Dr. Dre’s ‘The Chronic’ is a lot darker than you might remember it. Released at the tail end of a year in which Rodney King had been assaulted by four LAPD officers and subsequent anger manifested itself in fiery riots across Los Angeles, its urgent energy acted as the soundtrack for a much-needed uprising.
“The Day The N****z Took Over” and “Lil Ghetto Boy” both use field samples of black protest gatherings outside LA churches — the more militant former suggests black people have no choice but to bare arms and react violently to systemic racism, while the nostalgic latter pines for a time where disputes were settled with fists rather than guns. These are conflicting ideologies, true, but by giving both an equal airing, Dre presented a vivid, three-dimensional account of America’s inner cities that had rarely been seen in hip hop culture before.
A lot was made about how ‘The Chronic’ re-interpreted the celestial, endearingly goofy P-funk of 1970s artists like George Clinton, Roger Troutman and Bootsy Collins with its sunny production, Dre pioneering the ascendant G-funk sound in the process.
However, the fact he juxtaposes this warm music with toxic gangster masculinity (‘Bitches Ain’t Shit’) feels intentional. Dre’s lyrics (and those of guests such as Snoop Dogg, Kurupt and the Lady of Rage) giddily celebrate the trappings of a city famous for its sticky weed, warm weather and endless supply of groupies, true, but they’re also underpinned by a paranoid atmosphere of danger, risk and violence, with Dre seemingly making the point that even when young working class black Americans finally get a chance to live out the perceived excesses of the good life, death and destruction still isn’t far away.
‘The Chronic’, then, is a lot darker than its pop culture reputation as rap’s go-to weed album might suggest, its music just as weighted on dark boom bap ready-made for the moshpits as it is on Parliament and Funkadelic samples perfect for kicking back and smoking a doobie to.
But as it’s 4/20 – and as Dr. Dre’s ‘The Chronic’ is finally on all streaming platforms – we’re taking a look at the moments that might best match your celebratory 4/20 smoke. And considering the album famously features a young Snoop Dogg sounding so laid back there may well have been a bed in the vocal booth, it’s rich pickings
‘The Chronic (Intro)’
Those gliding synths and playful drums are so unmistakably west coast you can instantly visualise the palm trees and low riders. Snoop might just be talking shit about Death Row Record’s enemies (including N.W.A.’s Eazy E) and saying little of substance, but that doesn’t make this two minutes of playground insults sound any less potent. For anyone that’s ever got so stoned that they’ve become convinced every word they speak is hilarious or worth listening to, Snoop’s tirade will make a lot more sense. Flexing never sounded so good.
‘Let Me Ride’
With its hypnotic sample of Parliament’s Mothership Connection (Star Child) and purring synths, this song replicates the atmosphere of an LA block party on a summer’s day. Dre is full of confidence, rapping with real flair about a community where he’s adored but also a source of envy and jealousy, and there’s something about smoking a joint that elevates the song’s chilled atmosphere and makes you want to start a BBQ even though its 15 degrees outside and forecast to rain. This is a spaced out masterpiece in which Dre takes the goofiness of P-Funk and gives it more visceral edge, the merging of the two styles resulting in one of the record’s most obvious stoner moments. Enjoy the ride.
Deliriously funky gangsta rap, this is a street anthem about feeling untouchable that’s elevated to another level by Nate Dogg’s smooth melodic cameo. “Iiiiiiiiiiiii can’t be faaaaaaaded,” he warmly croons, but it feels like his message is just as much as an ode to getting stoned and feeling you’re floating as it is triumphing over your enemies.
The beat is so laid back that it makes guest rapper RBX’s horrorcore raps – which include threatening to commit mass murder – sound weirdly reasonable. There’s no way everybody wasn’t high in the studio when this was recorded. Just listen.
‘Nuthin’ But A “G” Thang’
Dr. Dre’s sedated synths are capable of making you feel like you’re floating when paired with the right strain of weed (we advise Blue Chapo or Violator Kush). The fact there’s a sample of a woman sighing in pleasure played underneath, which sounds not only sexual but also like the immediate reaction of someone greatly satisfied after ripping on a bong, only adds to the idea that Dre really caught a wave when making this one in the studio. Dre and a rookie Snoop Dogg don’t really say anything of substance, with lines about ticking like a clock kind of cringey all these years later, but this one is about taking a break from the stresses of their world and just talking that shit. Honestly, Snoop Dogg could read the phone book over this beat and it would still make you feel like a piece of butter, melting on the top of a pile of pancakes.