On the 20th anniversary of Dr Dre’s The Chronic, billboard.com posted an article saying, “It redefined the West Coast sound, is considered one of the greatest hip-hop albums of all time and made gangster rap that was accessible to pop radio and MTV. In short, “The Chronic” brought hardcore hip-hop to the suburbs.” I listened to The Chronic a few years ago, I was kind of aware of tis legacy, and thought it was just OK. But in the years since, I’ve learned more, and come to appreciate the genre a whole lot more as well. So I thought I was due give this ground breaker another go and see if my new context would help me appreciate it more.
A response to Ice Cube’s post N.W.A solo effort that included a dis to Dre, The Chronic (Intro) sounds like a semi improvised screed from a fresh on the scene Snoop Dogg, letting everyone know that everything that came before is old news, and that Dr Dre is about to change this forever. Snoop is back to take centre stage on Fuck wit Dre with a song that would be used as the basis for his breakthrough single, Who Am I? (What’s My Name)?
A funked bassline, porn wah guitars, that patented Dre in the early 90s eeriness and a corny reggae accented spoken word intro combine for Let me Ride and the result is surprisingly cohesive. Especially once the old soul vocals arrive for the chorus hook.
Aaaaaaaah, so now I know where every Cyprus Hill song came from. Because I just heard Dr Dre’s The Day the Niggaz took Over.
Lil’ Ghetto Boy, A Nigga Witta Gun and Rat-Tat-Tat-Tat are all cool enough sounding songs, but the insecurity of the lyrics gets a little grating long before the trio of songs is through. The necessity of these dudes to dedicate so much of this record to telling us how rich and tough they are just seems a little sad. Musically and sonically, it’s all amazing stuff. Lyrically, it’s repetitive, derivative and probably subconsciously says more about these dudes and their vulnerability than they ever intended.
Bitches Aint Shit is a pretty unfortunate start, dating this record in the worst possible way. I imagine a lyric like, “Bitches aint shit by hoes and tricks. Lick on these nuts and suck the duck” was a pretty terrible thing to put out there in 1992. In 2016, it just sounds ugly. The flow from Dre and a fresh on the scene Snoop Dogg are seamless and amazingly skilful. But the words are just too much for the technical skill to overcome.
I can’t argue against the hyperbole that surrounds this record. Even I can hear the influence it had on the next quarter century of the genre. And I just realised something that makes me appreciate its achievement even more. It sounds nothing at all like Dr Dre’s production work from his N.W.A days. He never relies on old, proven ticks or tropes. With The Chronic, Dr Dre redefined himself, and the entire hip hop genre.