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I have a lot to say about the 1994 hit "Regulate" by Warren G ft. Nate Dogg
Look, before I start, let me say that I love “Regulate” and have loved it since the first time I heard it. But if you pay attention to the lyrics, it tells a very weird story that is very different from what it appears on the surface. Let’s look at three readings.
The Standard Reading:
“Regulate” is about a typical night in the hood for Warren G and his friend Nate Dogg. Like the Old West, it’s a dangerous environment in which scores are settled personally through extreme violence. Only hard men survive in environments like these, and that’s exactly what Warren and Nate are. As a result, they are rewarded with some time at the East Side Motel with dames that are sexy as hell.
Okay, I think this is how most people remember the plot of the song. But step into the lyrics and, well, it doesn’t quite tell the same story.
The Close Reading:
We start with:
It was a clear black night, a clear white moon
Warren G was on the streets, tryin' to consume
Some skirts for the eve, so I can get some phones
Rollin' in my ride, chillin' all alone
Warren is alone on a dark evening (good weather), driving around by himself, looking for women with his car so he can get some phone numbers and potentially have sex later. Weird strategy, Warren, but alright, it was the early 90’s so I guess things may have been different.
Just hit the east side of the LBC
On a mission trying to find Mr. Warren G
Seen a car full of girls ain't no need to tweak
All you skirts know what's up with 213
Nate Dogg has arrived on the east side of Long Beach! He is looking for his friend Warren who, as we know, is out around town (presumably in Long Beach) honking and yelling at women from his car. As he’s driving, Nate sees a car full of women but he’s not freaking out or anything because all the women know his neighborhood.
So I hooks a left on 21 and Lewis
Some brothas shootin' dice, so I said, "Let's do this"
I jumped out the ride, and said, "What's up?"
Some brothas pulled some gats, so I said, "I'm stuck"
We’re back to Warren who is describing the exact location where he saw some dudes gambling in the street. He tells us that this got him excited—either because he wanted to gamble, or potentially because he wanted to rob the game—and he decided to get out and approach the men. Depending on how we answer that question, he either greets them in the friendly way (“what’s up?”) or threatens them rhetorically (“WHAT’S UP!”). Regardless, things backfire and Warren neither gets to play or to get his money because the men are armed. “Oh, bother!” thinks Warren. And “Check, please!”
Since these girls peepin' me, I'ma glide and swerve
These hookers lookin' so hard, they straight hit the curb
Onto bigger, better things than some horny tricks
I see my homie and some suckers all in his mix
Although Nate isn’t freaking out about the girls he saw earlier, he does like that they’re looking at him. To revel in that attention, he does some tricks in his car (presumably weaving in and out of lanes) to impress them. The tricks are so effective that the women quite literally fall down on the ground from being so impressed. Paradoxically, this makes Nate disinterested. Their attention has come too easy and this doesn’t impress him—he wants a woman who won’t swoon for just anyone in a nice car; he wants a woman that will love him for who he is. To spend more time here would be a waste of his night. Just as he re-focuses on his mission, he sees his friend Warren in the distance. He looks like he’s in trouble…
I'm gettin' jacked, I'm breakin' myself
I can't believe they takin' Warren's wealth
They took my rings, they took my Rolex
I looked at the brotha said, "Damn, what's next?"
Warren is not in a good place! He’s being robbed and he can’t quite believe it! Not only did they take his rings, but they also took his expensive watch! Warren thinks this is quite unreasonable. Are the robbers going to take all of his wealth? The tension is high.
They got my homie hemmed up and they all around
Can't none of 'em see him if they going straight pound for pound
They wanna come up real quick before they start to clown
I best pull out my strap and lay them busters down
Nate Dogg is assessing the situation. Things aren’t looking good for Warren. The robbers are all around him and have him pressed by the collar against the wall. But here, I admit, I’m not actually sure what’s going on. I think he’s saying if each of the guys had to fight Warren one-on-one (“go straight pound for pound”), then they would lose (because Warren is so tough), and that that’s why they had to come at him as a group, surprising him before he could fight them off. He then concludes that he has to shoot the robbers before things get bad for Warren.
But he could also be saying that the situation was so bad that Warren would be pulverized so quickly if they actually started fighting, that he has to act quickly and shoot them before they actually do that. Really, I just don’t know how to read “Can’t none of ‘em see him” and “They wanna come up real quick” here.
Regardless, Nate is gonna kill some people for his friend.
They got guns to my head, I think I'm goin' down
I can't believe it's happenin' in my own town
If I had wings I would fly, let me contemplate
I glanced in the cut and I see my homie Nate
Warren genuinely believes he’s going to be shot in the head. All he wanted to do was get some phone numbers, maybe do a little gambling, maybe have a little sex, and instead, he’s going to be shot in an alley. And of all places, it’s happening in his home town too. I don’t quite know what that matters, but I suppose I don’t assume that I’m going to die in my home town either…although I also don’t assume that I’m not going to die there. I don’t know. I strikes Warren as ironic or something.
We then get to one of the weirdest parts of the song in which Warren, facing his death, ponders how things would be different if he had wings. If that were the case, then he wouldn’t be in this predicament because he would be able to fly away. And on that we agree, I suppose. At the same time, I want to take up Warren on his offer and contemplate…true, Warren might be able to fly away, but one thing about birds is that they’re also liable to be shot by bullets. So the sky doesn’t necessarily provide safety. I suspect if he were as small as a pigeon, then he might be harder to hit. Which invites the question of what kind of winged thing are we talking about? Are we considering the possible world in which Warren is just a regular-ass bird? If so, then, yeah, he wouldn’t get robbed probably since very few people go out of their way to rob birds. He might have other problems too. Bird problems I mean.
Or are we supposed to imagine that he just has massive bird wings like Angel from the X-Men? That might be better since I can imagine the wings pushing away the assailants as Warren takes to the sky. Furthermore, that might stun them for long enough for him to fly behind a building or something. But if that’s the case, has he always had them or is this new thing? Did he not have them before the robbery but now he has them permanently? Or are they temporary? It seems like if he always had them, then he’d be a HUGE target in the neighborhood since someone would definitely want to take out the Winged Man of Long Beach for the clout. He’d definitely get robbed a lot more. Also, if he always had the wings, why is he trying to pick up women by driving in his car instead of like…I don’t know, talking to them about his ability to fly?! It doesn’t make sense. It makes more sense to say that he didn’t have the wings and that he’s now wishing for wings. The problem, however, is that regardless of whether they’re permanent or temporary, it’s very unlikely that Warren would know how to use them on the first try. I admit, I’ve never had wings, and birds make having them look easy and intuitive, but I still think it would take me a while to figure out exactly how to work them. In that case, were Warren to get his magical wings, he might like flap them a little bit before the men pointing guns at him shoot him out of sheer terror. That’s not a better situation, really.
Finally, maybe we’re supposed to imagine that he could transform into a pigeon, Animorphs style, then return to Warren G mode later in a safe place. Of all the suggestions, I think this one makes the most sense and must be what Warren was imagining. He’d become small like bird, and having become a bird would have all the knowledge of being a bird. He would use that knowledge to fly away, and because he’s small, the robbers wouldn’t be able to shoot him down. Later, when he’s away, he could transform into Warren G again and return to his evening of gambling and picking up ladies. Yep, that’s it.
Anyway, he sees Nate off to the side.
Sixteen in the clip and one in the hole
Nate Dogg is about to make some bodies turn cold
Now they droppin' and yellin', it's a tad bit late
Nate Dogg and Warren G had to regulate
Nate Dogg has seventeen bullets that he’s going to use on his enemies. He will murder them. In fact, he does murder them. They die loudly, but Nate has no sympathy for their pain. They forced his hand and both he and Warren G had to regulate.
Okay, now hold up.
I find Nate’s conclusion here very odd. This is not because his hand wasn’t forced—it was—but because in no sense of the word was Warren even remotely regulating. In fact, all Warren did was got his ass in trouble, and then immediately started dreaming about being a bird. Is that what the “Regulators” do?! That’s not very impressive! I mean, I suppose it’s realistic insofar as I feel like I’m more of a Warren than a Nate here, but it’s a weird flex. “Yeah, I wrote this song about how tough me and my friend are. Check it: so I’m out trying to gamble when I get robbed, and then Nate comes and saves me by killing everyone. That’s why they call us the Regulators!”
Maybe Nate is just very generous here and just doesn’t want to embarrass his friend and ruin his night. Maybe it’s like when my girlfriend cooks a meal and I chop some onions and she tells people that I helped with the cooking…
I laid all them busters down, I let my gat explode
Now I'm switchin' my mind back into freak mode
If you want skirts, sit back and observe
I just left a gang of those over there on the curb
The killing is over and Nate Dogg has compartmentalized everything. He represses his violence and turns his attention to having fun and being horny. As if nothing happened, he tells Warren (presumably just covered in gore) that he impressed some women earlier and that if he [Warren] was out doing his whole picking-up-women-with-his-car thing, they could probably go back and find the women again.
Nate Dogg’s commitment to his friend’s wellbeing, safety, and happiness is unparalleled. He will not only kill for Warren—he will also help his friend get laid.
Now Nate got the freaks and that's a known fact
Before I got jacked, I was on the same track
Back up, back up, 'cause it's on
N-A-T-E and me, the Warren to the G
A celebration of the friendship. Warren acknowledges that Nate is notorious for his success with women, and then insists (unconvincingly) that he, too, is quite the player himself. If that’s the case, then the two would be unstoppable!
Just like I thought, they were in the same spot
In need of some desperate help
But Nate Dogg and the G-child
We're in need of something else
One of them dames was sexy as hell
I said, "Ooh, I like your size"
She said, "My car's broke down, and you seem real nice
Would ya let me ride?"
I got a car full of girls, and it's goin' real swell
The next stop is the Eastside Motel
We find out that the women we heard about earlier were actually having car trouble and they need some help. Had Nate misread the entire situation? Were they simply trying to flag him down when he was doing his tricks? Did he actually come off like an absolute tool? Imagine: your car’s broken down and you’re trying to get the nearest driver’s attention, when he starts swerving erratically nearby, making you fall over and then speeds away. And now he’s back, covered in blood with a guy who’s pale as a sheet and who has clearly gone through something serious. Does any of that cross Nate Dogg’s mind? No! He’s going to use this situation to his advantage and blackmail the women! He hits on one of the women and she, misplacing her trust in him, tells him about her car breaking down and requesting a ride. Presumably, Nate, she wants to get to the mechanic, or to her or one of her girlfriends’ houses. Instead, Nate and Warren decide to drive them to the Eastside Motel…shame…
NOW WE GET TO THE WEIRDEST PART OF THE SONG:
I'm tweaking, into a whole new era
G-funk, step to this, I dare ya
Funk, on a whole new level
The rhythm is the bass and the bass is the treble
Chords, strings, we brings melody
G-funk, where rhythm is life
And life is rhythm
If you know like I know
You don't wanna step to this
It's the G-funk era
Funked out with a gangsta twist
If you smoke like I smoke
Then you're high like everyday
And if your ass is a buster, 213 will regulate
At this point, the evening is over and Warren and Nate step out of the song. In fact, they start talking about the song itself and about the G-funk sound and all of its associated attitudes and beliefs.
I cannot overstate how much this changes the meaning of the song. Instead of the song being about a rough night out in LA, it’s about….
The Correct Reading:
“Regulate” is a song about Nate Dogg and Warren G pitching G-funk to an executive. What we’re presented with is a transcript of a sales meeting in which the plot of “Regulate” is described before the final two verses is used as a proof of concept. We then step out of that song and see Warren G extolling it’s virtues. He’s essentially saying:
“Look, gang, this song is an example of a radically different sound—we’ve taken inspiration from funk music, but we’ve changed quite a few things to make it unique. More specifically, we’ve messed with the traditional studio arrangement: the rhythm section now acts as the bass and what would have traditionally served as the bass is now the treble. On top of that we layer a lot of strings and chords to get a kind of catchy melody (did you notice the piano in the background? Your brain did!) It’s this sound that’s going to be sound of a generation. In fact, think we’ve come up with a great motto: “G-funk: where rhythm is life and life is rhythm!” What do you think?”
Finally, Nate Dogg comes in with the hard closing:
“Look, if you guys are serious, you can recognize that this sound is going to be dominant. Our sound will appeal to the generation of people raised on their parents’ funk music mixed with the themes of the contemporary gangsta society in which they find themselves. And that’s a big market share. Do you want in or not? Because, frankly, neither me nor Warren are desperate—we know what we have and we’re in the black enough to smoke every day without having to worry about it. Oh, and if you think you can pull something over on us, we’re not gonna put up with it. In fact, we might act like the characters in our song…”
This is the only correct reading.
(The fact that the song exists is evidence that the pitch went well)