Hot Dogg!

He entered the rap world in 1992 with a lazy Southern drawl, a lanky physique and a name built for fame. Snoop Doggy Dogg, as he was then known, first hooked hip-hop fans with his underground hit "187 on a Undercover Cop." That year he also penned most of the songs on Dr. Dre's definitive album "The Chronic." By the time his debut record "Doggystyle" was released in 1993, the 22-year-old writer-rapper had such an enormous following that the album entered the charts at No. 1--the first rap record ever to do so. Much media attention followed, including the cover of Rolling Stone. Big things seemed in store for Snoop.

Instead, due to many arrests and controversies, it's taken almost a decade for Snoop Dogg--as he's called himself since 1999--to achieve something close to mainstream success. The audience reception toward "Bones," a horror flick that opened Wednesday with Snoop as its lead, may be the truest indicator yet as to whether he has indeed finally transcended his bad-boy rap-star status. "I am who I am," says Snoop, referring to the numerous run-ins with the law that have dotted--and have likely set back--his career. "I'm a real person and real people sometimes get into some bad s--t."

He got into plenty--and pretty early on. Even before "Doggystyle" was officially released, Snoop became involved in a drive-by murder trial that led to months in the courtroom. Then came his longtime feud with the controversial record company Death Row, run by the infamous Suge Knight. Combine those incidents with a few arrests over the years for smoking marijuana--including one just last week--and you see why Hollywood's suits didn't come a-calling right away. "You never knew how the mainstream was going to handle him, given his background," says a top William Morris agent. "White kids loved the music, but that's something they could turn on and off and that their parents don't have to see. Movies and TV, that's everywhere."

Snoop makes no apologies for his complicated background and his controversy-laden path to stardom. "There are a lot of people just like me in the world," he says. "I think Hollywood realized that and decided, 'Hey, why not use him?' Everybody ain't and can't be Tom Cruise."

Since his multiplatinum debut record, Snoop's made five additional albums, the most recent of which was 2000's "Tha Last Meal." Along the way, he appeared in front of the camera in numerous videos that played on MTV--as well as in extended videos that lasted 12 minutes or more and that fans could purchase. (The most successful of them, "Murder Was the Case They Gave Me," eerily had Snoop on trial for murder.) Eventually, he started getting movie and TV roles, too. He had a bit part in "Half Baked" and showed up on TV's "Martin," "Mad TV" and "Living Single."

By 2000, Hollywood had really began to take notice. Snoop did a bang-up job in his supporting role in John Singleton's "Baby Boy." Superstar Denzel Washington asked him to play a wheelchair-bound drug dealer in the current hit "Training Day." Snoop even showed up on Must-See TV this year, with a cameo on the season premiere of "Just Shoot Me."

"Finally, people are able to see all of me," says Snoop. "And you know that the music and people loving me isn't just a fluke. That black people aren't the only people buying rap. Hip-hop is loved worldwide, and the people who are hip-hop are loved worldwide. For a minute, Hollywood didn't want to deal with that. But they understand that there is money to be made and this is my time to make it and show what I got."

"Bones" is just that vehicle. Though no cinematic masterpiece, it's an entertaining teen horror movie cleverly directed by Spike Lee alumnus Ernest Dickerson. Snoop plays a cool-cat bookie who gets killed in 1979 and then resurrected as a ghost in good ole 2001. Snoop relished the opportunity to don pin-striped suits and diamond-studded sunglasses--and to perm his hair, which he calls "fried, dyed and laid to the side." It also gave him a chance to work with costar Pam Grier, who was a star in the 1970s and whom Snoop calls "the most finest woman that ever lived."

For the actor, "Bones" was also a chance to revisit a specific moment in black history. "The '70s were truly the good ole days for black people," he says. "'Black in the day,' you know what I mean? We lived in our communities, loved each other, supported black business and had a hope and focus that isn't around anymore. It was right after the civil-rights movement so people were feeling things were going to be good and OK for us as a people. It ain't been that way since."

Snoop's returning to that decade--sort of--for his next movie, which will be lightly based "Car Wash," the 1976 classic. "The Wash" will feature Snoop and longtime mentor Dr. Dre playing off each other like the odd couple. "It's just true fun--not too serious and with no messages," says Snoop, laughing. "We loved 'Car Wash' and just wanted to do something like that for the kids today. Me and Dre had a ball filming that s--t. It's wonder we finished it the way we acted the fool the entire time."

He hopes to play even more diverse roles down the road. "When I go out, white, black and others come to me and tell me how much they like what I do," he says. "Sometimes people like to see other side of life--the B-side, like the B-side of a record. I'm the B-side." And that doesn't just mean bad boy anymore.