Spotlight Special: Dr. Dre – ‘The Chronic’

A seminal moment in hip-hop...

Compton’s finest beatmaker, and hitmaker, Dr. Dre is celebrating three decades of seminal debut effort, 1992’s ‘The Chronic’. With a career and discography star-studded with names and features, the debut album is arguably the most pivotal point on his musical journey, post-NWA. Despite the violence, messy legal battles and fall outs with previous musical partners, what Dr. Dre and friends created in the studio resulted in arguably one of the best hip-hop records of all time, let alone one of the best debuts, and most influential.  

Dr. Dre had presented himself as a formidable force on the production front with the legendary gangsta rap group NWA, cooking up some of the most memorable and iconic beats, beats that are still referenced, sampled and played today – most of them you’d guess in a second of hearing the introduction. Though with his debut record, Dre stepped into the booth and played the best hand of his career: being able to lay down bars as good as the beats he’d made. Like most West Coast hip-hop during this time, much of the lyricism is commentary on the LAPD, gang violence and the overall Black experience in 90s Los Angeles. There are distinct divides with Dre’s themes lyrically throughout the record; like the album title suggests, there’s commentary on marijuana and drug use, then darker moments related to the raw, deadly lifestyle that his upbringing saw. Just look at ‘Lil Ghetto Boy’ -“I fell to the ground with blood on my hands, I didn’t understandhow a n**** so young could bust a cap…”

Spotlight Special: Dr. Dre – ‘The Chronic’

Despite Dre taking the vocals on much of the album, his production is still unrivalled. Dusty breaks and nasally synth leads chug the record along, underlaid with thick basslines. Scratches, vocal chops and some incredibly carefully curated sample use also appear on the instrumentals – most notably the sampling of Leon Haywood’s ‘I Want’a Do Something Freaky To You’ on smash hit ‘Nuthin’ But A G Thang’. This track proved Dre as more than a hip-hop producer, with his abilities to delve into R&B spotlighted on this platinum single. 

While G-funk may not be as commercially successful as it was during the 90s and early 2000s, its influence is still heard plenty on the West Coast’s newer generation of artists. Kendrick Lamar dove headfirst into his Compton roots, laced with smatterings of G-funk, on ‘good kid, m.A.A.d city’, and both Schoolboy Q and Nipsey Hussle showed the West Coast gangster influence on their respective music. And outside of the West Coast, notes of G-funk were being heard elsewhere, whether it be Georgia’s OutKast or Houston’s Scarface, the latter being a trailblazer of the Southern G-funk movement. 

‘The Chronic’ is one of those LPs that simply has to be mentioned in the list of music’s most influential debut albums. Few records, especially in the realm of hip-hop, have had such a lasting influence. Amidst the chaos of leaving NWA, Dr. Dre managed to assemble a watertight, hit-filled record which shifted the landscape of 90s hip-hop, blasting G-funk straight into the mainstream. As well as genre influence, it is easily argued that ‘The Chronic’ not only elevated Dr Dre’s success, but launched the careers of Snoop Dogg, Daz Dillinger and Warren G, among others. The fact it is no longer on streaming, albeit frustrating, is no excuse to not revisit this record. However, you need to listen to it – just do.

Words: James Mellen 

Released: December 15th, 1992

Beastie Boys – ‘Check Your Head’
The Pharcyde – ‘Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde’
Tom Waits – ‘Bone Machine’
Eric B & Rakim – ‘Don’t Sweat The Technique’
Prince – ‘Love Symbol’

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