What would you do if you’re one-fifth of a group that is at the height of their popularity? Would you imagine yourself striking out on your own and working with someone dangerous, and change Hip-Hop in the 1990s? I’m sure you wouldn’t.
After a dispute with Eazy-E, Dr. Dre left N.W.A. in 1991, the infamous Hip-Hop group that had left the world shocked, and showed the presence of West Coast Hip-Hop; they popularized Gangsta Rap with their 1988 album “Straight Outta Compton.”
N.W.A. was a group that had shown the violence in Compton, California. They also showcased their views of police brutality (“Fuck tha Police”), the gangster lifestyle (“Gangsta Gangsta”) and their behavior towards promiscuous women (“A Bitch iz a Bitch”).
But the group slowly fell apart, Ice Cube left in 1989 after royalty disputes and mismanagement from manager Jerry Heller. Cube would soon pursue a successful solo career. Subsequently, Cube and the rest of members began to create a number of diss tracks against each other (“No Vaseline” and “100 Miles and Runnin’”).
Dre would leave N.W.A. following the release of their second album, “Efil4zaggin.” Dre’s reasons were similar to Cube’s. Royalties and how manager Heller was handling them. Eazy-E had defended Heller’s actions, but Dre disagreed, leading to him to give an ultimatum: Fire Heller or Dre leaves. Eazy-E chose the former.
Afterwards, Dre began to work with Marion “Suge” Knight to create Death Row Records. Knight was infamous for his violent and intimidating tactics to get what he wanted. This attitude towards business and Dre’s musical ideas gave Death Row a sense of both creativity and unpredictability.
But within all the violence and mayhem, Dre began to show that he could survive without N.W.A. “The Chronic” was a major moment in Hip-Hop in the 1990s. One of the major reasons was the production. Dre relied on his funk samples that were a low tempo and a combining of that with live musicians. This gave a sound that was drastic from older Hip-Hop instrumentals that relied mostly on samples at a high tempo.
Take the track “Let Me Ride,” it follows the melody of the Parliament song “Swing Down, Sweet Chariot.” Rather than fully sampling the chorus, Dre asked hired musicians to replay the melody, therefore giving a timeless sound that is imploring listeners to play this at full volume.
“The Chronic” also gave Dre a chance to take a dig at Eazy-E throughout the entire record. “Fuck wit Dre Day” is the most famous example. Dre calls out Eazy-E, saying that he thought they were brothers and now he’s nothing but a “hoe” and that he’s gonna pay for ripping him off. This track proceeds to how Dre was willing to shoot down Eazy saying that “I’mma rob in Compton and blast you to Miami.”
Check out the music video for this track as you can see the diss taken to another level. The video features Eazy-E and Heller being mocked with Eazy-E being called “Sleazy-E.” This mockery of Eazy-E has made comparisons between him and Uncle Tom as being this greedy, over the top.
“The Chronic” is also responsible for bringing on a number of new artists of the time, which is the biggest quality Dre provides for this record. Some of most notable features include Daz Dillinger, The Lady of Rage, Jewell, Kurupt and of course, Snoop Dogg.
Snoop is prominent throughout this entire album and unsurprisingly this is what propelled him into stardom. Snoop’s flow is incredibility calm and his rhyming sounds natural to him. Read some of his verses on “Nuthin’ but a ‘G’ Thang”; “Back to the lecture at hand. Perfection is perfected, so I’ma let ’em understand. From a young G’s perspective. And before me dig out a bitch I have to find a contraceptive.”
“‘G’ Thang” has such an iconic intro that is found all over thug life videos, the blaring synth, the wah pedal sound and the opening lyrics “one, two, three into the four.” It’s so recognizable now and this was the perfect song to introduce the world to Snoop.
Lyrically, “The Chronic” was the height of Gangsta rap. This was Hip-Hop at its most violent and sexist. “Lil Ghetto Boy” brings this vivid description of what life is like inside jail. Snoop talks about how you must be armed with a shank because prison life is nothing like the street life as you can get killed easily. Snoop pleads to the youth that life in the ghetto is no fun and games; such activities like gang-banging can lead to someone getting killed or locked up to something worse than the ghetto.
The instrumental here is done brilliantly, the subdued guitars and drums, the flute. And that sampled chorus “Lil Ghetto Boy, playing in the ghetto street. Whatcha gonna do when you grow up and have have to face responsibility?” It backs up the lyrics and gives me a chill down my spines when listening to this.
This album also takes a bit of satire on the Gangsta lifestyle. “A Nigga Witta Gun” and “Rat-tat-tat-tat” drive this point home. Musically and lyrically, they sound so dramatic to the point that I can’t take them seriously. The former for example, has this blasting drum beat and a very absurd chorus, “Who’s the man with the master plan? A Nigga witta Mutherfuckin gun.”
The satirical comedy also comes in skits that are their own separate tracks. My favorite is “The $20 Sack Pyramid” that features a parody of a game show which features a prize of sack of weed and gift certificate to a swap meet. The best of part of this skit for me is The D.O.C. He’s got this raspy voice that leaves you wondering what has he done to his voice. At the end of the skit, when he goes and celebrates for winning the prize, dancing and singing with that voice. I just can’t help but laugh when he does that.
The closing track, “Bitches Ain’t Shit,” is quite an infamous track for its supposedly misogynistic lyrics. But really, when you look at some of the individual lyrics, it’s something else. Dre’s verse features yet another diss at Eazy-E and Snoop’s verse talks about how a girl he used to be with cheated on him with his cousin.
If there was a Hip-Hop 101 course, “The Chronic” would most certainty make it to the list. This was one of the very first Hip-Hop albums that I’ve listened to. I love the production and the brutality the record provided for its time. It most certainty began my love for the genre. Every time I hear any of the tracks in the car, I’m tempted to play this at full volume with the windows rolled down.
The major thing for me about this album was that it changed my mind about Hip-Hop. Initially, I thought all the artists did was just partying around and sleeping around with various women. While “The Chronic” was like that too, it had an edge. These are some really nasty people you don’t want to near. To them, they live in a dog eat dog world and it’s the only way to survive in the circumstances. And that’s the big takeaway when you read the lyrics to many Gangsta Rap albums.
While Hip-Hop has definitely evolved in the years since this album’s release date, it’s hard to imagine what the genre would have looked liked had this album never existed. In fact, Kanye West went as far as saying that “The Chronic is the Hip-Hop equivalent to Stevie Wonder’s ‘Songs In the Key of Life.’ It’s the benchmark album you measure your album with if you’re serious.”
What would have happened to Snoop Dogg? Would N.W.A. still be active until Eazy-E’s death? Would Hip-Hop followed the same format that was used in the 1980s? What about modern artists like Kendrick Lamar? It’s questions like these that can leave one speculating if “The Chronic” never came out.
I also have to thank the video game “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas” for featuring “‘G’ Thang” and “Dre Day,” because it gave me an extra incentive to look up this album as well N.W.A. and some of their member’s solo work respectively.
So cheers to 25 years of “The Chronic” and may it ever help people get into Hip-Hop and appreciate what it has contributed to music.
Track Picks: “Fuck with Dre Day,” “Let Me Ride,” “Nuthin’ But a ‘G’ Thang,” “Lil’ Ghetto Boy,” “The $20 Sack Pyramid,” “Lyrical Gangbang” and “Bitches Ain’t Shit”
Labels: Death Row Records, Interscope Records and Priority Records