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Nathaniel D. Hale, soulful singer of gangsta rap known as Nate Dogg, dies at 41

By T. Rees Shapiro
Friday, March 18, 2011; 10:33 AM

Nathaniel D. Hale, a singer known as Nate Dogg, whose mellow baritone provided soul and swagger to gangsta rap in the 1990s and 2000s, died March 15 of complications from a series of strokes at a care facility near Long Beach, Calif. He was 41.

The son of a Baptist minister, Mr. Hale started his career in a Mississippi gospel choir and became one of the most prolific hip-hop artists of his generation.

His vocals were featured on hundreds of tracks, and his smooth voice was said to possess a nearly mythical hit-making quality. Scores of his collaborations appeared in the upper ranks of the Billboard charts.

He was considered hip-hop royalty through his association with many of the genre's top artists, including Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Tupac Shakur, Eminem, Ludacris, 50 Cent and Fabolous.

"There was no other singer like Nate Dogg," Bonsu Thompson, editor-in-chief of hip-hop magazine Source, said in an interview.

Thompson said that Mr. Hale had a "biblical voice" and sang "about things that were taboo to mainstream America," including "threesomes, smoking weed and drinking beer."

"It was that juxtaposition," Thompson said, "that made him so attractive."

While living in Long Beach, Calif., Mr. Hale became close friends with Calvin Broadus, who became Snoop Dogg, and Warren Griffin III, or Warren G.

The three musicians formed a group known as 213, after the Los Angeles area code, and they distributed a homemade demo tape from the trunk of a car.

The tape eventually made it into the hands of producer Dr. Dre, who featured all three on his first rap album, "The Chronic" (1992).

Dr. Dre's debut became an international success, and Mr. Hale's voice helped define its laid-back sub-genre known as G-Funk, or gangsta funk.

In 1994, Mr. Hale emerged as a star in his own right by appearing on Warren G's popular single "Regulate," which recounts the tale of a violent late-night gang encounter.

The song peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and earned the pair a Grammy nomination. Mr. Hale's manager, Rod McGrew, said the song "catapulted him to being recognized as the voice everyone wanted to hear."

As a result, Mr. Hale's was one of the most widely recorded voices in hip-hop, McGrew said. In the past decade, Mr. Hale sang on Dr. Dre's "The Next Episode," Fabolous's "Can't Deny It" and 50 Cent's "21 Questions," which was No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for four weeks.

"I've actually done a song with a Japanese rapper and a French rapper, and I couldn't tell you their names to save my life," Mr. Hale told USA Today in 2001. "I did my part in English, but I was Nate Dogg, so they were cool with it."

Nathaniel Dwayne Hale was born Aug. 19, 1969, in Long Beach, Calif. He spent some of his childhood in Clarksdale, Miss., where his father was a minister, before enlisting in the Marine Corps.

After military service, Mr. Hale moved back to the Los Angeles area, where he began his music career.

Known for collaborations, Mr. Hale released several solo albums, including "G-Funk Classics Vol. 1 and 2" (1998), "Music & Me" (2001) and "Nate Dogg" (2004).

"Sometimes I've been hot, and sometimes I've been lukewarm," he told USA Today in 2001, at the peak of his popularity. "But right now, the skillet is real hot and I'm just throwing the eggs on it."

In 2000, Mr. Hale was arrested on charges of beating his estranged wife, who said that she had been kidnapped and that the singer had set her car on fire. He was sentenced to three years' probation.

The next year, he was arrested for possession of marijuana and sentenced to one year of probation. He had the first of a series of debilitating strokes in 2008.

Mr. Hale had two sons and four daughters from separate relationships, McGrew said.

In addition to his children, survivors include his parents, Ruth Holmes of Long Beach and Daniel Lee Hale of Clarksdale; two sisters; and three brothers.

Mr. Hale was sometimes criticized for glorifying violence in his singing and for embracing misogynistic lyrics.

"But," a reviewer for the Pitch, a Kansas City, Mo., weekly music publication, wrote in 2001, "he's still the only man around who can sing about getting play and make it sound like a hymn from a church choir."

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