Favorite Albums | Honorable Mention: Snoop Doggy Dogg – Doggystyle (1993)

The ChronicAt least four albums on my favorite albums list would rank higher if I had to do the list again now. One of them is Dr. Dre’s The Chronic, which revolutionized hip-hop upon its release at the end of 1992. A court case in 1991 effectively ended the sample-heavy productions of those of the Bomb Squad, the Dust Brothers and their ilk; samples now had to be cleared and suddenly cost a helluva lot more. An acrimonious split from N.W.A. and Eazy-E’s Ruthless Records kept Dr. Dre out of the producer’s chair — Ruthless refused to release Dre from his contract out of spite — while the pivotal case I just mentioned was carefully litigated by lawyers who — if you’ll allow me to make an casual observation — very likely knew absolutely nothing about hip-hop.

Straight Outta ComptonAt any rate, the damage was done, and a new architect was needed now that the previous method of sculpting songs was simply out of everyone’s price range. Luckily for Dr. Dre, his productions — N.W.A’s Straight Outta Compton, The D.O.C.’s No One Can Do It Better — never utilized very many samples to begin with compared to albums like Nation of Millions and Paul’s Boutique. His debut solo record The Chronic was released on Interscope Records, and it largely ignored sampling altogether by pioneering a new technique called interpolation. Sampling — a process in which a recording (sometimes, but not always, a single instrument) is copied directly and used in another recording — requires the label and artist to be paid, whereas interpolation — a process in which session musicians instead play the very same notes that would have been sampled — requires the songwriters to be paid, which is considerably cheaper.

No One Can Do It BetterDre had been experimenting with live musicians since handling the production duties on frequent collaborator The D.O.C.’s masterful-and-he-knows-it No One Can Do It Better in 1989. Once The Chronic dropped, hip-hop would never sound the same again. In fact, I generally don’t listen to pre-Chronic hip-hop all that much unless it’s for somewhat academic reasons. (You may have noticed that Public Enemy’s albums are conspicuously absent on my list. That’s why.) The Chronic cranked the bass way up, with funk grooves culled from George Clinton’s Parliament and Funkadelic albums, and Dre countered these lows with almost caricature-like, vintage arena synths to balance out the spectrum. As an MC, Dr. Dre could hold his own — compared to the wheezing Eazy-E, for example, Dre was superior — but he wisely understood he had his limitations, and as a result The Chronic was littered with guest rappers, who seemed to be in unlimited supply.

Many of those rappers — Kurupt, RBX, the Lady of Rage — would leave a significant imprint, especially on the hard-hitting showcase tracks “Lyrical Gangbang” and “Stranded on Death Row,” but by far the most colossal find of them all was none other than Snoop Doggy Dogg, who came to Dre’s attention during his contract-dispute exile. Snoop surfaced nearly as often as Dre did on Dre’s own record, a sign that Dre actually preferred the role of producer and also that he really, really dug what Snoop was spitting into the mic; when he was ready to present The Chronic to the world, Snoop Dogg was his secret weapon, of that there is no doubt. The Chronic made such a huge splash in ’93 that Dre got right to work on a sequel, this time opting to remain in the background as producer — though really, his productions are so distinctive that he remains omnipresent — while Snoop took over on the mic. The revolving door of guest rappers remains in place; they impress on Doggystyle like they did on The Chronic, as Dre’s notorious perfectionism results in some truly breathtaking verses. (I would imagine his method of working is to build a beat, let the bullpen of rappers write verses and perform them, and then he just uses the best ones.)

Guilty ConscienceWhen I first listened to Doggystyle, I was already a pretty big fan of The Chronic and, incidentally, I have always been a fan of Dr. Dre, really ever since I first saw him in Eminem’s “Guilty Conscience” video when I was a kid. But when I first heard Doggystyle I wasn’t particularly impressed. It seemed like more of the exact same thing, with lots of bottomless bass, whiny synths and an identical supporting cast of guest rappers who weren’t shy about referencing things they already said on The Chronic. Furthermore, there was no Dre; he doesn’t deliver a single verse, which at first threw me off balance. Part of what made The Chronic so perfect was that Dre’s blunt delivery contrasted perfectly with Snoop’s ability to seemingly weave around him with his patented drawl.

But sure enough, slowly but surely, after I listened to Doggystyle enough times I noticed that dynamic emerged here, as well, albeit in a slightly altered form. You see, the beats on The Chronic hit hard to match Dre’s blunt-as-a-baton rapping style. Well, Dr. Dre wisely realized a deeper, subtler and altogether more dynamic approach was needed to fully complement Snoop’s lazy, distinctive delivery now that it was front and center, and Doggystyle is just that: deeper, subtler and altogether more dynamic than The Chronic. After many listens, Dre’s presence as a producer and sonic architect — his preferred artistic role — becomes clearer and clearer, to the point where he and Snoop, easily one of the best rappers on the planet, weave around each other with a similar helical symmetry found on The Chronic. Made in the wake of the LA riots, The Chronic just packs a harder punch than Doggystyle — the beats are tougher, the synths are nastier/sleazier. Unless you’re willing to meet it more than halfway, chances are you won’t like it.

NevermindDoggystyle, on the other hand, is more commercial in every respect. Dre smooths out the blunter edges, revealing more palatable grooves, and lyrically, the disses thrown Eazy-E’s way throughout The Chronic have all but disappeared. Doggystyle may lack the cultural and musical significance of its predecessor, but it’s still two artists at the peak of their powers, simply having a blast. It was designed to make Snoop Dogg a superstar, and it did, debuting at the top of the charts and selling an enormous 802,000 copies in its first week. The Chronic was in many ways the Nevermind of hip-hop, but Doggystyle was more akin to Pearl Jam’s eye-of-the-hurricane album Vs., which was released a month earlier and shattered sales records by selling 950,000 copies in its first week.

2001Snoop was the real star of the g-funk movement, which faded throughout the ’90s until Dr. Dre briefly resurrected it in 1999 with 2001, an altogether unnecessary sequel to The Chronic. (The lyrical content strips it of artistic worth.) 2001 sold very well — to the tune of 6x platinum, in fact — and it does have some redeeming value, since the production is simply unmatched. 2001 has always been, to me at least, the hip-hop equivalent to Orson Welles’ movie Touch of Evil, which is considered the death of film noir. After 2001, g-funk was laid to rest, and Dr. Dre has toiled away on a sequel called Detox for more than ten years now. Detox has, according to what I have read, been completed, scrapped, and completed again several times over — with some leaks in between — and as of right now there is no release date.

I suspect Dr. Dre feels the way I do about his need (or lack there of) to put out a new record: he has absolutely nothing to prove and nothing to gain at this point by releasing Detox. He’s a larger-than-life entrepreneur now, and understandably seems happy with that.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>