SNOOP DOGGY DOGG DOES NOT RUN with the pack. After he and his bodyguard were charged with the 1993 killing of an alleged L.A. gang member--both were acquitted earlier this year--the rapper decided to stay out of trouble for good. Snoop began flying in different planes from the ones used by the controversial entourage of Death Row Records, which included CEO Suge Knight and the late rapper Tupac Shakur. He began riding in different limos, staying in different hotels. He concentrated on his 2-year-old son, CordE. He did not want to get caught up in rivalries. He did not want to die. ""It's not about any fighting and fussing with me,'' says Snoop. He is speaking softly and looking at the floor, which is what he always looks at. ""All through the trial I just thought about my son and how I had to be out to see him grow up. I wasn't getting caught up in any bulls--t again. My son's face is the first one I see in the morning and the last one at night, and that's the way I want it to stay.''
Unfortunately for Snoop, he's about to release his highly anticipated second album, ""Tha Doggfather,'' at a particularly troubled point in Death Row's short history. The label has made some new enemies: the FBI is now investigating allegations that the company has gang connections and is involved in money laundering. And it has parted ways with an important friend: rapper-producer Dr. Dre recently left after a feud with Knight. Dre and Snoop's collaboration had made Death Row the most successful rap label in history and Snoop the hottest rapper of the decade. But because of Dre's less than amicable departure, Snoop had to make ""Doggfather'' alone. ""Dre had his reasons for leaving, and I can't be mad at him for that,'' says Snoop. ""But there's pressure. If for some reason the album doesn't do well, the industry will say it's because Dre didn't work on it. But there wasn't any other way.''
""Doggfather'' falls short of Snoop's debut, ""Doggystyle,'' but it's still a truly funky outing. It features the rapper's unbeatable Southern drawl and his rapid-fire lyrics. Without his mentor beside him, Snoop has enlisted the producing talents of Daz (from Tha Dogg Pound) and DJ Pooh (from Ice Cube's production team). The album's first single is already a dance-club favorite: an even more funked-out remake of the Gap Band hit ""Oops Upside Your Head'' called, of course, ""Snoops Upside Your Head.'' The rest of ""Tha Doggfather'' is laced with true West Coast, gang sta-edge flava. There's ""Too Black,'' a tribute to black leaders who were killed fighting for civil rights. And, yes, there's glamorized violence and unglamorized women. Says Snoop, ""Should I not talk about something because it isn't nice or it isn't what you want to hear? I know that's what Bob Dole would want, but hopefully he won't get into office to stop my flow.''
Snoop began writing ""Tha Doggfather'' just before the verdict came in at his trial and now lives outside L.A. with his girlfriend and son. While the future of Death Row is uncertain, industry insiders say the rapper's easygoing personality and distinctive musical style would secure him a place at almost any record label. Snoop himself says he's just looking for better days. ""It hasn't been a whole lot of fun these past few years,'' he says. ""The trial, the fights, 'Pac's death. It's all been more heartache than I thought I'd get after finally getting my dream. But better days have to be on the way. One thing doesn't last always, at least that's what my mama says.'' Here's hoping that Mama's right.