Conversations With Chad: Sam Sneed Talks Death Row Records, Making “Natural Born Killaz” WIth Dr. Dre & Ice Cube, Street Scholars + More

I’m going to start this interview post-Death Row. You were diagnosed with a brain tumor and I wanted to see if you could give us some insight into that and how you were diagnosed, what your thoughts were at that time, and how life-threatening it was.

Basically, for two consecutive days I was having these headaches that were so unbearable that you knew something was wrong. I couldn’t even sleep so I went to the emergency room on the second say and they did an x-ray on me and they said that they saw a very large mass inside my head. I called my aunt back in Pittsburgh, and she’s a nurse so she understands the lingo, so she came to Atlanta. They had to keep me there for a couple days because they said I was really close to having a seizure. They stabilized me and then I flew back to be with family. We had set up an appointment to go a doctor and get a biopsy, so when I got the biopsy they told me it was an Astrocytoma, grade 3/2, 4 being the worst. So the doctor sat down with us and told us what all I would have to go through. I started with seven weeks of radiation, and what they were trying to do was shrink the tumor, it was like golf ball size; they say that before any tumor shrinks it usually swells so they have to rush them to surgery. The radiation didn’t do anything, it didn’t shrink it and it didn’t swell, so the next step was chemotherapy and I was doing that by the pill, so the first couple days I felt tired, but right after that it didn’t really have any effect on me, I was still making beats and doing my thing. I was also on like 20 pills a day, if I remember 20-30 pills something like that.

There was this one particular day that my head was hurting more than it had been so my aunt told me to take some extra Medrol pills, but what happened when I took those extra pills the toxicity of the Medrol got me real sick, vomiting really bad. They had to pick me up from the ranch and rushed me down to the hospital down in Pittsburgh. That’s when I decided that I was going to get the surgery. I was tired of dealing with the whole situation. I was thinking about going to California, because I heard that there was this excellent doctor named Dr. Black, but then I thought that my family wouldn’t be able to be out there so I just stuck with doctor that was dealing with me. I decided to have the surgery. They gave me some anesthesia, but hey can’t put you all the way under in surgeries like that, I felt woozy and the next thing I know they are putting this frame on my head and they knock this frame into my head. You could hear them like screwing it to my head. After they did that then they put me to sleep. From what they told me, the doctor had gone to my family to get consent to go into my head from a different angle and my whole family agreed and said do whatever it is you think is best, so if had not gone through at that angle my speech and motor skills along with my peripheral vision would have been affected and we wouldn’t even be having this conversation right now. So when he went inside my head the tumor was right there and he was able to scoop it all out.

When I woke up everyone was trying to rush into the room, he got the whole thing and everyone was real excited and I was waving like go, go because I felt smothered, like I couldn’t breathe. A couple of days after I went home I was having some leakage from the wound so we went back to the doctor, the doctor came out with this big needle and stuck it in my head to numb my head for the next process which was to put staples in my head to keep the wound from opening. Went home then about a day or two later I was having more leakage so I had to go back to get more staples in my head. It was crazy, and then they put some surgical glue on the wound after they put the staples in and then I didn’t have any more leakage. I had to go to the doctor every two months and then every four months, then every six months. I haven’t been in a minute, right before I came to New York I had an appointment set up but didn’t go. When I get back I will get my checkup. I have been feeling pretty good.

Is it true that Dr. Dre stepped in and provided some help?

Yeah, Dre came, I called him up one day and he said that he was with it. He helped start the process and then Busta Rhymes came and helped and a lot of people from overseas were sending checks, it was a beautiful thing.

With Dre, after that entire Death Row situation, it must have been nice to know that he was there for you?

Right, right, right, all that time period I was feeling some kind of way about Dre, honestly, because I felt like I was still kind of stuck in a contract and I had come out there to be with him and he was able to get himself out, but I’m still stuck over here. But at the end of the day it all worked out.

So have you and Dr. Dre talked much since?

Actually, I was out in LA in 2007 to see what I could get my hands into and I was staying with a friend we call Suga Free. He got me up real early one day and said, “come on, this is where Dre and them are working out”, so I popped up on Dre and he was all excited and he gave me his number. The next day, he invited me to his place and we watched a movie and right before I was leaving I was asking what the whole “Detox” was about, because I am ready to start going in with some ideas. He really didn’t seem like he really knew, just that it was a hot title and getting his body together.

Have you guys talked about your situation with you coming out with your album through WIDEawake/Death Row?

When I reach out I never get any feedback, I don’t understand that. Because I just recently called his office and talked to his GM and told her what I was trying to do, that I had an album coming out, but he has never reached back. I just never understood that, even when they did “2001”, why they never reach out to me. I just never understood that.

What was the time period from being diagnosed with the brain tumor until you talked with Dre again or went back out there?

I went out there when he was starting to work on the “2001”. I had a compilation that I had already produced and I had a meeting with Jimmy Iovine, he really likes it. The first thing he said was did Dre hear it, I said not yet. I felt like I was going straight to the horse’s mouth. So it was the next day or so I went to Dre’s house and played a couple of the records. He really liked them; it was a mix of R&B with Hip Hop. He was really digging some of the songs. But I couldn’t stay out of LA forever, you know it’s expensive out there and there wasn’t anyone trying to snatch me up to do anything, so it’s time to go back home. I think I could’ve gotten a couple verses on some of those songs, if you know what I mean.

That’s kind of the thing, a lot of people on the west coast don’t understand why Dre doesn’t reach out more to guys like yourself, Cube, and others.

He reached out to Kurupt on the “2001”. I come up with songs, you’re going to hear something that is going to be played on the radio, not album filler. All that comes from learning from K-Solo and actually taking it to the next level with Dr. Dre, as far as what a single is supposed to be.

You have been relatively quiet since the whole Death Row thing, but you still have been producing some of the biggest names in the industry like Jay-Z, Scarface and G-unit. How have you done productions for cats like that, but not really been in the limelight as far as like, “damn, that was a Sam Sneed joint!”, you know what I mean?

Because I don’t get caught up in all that. It’s like a new thing to me, I’m old school, so I’m just starting to learn that whole demographic of getting your name out there, you know my name has always been ringing, which is a blessing, but just to take it to the next level.

I think a lot of people over the years have been like whatever happened to Sam Sneed, but they don’t realize that when they bought Jay’s record that they were still listening to you, they just didn’t know it.

Right, exactly.

Let me take you back a little bit and go through some of this Death Row stuff. When Dre left and work began on Snoops “Doggfather” record, what was the atmosphere like at that time?

It became an uncomfortable situation. They called this meeting to address the Dre situation and they knew that Dre and I were really close and I didn’t know anything about the Dre situation. When Dre came to me and was like, “I want to start a new company, with your people, your producers, artists,” they were all with me, but he wanted to start his company Aftermath. I was like, “is everything cool?”, and he said that everyone was cool with it. I thought I could do music with Aftermath and Death Row. So when they called this meeting up, I was like, “what?”. I felt like I was being ambushed. I came out of that and I bounced. I kept it moving, I went back to Pittsburgh and hooked up with Russell Simmons, because I had gone to New York and had some meetings and I really didn’t know what I wanted to do. I did a little production thing, but nothing really came out of that.

Speaking of that meeting that took place with Death Row, I want to see if you can set the record straight on this rumored incident at the meeting, where, supposedly, Suge and them were wanting you to talk negatively about Dre. I think Ronin Ro wrote about it in his book, saying there was this big thing where Suge and his people beat you down. Can you set the record straight on that and what really happened?

It wasn’t like no real beat down, I didn’t really want to say all this because I am writing a book and I didn’t want to give up all the goods. I was like the sacrificial lamb in the situation, I can say that much. Humiliation, it was petty stuff, questioning loyalty. Nothing was defined over there. When Snoop came to me and asked how much I was going to charge him for a track, at that time I was still learning, I didn’t have anyone teaching me. They were looking at the “Lady Heroin” video asking where all the Death Row people were at, it was all like theatrics. It was more like getting everyone else raved up.

Now, as far as how you came to Death Row, how were you discovered or brought in to the camp?

I brought K-Solo in from my cousin, who at the time had a club in Pittsburgh, and we were throwing parties and what not and the first show I promoted was K Solo. He performed and I had some acts at the time I was trying to get on by any means necessary, so I was with him doing shows, trying see if he would be interested in one of my acts, get one of them on, and then everything would work out for everybody. I’m green and don’t know nothing. We had like 500 cassettes that we had pressed up, I sold most them on the street myself, but I still didn’t know anything about the business and how it worked.

I ended up doing K-Solo’s second album which led to the tour, as far as his production. I was really driven by his production, and I really needed to get with this guy and I truly believe it was laws of attraction on how that materialized, without even knowing about that at the time. When I got out to LA I told a couple of people I was trying to get in touch with Dr. Dre. I ran into Shock G in Oakland, we talked for a while and he gave me Dre’s “Chronic” album before it even came out, the first one. So me and Erick Sermon go back to the room and I tell him I got the album and we listen to it and it was like the greatest thing I had ever heard in my life, that’s what really made me want to find this guy. When we went out to Santa Barbara I met this female and while we were riding to McDonald’s, I was telling her that I was really out here to run into Dr. Dre. She said, “I baby-sit for Dr. Dre”, so she whipped out a pen and a pad and wrote down a number. I said, “Are you serious?” So I called him up one day and said, “This is Sam Sneed, I’m trying to get in touch with Dr. Dre”. He said, “This is Dre, yeah I heard you’ve been trying to get in touch with me.” I said, “Yeah, I have an artist and wanted to see if you wanted to collaborate with me on his project,” imagine that, if he wanted to collab with me. So he was like, “I got seven artists right now, I don’t know how that’s going to work right now, give me a call back on Wednesday and we’ll talk more about it.”

I called him and I didn’t reach him. So I called him another time and I had my artist on the phone with me on three-way and Dre picked up, and I said, “Dre this is Sam,” and he said, “okay what’s up, what’s this guy sound like?” I told my artist to spit that song he had called Black Magic, and he spit that song. Dre told us to come out here when we were ready. So, we went out there at Christmas, and he was having a party at the time out on Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu. I was paging Dre to tell him I was out here, and he said he was going to get with me. Some more time went on and still didn’t hear from him. The next day was the party so we went there and we finally met and it was all love after that. That’s where he introduced me to Suge, they called him Sugar Bear, and everybody was real cool. He allowed us to stay at the mansion in Malibu. The “Chronic” album was pretty much done so there wasn’t really a lot going on. I had to go home to deal with my drug case and when I got back out there was when they were working on Snoop’s album.

You showed up on Snoop’s “Doggystyle” album.

Right, at that time you know the saying, get in where you fit in, I‘m just throwing ideas out. In fact, the intro was my idea on Snoop’s album, the skit where I’m cussing a chick out, that was just acting stupid in the studio, drinking Hennessy; I think we had five to seven bottles up in the studio acting goofy. It was me acting like some older guys from my hood who thought they were pimping, really thought they were some pimps. My father was a pimp so I know all about that.

Let me get some of your reflections on some of the bigger hits you have been associated with. First off, tell me how “Natural Born Killaz” came about and what it was like working with Dre and Cube on that particular song.

Epic! Actually, while Dre was out shooting the video for Murder Was The Case, the movie director Oliver Stone called Dre up and said he was doing this movie called Natural Born Killers, we actually went to this screening that Oliver Stone invited us to, that was phenomenal. I was tripping, Oliver Stone in the room, Rodney Dangerfield, I saw the film so I knew exactly what I wanted to write so there was a time when Dre was out and I was at the studio making a track, so I pulled up on the scene and played the track for Dre and he was like, “yo, Sam what you going to do with that?” When we went back into the studio Dre and a keyboard player came in and he changed the bassline a little bit, added everything in his head and it just became a marriage, it just came out really, really hot.

It was me and Dre rapping on it at first and we had Ice Cube on the hook. Later on, the label said Dre and Cube need to be rapping on it, Sam don’t need to be on it. I can understand the political move, but at that time I wasn’t wanting to hear that because my lyrics went right with scenes of the movie. I just don’t have one of those killer voices like Dre and Ice Cube, so it’s not believable. So anyway, they kicked me off, and Dre wanted me to finish the song you called U Better Recognize. I only had like one verse to it, I had the beat, but it wasn’t all that tight, so I felt like was under pressure. I made the drum beat real beefy, I just thought about all that I had been through in my life as far as chasing the music and that’s what you hear on the record. Real life situations, nothing fabricated. Dre came to me one day and said I was going to have to an album because everybody was talking about my song.

On “Keep Their Heads Ringin’” what was your specific involvement on that song that showed up on the Friday Soundtrack?

That was all my idea, but Dre had the concept already. What Dre did was he actually created the whole song and Dre wasn’t feeling it at the time. So Dre came to me and wanted the beat that I had created for my album and he said I’ll give you a check for that beat and I asked him how much. I told him he could have it, so I asked if we were going to split the publishing and he said yeah. I haven’t seen anything from that song. It is what it is, it was a learning experience, I think it was one of the greatest moments of my life, like 95% of the time it was great. It got crazy when Dre and Suge were having differences, I got caught in the middle and it was time to go.

What other songs from that era would we be surprised that you either co-produced or had involvement?

It was only the ones that came out. That was it. After I left Death Row and did the Noreaga record first and then later on I did the Jay-Z record.

Street Scholars with J. Flexx, Sharief, Drauma….

That album was going to be, we missed the boat on that, which would have been a phenomenal album.

Tell me a little bit about it, what we could have expected with that original album?

Theatrics, we painted pictures. We weren’t saying we were gangsters. It was all my ideas, the vision was mine, and it was all in my head. It was all my concepts; I credit a lot of that to K-Solo because he always was full of ideas. What I learned from him I just took it to the next level, that’s what I took to the Street Scholars. Came up with the name Street Scholars, it was a step up from the bullshit. We talked about the streets, but we talked about survival and getting out of the streets and taking it to the next level. We talked about political conscious; we had a song called New World Order that is actually going to be on this album with some new guys that I’m working with. I always try to balance an album, being able to party, talk about real street, and conscious. I have a spiritual record on the album called Exodus, which is about getting our minds right and stop killing each other.

Who were the members of the Street Scholars?

Drauma, he was from Queens, Sharief from Brooklyn, J. Flexx, he did some of the female records with me, and we had a nice little combination and me.

Tell me a little bit about the record you got with Wideawake, I think you got like 10 new tracks on there.

Yeah, basically showcasing the artist that I’m working with. I’m rapping on some of the tracks, I‘m trying to give the audience a well balance of street records, party records, and your conscious records. Four of the other records are from back in the day when I was with Death Row, that’s basically what you’re getting.

So what’s next for Sam Sneed, what can we expect from the man with the master plan?

The man with the master plan, I’m actually trying to get my line out there, don’t want to say the name until I get it copywritten, and basically try to get my artist out there properly. Get my book out there.

So are you doing all these endeavors alone?

As far as the music goes I have a partner named Craig Mason, I call him Stretch Marvelous, because he is a marvelous guy. NuStarz Entertainment is myself and Craig. Street Scholars is album.

Is what you’re doing with NuStarz going to be aligned with Wideawake?

If they offer us another situation then yeah. John Payne and Robert Thompson, I really appreciate what they have done. They brought Lazarus out of his grave.

Seems to be a lot of hostility from the fans of Death Row against Wideawake and this new group, but not seeing what they are trying to do, it’s not trying to re-create Death Row, but it’s more really wanting to give the fans what the fans have always been wanting.

I think it’s kind of affiliated with that name because Death Row was such a big name, but Wideawake is the company that bought Death Row, so they kind of go together in a sense and trying to bring the music that the people haven’t heard to the forefront. Why’s that a problem?

So are you, yourself touching the songs up and all of that?

Yeah, with the engineers and whatnot, most everything was recorded with my partner Craig Mason. Then we took it to a bigger studio and got it mixed and then to another place and got it mastered. The clarity should definitely be there.

What about doing any work with J. Flexx Again?

That’s my man there, you see the thing is the budget, he is a great writer, I would love to do with records with him and we could put records together all day, but if there isn’t a budget to be able to work and promote it, you’re doing everything in vain.

Do you think you will ever work with Dr. Dre again?

I hope so, I would hope so. I was playing some things when I was out there in 2007 in the studio and Dre came in and just sat there for like half an hour and his people started coming in there and he was like, “see this is how you know it’s a hit, because you cant stop listening to it”. The next day people that was working for him at the time came up to me saying, “we don’t know what you did but keep doing it, because Dre was telling us all about you and you always coming up with good ideas”. They don’t know how close Dre and I were. I was being quiet. Dre came in and asked if I had talked to Kirdis and I said no. He pulled me in the room and told me he was about to put me on the payroll for like 100k. Then the next day we actually recorded the song that Dre really liked, and then Kirdis came in and said, “Dre kind of jumped the gun. Dre wants to do it, but he kind of wants to see what else you can bring to the table”.

Do you remember the song?

It wasn’t titled, it was a track. That was the only thing that we did

Have you heard the new track Kush? What do you think?

I think it’s a cool record. Everybody’s smoking now. He said that the rest of the album wasn’t going to be like that. Ain’t no doubt about it, I hope that people don’t compare my stuff with Dre’s; he has the top-of-the-line equipment, latest and greatest stuff. Even programs, having live musicians come in and play. It’s hard to compete with that.

Of all the music that you did with Dre, what is your favorite?

I would probably say my self-titled song because it reflects me and I brought him into my world for that record. My record says “Sam Sneed featuring Dr. Dre” and that’s the influence I had on Dre. I brought Dre to Pittsburgh twice, brought him to my hood. Second time both he and Suge came. Me and him were really close.

Sam, thanks for your time and we’ll definitely be looking forward to “Street Scholars”.

Any time man, thank you.