Here we are genre-jumping again, over to the world of gangsta rap with the iconic debut album from N.W.A. alum Dr. Dre, “The Chronic”. In my opinion, this album is a big step forward from the roots of N.W.A., as we trade in the caustic shouting for the smooth rhymes of Dre and his partner for this album, the emerging MC, Snoop Dogg. There is still plenty of anger and aggression, but it is packaged in a much more polished, smooth and lush sound. The backing on this album is mostly funk-based, which is probably why I love it so much. The addition of Snoop to these songs elevates this record to greatness, as we first are exposed to his smoky-smooth and highly agile vocal delivery. Dre was always more of a producer than a rapper, and he did a masterful job putting this album together, allowing Snoop to take the lead role in many of the songs as they both played to their respective strengths. Setting the tone for a decade of West Coast gangsta rap to follow, much of it on Dre’s Death Row record label, this highly influential record is rated #37 on Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. It is also the #3 rated hip-hop album of all time on definitivedose.com.
For most casual listeners, the massive hit single “Nuthin’ But A ‘G’ Thang” is the defining song from this album. Like most of the tracks on this record, Snoop takes the lead role for most of the rapping, but Dre brings in his angry self for depth and back-up. Along with “Smells Like Teen Spirit” from Nirvana, this has to be one of the most memorable and instantly recognizable songs from the entire decade. If you don’t love this song, you probably won’t find much else to enjoy on the rest of the record.
The record is a pretty predictable formula, and the hooks and beats from this song flow from the past in N.W.A., with many identifiable lines and references that resurface on subsequent records by Snoop and other Death Row legends. The bass lines are fat, the beat is slow and chill, the melody comes from a limited upper range of synthesizers, and the lyrics line up a long line of grievances with past N.W.A. members, rival gangs, and anyone else who isn’t fully on board with a steady diet of weed, firearms, sex and praise for Dr. Dre.
It would be hard for me to pick out other standout tracks, as I feel like the entire album runs as one continuous track, but I will say, I love it all. Some of this perceived blur comes from the fact that “The Chronic” has again disappeared from streaming services, so I had to check it out via one long extended play on YouTube. All of that said, you can’t go wrong with “Fuck Wit Dre Day (And Everybody’s Celebratin’)”, “Deez Nuuuts”, “Lil’ Ghetto Boy” and “Rat-Tat-Tat-Tat”. It’s mildly absurd and certainly over the top, especially the mass appeal to painfully white suburban dwellers like myself, but just like the movie “Scarface” or “The Sopranos”, the excess of this fantasy/tragedy life is what draws so many of us in.
Snoop is easily one of my favorite rappers of all time, and this first glimpse of him is outstanding. Way before he became the pop-culture cartoon character who makes brownies with Martha Stewart, Snoop’s delivery and his background from Long Beach added a lot of credibility and listening to appeal to “The Chronic”. I’m not personally planning on going on a drive-by any time soon, but if I was, I’m pretty sure this is the album I’d take with me for the ride.
“So just chill, ’til the next episode…”