The untold story of Snoop Dogg’s nostalgic Neva Left cover
Legendary hip-hop photographer Chi Modu recounts the photoshoot that’s spurred high expectations for Snoop Dogg’s 15th solo album
With one of the most expansive careers covering 25 years in the industry, Snoop Dogg returns this week with his 15th solo studio album Neva Left, featuring guest appearances from original OGs Redman, Method Man, Too Short and KRS-One. Then there’s the collaborations with younger talents Kaytranada and BadBadNotGood. Expectations for his latest release have been high due to the retro cover, featuring a younger Snoop shot by the legendary hip-hop photographer Chi Modu – who’s lensed iconic images of Biggie, Wu-Tang and more. In the 90s, the image maker captured several covers for The Source and last year, he released the book Tupac Shakur: Uncategorized to coincide with the late rapper’s 45th birthday. Now with Neva Left, the cover photo has emerged from Modu’s archive 24 years after it was first shot.
We catch up with the influential photographer below to discuss the album cover and what Snoop was like that day on on the avenues of LA.
Where was the photograph taken?
This image was created in 1993 on Venice Boulevard in Los Angeles, California.
Snoop Doggy Dogg – Los Angeles, CA 1993 – I first posted this image five months ago. I scanned the original for the first time that day 24 years after I first took the original shot. This image is a throwback to the time when I worked with Snoop early in his career. When they reached out to me to license the image for Snoop’s new album, Neva Left, I thought it was a smart strategy on their part. This image taken during Snoop’s Doggystyle era takes you back to the Snoop we all met for the first time collaborating with Dre, DPG, Nate and Warren while spreading West Coast G-funk globally. When we first met Snoop we were all captivated by the flow of the young G from Long Beach. I think people want to experience some of the energy of those times again. Pictures have the power to take you there. . . This image is a reminder that we both Neva Left! Congratulations on your new album releasing tomorrow @snoopdogg ! Keep it Gangsta! #snoopdoggydogg #snoopdogg #nevaleft #hiphop #chimodu #uncategorized #doggystyle #gfunk #outtakes
What can you remember about that day?
This was very early in Snoop’s career so he was still dealing with the realities of his life in Los Angeles. The gang life was still an important part of LA culture and because of it Snoop was always aware of his surroundings. A few of his friends were nearby just off camera ready to do whatever was needed to keep us all safe that day and for us to get the shot.
Why did you take the photo at that location?
We chose this location specifically for the California 1-8-7 sign. The hook from Snoop’s cameo on the title track from the soundtrack to the movie Deep Cover. It’s where the 1-8-7 reference comes from. That number is Los Angeles police code for murder. That’s the hook that Snoop says from the single Deep Cover: ”Cause it’s 1-8-7 on an undercover cop’.
What is Snoop like to shoot?
The work we did together was early in Snoop’s career. We got along from the first time we met. He told me that when his solo album was ready to come out he would call me to shoot it. Six months after we first connected for the cover of Rap Pages Magazine, I got the call to return to LA to shoot his debut album Doggystyle as promised. It was cool to be a part of the beginning of a career that has now spanned 25 years. We were both young and tried to experiment with locations while including some of Snoop’s world back then which was the reality of the dangerous L.A. streets. We were able to produce both sides of his reality which is what you see in the series of images we produced together.
Did Snoop reach out to you before using the photo for Neva Left?
Absolutely. His people came and we worked out an arrangement. I thought it was a brilliant move on their part to pick an image from the early Snoop Doggy Dogg days to support the album titled Neva Left. Everyone loved the energy of that era in Snoop’s career. By referencing that time visually in the build up to his album release is a strategic move that has already brought a lot of attention and credibility to the project even before the music has been released. It’s sparking interest in the project which speaks to the supportive power of images.
If any, what kind of music were you all listening to back in ’93 when this photo was taken?
I happened to have a cassette copy of Jeru The Damaja’s Come Clean produced by my man DJ Premier with me that day. I played if for Snoop and it was the first time he heard it. We both enjoyed it. If you listen to that song today the beat is still mesmerising. it was very unique when it first came out and that was the soundtrack to the day.
Snoop said he wants to try and capture “every phase of career” on this new album. What phase do you think this photo represents?
This is his beginning. I think it’s the phase in an artist’s career that they are the most attached to. They tend to remember the details of their beginnings more than the rest of their career. It makes sense that for this album they decided to reconnect with me. We made some magic 24 years ago and it keeps on producing strong unseen imagery to this day.
Is there anything people might not know about this image / this shoot?
I have another series from the same location taken on a different day about six months apart. You’ll see in the other images, where he is standing next to the sign, he has a hoodie on.