Snoop Dogg makes a confession of sorts during his performance on the 33rd Annual Stellar Awards, which premiered March 31st on TV ONE and airs in syndication through May 6th in more than 100 markets. His admission comes in the form of lyrics from his song “Words Are Few,” the first single from his debut gospel album, Snoop Dogg Presents: Bible of Love, which entered the Billboard Top Gospel Albums chart this week at No. 1.

As the sometimes controversial gangsta rap pioneer who emerged on Dr. Dre’s “Deep Cover” in 1992 stands center stage at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas, he admits to being conflicted about some of his lifestyle choices. He sings, “I know God is calling me / I’m not where I’m supposed to be / Sitting here smoking trees / When I should be on my knees / When my words are few.”

It’s the perfect song for Snoop to sing at the Stellar Awards. This is gospel music’s biggest event of the year, where Snoop shares the bill with the genre’s superstars Mary Mary, Tasha Cobbs Leonard, JJ Hairston and others. He knows the entire Gospel community will be watching, and some, with hesitation, wondering if his motives are genuine. Even though he received advice from event host and gospel luminary Kirk Franklin, Snoop was determined to simply be himself during his appearance.

“So me and Kirk Franklin had a conversation, by the way, on etiquette and demeanor, and I was telling Kirk I don’t follow etiquette and demeanor,” Snoop explains with a smile a week prior to the taping during a roundtable interview at his recording studio and office compound in Inglewood, Calif. “So we had a nice conversation to get some understanding, and I believe we have some understanding. So at the Stellar Awards, Imma do what I do. I’m not going to try to be Reverend Somebody. I’m going to be Snoop.”

The Long Beach-bred rapper has been wanting to do a gospel album for years, so he was happy to team up with songwriter and producer Lonny Bereal (Kelly Rowland, Jamie Foxx, Chris Brown), RCA Inspiration and his newly formed All The Time Entertainment to produce a 32-track set that features Kim Burrell, Mary Mary, The Clark Sisters, Tye Tribbett, Mali Music, Marvin Sapp, Rance Allen and others. Plus, Snoop was raised in church. His mother, Beverly Broadus Green, is an evangelist, and the record is inspired by his late grandmother Dorothy Tate who always told him that he would become a preacher one day. During part one of our two-part interview with the hip hop legend, Snoop discusses how his church upbringing groomed him for his successful career in entertainment, his response to backlash from those who criticize him for venturing into Gospel music, and how his childhood church family responded to his expletive-filled debut rap album, Doggystyle.

LAS VEGAS, NV – MARCH 24: Snoop Dogg performs during the 33rd annual Stellar Gospel Music Awards at the Orleans Arena on March 24, 2018 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Earl Gibson III/Getty Images)

When you were young, your Grandmother told you that you would be a preacher one day. Do you know what it was that she saw in you? 

I think Granny saw my ability to MC because in the church back-in-the-days we would have to do speeches and play certain black people like Benjamin Banneker and George Washington Carver, and be these guys in church and act them out in plays. Black churches put me through acting school and all kind of stuff. The Black church groomed me. I got to give a shout out to all the deacons and ushers that handled me because they handled me in a real special way because they saw something in me. Even to say, ‘We want you to lead certain songs in the choir and do this and that,’ and I didn’t have a strong singing voice. But just to give me that moment. And Ricky Harris, rest in peace, we went to church together and they would always give us moments where we would act together. When I made my first record, Doggystyle, Ricky Harris is the voice on there. That just shows you how God works. When we did that. Everybody in our church was happy for us. And he cussed on every song, and I did too. They were happy that Snoopy and Ricky had made it. They didn’t care what we were saying. They knew who we were. Know the person inside before you start throwing rocks at him. ‘Cause you only know my music. You don’t know me.

Were you prepared for the backlash you were going to receive for releasing a Gospel album?

I really didn’t care about any criticism because I’m doing this for spiritual reasons. This is not a money making project. This is a spirit-driven project. So my spirit is in the right place. So for those who have backlash or have something to say, they spirit ain’t right. Because if your spirit is right the first thing you will do is recognize someone like me, who comes from where I’m coming from, and say ‘Maybe he’s going to reach people we can’t reach. Maybe he’s doing what’s God’s work is really supposed to be doing.’ When I think back to the bible, I think that the bible says that Jesus was in the streets mixing it up with the real, bringing the real back to the force…I’m from the hood, and I’m from the church. This project is ordained by my grandmother, so I got the spirit of the elders, and when I speak to the elders, I know how to speak to them, and they know where I’m coming from. It’s all due respect, with no disrespect.

What bible verse did you Grandmother or the church teach you that leaned on when you were going through tough times? 

For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten son that who should believe in Him will be given eternal life. That game right there stuck with me. That one piece of game because it was always decisions to be made in the street when I first started hanging with the gang bangers, and then I got put on the set. Then I start hanging out with the drug dealers, and I got my first dope sack. And I started hanging out with the guys that was the shooters, and they gave me a gun, and I got shot at, and then I shot at somebody. It was decisions that had to be made, and I would always hear that scripture. I wasn’t the type of guy that was going to do it three or four times. I ain’t get that far. First and second time that’s it. I heard that voice and it kept me. As I grew up and I look back, I look at a lot of my homeboys that’s dead or in jail. They didn’t have that scripture. They didn’t have that voice and they just kept making that decision over and over again, the wrong one as opposed to hearing the voice that says that you can make another decision and be firm about it and you ain’t no weenie. You ain’t no punk if you don’t do it.

LAS VEGAS, NV – MARCH 24: Snoop Dogg appears onstage during the 33rd annual Stellar Gospel Music Awards at the Orleans Arena on March 24, 2018 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Earl Gibson III/Getty Images)

Would you say that this album is a testimony?

I think this album is like a testimony. But it’s not like a complete testimony because I’m still constantly tested. But it’s just a testimony that you get from the portion of my career that I’m at right now…I did this work on my own and then I presented this to a label, because I didn’t want no label watering it down or trying to tell me what to say, who I should get on a record, how I should do it. I wanted to present it in its full form with the love and the artists in the spirit that we put into it. It’s a lot of artists on this record that have been blackballed or bashed or whatever you want to call it. So this was the greatest project that we could do because it’s a bunch of lost souls trying to find our way back home. And the church is supposed to be the most welcoming place in the world.

How emotional was it for your Mother to see you finally being able to do this kind of record? 

The crazy part about Mama was, she told me after she heard the record — because I played it for her in the studio with all of my homies. Everybody started clapping when it was all over. She turned around and looked at me and she was like, ‘I’m not impressed. God told me you was going to do this years ago.’ So it was like she been waiting on this. But in the real way she was very happy, but I understood what she said. She was saying ‘You been doing your thang. And now you doing His thang, and I knew it was going to happen. It had to be on His time.’

What are your feelings about Gospel music in general? 

I see Gospel music as the best genre of music in the whole world. First of all, the artists and how they sing, hands down, the best. Never see them lip sync. Never see them miss a beat. Never off key. They are the most unheralded singers in the world. If you know anything about Gospel music, you know they can sing in front of the church to the streets to the cars and it sounds like it’s on record — but they singing about God, and they singing to the Lord, so why would you give that credit? So why wouldn’t you put a spotlight on that? That’s God’s work. They don’t want to spotlight that. They’d rather spotlight some killings and some drugs and somebody overdosing on lean and doing all this negative mess. That’s why I stepped in this world to say, “Let me take my spotlight. I got a cool little light. Let me see if I can work this Snoop Dogg light and put it on this Gospel game with some of the most extraordinary singers you heard in your life. And let me put them on stage.”