Thug Life or Tame? Rappers Stray From the Street

It used to be that you could take the rapper out of the hood but not the hood out of the rapper.

But what happens when the rapper leaves the streets of Los Angeles for the gold-plated paths of Bollywood?

Snoop Dogg, the West Coast rapper who ran with the Crips gang and served time for selling cocaine, traded his baggy jeans for a slim-fit kurta and his cornrows for a diamond-studded turban to appear in "Singh Is Kinng," a Bollywood movie that just hit theaters in limited release. He raps on the film's title track, spitting lines like "Yo, what up. This Big Snoop Dogg. Represent the Punjabi," and "What up to all the ladies hanging out in Mumbai."

What up, indeed: In a video posted online, Snoop said he'd like to follow up the "Singh Is Kinng" track, already bumping in bars and clubs across India, with a tour.

"Snoop Dogg has a lot of fans in India and I love 'em right back," he said. "Get ready for me."

Of course, Snoop's far from the first rapper to look outside the hip-hop community to raise his pop culture quotient. Diddy pioneered that trend.

Among Diddy's host of ventures: developing reality series for MTV and VH1, endorsing high-end Ciroc vodka, starring in the Broadway production-cum-Emmy-nominated TV movie "A Raisin in the Sun" and putting out a line of fragrances, the latest of which will be called, simply, "I Am King."

Jay-Z followed in his footsteps. He co-owns the chain of 40/40 Clubs and the New Jersey Nets and recently sealed a game-changing $150 million deal with concert promoter Live Nation, which promises to finance his entertainment ventures for the next 10 years, however vast they may be.

But some of the latest partnerships between rappers and pop culture seem downright bizarre. Snoop Dogg rapping in a Bollywood movie and starring in an E! reality show? LL Cool J designing a kids clothing line for Sears? Aren't these guys supposed to be thug?

Apparently, it really ain't nothing but a G thang -- that's G as in grand, not gangster. With the recording industry unsure exactly how to monetize music, rappers need to go where there's money to be made and a market to be tapped, whether it's the children's clothing department, the South Asian subcontinent or reality TV, street cred be damned.

"It's very much a sign of how times have changed in the hip-hop world," said James Auburn, a hip-hop historian. "MC Hammer did a lot of product endorsements. He was considered a sellout and not true to his base, but now rappers can start their own clothing lines and make all the money in the world. It's all a part of people branding themselves."

Indeed, Jay-Z can spit lines like "Take the Forbes figure, then figure more" in part because of his deals with big names including Budweiser, Hewlett-Packard and General Motors -- Forbes put Jay-Z at the top of its "Hip-Hop Cash Kings" list last year, estimating he earned $34 million in 2006. But branding's not for every rapper: If an up-and-coming emcee were to front for a mainstream brand like McDonalds, it could be career suicide.

"If you're a young rapper and you establish yourself as being from the street and you're on your first or second album, making baby clothes isn't going to help," said Sean Fennessey, VIBE magazine's music editor. "But if you're 10 albums deep and you're pushing 40, you're likely an international brand. It's not as much of an issue."

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