I’m young enough that my musical tastes, such as they are, really developed in the Age of Napster. Sure, I had one or two tapes and a few dozen CDs, but I really became a fully-formed listener by downloading songs one at a time.
As a result, I’m generally disinterested in the full album experience. I prefer a mix tape over an EP.
However, one of the few exceptions is Dr. Dre’s classic The Chronic: 2001.
Released in 1999, this album was heralded by the hit single “Still D.R.E.” which proudly proclaimed that the former producer of N.W.A. was back and hungry to prove that he was still the best.
A follow-up to 1992’s The Chronic, 2001 has a similar format to its predecessor. All the beats are composed by Dre, with a host of guest appearances from his stable of rapping protégés and occasional appearances by the man himself.
Dre pulled together an impressive roster of friends for this opus: West Coast rap stalwarts Snoop Dogg and Nate Dogg return, along with former N.W.A. member MC Ren. The Chronic: 2001 also introduces younger rappers headlined by Xzibit and Eminem.
“Still D.R.E.” and “Forgot about Dre”, the second single from the album, are indicative of the album’s main theme about the good Doctor’s status in the music industry.
Like the rest of the album, he’s trying to reconcile his reputation, his violent image from a decade ago and the reality of being a multi-millionaire who no longer lives on the infamous streets of Compton, California on these tracks.
As Dre said himself in an interview with the New York Times:
“For the last couple of years, there's been a lot of talk out on the streets about whether or not I can still hold my own, whether or not I'm still good at producing,” he said just before 2001 was released. “That was the ultimate motivation for me. Magazines, word of mouth and rap tabloids were saying I didn't have it any more.”
“What more do I need to do? How many platinum records have I made? O.K., here's the album -- now what do you have to say?”
In the same interview he explains how he saw the unfolding of the album to be like a movie following a plotline.
That story arch is apparent from the very first track “Lolo” when Xzibit and Tray-Dee are shocked to see Dr. Dre appear at a local hangout in a brand new lowered car.
The second track is a soliloquy by Dre called “the Watcher” about all the things he’s seen in his career. The next four tracks follow a similar subject, with Dre and some of his older associates reminding the listener of their past exploits and successes.
“What’s the Difference” serves as a turning point in the album, as rookies Xzibit and Eminem take up Dre’s cause and talk about how he’s shaped their careers.
Once he’s re-established himself as a force in the music industry again, the rest of the album talks about moving forward (“The Next Episode”) and revelling in all of Dre’s new success.
No one can doubt Dr. Dre’s chops as a producer. He’s proven himself time and time again. But the Chronic: 2001 should be admired not just for its music but the clever way he uses lyrics and guest appearances to express his frustration with all of the premature claims of his decease as a viable music artist.
It’s a creative use of rap’s braggadocio lyrical style that can be enjoyed again and again.