Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg do battle to see who had the better solo debut.
On April 9th, 1992, the world got its first glimpse at the pairing of two men who would soon come to define the West Coast hip-hop sound for the rest of the decade. It was on the track "Deep Cover," which was recorded specifically for a film of the same name, where both Andre "Dr. Dre" Young and Calvin "Snoop Dogg" Broadus Jr. staked their claim as not only an extremely compatible collaborative duo, but also as distinctive, top-tier emcees in their own rights. Their debut albums, Dre's The Chronic and Snoop's Doggystyle, honed the G-funk sound that had begun to ripen at the tail end of the last decade, modernized it, beefed up its sonic attack and brought it to a mass of hip-hop consumers who were hungry for that style of smooth, groove-heavy music. Both records ended up being huge crossover successes, charting well outside of the confines of the genre and crossing racial barriers in the process. For Dre, it was the expansion on a repertoire that rap fans had already keyed on and grown to appreciate; for Snoop, it was the fulfillment of the potential he had teased both listeners and record execs with for the better part of a year prior to dropping his debut.
Dr. Dre was already a known commodity at the time, having played a large role in shaping N.W.A's similarly funky, aggressive sound. In addition to that, he also did a lot of production work for other artists who fell under the Ruthless Records label in the late-1980's - a company was owned in part by his group mate Eazy-E. When Dre felt he wasn't receiving his just deserts financially for the work he was putting in for Ruthless, he took his talents elsewhere, promptly becoming one of the men to link up with Suge Knight and form Death Row Records. Dre was laying the groundwork for his debut solo effort when he was introduced to Snoop Dogg's freestyle rapping through homemade mixtapes he made with his friend (and Dre's stepbrother) Warren G. The enthusiastic response led to Snoop's spot on "Deep Cover," which in grew into several high-exposure features for him on The Chronic. By the time Doggystyle dropped in the fall of 1993, the former drug dealer was on his way to a lifetime of musical greatness.
Both are titanic achievements in the annals of hip-hop history, but which one was the better long-form release? Let's break it down, piece by piece.
Both The Chronic and Doggystyle came from the same Death Row system that would go on to produce chart-topping albums for other artists, including 2Pac's post-prison effort All Eyez On Me. Since both are cut from similar cloths, it's important to recognize that Dre's album came first, blazing a trail for the sound that Snoop's album would borrow heavily from the next year. If there is no The Chronic, there's arguably no Doggystyle and potentially no rise to prominence at all for Mr. Broadus.
While Dre handled most of the primary production duties for The Chronic, Daz Dillinger is one of the many names who is credited with giving the good doctor a helping hand behind the scenes. For Doggystyle, Daz would later dispute claims that Dre produced Snoop's album in its entirety, stating that he and Warren G did a substantial amount of work on shaping the sound of the that record. Knight set the record straight in 2013, saying that Daz did the lion's share of the work from a production standpoint and the credit was signed over to Dr. Dre "for a fee". Whether or not that statement holds up under cross-examination, especially given Death Row's infamous way of doing business "off the books," it's clear that both albums can be linked back to the unique sound that, for the most part, came from Dre's creative influences.
On The Chronic, a minimal amount of sampling was used, in stark contrast to the dense layering of snippets from other records that was trendy in hip-hop at the time. Artists like Public Enemy and Eric B. & Rakim set the standard where such sampling (over)use is concerned, but at the dawn of the 1990's and, more specifically, G-funk's insertion into the forefront of mainstream music culture, Dre's sound was a refreshing one, relying instead on live instrumentation and fat, bouncy beats that were both heavily inspired by the work of 1970's funk band Parliament Funkadelic. They provided the backbone to a streamlined rhythm section and the result was a less-busy, more straightforward sound that was incredibly soulful. The same approach was used on Doggystyle, where those behind the production were more focused on deepening the grooves instead of reinventing a wheel that was running very smoothly.
The release of Snoop's debut and the final mix by Dre was supposedly rushed to quiet the growing outcry from the distributors, who were panicking about meeting the sales demand that were being forecasted ahead of time. Would this have led to a less "carbon copy" sound for the Doggfather? Maybe so, but the heavy influence from the mega-producer and his own debut meant that they will forever be linked stylistically in terms of their sound.
Much like he had done with N.W.A, Dr. Dre's lyrics on The Chronic were angry, assertive and, at times, very political. Ever since the FBI's public slandering of his group and their lyrical glorification of violence and disrespect of law enforcement, the emcee doubled down on this approach, as witnessed on the track "N***a Wit A Gun:"
"44 reasons come to mind
Why your motherf**king brother is hard to find
He be walking on the streets and f**king with mine
Stupid punk can't f**k with a mastermind
See I never take a step on a Compton block
Or L.A. without the AK ready to pop
Cause them punk motherf**kers in black and white
Ain't the only motherf**kers I gots to fight"
Despite that unflinching kind of writing, the album as a whole isn't too heavy. The party anthems are present on The Chronic as well, including "Deez Nuts" and of course "Nuthin' But A G Thang," a track that was ghostwritten by The D.O.C. In that respect, there's a nice blend of tension build-up and release in terms of the LP's construction, alternating between the levity of a marijuana-infused night out and the frustration and anger when it comes to the overall repression of young black men in America. In a weird way, this acted as an eerie postscript for the Rodney King riots, which took place earlier in 1992. Some of the audio from those protests can be heard on The Chronic as samples.
Doggystyle takes a looser but similar approach to the lyricism as well, with the free-flowing tracks like "Gin and Juice" and "Lodi Dodi" broken up by more serious fare like "Murder Was The Case" and "Serial Killer." In the case of "Murder," Snoop spits some amazingly descriptive bars about the experience of getting shot in cold blood on the street:
"As I look up at the sky
My mind starts tripping
A tear drops my eye
My body temperature falls
I'm shaking and they breaking trying to save the Dogg
Pumping on my chest and I'm screaming
I stop breathing, damn I see demons
Dear God, I wonder can you save me
I can't die my boo boo's bout to have my baby"
There's also the issue of both albums and how their lyrics treat women. It's no secret that misogyny claims have dogged both Dre and Snoop throughout their careers and it's hard to argue against those allegations if you're taking both of these records at face value. The Chronic boasts a track like "Bitches Ain't S**t," whose title should tell you all you need to know, whereas Doggystyle has "Ain't No Fun (If the Homies Can't Have None)," where Snoop ultimately looks at women he met in the club as nothing more than sexual playthings.
The lasting impact of these albums and, by association, both of these singular artists on the genre as a whole cannot be overstated. Having continued their own solo work as well as helping to discover new, emerging rappers who have gone on to become stars, both Dre and Snoop rode the respective successes of The Chronic and Doggystyle to lasting dominance in the world of hip-hop.
Success, as a concept, may be defined in different terms for each of these albums. I've already touched upon how the work done from both a production and lyrical standpoint on The Chronic was mimicked to a certain degree with Doggystyle, but the interesting thing to note is how much more money Snoop continues to make off of his solo debut versus Dre's. The RIAA has certified both album platinum, with nearly six million copies sold as of 2015 for The Chronic - that being said, Snoop's figures blow those ones away. Doggystyle has sold an estimated 11 million copies worldwide and, as an added bonus, Snoop didn't have to give up a large portion of his royalties for the record, as Dre had to do with his debut in order to leverage a deal with Interscope.
Both men fulfilled the high expectations for their solo albums and, instead of seeing it as the proverbial master passing the torch to his apprentice, I see it as a tale of the evolution of the G-funk sound and the LP's that helped ensure the West Coast sound's meteoric rise to international acclaim. What say you? If you had to pick between these two Death Row classics, which one gets your vote? Let us know!