The Big Picture
- Snoop Dogg’s performance in Baby Boy showcases his ability to play a menacing and unbothered character.
- The film allows Snoop Dogg to display both his intense gangster persona and his comedic charm.
- Snoop Dogg’s performance in Baby Boy is a unique blend of menace and humor that perfectly fits the character of Rodney.
Has any one person in history had a bigger career just by being cool than Snoop Dogg? From his background in hardcore gangster rap to becoming one of the most easily bankable superstars of the modern era, Snoop has always stood out from the crowd. The amount of products that he endorsed is mind-numbing, his ongoing friendship with Martha Stewart is one of the most randomly wholesome dynamics we have in pop culture, and the sheer goodwill he’s engendered across generations is pretty impressive. Given his upcoming The Underdoggs film, people still want to see Snoop, and that’s been true for over 20 years. While most of his career has been spent drifting through scenes with his effortless charisma, Baby Boy gave us his best performance by asking him to tap into the darker side of his persona.
In South Central L.A., a misguided 20-year-old African-American man, a “baby boy”, faces the commitments of real life.
- Release Date
- June 27, 2001
- John Singleton
- Main Genre
Who Is ‘Baby Boy’ About?
Baby Boy is the underappreciated dramedy by John Singleton about Jody (Tyrese Gibson), a 20-year-old man with serious maturity issues. He still lives with his mom (A.J. Johnson) and her scary new boyfriend (Ving Rhames), unemployed and thinking up get-rich-quick-schemes, and bouncing between women he doesn’t care about and the mother of his child, Yvette (Taraji P. Henson).
The film details the wild trouble that Jody gets into by continuing to not face up to problems he’s created, acting childish and entitled to everyone in his life, and navigating the complexities of being a Black man in South Central L.A. One of the last challenges Jody must overcome to achieve true adulthood is the arrival of Yvette’s ex-boyfriend, Rodney (Snoop Dogg). Rodney has just gotten out of prison and is looking to restart his relationship with Yvette, seeing Jody as a threat and hellbent on taking back what he sees as properly his. It becomes readily apparent what a real danger Rodney is, and that in itself is already a huge swerve for Snoop Dogg.
Why Does Snoop Dogg’s ‘Baby Boy’ Performance Stand Out?
When it was released in 2001, Baby Boy was essentially the first mainstream film in which Snoop Dogg appeared, and so the way he was perceived at the time was vastly different from who he’d eventually become. One of John Singleton’s best attributes as a filmmaker was his feel for incorporating hip-hop culture into his cinema, tapping into what people responded to in the artists and putting it on the screen. This was most prominently displayed with Singleton casting rap icon Tupac Shakur in Poetic Justice, utilizing his softer side that was always an undertone in his music to create chemistry with Janet Jackson while also keeping his tough exterior intact. Singleton used the same tactic when casting Snoop in Baby Boy, at the height of his rap career, drawing on his image as a hardened West Coast icon of hip hop, using his combination of gang experience and masterful command of presence to capture audiences’ attention. Contextually, it makes sense that his proper debut would be so different from the rest of his career, since by that time he would have become more secure in his popularity as a film actor and, therefore, have more of a need to clean up his image for the sake of longevity. In other words, we wouldn’t have gotten his later comedic gems in such films as Starsky & Hutch and Turbo without first proving that he could convincingly project his rap persona onto the big screen.
Rodney comes on strong from the jump, getting introduced to us by calling Yvette from prison, but Jody picks up the phone instead. Rodney knows all about Jody’s proclivities and his messing around with Yvette, and he’s immediately put off by Jody picking up the phone instead of Yvette. The two yell at each other, with Jody doing most of the instigating. This puts Rodney in a strange place as a character because he is at once posed as genuinely threatening but is also coming from a clearly emasculated position, as all he can muster is profanities attacking Jody’s masculinity. Snoop does give Rodney enough of an edge that the audience remembers him and his sharp intensity makes you laugh at his otherwise mundane threats. It’s a swift jolt of the quality that makes Snoop a unique performer: the alchemy of how his imposing demeanor is alleviated by the impact of his rhythm, emphasizing the right points of each word to make them pack a comedic punch.
As Rodney, Snoop Dogg Perfectly Balances Being Menacing & Unbothered
When Rodney shows up at Yvette’s place, he immediately moves his way in, projecting massive entitlement and a belief that Yvette owes him. The only way he can convince her to let him stay is to emotionally blackmail her by reminding her she lost her virginity to him, and she tries to force him to behave by reminding him she can call the police on him. We later get a scene of Rodney smoking weed on the couch, relishing his position as the new lord of the house. Due to his indignation that Yvette had a child with Jody instead of him, Rodney resents her son and actively bullies him. In one fell swoop, he violates Yvette’s boundaries, angrily shoos Jody away from Yvette’s place, and decides that he and his friends should go shoot Jody just for threatening his masculinity by trying to properly take care of his son while Rodney is around. This all leads to Rodney’s demise, when Jody and a friend of his, Sweetpea (Omar Gooding), get revenge by shooting Rodney, who dies just as unfazed and tough as he always was.
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This film sells itself as essentially two films in one: it’s both a hard-hitting drama, examining the sociology and psychology of how Black men experience and process their learned masculine behaviors, as much as it’s a satirical comedy about the immaturity of the main character and how it actively hurts the relationships in his life. This dichotomy of tones and intentions speaks to why Snoop Dogg works so well under John Singleton’s direction: it allows both sides of Snoop’s persona to be indulged in to equal effect. He can be genuinely menacing in the scenes where he’s terrorizing Yvette, pathetic when he bullies Jody’s son, and pull off the hardened nihilistic outlook of a man who isn’t afraid to die because of all the things he’s already seen in his life. On the flip side, Singleton still allows Snoop to do all the things audiences would have wanted to see him doing: he saunters with maximum swagger, he looks fly as hell while smoking weed, and he gets small moments to be funny, like when he kicks Jody’s son’s pillow fort just because he’s angry. This doesn’t make Rodney necessarily “complex,” as he really only has the two gears of indignantly angry or super chill high, but Snoop Dogg does make Rodney a cohesive person where one extreme doesn’t undermine the other. He gives us what the story needs him to be: a cautionary version of masculinity for Jody to confront as a step on his journey toward true manhood.
Snoop Dogg Has Delivered Great Performances Since ‘Baby Boy’
It must be said that Snoop Dogg is simply not an actor with much range, not that there’s anything wrong with that. He’s an actor who thrives off of authenticity and feels like he’s imbuing his character with who he really is. Todd Phillips was smart in casting him as Huggy Bear in Starsky & Hutch because he knew that Snoop’s essence could perfectly fit with a 1970s informant who is the ultimate Mack Daddy in every way. Antoine Fuqua knew that he could get a lot of mileage out of Snoop being a gang member that Alonzo Harris (Denzel Washington) roughs up for information since the character wouldn’t have the time to truly stand out unless he was played by someone as instantly iconic as Snoop Dogg.
Even network television knows how to make Snoop Dogg work, and network television is notoriously unimaginative. Most of Snoop’s later career has been eaten up with films that nobody sees that bank on him not even being a character, he’s just “Snoop Dogg,” and it’s a shame because it feels like if he had just worked with directors who were a little more savvy about his persona, he would have had a more interesting career. John Singleton was the only person who saw fit to merge the dangerous gangster with the master of chillaxin, and it resulted in the best work of Snoop’s career on the big screen.
Baby Boy is available for rent on Amazon Prime Video in the U.S.
Watch on Amazon Prime