Since releasing The Chronic in 1992, Dr. Dre spent the rest of the 90s watching the gangsta rap style he helped birth and popularize completely take over the genre. It wasn’t just a dominant force in hip-hop, it was the dominant force in music – full stop. But after releasing his second solo album, 2001 on November 16, 1999, Dre was back for the throne with a new generation of talent and an album that would define an era.
The first culture-shifting album
Dr. Dre already had one culture-shifting album under his belt: The Chronic had not only cemented him as one of the most legendary hip-hop producers of all time, but it had also turned Snoop Dogg into a star.
It’s billed as a solo album, but with Snoop on nearly every track, The Chronic feels like a collaborative album. Daz Dillinger and Kurupt also appear on a handful of tracks, and they would go on to assist on Snoop’s Doggystyle before releasing their own debut albums. The Chronic also features some of the most iconic songs of the decade – singles that are still in constant rotation on California radio, and on airwaves all over the world.
Another collaborative effort
But for all The Chronic achieved, it also laid the groundwork for Dre’s stunning follow-up. 2001 is a similarly collaboration-heavy album; Snoop Dogg, now a superstar, is only on four songs this time around, but the reduced quantity is hardly noticeable because two of those songs are “Still DRE” and “The Next Episode,” two of the most definitive songs not only in Dre’s catalog but in the entire canon of West Coast hip-hop. We should also thank Dre for introducing a whole generation of kids to the symphonic genius of the late David Axelrod, through his brilliant sampling of Axelrod’s “The Edge.”
Kurupt is back for a few more verses and Hittman is all over the album. Nate Dogg, too, has featured vocals all over 2001, en route to developing a reputation as one of the most respected crooners in the game. In the years to follow, he’d deliver some of the most memorable hooks in hip-hop, before his untimely passing in 2011.
Nate Dogg wasn’t the only star who’d follow in Snoop’s tracks, helping to cement Dre’s reputation as a kingmaker. Xzibit also has a few verses on 2001. The following year he would release Restless, the best-selling album of his career, and would continue a successful musical run before achieving massive crossover success when he became a household name as the host of MTV’s Pimp My Ride.
Xzibit appears on three 2001 songs: first on the opener “Lolo,” featuring Dre’s whole posse, and then on “What’s the Difference,” one of the album’s standout moments. Perhaps the most impressive thing about this track is the fact that Xzibit’s going toe-to-toe with the other guy who would skyrocket to stardom after 2001’s release… Marshall Mathers.
Launching Eminem’s career
As influential as Dre was for NWA and his own albums, he’s now just as famous for launching Eminem’s career. 2001 was integral to Eminem’s ascension and despite that memorable “What’s The Difference” appearance, it’s “Forgot About Dre” that most remember as the album’s defining track. Eminem had released The Slim Shady LP at the top of the year, and, despite Dre’s involvement on that album, their best-known collaborations were yet to come.
“Forgot About Dre” not only showcased Em’s killer verses, hooks, and the stylistic flair he brought to the song, it served as a corrective to any of those who dared take Dre’s musical clout for granted. A few months later, “The Real Slim Shady” would feel like a spiritual sequel. After 2001 hit, Eminem went on to become the best-selling rapper of all time.
Silencing the critics
Following Dre’s debut, 2001 entered the charts at No. 2 on the US Billboard 200 and remains one of the best-selling hip-hop albums of all time. Though it was only Dre’s second studio album, for 16 years, it felt like it would also be his final one. After years (and years) of teasing an album called Detox – rap’s equivalent of Chinese Democracy – Dr. Dre released his third album, Compton, coinciding with the release of NWA’s biopic, Straight Outta Compton.
Compton was a victory lap; a statement and a celebration of the collaborators Dre had worked with throughout his storied career – a career that is most often defined by the first entry in Dre’s trilogy, The Chronic. But, a few decades later, it’s easy to see that 2001 was just as impactful, if not more forward-thinking than its predecessor, future-proofing itself to be a timeless hip-hop album.