The 1990s Project: Dr. Dre’s “The Chronic”

The 1990s Project: Dr. Dre’s “The Chronic”

It’s been almost 20 years since that innocent year Snoop referred to as the Nine-Deuce, when we romped about Compton fucking bitches, smoking chronic, and firing our gats gaily, like cats marking our territory.

Well, actually, in the Nine-Deuce I was driving around St. Paul in a Ford Ram van, listening to adult contemporary radio. I’d never fucked any bitches or smoked any chronic, though I had fired a gat—if by a “gat” you mean a shotgun, at clay pigeons. Once.

I knew The Chronic—even a kid whose small CD collection included the most recent solo efforts from Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney couldn’t avoid Dre—but I had no interest in it. It just sort of buzzed along as the soundtrack to a lifestyle that centered around, or at least glamorized, activities that I imagined I’d look absolutely ridiculous trying to participate in. I preferred Bruce Springsteen, soundtrack to imagining how perfect the world would be if you just had the girl of your dreams holding you tight. (Even in college, I was still trying to argue that “Prove It All Night” was meant to be interpreted conceptually, not sexually.)

I pretty much took a pass on rap for the entirety of the decade; not until 2000, when I read a book on the history of hip-hop, did I decide that I was sufficiently informed to get jiggy with it. So I missed Biggie, Tupac, and everything around, under, over, and in between them.

And today here I am, bumping “Deeez Nuuutz” on my MacBook. The Chronic is now regarded as one of the classic albums of the 1990s, the disc (or tape, whatever) that took the stick out of hip-hop’s agitated ass and made the world a lot more conducive to chill. It was a triumph for the N.W.A. vet as an artist and producer, and introduced us to the D-O-double-G, who’s gone on to make a mockery of the once-prevalent idea that rap is strictly a young man’s game. (While Jay-Z’s fussed around nervously from retirement to career change to comeback, Snoop’s just kept on smoking the blunts, banging the hos, and dropping verses wherever he feels like it. He’s as irresistible now as he was when he stole the show from his mentor in ’92, a human Alka-Seltzer tablet who makes any pop song fizz.)

It’s easier to gauge the importance of this album now, in a world where all styles of hip-hop have been assimilated across the culture and where that insistent thrum can be separated from the outrageously louche lyrics. We can appreciate The Chronic as a musical triumph, not just as a defining volume of gangsta rap.

But it is that, and a lot of people doubtless still hate it for the fact. The misogyny, the violence, the viciously unapologetic self-assurance—it would be a great joke, if it were a joke. It may be a comically exaggerated version of the truth, but it’s not really a lie either.

Gangsta rap is still around, but it’s lost its bite—in part because we’ve become so accustomed to it, and in part because hip-hop is way past its moment of maximum Stranger Danger in popular culture. We can argue about exactly when that moment was, but it was certainly somewhere in the vicinity of 1992. By producing work that was so good it spurred hip-hop’s ascent from the aesthetic and geographic ghetto, by helping to turn their own subgenre into a joke, these O.G.s have had the last laugh.

Jay Gabler

The 1990s Project is my attempt to give the decade’s music a fair shot at disproving my offhand assessment that the 90s were the armpit of modern musical history. The project started on my Tumblr, and I’m now moving it to The Tangential. My goal is to visit, or revisit, 100 of the decade’s most acclaimed, popular, and/or interesting albums. Here are the albums I’ve written about so far.

1. Radiohead, OK Computer (1997)
2. My Bloody Valentine, Loveless (1991)
3. The Flaming Lips, The Soft Bulletin (1999)
4. Moonshake, Eva Luna (1992)
5. Red Hot Chili Peppers, Blood Sugar Sex Magik (1991)
6. Liz Phair, Exile in Guyville (1993)
7. Erykah Badu, Baduizm (1997)
8. Neutral Milk Hotel, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea (1998)
9. Fugazi, Red Machine (1995)
10. Matthew Sweet, 100% Fun (1995)
11. Pavement, Slanted and Enchanted (1992)
12. The Bodyguard soundtrack (1992)
13. Marcy Playground, Marcy Playground (1997)
14. 10,000 Maniacs, Our Time in Eden (1992)
15. Shania Twain, Come On Over (1997)