By the early 1990s, hip hop was on a roll with heavy MTV rotation, modest Billboard chart success, prime time sitcoms, product placement ads and of course BET‘s commitment to the genre. A largely East Coast invention, Hip-Hop had made its way across the country, with groups charting from the ATL, Texas, Chicago, Louisiana and the West Coast. Dr. Dre’s seminal LP ‘The Chronic’ would literally transform the Hip-Hop landscape, making West Coast rap a force to be reckoned with in Hip-Hop culture.
Twenty years ago on December 15, Dr. Dre released his epic “solo” debut, The Chronic. Not even he could understand what influence he would have on pop culture going forward. In the mid-1980s, he was instrumental in the glitter-laden electro funk collective World Class Wreckin’ Cru. He would evolve with the groundbreaking supergroup, N.W.A., and take direct hits from various authorities including the F.B.I. N.W.A.’s grotesque, first person narratives detailed the harsh realities of Compton’s inner city culture. The group became one of the most influential of its time and helped initiate the so-called “gangsta rap” subgenre.
Over a span of 16 aromatic, well-produced tracks and sketches, The Chronic reaffirmed and slightly toned down Dr. Dre’s musical identity. The then newly developed Death Row Records’ breakthrough LP took melodic, cosmic ‘70s funk primarily from Parliament-Funkadelic’s discography and married them with a few whirring synth riffs, heavier bass lifts, Blaxploitation film dialogue snippets and an ebb of lewd (offensive to some) stanzas to create “G-funk.”
The Chronic’s music and lyrical imagery were so vivid that Dr. Dre took the listener to the West Coast without even actually visiting. The Chronic’s simple yet memorable cover art mocked Zig Zag rolling papers packaging. An added bonus to the album was a then unknown Long Beach native with an amazing laid back flow and one-of-a-kind vocal named Snoop (Doggy) Dogg. Now two of most iconic, recognizable and adored talents in American music, The Chronic was Dr. Dre and Snoop Dog’s (reborn Snoop Lion) foundation.
One listen created a sprawling intoxication that could very well rival the high grade marijuana the album title was named after, although ironically Dr. Dre was not a weed smoker at the time of the LP’s release.
At its best, The Chronic is the soundtrack and morale boost to an American culture feeling the hopelessness and despair from the headlining Rodney King beating and the resulting rioting. Infectious grooves — “Nuthin’ But a ‘G’ Thang,” “Let Me Ride” and “F*** Wit Dre Day” – became bonafide classics that raised the bar for rappers’ abilities to make credible hip-hop singles that could climb and take over the pop charts. Dr. Dre made it no secret (satirizing via music video) that his former N.W.A cohort Eazy-E along with the group’s manager Jerry Heller were on his bad side. Supporting parodies and insultsdirected at Miami bass artist Luther “Luke” Campbell and Bronx rapper Tim Dog were also prevalent on the LP.
At times, The Chronic discussed menacing in recording studios, spoke of gunplay, misogyny, sex, homophobia, hypermasculinity, overindulgence in marijuana and 40 oz. bottles of malt liquor through the songs including “A Nigga Witta Gun,” “Rat-Tat-Tat-Tat,” “Lyrical Gangbang,” “High Powered,” “The Roach,” “Deeez Nuuuts,” “The Day The Niggaz Took Over” and “Stranded on Death Row.” The album’s spirit reminds listeners of what it means to have a good time in the midst of the uncertainty and danger of life in the hood.
To date, The Chronic has sold eight million copies worldwide. In decades since, Dr. Dre has become an esteemed Grammy Award-winning entrepreneurial force in music and technology. Though Aftermath Entertainment, home to Eminem, 50 Cent and Kendrick Lamar, and Beats Electronics continue to make Dr. Dre a household name, nothing will replace The Chronic’s legacy. It is the album that sparked “gangsta rap’s” pop accessibility and coolness to the masses without any compromise.
Christopher A. Daniel is a pop cultural critic and music editor for The Burton Wire. He is also a contributing writer for Urban Lux Magazine and Blues & Soul Magazine. Follow Christopher @Journalistorian on Twitter.