It should be said that The Chronic does not mark the first time that hip-hop has ever entered the pop culture zeitgeist. For more than a decade or so, the rap world had done much to push its way into the hearts, minds and wallets of the general public. Yet in the early ’90s, if it wasn’t somehow draped in parachute pants or adding mosh parts to its beats, it was likely not to reach the widest audience. What hip-hop was in need of was a record that lacked in corniness or overt agitprop and stepped up measures of hip-hop’s realism-based narratives with something that was, in every sense, cool. To that end, The Chronic sounds cool as fuck.
Dr. Dre’s reputation as a stand out producer did not simply explode off of the masters of his debut solo album. It was a culmination if anything, of his unique resume up to date. He had helped create some pop tracks with the World Class Wreckin’ Cru before doing an abrupt about face with NWA, the standard bearer of nihilistic gangsta rap, whose raw attitude remains unmatched even today. During his tenure with NWA, Dre worked to create a sound that combined his two fascinations which he later dubbed G-funk. Once NWA imploded into endless drama between Dre and Eazy E, Dre worked to perfect this melding.
The Chronic is not the happiest album ever created. There’s plenty of violence, feuding and misogyny that certain strains of hip hop are so well known for, but I’ll be damned if this record isn’t groovy as all fuck. The anthem that encompasses it all of course is “‘Nuthin But a `G’ Thang.” The single was a massive hit, and why not? It’s loaded with Dre’s easy-as-it-goes beats and soulful synths that give the song a fluidic kind of movement, as if it were created seemingly from nothing in an instant. The track in itself is an anomaly for making a feel good summer song with a gangland twist. His genius is further solidified by having Snoop Dogg (then known as Snoop Doggy Dog) contribute vocals to it as well as other tracks which marked one of the many career launchings of exceedingly popular MCs. Snoop Dogg’s contributions were key to the liveliness and accessibility of the album. As opposed to Dre’s more aggressively voiced collaborators, Snoop had the closest thing an MC had ever come to having a croon. His part in the songs signify that these are not simply to be written off as gritty narratives of street life, but tracks with actual grooves, they’re songs that can be listened to and moved by.
Dre provides enough telling of things like they are to satisfy any admirer of pop culture-rendered crime, but it was the beats that broke Dre into the suburbs for good, and not just because he was in a group that wrote “Fuck the Police.”
Snoop Doggy Dogg – Doggystyle
Ice Cube – Amerikkka’s Worst Nightmare
2pac – All Eyez on Me