Our new "Classic Rotation" series revisits classic albums on the anniversary of their release. To kick things off, we've taken a look at Dr. Dre's indisputable classic "The Chronic", which dropped 21 years ago today, on December 15th, 1992.
The importance of an album can be measured in several ways. Some are deemed iconic because of sale figures, others by the creativity and artistic integrity of the work, others still by their cultural influence. Although it's very rare for an album to nail all of these criteria, Dr. Dre's debut solo project did just that and then some. Now, 21 years after its release, let us roll some green and nod our heads in celebration of a pivotal album in the history of both hip-hop and music in general - Dr. Dre's The Chronic.
Dre struck home right off the bat with a thunderous, Funkalicious, hard-as-shit album that flipped the game on its back. It went triple platinum domestic and sold more than 8 million copies worldwide. Critics called it genius. Rolling Stone magazine ranked it 138th on it's "500 Greatest Albums Of All Time" list. It spawned the career of many west coast emcees (most notably Snoop Dogg), solidified Dre as hip-hop royalty and paved the way for artists to establish and maintain successful labels.
But forget all that for a moment and listen.
With a simple counting lesson - "one, two, three and to the four" - "Ain't Nuthin' But A 'G' Thang" helped usher in a whole new era or rap music. Snoop Doggy Dogg and Dr. Dre were at the door, carrying the mainstream's official introduction to the style known as G-funk. It was 1992, and things were changing in the West. Dre had formed Death Row Records with The D.O.C, Dick Griffey and former NFL player/notorious gangster Suge Knight. His departure from Ruthless Records was indeed on bad terms, and the animosity he felt towards his former bandmate/friend/label-head Eazy-E was staggering. Feeling used, betrayed, and underappreciated, Dre's took aim at him and and other N.W.A affiliates on his first record. The doctor was aware that his lyrical prowess wasn't as strong as his production, though, and recruited a large group of ghostwriters as well as a few kids from the LBC to help him pen and complete his classic. Those kids happened to be Snopp Dogg and Tha Dogg Pound.
Death Row's first coup d’état was acquiring the rights to the "Deep Cover" soundtrack, a neo-noir cop drama starring Laurence Fishburne. The result was "Deep Cover (187)", the first track Dre recorded as a solo artist as well as the first glimpse of a young Snoop Dogg.
The album begins with a hard intro, letting you know that Death Row is officially in the house. Snoop's mellow voice floats over an arrangement of dark strings as he proclaims both victory for the new label and murderous intentions for former trespassers. It all ends with Dre coming back on the track and stating "yeah, nigga, youse a penguin-lookin' ma'fucka". After this, the listener is treated to a series of bangers: "Fuck Wit Dre Day", a diss track that lets Dre stretch out and be his true G self. "Let Me Ride", an orgy of funky samples including Parliament's "Mothership Connection", James Brown's "Funky Drummer" and Bill Wither's "Kissing My Love". "The Day The Niggaz Took Over" comes hard, and transitions beautifully into the above-mentioned "Ain't Nuthin' But A G Thang", which is an undisputable classic. All save "The Day The Niggaz Took Over" were singles, and they all reached the Billboard Top 10.
The Chronic's tracks are exceptionally selected, arranged and mastered by the good doctor. For the first time in his career, we was able to explore sound and arrangement in however he saw fit. He jumps easily from hard-ass bass and deathly synths to smooth, psychedelic jazz flute samples that allow him, Snoop and their listeners to chill and bob their collected heads for a moment. He switches back and forth throughout the entire album, placing each track in juxtaposition with the next, creating a varied soundscape rather then a grouping of isolated records that fail to complement each other. He links them together with skits that are both comical and serious, a trait Dre had perfected during his N.W.A. days. Tie it all together, and you have a great listen from start to finish.
If a definitive textbook was created and hip-hop were taught in a high school history class, The Chronic would be a chapter sandwiched between early history and hip-hop's golden era. It represented a shift in the music, in the culture of the game. It's regarded as the beginning of an important period of growth in hip-hop, a cataclysmic shift that allowed the music to evolve and ultimately grow into what we know it as today. Fortunately, this is not a high school history class. No need to study, memorize or take notes - just listen.