Perhaps one of the most appealing things about Dr. Dre’s masterpiece from late 1992 is that it is practically a duo album. The Chronic is Dr. Dre’s solo debut, of course, but it features an unknown Snoop Doggy Dogg just as much as the album’s apparent star. This was indicative of Dr. Dre, of course, and he’s often appeared more comfortable behind the dials and switches than on the mic.
Of course, that’s not to say the Dr. Dre can’t spit. But there is no question that his true gifts lay within the production stage of the album. With The Chronic, Dre lays the groundwork for G-funk and fuses Parliament-inspired bass and keys with West Coast hip-hop to create a brand new sound that would be emulated for years to come.
Along with the G-funk sound, Dr. Dre was exceptional in that he bucked the trend of sampling and was very thrifty when it came to using the practice on The Chronic. The idea was neatness; while East Coasters were using gobs of samples and convoluted musical arrangements, Dr. Dre pieced together a low throbbing bass line and an effortless keyboard.
This is the standard by which all hip-hop albums are judged. "The Chronic is still the hip-hop equivalent to Stevie Wonder's Songs in the Key of Life. It's the benchmark you measure your album against if you're serious," Kanye West told Rolling Stone.
The lyrics, like all rap lyrics at the time, caused some hullabaloo. Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg deliver lines infused with misogyny and brutality, truthfully reflecting the authenticity of the streets from which they came. The Chronic is infused with reality and drips with biting wit and dry humour, giving intense significance to the words. Dre and Snoop, true street poets, have no need to sugar-coat their lives. And we shouldn’t expect them to.
Along with Snoop Doggy Dogg, The Chronic also launched the careers of several other West Coast rappers. Nate Dogg, Kurupt, Dat Nigga Daz, and Warren G were featured on the album and went on to fame in mainstream commercial markets. The record also featured appearances by a few skilful female rappers and singers, including the unrivalled Jewell and The Lady of Rage.
Many of the tracks from The Chronic lay articulate waste to the crew’s opponents at the time. “Fuck Wit Dre Day” lays out Dre’s beefs with the N.W.A. delegation and shows his progress as a solo artist, as if to give the finger to the doubters. And Snoop’s outro to the track pretty much covers the bases by telling Tim Dog and Easy E to eat a big fat…well, you know. The song also popularized Snoop’s delivery of the term “be-otch.”
Naturally the homophobia allegations fit comfortably with the critics of The Chronic. There is no question about it: much of the lyrical content from the record is odious and wholly improper. But Dre and Snoop aren’t setting out to diminish things and they aren’t going to hold back. Despite a feisty shrewdness in the rhymes, the message is lucid and patent: this is outlaw music.
Dre, Snoop, Daz, and RBX throw flames on top of fire with “The Day the Niggaz Took Over,” a track that provides the soundtrack to rioting and looting. Unrestricted and unencumbered, a perfunctory listen reveals something treacherous.
“Nuthin’ But a ‘G’ Thang” is obviously one of the record’s more popular tracks. Its famous milieu is delicate and the line-trading between Snoop and Dre is classic hip-hop shit. “Let Me Ride” won Dr. Dre a 1994 Grammy for Best Rap Solo Performance. And “Lil Ghetto Boy” is the album’s most “political” song.
Most hip-hop fans don’t need to be told how important The Chronic is. It would be hard to find a modern rap artist that does not consider Dr. Dre’s decisive work to be a major career influence. The Chronic is more than a simple rap album. It is the voice of the streets, a time capsule of an era, and the beginning of something special in music.
The Chronic is a war album, in essence. Dre and Snoop go to war against former allies, against cops, against the government, against poverty, and against themselves. Their steadfast capacity to tell it like it is astonishing and, at times, far too cavalier. But that is the album’s magic, too.