Tuesday, November 13, 2007

[029] The Chronic

Album: The Chronic
Artist: Dr. Dre
Release Date: December 1992
Label: Death Row/Interscope
Producer: Dr. Dre

"Gimme the microphone first, so I can bust like a bubble
Compton and Long Beach together, now you know you in trouble
Ain't nuthin' but a 'G' thang, baaaaaby!
Two loc'ed out niggaz going craaaaazy!
Death Row is the label that paaaaays me!
Unfadable, so please don't try to fade this (Hell yeah)"
- from "Nuthin' But A 'G' Thang"

To try and describe what was special about Dr. Dre’s post-N.W.A. Death Row output to someone too old to want to get it, or someone too young to remember, is nearly impossible. In many ways, it’s hard to look past the gun-busting, ‘ho-smacking lyrics that surely painted Compton in a bad light, but the secret is in the gradual development. For N.W.A., the world always seemed covered by a dark cloud. With The Chronic, the clouds parted and the sun came out. The album became as synonymous with the idea of ‘Sunny California’ as The Beach Boys were in the 1960’s. Just think of the music videos Dre put out for this album: dance parties, getting wasted with your friends, cruising with the top down, playin’ dominos, going to see a P-Funk concert, BBQ’s with pretty girls and…is that…I think it could be…volleyball?!! That’s not too gangsta, is it? At least not compared with the video for “Fuck Tha Police”, and other videos of the era (See also: pre-New Jack City Ice-T). I think the moment anyone would realize why The Chronic is special is to just put it on, press play, and turn the volume up. It’s loud as you want it to be, mixed to blow the speakers rolling down the boulevard. It’s that sound, a massive funk pastiche of whatever Funk records Dre had from the 70’s: a whole-heckuva lot of George Clinton’s Parliament Funkadelic collective, Ohio Players, Willie Hutch, Donny Hathaway, Isaac Hayes, so many others, and of course some James Brown and “When The Levee Breaks” on the beats. The moment the “Intro” hits, you know - the bass shook your soul, the squealing synthesizers challenged your eardrums… It was a whole new world in Hip-Hop. Where there were once shouts and chants there are now choruses. Where there was once dissonance there is now melody. Where there were once thin drum machines there is now full-bodied, arranged music played on instruments. Where there was once brutal nihilism there is now breezy leisure. And there was the voice of one Calvin Broadus, introduced to the world as Snoop Doggy Dogg, talking shit from minute one. Dre’s songs and Snoop’s voice were truly “unfadable”, and changed the world for the better.

Dre had started to develop his signature “G-Funk” sound on N.W.A.’s second album, Niggaz4Life, but no one on the world stage really cared because Ice Cube had split, leaving MC Ren as the best MC in the group, and Eazy-E to steer the ship into even more reprehensible darkness. It’s no wonder the group had to fall apart; no one could withstand pressing that much negativity against their creative mind. Where Dr. Dre went right is that he decided to start having a live band play his songs, whether they were his original compositions or they were covering the funk classics Dre wanted to sample. He would then cut up and play with those recordings, so he got freshly recorded versions of the booming bass and grooves he wanted, which made the music more vibrant. Dre also started to excel at his keyboard skills, with subtle solos all over this album; he was aided by The Chronic’s secret weapon, a man named Colin Wolfe, who played all the classic basslines and shared keyboard duties. Wolfe is a musician that has enriched so many people’s lives, and their house parties, and yet no one has ever heard of him. So I’d like to take this moment to thank Colin Wolfe for his contribution to this classic moment in music. If you put your copy of The Chronic in you player right now, and “drop the needle” in the middle of each track, you’ll hear his Dub/Funk magic. When Dre wasn’t cooling in the sun, he was shattering the menacing template he molded with N.W.A., and that Cypress Hill’s DJ Muggs was about catch up to. Dre slams on the gas with tracks like the L.A. Riot chronicle “The Day The Niggaz Took Over”, “A Nigga Witta Gun”, and the caution and regret of the elegiac “Lil’ Ghetto Boy”, and leaves the entire field in his dust.

It was essentially a wrap when Dre put Snoop on the title track/theme song for the soundtrack to the Laurence Fishburne cop-drama Deep Cover, a song so unique at the time, no one really knew what to make of it; I remember being mesmerized by the music video. The world’s introduction to Snoop was such a monumental event in Hip-Hop, but no one ever really talks about it. Snoop made The Chronic what it was, cuz if he wasn’t on it, then it would be just like Nigga4Life. He gave it its light. There’s something about the way Snoop stands and sways in these videos… it probably comes just from the fact that he’s baked out of his muthafuckin’ mind, but it's the way he allows his body to move to Dre’s music that echoes the feeling it gives you. He stands feet planted, and he leans slightly back, and his shoulders roll back alternately. Right at the beginning of the “Dre Day” video, when Dre’s welcoming you in with his “Hell yeah”, watch Snoop almost fall over backward from swaying. Now think of that moment halfway through “Dre Day” when Snoop raps, “You get with Doggy Dogg, oh is he crazy? With your Momma and your Daddy hollerin’, ‘Baby!’” The way he delivers it is that signature Snoop singing-style, which falls right in line with his body language; he never actually sings, but he alleviates the tension, laying back so far in the cut that you know he can’t see over the steering wheel of his Cadillac anymore. Snoop will tell you that he didn’t know what he was doing, and that Dre arranged his raps so that he rode the beat better, but what source material to work with! The way he opens “Nuthin’ By A ‘G’ Thang” is ingrained in my entire generation’s memories; in so many cases, it was that first moment that you loved Hip-Hop, the dribbling bassline, the sighs, the lazy guitar petting the rimshot – And that synth that you could whistle for months. Remember that Snoop is only on half of The Chronic, and his absence from the second half hurts it (though Kurupt swoops in and tries his best to save it); imagine for a moment a world where Snoop rapped on every track, and well, I don’t know if we could handle that much funky goodness.

For any MC, or producer for that matter, that wants to court mainstream success while still looking hard, The Chronic is the blueprint… Wait, what am I saying? That’s the entire Rap industry, isn’t it? Hip-Hop’s been talking about diamonds, mansions, and models for so long, but Dr. Dre actually laid out, musically, how to get there. It’s no surprise that 50 Cent begged for Dre’s beats so hard, cuz look at him now, still posing, rapping about the streets of Queens while he cools in his Connecticut estate. Dre’s gifts with hooks and choruses and melodies and arrangements made Hip-Hop real music; detractors could no longer complain that these weren’t songs, and Dre took the songs and dropped them on the charts, and everything was different from then on. The legacy of The Chronic is one with a very long shadow.

01. "The Chronic (Intro)" [feat. Snoop Doggy Dogg]
02. "Fuck Wit Dre Day (And Everybody's Celebratin')" [feat. Snoop Doggy Dogg]
03. "Let Me Ride"
04. "The Day The Niggaz Took Over" [feat. RBX, Snoop Doggy Dogg & Dat Nigga Daz]
05. "Nuthin' But A 'G' Thang" [feat. Snoop Doggy Dogg]
06. "Deeez Nuuuts" [feat. Snoop Doggy Dogg, Dat Nigga Daz & Nate Dogg]
07. "Lil' Ghetto Boy" [feat. Snoop Doggy Dogg & Dat Nigga Daz]
08. "A Nigga Witta Gun"
09. "Rat-Tat-Tat-Tat" [feat. Snoop Doggy Dogg]
10. "The $20 Sack Pyramid" [interlude]
11. "Lyrical Gangbang" [feat. Lady of Rage, Kurupt & RBX]
12. "High Powered" [feat. RBX]
13. "The Doctor's Office" [interlude]
14. "Stranded On Death Row" [feat. Bushwick Bill, Kurupt, RBX, Lady of Rage & Snoop Doggy Dogg]
15. "The Roach (The Chronic Outro)" [feat. RBX]
16. "Bitches Ain't Shit" [feat. Snoop Doggy Dogg, Dat Nigga Daz & Kurupt]

"Nuthin' But A 'G' Thang" [uncensored video]

"Fuck Wit Dre Day (And Everybody's Celebratin')" [uncensored video]

"Let Me Ride" [full length video]

"Lil' Ghetto Boy" [uncensored video]

- BONUS: "The Chronic (Intro)" [audio]
- BONUS: "The Day The Niggaz Took Over" [audio/fan video]
With footage of the 1992 L.A. Riots
- BONUS: "Deeez Nuuuts" [audio]
- BONUS: "A Nigga Witta Gun" [audio]
- BONUS: "Rat-Tat-Tat-Tat" [audio]
- BONUS: "The $20 Sack Pyramid" [audio]
In a genre filled with the worst crap you've ever heard, this is the greatest Hip-Hop skit ever.
- BONUS: "Lyrical Gangbang" [audio]
- BONUS: "High Powered" [audio]
- BONUS: "Stranded On Death Row" [audio]
- BONUS: "The Roach (The Chronic Outro)" [audio]
- BONUS: "Bitches Ain't Shit" [audio]


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