When it comes to rap music, there are two periods – BC and AD. BC means “Before Chronic” and AD is “After Dre.” I remember when Chris Rock was talking about his rap comedy CB4 and the studio brass wanted to have a rapping white grandmother, like in The Wedding Singer. Rock balked at the tidea.
Rap music burst on the scene in the 1980s heralded by Run DMC, The Fat Boys, The Beastie Boys, Sugar Hill Gang, Salt-N-Pepa and LL Cool J, just to name a few. But it was mostly a demographical genre. Inner city and urban audiences liked it as it showed BIPOC performing and singing about more personal stuff. This mean it wouldn’t play as well in the “heartland” even though most of buyers of albums by rap, hip-hop and R&B artist has always been the white kids in the sticks. If it wasn’t for Columbia House or BMG, most kids would’ve never bought them because it wasn’t the type of thing Wal-Mart and K-Mart sold.
But there was the softer side of rap which was mostly performed by M.C. Hammer and D.J. Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince. You wouldn’t hear Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” or N.W.A.’s “Fuck tha Police” around people jamming out Will Smith and Hammer. Smith and Hammer were “some of the good ones.” And people who had nosey parents knew they wouldn’t have to hide a Fresh Prince or Hammer album.
But that was all about to change. Mainly because the world changed around us. As people all over the country watched Rodney King becoming repeatedly beaten by four officers with the Los Angeles Police Department, it was harder to shield what was going on behind soft inner-city movies like Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo and Krush Groove. Colors had come out in 1988 and the Central Park Five case was in 1989. America was seeing more and more as the crack epidemic spread through the inner cities and into the suburbs. No longer could the Baby Boomer parents shield this from their Gen X children. And while Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing became a movie that was being discussed at lengths, Public Enemy and N.W.A. were having their own East Coast/West Coast battle as they showed the realities in their music.
Boyz ‘N The Hood came out in 1991 the same year New Jack City was released. Both movies were praised and made Ice Cube and Ice-T household names. The “Hood Movies” were coming out left and right in the movie theaters in the early 1990s. And then on Dec. 15, 1992, a 27-year-old musician named Andre Young, aka Dr. Dre dropped The Chronic on Death Row Records through Interscope and music changed forever.
It wasn’t just rap music that evolved. All music changed. The Chronic had a mixture of rap with a little bit of 1970s funk thrown in. And then, there was the huge hit “Nuthin but a ‘G’ Thang” that had white people, black people, and everyone reciting the lyrics. Dre along with a younger rapper calling himself Snoop Doggy Dogg, made a hit song. It was heavily edited for radio and TV play but it caught on. And like that, everyone had to have the album. It was one of the first CDs I bought.
There was a certain rawness and anger in songs like “Lyrical Gangbang” and “The Day The Niggaz Took Over” which details a society in chaos as black people are fighting back. But it wasn’t all anger. There was “The $20 Sack Pyramid” which is a surprising humor skit parody of the Pyramid game shows. And of course, there is the track “Deeez Nuuuts” which begins with a joke skit followed by an excerpt from a Rudy Ray Moore bit.
Other songs like “Let Me Ride” had this playful fun feel to it, like the song listen to on a warm sunny day when the temperature isn’t too hot or cold and you have the windows out for a drive. And then there’s ‘Fuck wit Dre Day (And Everybody’s Celebratin'” which is a diss track against former N.W.A. member Eazy-E (Eric Wright). As it was chronicled in the biopic Straight Outta Compton, Eazy-E had screwed over other N.W.A. members with money they felt they were owed with their manager Jerry Heller. In real life, Dre, Ice Cube and Eazy-E would make up before Eazy-E died from AIDS complications.
While Dre has often been considered more of a producer than a rapper, The Chronic is an odd album because Dre brings so many other artists in to perform most of the tracks. Along with Snoop perfoming on several tracks, The D.O.C. (Tracey Curry) and the late Jewell Caples, known similar as Jewell, add vocals to many of the tracks. There’s also The Lady of Rage and RBX who perform on “Lyrical Gangbang” and “High Powered.”
It’s an album released by a producer who has assembled such a great collection of musicians, it’s hard to point to one musician. Dre wasn’t the first musician to have another musician perform with him. It’s been done for decades. But his assembly is great. Dre has several rappers and performers, such as Bushwick Bill and Kurupt, performing on one verse each on songs like “Stranded on Death Row” and “Bitches Ain’t Shit” which both have a nice beat to them.
“Deeez Nuuuts” has Warren G performing the intro while Nate Dogg performs the outro. The two would have a popular duet with “Regulate” in 1994. But it was Snoop who would find the most success as he released his own album Doggystyle in 1994 and this would lead to a very popular career in TV, the movies as well as in music. Dre would go on to work with other rappers, Busta Rhymes and Eminem (Marshal Mathers) as they become more famous. Eminem would win the first Oscar for a rap song “Lose Yourself” in 2003 setting the stage for Three 6 Mafia’s “It’s Hard Out Here for A Pimp” in 2006.
But as more Gen Xers and Millennials would listen to the music, it forced MTV to begin playing more rap music videos. And then, there was the infamous East Coast/West Coast feud between Death Row Records started by Suge Knight against Sean “Puff Daddy/P. Diddy” Combs that would rsult in the murders of Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls in the mid-1990s.
But some people have argued that Dre is and has always been a producer more than a musician. In the 2017 documentary The Defiant Ones, Dre has even said he didn’t like the sound of his voice as he mostly was a behind the scenes person on N.W.A. But I think his baritone voice is a nice addition along with Snoop and D.O.C. and others. Dre is known as a perfectionist so it’s natural he would be critical of his performance on the album.
Dre would go on to only produce three more albums. The first is Dr. Dre Presents: The Aftermath, titled this because Dre had a huge failing out with Knight and Death Row Records It’s a compilation album. Then, he released 2001 in 1999 as a studio album follow-up to The Chronic. Then, he would spend many years working on an album titled Detox that he rejected to do in favor of Compton to coincide with the release of Straight Outta Compton.
It’s quite possible he’ll never make another studio album as good as The Chronic. It’s a different world where rap/hip-hop is more respected and accepted. The 2022 Super Bowl had a halftime special featuring Dre, along with Snoop, Mary J. Blige, Kendrick Lamar, Eminem with 50 Cent and Anderson .Paak. Music has changed. Kids don’t have to hide their albums becuase the music is on Spotify.
Dre is one of many artists/musicians who helped changed music, but he was kind of the John the Baptist of rap/
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