L.A. Grapevine

Snoop Dogg is rolling in high style these days, thanks to an unprecedented collaboration between West Coast Customs the crew behind MTV's Pimp My Ride

Snoop Dogg’s new studio-in-a-van: stylin’ inside and out.

Snoop Dogg is rolling in high style these days, thanks to an unprecedented collaboration between West Coast Customs — the crew behind MTV's Pimp My Ride and TLC's Street Customs — and Mackie. Although Snoop had joined Pimp My Ride host Xzibit for some rhymes on the show's theme, the irrepressible MC/entrepreneur had never brought a set of wheels to the Corona-based specialty house for a high-end makeover, so when WCC got a call from Slice, the rapper's manager, they were all over it. But this job would be unlike any they'd handled previously. Would they be able to turn Snoop's pipe dream into a reality?

Snoop had bought a 2007 Daimler Sprinter van — the high-roofed vehicle favored by FedEx — with the intention of having it customized into a combo mobile studio and video lounge. That ambitious undertaking would be quarterbacked by Chad Utt, WCC's audio/video manager. He'd handled a ton of over-the-top car audio custom jobs, but the closest his team had come to this sort of transformation had been outfitting a handful of stage trucks with performance and DJ rigs. But a full-on recording studio — now, that posed a whole new set of challenges.

When the Sprinter arrived at the shop, Utt realized he really had his work cut out for him. The van was already “pretty beat up,” he says, and the 13-by-6-foot area behind the cabin was still crammed with six rows of seats. It took some imagination to envision this funky set of wheels as a pro-level rolling studio. “I design extreme high-end car audio and video solutions every day,” Utt points out, “but I'm not doing recording studios or working with those products.” Realizing he'd need some expert help to get the job done within the two-and-a-half-week window dictated by the Street Customs production schedule, Utt started doing some research.

“We'd heard that another shop had tried to build something on this level for Snoop,” Utt explains, “and it failed miserably because they used a whole bunch of car audio products, which don't have the same dynamic sound as recording studio monitors. So we figured, ‘Let's not try doing the same thing they did; let's go get exactly what Snoop uses,’ and his manager told us they use Mackie [products] in all of their studios. So I figured the best thing to do was get Mackie's top engineers and walk with them, step by step, through the process. So we had the right setup to start with, and we didn't have any hiccups along the way.

“I was very impressed by all the people at Mackie,” he continues. “They had engineers on the phone with me day and night explaining how it needed to be set up to make it work properly, and the guys were extremely helpful — it came out awesome, and it sounds amazing.”

For the studio hardware, the Mackie dudes selected an Onyx 1200F FireWire interface boasting 30 inputs and 34 outputs of 192kHz audio on the company's high-end preamps. Serving as control surfaces are a Mackie Control Universal Pro, Extender Pro and C4 Pro, with plug-in effects processors and virtual instruments. A pair of 1521Z two-way, 15-inch active speakers stand tall as the studio monitors. On the software end, they chose the Tracktion 3 Ultimate Bundle, which includes mixing and mastering tools, virtual instruments and sample libraries from IK Multimedia, Sonic Reality and others. A Sony VAIO SZ491 2.16GHz dual-core laptop with a 200-gig hard drive runs the software.

“There's a sliding door on the right side of the van,” Utt says, “and right in front of it is the entire rack. And Snoop can actually stand up in there — it's really a tall van — set it up the way he wants and run everything off the VAIO laptop.”

But there was one more critical issue to deal with before this rig could legitimately be called a mobile studio. “When you're inside of a vehicle that's made of extremely thin sheet metal, it's gonna vibrate like crazy,” says Utt. “So we had to go through the entire vehicle and sound-deaden it with multiple layers of Dynamat, make sure that all the panels were dead, that we didn't have any reverberations and that was a major step in the process.”

Utt, whose passions extend to home theater, was right in his sweet spot on the video lounge tip. He positioned a 46-inch Sony Bravia flat-screen right behind the driver and passenger seats, effectively hooking it up to a Sony Blue-ray DVD player, PlayStation 3 console and the VAIO laptop, which plays a dual role in the setup.

“We work a lot with Sony,” says Utt, “because they have every facet under one roof, not only mobile electronics but home electronics — from camcorders to flat-screens to laptops — and we use all that stuff in our conversions.”

For the 5.1 surround system, Utt went all Mackie, going with five HR624mk2 high-resolution studio monitors and an HRS120 12-inch studio subwoofer, which handles the low frequencies for the studio, as well. The subwoofer is stashed beneath a pair of plush black-leather seats adorned with Snoop logos, which Utt has placed in the prime viewing area in the very back of the van. “We put the two seats in the back so that he'd be able to lounge, relax, play videogames and do anything off the PS3, and watch movies in hi-def on the flat-screen in 5.1,” Utt explains.

The 5.1 processor, from a high-end home audio outfit called Outlaw Audio, “allows us to run two separate zones, one just for the recording studio and a separate zone for the 5.1 — and it decodes all the 5.1 signals so it has the proper input,” says Utt. “I discovered Outlaw through my home-theater side projects, and they seemed to have the best receiver for this setup, so I called them up and told them what we were doing, and, once again, another company was more than willing to help out.”

Utt and his team came up with a way-cool final touch, tricking out the interior in black and mustard yellow — the colors of Snoop's beloved Pittsburgh Steelers. The inch-and-a-half-deep shag carpeting on the floor — so thick it must be raked rather than vacuumed (to get rid of the seeds and stems?) — is black, as is the suede ceiling, with mustard-yellow trim on the walls and windows. “We always try to put some personal touches in there,” says Utt.

Snoop was as stoked about his transformed van as Cinderella was when that giant pumpkin morphed into a royal coach. “He's actually used it to shoot a few music videos,” Utt notes, “and he's had it in another TV show that he's working on. It's also got a bench on the right side that pulls out so he can take his kids back there with him. He takes it to his football practice and cruises around in it. He loves riding around in there.”

The Snoop segment ran in mid-November on Street Customs; check out www.westcoastcustoms.com/streetcustoms/index.html for repeat airings.