When Dr. Dre broke ranks with NWA and Ruthless records, he was surrounded by a cloud of uncertainty. After crafting the sound of gangsta rap on NWA’s acclaimed albums Straight Outta Compton and Efil4zaggin, Dre had to prove he could stand on his own outside of Eazy-E’s shadow. Following in the footsteps of Ice Cube, Dre headed for the exit and launched his own record label, Death Row Records, which gave him creative control and unlimited financial possibilities. If there were any doubts in regard to Dre’s ability to craft music on his own, they were settled once and for all when he dropped his magnum opus, The Chronic, upon the masses.
Hip-hop’s answer to Quincy Jones
Named after a slang term for top-of-the-line cannabis and sporting a tribute to Zig-Zag rolling papers on its cover, The Chronic caused a seismic shift in the music industry. Dre was transformed from great beatmaker into a composer par excellence, orchestrating the length and breadth of the project and becoming hip-hop’s answer to Quincy Jones.
Deploying a funk- and sample-infused strain of hip-hop, The Chronic introduced to the world the G-Funk sound and galvanized the West Coast hip-hop style that would completely dominate the genre. Unlike his contemporaries on the East Coast who sampled disco and jazz records, Dre’s brand of hip-hop relied upon the influences of George Clinton’s Parliament-Funkadelic collective – aka P-Funk.
Dre signaled that something new was on hip-hop’s horizon with The Chronic’s first single, ‘Nuthin’ But A “G” Thang’. Sampling Leon Haywood’s ‘I Wanna Do Something Freaky To You’ and featuring a superstar in the making, Snoop Doggy Dogg (as he was known then), ‘Nuthin’ But A “G” Thang’ was the perfect introduction to Dre the solo artist. With one of the most recognizable opening bars in hip-hop history – “One, two, three and to the four/Snoop Doggy Dogg and Dr. Dre is at the door” – Dre asserted his place in the hip-hop landscape with a bona fide classic that reached No.2 on the Billboard Hot 100.
The scathing diss track “F__k Wit Dre Day (And Everybody’s Celebratin’)” is a ruthless (pun definitely intended) assault on Eazy-E, with jabs at Tim Dog and 2 Live Crew’s Luther “Luke Skyywalker” Campbell for good measure. Accompanied again by Snoop Dogg, the video for the track featured a fake Eazy-E and poured more fuel on the fire; as the former friends became bitter enemies, “F__k Wit Dre Day” raced up the chart, peaking at No.8.
The Chronic’s third and final single, “Let Me Ride,” is a prime example of Dre’s production mastery. With his skillful use of Parliament’s live rendition of the “Swing Down Sweet Chariot” refrain, featuring the soulful vocals of Glen Goins, Dre created a sonic backdrop that showcased his sophisticated technical genius. Thanks to his fusion of 70s soul samples and funky productions, Dre helped to usher in the era of melodic rap: “Let Me Ride” rode all the way to No.34 on the Billboard charts and nabbed Dre a Grammy Award for Best Rap Solo Performance during the 1994 Grammy Awards.
While the singles marked the album’s stand-out moments, The Chronic is remarkable for its hard-hitting deep cuts. “Rat-Tat-Tat-Tat” is a classic gangsta rap anthem that encapsulates the West Coast G-Funk vibe; “Lil Ghetto Boy” details the piercing reality of life in the inner cities of Los Angeles; “The Day The Ni__az Took Over” offers a live account of the LA riots that erupted following the Rodney King trial. With hilarious skits, hardcore jams, and thought-provoking commentary, The Chronic is more than a great album, it’s an experience.
Death Row’s arrival
Released on December 15, 1992, The Chronic peaked at No.3 on the Billboard 200 and sold three million copies in the US alone, eventually going multi-platinum. Because of its success, Dr. Dre became one of the ten best-selling American performing artists of 1993, with The Chronic spending eight months in the Billboard Top 10 – an unheard-of feat for a hip-hop album at that time.
The Chronic is not only a landmark record for Dre; it served notice to the rest of the country: West Coast hip-hop wasn’t going anywhere. Death Row became one of the highest-selling labels of the early 90s and, as its first release, The Chronic turned its guest stars Snoop Dogg, The Dogg Pound (Daz Dillinger and Kurupt), Nate Dogg, Warren G and The Lady Of Rage into household names, setting the stage for the many solo releases that followed in its wake.
When Dr. Dre released the album he was just observing the chaos and joy of the world around him, but he unwittingly created a time capsule of Los Angeles in the early 90s. From gangsta rap’s world-conquering rise to the deep racial tensions that bubbled over following the riots, and Dre’s ascension as one of hip-hop’s pre-eminent producers, it’s all right there. With The Chronic, Dre bequeathed to the world a masterpiece. For his efforts, became a legend.