Long Beach State all the time to parties. She was like, 'I could rap,' so I said 'Bust.' I’m sitting up there in the 600 Benz with the top back and she busts right there. I said, 'You know what? I want you on my album.' We’ve been tight ever since."
"This D.J." was the second single from the album, and the video was popular on MTV throughout the summer.
Regulate...G Funk Era dropped that June, and the album offered an effortlessly cool vibe courtesy of Warren G's persona and the music itself. With Death Row dominating the airwaves and commentators singing the praises of Dr. Dre, Warren offered a sunnier take on G-Funk that made his album the perfect soundtrack for the warmer months. Tracks like and "Recognize" and "What's Next" have a dark-but-groovy feel; as Warren, The Twinz and Jah Skillz put on for Long Beach. The songs are still street tales, but the spirit is more laid-back than what had become the norm for 1994.
Carried by a sample of "Don't Stop" by One Way (that Warren would also flip for 2Pac's Thug Life single "How Long Will They Mourn Me?"), "Super Soul Sis" gave Jah Skillz a solo showcase, and "This Is the Shack" did the same for the Dove Shack, a trio out of Long Beach. Following his standout guest appearance on Snoop Doggy Dogg's Doggy Style, South Carolina rhymer and former Illegal member Mr. Malik gives a scene-stealing performance on "What's Next."
Regulate...G Funk Era would go on to sell more than 3 million copies, rejuvenating Def Jam and setting the label up for a mid-90s resurgence that would be solidified by the monster success of LL COOL J's Mr. Smith the following year. And it made Warren G a star as an artist and producer, effectively breaking him out of the shadow of his best friend, his older brother and their famous record label.
"Where we come from, if you’re down with somebody, you’re ride or die wit’ ‘em," Warren told VICE in 2018. "So that’s just the way I was. It had felt kinda funny to be willing to put my all on the line, and I’m giving up 95 and only getting 5 back. I ain’t trippin, I ain’t mad, and I ain’t bitter—and never will be. And I still love Dre, Snoop, them is my brothers. If I have to call anybody, I’ll call them."