Snap Dogg: Rap’s ‘Problem Child of Detroit’ grows up

He went viral for putting guns in his videos. Now, the only time he’s a hot-head is behind the mic.

Feb 22, 2023 at 4:00 am
click to enlarge Rapper Snap Dogg poses on Detroit’s Westside. - Kahn Santori Davison
Kahn Santori Davison
Rapper Snap Dogg poses on Detroit’s Westside.

It’s a gray day on Detroit’s Westside near Plymouth and Wyoming. Snap Dogg is outside his mother’s two-family flat dressed in black Amiri jeans and sneakers, and a perfectly fitting paisley print jacket. He’s walking, talking, posing for pictures.

“I done brought everybody over here. I was really the first rapper to bring rappers from out of state to Detroit,” he claims. “I brought Lil Baby to this street right here!”

Back inside the foyer of the home, Snap takes a seat at the bottom of the stairway. His mother hears him come in and yells from upstairs: “I’m his biggest fan!”

Snap can’t help but crack a smile. Even though he’s a year away from turning 30 and seen his music career go higher than most, his mother’s support and love is still part of the fuel that drives him.

Snap grew up on this very block, trying to balance school life with the allure of the streets. Football played a powerful role in his life as he was a standout wide receiver at Northwestern High School.

“The streets drag you in,” he says. “It’s like, you wanna do right, you wanna stay in school, but you have them times where you like, ‘I ain’t got them fresh pair of shoes, I want that!’”

He adds, “If it wasn’t for sports I would be dead or in jail forreal, forreal.”

Football wasn’t the sport Snap excelled at. Boxing was a shared passion between his father and siblings, which included Snap’s twin brother Bronco.

“My dad was also a twin. Him and his brother grew up boxing,” Snap says. “My dad got 14 kids, so it’s 11 boys and three girls, so when we were little, we used to put on the gloves. I had to fight with them to be the tough one. I was already in love with fighting. Bronco was in love with fighting too. He really wanted to box.”

Snap has six gold chains hanging around his neck, one of which has an emblem of a bronco swinging from the bottom of it. He turns it around to show an engraving that says, “RIP BRONCO.”

Snap’s senior year of high school was as turbulent as a year could get. In October of 2011 he and several others were charged with armed robbery and murder that Snap vehemently denies participating in.“They tried to give a nigga 25 [years],” he says. He became a teenage father, and Bronco was shot to death in 2012 by a retired police officer during a break-in.

click to enlarge Snap Dogg wears a necklace in honor of Bronco, his twin brother. - Kahn Santori Davison
Kahn Santori Davison
Snap Dogg wears a necklace in honor of Bronco, his twin brother.

“The same morning we found out he was dead, my family was fucked up,” he says. “I couldn’t see them like that. I went to school that same morning within hours after I found out he passed away. … I just remember having my head down and the principal was like, ‘Go home, we’re sorry for your loss.’”

Despite the setbacks, Snap still managed to graduate high school. He enrolled in Central State University and joined the football team, but Snap’s heart was no longer in football. He was a new father, and by his own admission he just didn’t feel like school was going to get him anywhere.

“I only went to college to play football,” he says. “I literally looked at my roommate like, ‘I’m ‘bout to go home and rap, bro.’”

Once home, Snap immediately got to work.

In 2014 Detroit’s hip-hop scene was an incubator of sorts. BandGang, Team Eastside, and Doughboyz Cashout encompassed a Detroit street sound that had built local followings that had never been seen before while Big Sean and Eminem were still the national faces of Detroit hip-hop. The “Detroit sound” (as it’s called today) was still a few years away from blowing up nationally.

Snap found an organic connection and matching energy in another up and coming Detroit star, producer Antt Beatz.

“He took me under his wing, he created the whole Snap Dogg sound,” he says. The pairing was perfect. Outside of producer Helluva, nobody has done more to advance the Detroit sound than Antt Beatz. (Billboard named him a top 10 rap producer in 2022.) The first offering from the duo was 2014’s “My Story,” a violent unhinged trap proclamation: “I kill for my bros I love this pistol action/ when it’s time to go to war I know they all clapping.”

Antt Beatz felt that Snap was a real life O-Dog (the character played by Larenz Tate in the 1993 film, Menace II Society) and brought that same energy in his sound and image. The video for “My Story” was shot on the Westside with several scenes recreated from Menace II Society — and was even temporarily shut down by the Detroit Police Department. The video did 100,000 YouTube views the first month. Leaning into the O-Dog comparison, Snap’s first project, named Menace 2 Society, was released a year and a half later. “We still had CDs back then and I was selling them out of the trunk of my car,” he says.

It didn’t take long for Snap’s music career to gain momentum. The popular but controversial hip-hop website WorldStar Hip-Hop was years past its peak, but still strong enough to give an emerging artist like Snap Dogg a push by posting his music. But most importantly, Snap was building a fanbase while also making full use out of the social media platform Instagram.

“I basically blew up Instagram,” he says. “Back around that time I used to be on there with them with big-ass guns. I was showing my lifestyle that wasn’t nobody doing. Video shoots, the police chasing us — all that would be real, so people would be loving the lifestyle. We had never seen nothing like this on the internet.” Snap claims he’s “the most viral rapper to come out of Detroit, Michigan in rap history.”

One of Snap’s most viral moments came in 2016 when the Detroit police again shut down the filming of one of his videos, this time for the track “I’m Trippin.” Prior to the police pulling up, Snap can be seen firing prop guns alongside a camera crew.

That same year Snap released his most notable album to date, Problem Child of Detroit.

“Now that was the one,” he says. “That album was so special because it’s the first tape, that was my first time knowing how everything goes. This tape, I was so confident in myself. And at that time I ain’t gon’ lie, I had beef going on. So I was really hot-head Snap, you couldn’t tell me nothing.” Snap says the record racked up 1 million streams in 24 hours.

Snap claims he’s “the most viral rapper to come out of Detroit, Michigan in rap history.”

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Snap was one of the first of three Detroit acts (along with Peezy and BandGang) to catch the attention of Ghazi Shami, CEO of San Francisco-based Empire Distribution. Shami made a name for himself by offering artist-friendly musical distribution deals, and eventually Empire became a full-fledged record label.

“When I got with Ghazi it was just organic love,” Snap says. “Even when he first took me out I literally looked him in his face, and said, ‘Yo, why me?’ And he was like, ‘You’re going to be one of the biggest in life, in the future.’”

Snap adds, “Everybody was scared of me around that time.”

With Empire’s help, Snap dropped “WYA,” a brash and boastful Helluva-produced track with a contagious hook:

“Niggas say they looking for me, I pull up right now where you at / Right now, where you at/ Nigga tryna spend some money, I pull up right now where you at/ Right now, where you at/ You know that chopper hold a 100, I pull up right now where you at.”

By now, Snap had evolved into one of Detroit’s most recognizable hip-hop ambassadors, with his popularity spreading way outside city limits. Chicago all-star Lil Dirk dropped a verse on Snap Dogg’s song “Curv,” he shared the mic with Fetty Wap on “How Many,” and Chief Keef reached out to him via SmokeCamp Chino, and they formed a bond. He credits Chief Keef with being the one who inspired him to “punch in” his verses instead of writing them down, or recording section by section.

“When I went to Chief Keef house, this muthafucka work so fast!” Snap says. “I couldn't be writing, trying to keep up with him. And he was like, ‘Snap, do it like this, speak yo mind and feel the beat.’”

His popularity even spread to the hardwood as NBA legend Shaquille O’ Neal called Snap one of his favorite rappers. Around this time, Snap also befriended and recorded with West Coast legend Snoop Dogg.

“I ended up linking with Snoop Dogg through [Detroit comedian] HaHa Davis,” Snap says. “When I first came out they used to joke, ‘Snap Dogg is a fake Snoop Dogg.’ So I used to be in my room like, ‘I ain’t fake, I can’t wait till I meet Snoop Dogg.’ So HaHa set that up. He had a relationship with Snoop Dogg. I moved to L.A., shot the video with Snoop. Before we did that we built a relationship. When I went out there he talked to me for like five hours. Snoop was the first person to get me to stop being a hot head.”

Snap participated in Snoop Dogg’s celebrity basketball game in 2018, recorded “Problems” with Roc Nation artist Casanova, released “Take Off” with Lil Baby, and “Free the Guyz” with Sacramento rapper Mozzy. His most significant connection was with YSL Records leader and hip-hop heavyweight Young Thug.

“I dropped ‘WYA’ and boom; Thug commented on my shit like, ‘This hard,’” Snap says. After he moved to L.A., Snap linked up with Thug, and the two soon established a mentor-mentee relationship. Young Thug offered a bit of tough love, guidance, and support. He told Snap his temper had prevented him from reaching out to him earlier, and he also encouraged Snap to get right with God.

“He said, ‘When I seen you weren’t a hot head no more, that’s when I knew I could bring you in,’” Snap says. “This a million-dollar company, he ain’t trying to bring nobody in that can fuck that up.”

Snap says he was in talks to sign a deal with YSL when “the bullshit happened.” The “bullshit” Snap is referring to is the May 22 arrest of Young Thug for suspicion of gang involvement and conspiracy to violate the Georgia criminal racketeering law. Young Thug and several other YSL affiliates have all been impacted by his arrest.

Snap can only wonder what could have been.

His next three projects — Sacrifices (2018), In Yo Feelings (2020), and Taking No Chances (2022) — can all be classified as solid wins, but none packed the knockout blows of Problem Child of Detroit. Speaking of which, in 2021 Snap made his professional featherweight boxing debut by defeating Yasser Abouleila by knockout in the fourth round. “I trained everyday and I was going to the studio as soon as I left the gym,” he says.

After the fight, Snap took a break to center himself and tap back into the kind of music he wanted to make. With a new fresh focus he released 6 Rings in the fall of 2022, his strongest effort since Problem Child of Detroit.

His style has always been a loose combination of Detroit trap and Chicago drill. “Love Fa Da Streets,” “Cemetery,” and “Frontline” are all instant-classic Detroit bangers. “Head Down” reflects the contrast as he melodically raps on the hook, “Head down, man down where yo’ gun at” — and then immediately yells the same hook. “Pain Killers” is an ode to making success out of nothing, while “Hide & Seek” is a quintessential bass-heavy Snap Dogg track. “They kick me when I was down, now I’m back at it/ All that back-stabbing nigga made me turn savage,” he raps.

“For one the music is there, it’s undeniable music,” Snap says of the project. “I went back and listened to Problem Child of Detroit and then 6 Rings — it’s the same vibe, the same feeling, I ain’t got no features.”

Snap has an unappreciated underdog mentality when he speaks of his music and how he’s viewed in Detroit’s current hip-hop landscape. When he first made his debut eight years ago, Detroit’s emcees and producers still hadn’t collectively broken through nationally, at least since the days of Em, Slum, and Royce. Along with Tee Grizzley, Snap was very much a part of that new wave of energy that elevated Detroit’s current collection of talent to the level that it’s on now.

click to enlarge Snap Dogg performed at the inaugural Weed Bar Awards at the Detroit’s Music Hall Center for The Performing Arts. - Kahn Santori Davison
Kahn Santori Davison
Snap Dogg performed at the inaugural Weed Bar Awards at the Detroit’s Music Hall Center for The Performing Arts.

Despite his achievements and notoriety, Snap says he feels he doesn’t get that respect he deserves.

“The thing is when I really sat back and thought, ‘What am I doing wrong?’ I’m not doing nothing wrong,” he says. “I interact with the people, I’m humble, I don’t think I’m better than nobody. It’s like they support the fuck out of me in the city, but it just be like certain shit.”

He adds, “I just ask, why y’all hating on me? What reason do y’all have to hate on me? If you don’t like the music, you don’t like the music. But you gon’ like me as a person. You gon’ like what type of dude I am.”

Snap is careful with his words because he’s not trying to hate on any other artists’ success. His gripe is with anyone that’s trying to write him out the hip-hop narrative of this city or feels him and his brand of music doesn’t belong here. 6 Rings carries the energy of a comeback album from an artist who shouldn’t have had to come back from anything. Musically, Snap has always represented Detroit as hard as anyone and he dares another fan, critic, or artist to say otherwise.

“Anything you see any big artists doing till this day, I should be a part of that type shit,” he says. “I’m one of the founders of this shit, bro. Nobody would be coming here to the D if it wasn’t for me, bro.”

Last year, Snap suffered another huge blow when father passed away. Snap admits he hasn’t truly unpacked his father’s death yet and has always used music as a tool to get him through losing a loved one.

“The music is the therapy,” he says. “I lost Bronco, I lost my auntie, my daddy, I lost my cousin, my lil cousin, and these were like real important people in my life that really motivated me. … The same day I viewed my daddy body I went straight to the studio.”

He adds, “Still to this day I still haven’t grieved about my dad, I dropped my tears and everything but I still haven’t let it out. I'm not into showing weakness, I feel like if you show weakness people will attack that.”

Snap Dogg credits his manager Floss with providing much needed structure musically and professionally. He says he’s constantly working on new material and says he even has unreleased tracks with G Herbo, Chris Brown, E-40, and XXXTentacion that may or may not ever see release.

“I got shit with XXXTentacion, I was on his last album,” Snap says. “His mamma flew me out to be on that album. I laid the verse but they took me off due to some political reason, but she kept it 100 with me and showed me love. She paid me for the verse and everything.”

Snap’s next big musical offering will be a single-video collab between him and the Chicago emcee Famous Dex. The track has already been recorded, and the duo plan to shoot the video this Saturday — and possibly debut the song at Famous Dex’s performance at the El Club later on that same day.

Snap cites the matching energy and general camaraderie between him at Dex as a contributing factor to the collaboration.

“We linked up early in my career and we’ve always rocked with each other,” he says. “This song is crazy as hell! It’s definitely one of them ones.”

More than anything, Snap is proud of himself for the man he’s becoming. He no longer puts guns in his videos, he avoids drama, and doesn’t go on Instagram Live doing ridiculous stunts anymore. The only time he channels his famous hot temper is when he’s behind the mic.

He routinely participates in community engagement events like back to school giveaways, charitable causes, and supports sports activities at his alma mater Northwestern high school. He still doesn’t drink, smoke weed, or do any kind of drugs. He’s a father of seven who’s doing everything he can to exceed his own expectations.

“I’ve grown tremendously,” he says. “I’ll go on YouTube and see how I used to be and I see why they wasn’t fucking with me! Man, I was tripping. Them Thug and Snoop conversations with me changed my life.”

He adds, “It’s 2023. I know this about to be my year, I know I’m about to take over, I know everything we working on is about to happen, all the sad nights, the blood, sweat and tears. I know 2023 is the year for it to happen … This bigger than Snap Dogg, I got my whole family depending on me!”

Snap Dogg will perform with Famous Dex on Saturday, Feb. 25 at El Club as part of Famous Dex Revival Tour; 4114 W. Vernor Hwy., Detroit; 313-757-7942; Tickets are $39.51.

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