Snoop Dogg wasn’t even born yet when William Bell released “I Forgot to Be Your Lover” in 1968, but he managed to get in on it decades later for Take Me to the River, a documentary that brings the older musical legends of Memphis together with newer artists to re-record updated versions of songs like “Ain’t No Sunshine” and “Trying to Live My Life Without You.”
Take Me to the River director Martin Shore worked with Snoop before on 2006’s Hood of Horror so when the rapper found out Shore was working on this documentary, he immediately knew he wanted to be involved. Snoop later paired up with Bell to record “I Forgot to Be Your Lover” for the documentary and its accompanying album. “I’ve been a fan of William Bell many years,” Snoop tells EW, “so to be able to go in the studio and actually record with him was a blessing.”
Terrence Howard, who starred in 2005’s Memphis-set Hustle & Flow, is the film’s host and even joins in on the music to record “Walk Away” with the Hi Rhythm Section. Other pairings include Otis Clay and pre-teen Lil P-Nut, Bobby “Blue” Bland and Yo Gotti, and Mavis Staples with North Mississippi Allstars.
Snoop got on the phone with EW to talk about what this film means to him, his Memphis music essentials, and what he listens to with his kids. Spoiler: It’s not Miley Cyrus.
EW: Have you always been a big William Bell fan?
SNOOP DOGG: Oh, yeah. Been a fan of William Bell many years, so to be able to go in the studio and actually record with him was a blessing and a treat at the same time. This whole project felt like that. All of the artists that were connected on the project, from the old school, artists that my mother and my grandfather, people in my family played them heavily when I was a kid, and I remember hearing their sounds. So to be able to indulge in the work with them and have my hands on a project they’re a part of, it meant a lot to me.
In the documentary, you say your laptop’s full of R&B and soul. Who are some of your favorite artists from those genres, the ones you never get tired of listening to?
I definitely love Bobby “Blue” Bland, he was always one of my favorites. I love Al Green, Isaac Hayes, William Bell. The whole sound was so magnetic and ultimate. It’s what music is about. It’s about feeling, not even the way you hear it, but the way it makes you feel.
You’re from around L.A., which I imagine has a very different music culture than Memphis, so what’s it like going to Memphis? Is it a shock?
Well, not really for me, because my family is from Mississippi. So I basically was able to get a dose of the Memphis sound at an early age because that music was a part of my family’s heritage. So they brought that music to California with them. And then I was able to hear California music and then be able to create my own sound of music from loving all sounds of music and that’s why you got Snoop Dogg sound the way it is now. It’s so universal, diverse, because it’s the music I listened to, the music that I made, and the music that I love.
Is your family musical?
Oh yeah. Definitely. My uncle sang, my mom sang, my auntie sang. Certain members of my family play instruments. There’s a musical thing in the family.
A lot of the movie is about mentorship and passing this music and this culture on to other generations. Is that something that you try to do with your own kids?
I try to make them aware that they know where it came from, that it just didn’t start when they were born. It started before they was even here. I try to give them insights on what it was. Even when they’re riding with me, I play old school music. I don’t ever play what’s hip and what not because that’s not what I listen to. I listen to what inspired me. My kids get familiar with it through me.
The scene where you and William Bell are recording “I Forgot to Be Your Lover” seems so spontaneous. Was it? How long did it really take to write your part?
You actually saw it in real time. Like 10-15 minutes. Because I was a freestyle rapper before I was an actual writer so a lot of ideas fly through my head. So it was something that was already on my mind as far as which style am I gonna do, which tone and delivery.
There were also some students from the Stax Music Academy helping out on “I Forgot to be Your Lover.” What was it like to work with both William Bell, this legend, and these younger kids trying to find a place in this scene?
It was a complete different dynamic because you got the creators, and then you’ve got the innovators who are inspired by them to create so to be able to work with William Bell then to have the band on the flip side, it’s a great feeling to have this diversity, to be in the middle of both, where I get to respect the old school and… and then make it all together.
Have you seen the documentary?
Oh yeah, I cried when I watched it. It was very heartfelt.
What was your favorite part?
Bobby “Blue” Bland teaching Lil P-Nut how to sing. [starts singing Ray Charles’ “I Got a Woman“] He’s going to remember that 20 years from now and how important that was for his musical career.
Did you get to hang with P-Nut at all?
Yeah, P-Nut is a cold playa. I like him. He’s a fly young man.
Why do you think people should see this movie?
I think people should see this movie because it’s a great entry lesson on black music of Memphis, the sound of R&B, soul music from back in the day, and the struggle, and the love, and the unity that it brought when there was a lot of tension in America with black and white. And there was no tension at Stax Records. It just showed the significance that they made of peace, love and harmony, which is what music was created for.
Take Me to the River arrives in theaters Sept. 12. The soundtrack is currently available on Amazon.