January 1, 2009

Dr. Dre - The Chronic (December 15, 1992)


This post is dedicated to every single reader that requested a review of The Chronic, an album that I simply could not have gotten to until now, considering that I was running through N.W.A.'s discography in order, which rendered a review of this disc an impossibility until I wrote about Efil4zaggin.

Now, a lot has been written about the nature of Dr. Dre's departure from Ruthless Records and the dissolution of his contract. Did Marion "Suge" Knight actually threaten Eazy-E and Jerry Heller physically? Who the fuck cares? This particular story picks up at the point where Andre Young and Suge Knight start up their own gangsta rap imprint, Death Row Records. (Originally, it was going to be called Black Market Records, but another company had already trademarked that name.)

Andre tested the waters of possible solo stardom by recording a single, "Deep Cover" for the soundtrack of an unnecessary film of the same name. However, as Dre has always shown a marked preference to letting others shine in the front while he pulled all of the strings up top, "Deep Cover" became a collaboration with the then-completely-unknown Snoop Doggy Dogg, an artist Dre was introduced to via his half-brother Warren G., who happened to be a part of the loosely-formed group 213, which also counted Nate Dogg amongst its ranks. Success was almost immediate, so Dre and Snoop quickly recorded a remix to their debut duet (which they then titled "187um": Solar Records, the label that released Deep Cover, included the track as a bonus on cassette versions only), and afterward Andre started work on what would become his seminal solo debut, The Chronic.

Sonically, The Chronic expands upon the sound that Dre was first tinkering with on Efil4zaggin, the final N.W.A. disc, adding in a dash of P-Funk that would ultimately lead to Dre being named the father of a new sub-genre of gangsta rap, G-Funk (although it should be generally understood at this point that he did not invent G-Funk). The album itself was hardly a Dre solo effort, as Andre elected to introduce the entire Death Row Records roster to the world, which included Snoop (of course), Snoop's cousin Dat N---a Daz, Kurupt (an emcee from Philadelphia), The Lady of Rage, Snoop's other cousin RBX, crooner Nate Dogg, the aforementioned Warren G. (an honorary member of the camp, although he never signed with the label) and studio singer Jewell. Having a large line-up such as this would mean there was some infighting for screen time: indeed, there are entire tracks on which Dre doesn't appear at all.

It's hard to believe or understand now, seventeen years removed from The Chronic's release date (fuck, I feel old), but back in 1992, every single last one of these artists (save for the star) were rookies in uncharted waters, including (or especially, depending on how you see the world) Snoop Doggy Dogg, who, despite the success of "Deep Cover", was still being forced to show his work on the geometry midterm. The Chronic was actually a pretty huge risk for a hip hop album at the time: if this particular stable of rappers failed to connect with an audience, Death Row Records was dead in the water. As we're all aware of how the story turned out (Snoop became a superstar, Andre is now considered to be one of the best producers in music history, and the other artists have all seen some level of success, including The Lady of Rage, who moved into acting on The Steve Harvey Show before returning to her hip hop roots), obviously The Chronic was a massive motherfucking success, a huge middle finger to Ruthless Records and to anybody that believed N.W.A. would have continued on had it not been for Dre's involvement. The Chronic also remains the blueprint for rappers that wish to showcase all of their fucking friends on their album. Weed carriers certainly existed prior to The Chronic, of course, but Dr. Dre was among the first to hinge his career on their shoulders, a gamble that ultimately paid off for him (but not so much for other artists that tried a similar tactic, including Dre's half-brother Warren G.'s Regulate...G Funk Era: honestly, have you heard any of those artists at any point in this new millennium?).

The Chronic also has the distinction of looking like a bootleg product rushed to production for the flea market crowd, although the disc itself was meticulously planned by Dre's control-freakish hand. Everything from the sample usage to the tone of The D.O.C.'s car-accident-caused harsh tone in one of the interludes was carefully put in place by Andre's able hands. However, Suge must have paid too much in royalties to Eazy-E (who, due to a condition of Dre breaking his contract, continued to earn money off of Dre's success even when Ruthless Records was going down the shitter, pre-Bone Thugs 'N Harmony), as the liner notes seem to have been compiled on the back of a napkin and turned in to the marketing department as such. The songs which Dre sampled appear nowhere in the notes: hell, one of Dre's own songs, "Bitches Ain't Shit", which is not a bonus track, is left off of the tracklisting entirely. The cover picture, fashioned after a package of Zig-Zag rolling papers, only featured Dre's mug, which appears to be more heavily made up than Bozo the Clown, a fact that Eazy-E had a good time with. There is also controversy as to who actually produced some of these tracks: while it's generally assumed that Dre did all of the work himself, Dat N---a Daz has spoken about not being compensated for his work on The Chronic, save for his occasional verses. The great thing about Death Row Records is that, even when The Chronic sold massive amounts of copies and justified multiple re-releases, all of the problems with the liner notes remained completely intact.

I'm sure that most of you two have been waiting with bated breath for this write-up, so I'll just get straight to it (he says after eighty-four paragraphs of exposition).

1. THE CHRONIC (INTRO) (FEAT SNOOP DOGGY DOGG)
The penitentiary bars clanking together make it very hard for listeners like me to believe that the label was supposed to be called Black Market Records. Snoop introduces The Chronic and, in a way, the entire cast of characters, before taking a potshot at Eazy-E and Jerry Heller (a running theme). Since he isn't actually rapping on here, though, this is just another needless rap album intro.

2. FUCK WIT DRE DAY (AND EVERYBODY'S CELEBRATIN') (FEAT SNOOP DOGGY DOGG, RBX, & JEWELL)
Retitled "Dre Day" when released to radio, this track remains a pretty good way to start off the album. Everybody remembers the video, in which an Eazy-E lookalike fucks around while Steve Berman (Interscope executive and Eminem's future foil) plays the Jerry Heller role. Leave it to Andre to take a diss track (which is also aimed at Bronx rapper Tim Dog, of "Fuck Compton" fame, and Luther Campbell, from 2 Live Crew) and turn it into The Chronic's second single. I've always enjoyed the way Snoop tosses in a "fuck your mama" as an aside, an afterthought, right after calling Tim Dog's mother a dyke. (I'm sorry, a "Frisco dyke".) Musically, this shit is both dark and energetic, like goth gangsta rap, except with punchlines.

3. LET ME RIDE (FEAT JEWELL, RUBEN, AND SNOOP DOGGY DOGG)
The only single released that was a Dr. Dre solo track, although Snoop still manages to sneak in there somehow. Andre describes a day in his life in such a laid-back manner that the track repurposes itself as a natural companion to "Nuthin' But A "G" Thang". I remember it being a huge deal that Dre was able to convince Ice Cube to make a cameo in the video: it's too bad that the squashing of their beef has yet to produce more Dre/Cube collaborative efforts. Sigh.
4. THE DAY THE N----Z TOOK OVER (FEAT DAT N---A DAZ, RBX, & SNOOP DOGGY DOGG)
Full disclosure: The Chronic was the first rap album I ever owned, and I had it on cassette. I got it late in the game, long after the three singles hit the airwaves, but just prior to Snoop dropping Doggystyle, so this song was the first one I heard that I wasn't familiar with, and it startled me, mainly due to the attempted social commentary with the riots as a backdrop. This track was probably the first time that anybody had every heard of Daz and RBX, and everybody manages to do a good job, even Snoop with his bizarre-sounding verse.

5. NUTHIN' BUT A "G" THANG (FEAT SNOOP DOGGY DOGG)
The first single from The Chronic, generally described as one of the best hip hop songs ever made, is still the song that most listeners will gravitate to first. Its slow groove, catchy-ass lyrics, and oddly relaxing video (depicting a day in the life, which is what most West Coast videos aimed for as a direct contrast to the East Coast's penchant for standing outside of abandoned project buildings with a tire fire and a baseball bat) made Dre a solo star and helped Snoop Doggy Dogg fly off of store shelves. Andre also directed its video: for anybody who was ever confused as to what exactly MTV was blurring out at the end, the screen reads "Directed by Andre Young". Considering that the video looked like it cost ten dollars and a couple of kegs to make, I'm surprised that it holds up as well as it does. And honestly, people, who doesn't want to see that chick get her top popped off while playing volleyball? Misogynistic or not, it helped to set the mood.

6. DEEZ NUUUTS (FEAT SNOOP DOGGY DOGG, DAT N---A DAZ, WARREN G., & NATE DOGG)
The goofy intro (which is less funny than when Snoop drops the title phrase in daily conversation, which he has a tendency to do these days) segues into a pretty hot beat. I never noticed this before, but Dre's verse is actually really fucking awful. No matter: he passes the mic quickly and takes his seat in the back, while toward the end we get our first taste of how Nathaniel Dogg can turn any phrase into a sweet, soulful refrain.

7. LIL' GHETTO BOY (FEAT SNOOP DOGGY DOGG & DAT N---A DAZ)
Remember how I mentioned earlier that The Chronic had three singles? Well, it actually had four, and here's the last one. It was released to radio, and I'm pretty sure somebody shot a video (even if it wasn't the artists themselves), but it didn't do as well as the other three, probably because it's really fucking depressing. I'm talking early The Cure here. Kudos to Snoop for proving that he can also be serious behind the mic, but I didn't care for this song back in the day, and ain't a damn thing changed.

8. A N---A WITTA GUN (FEAT SNOOP DOGGY DOGG)
The energy level of The Chronic veers toward exhaustion at this point, thanks to a somewhat lazy beat, poor use of vocal samples on the hook, and a general indifference from Max. Oh, and also because of Dre verses that fail to capture your attention. You'll probably have already skipped this song before you reach the end of this sentence.

9. RAT-TAT-TAT-TAT (FEAT SNOOP DOGGY DOGG & RBX)
Things start picking up again, I suppose. I realize that this is a Dr. Dre solo album, so he is allowed to rap every single verse if he was so inclined, but a little bit of Dre behind the mic goes a long way on The Chronic. The music on here isn't half bad, though.

10. THE $20 SACK PYRAMID
A goofy skit that takes the piss out of Tim Dog, but is more notable due to the fact that Dr. Dre was apparently cognizant of the existence of The $20,000 Pyramid. Maybe it's that whole "collective unconscious" thing. Anyway, I wonder if The D.O.C.'s throat was killing him after recording his dialogue, since it's awfully painful to hear him contribute to this skit.

11. LYRICAL GANGBANG (FEAT KURUPT, THE LADY OF RAGE, & RBX)
I love the opening dialogue sample: when I used to make my own mixtapes, I would cut that line in before whatever song I was feeling that particular day. But I've always loved this song, regardless (or maybe because) of the fact that Dre is nowhere to be found. The Lady of Rage and Kurupt make their debuts on The Chronic on here, and both rappers impress, Kurupt especially. RBX sounds decent as well: although he was always the weak link on Death Row Records, he had a bit of talent, and his voice was always interesting to hear.

12. HIGH POWERED (FEAT RBX, THE LADY OF RAGE, & DAT N---A DAZ)
Dre's beat manages to make his audience want to drop everything and take a hit from the bong. His long intro, which names off his fellow artists that appear on the track, comes off as if he truly admires their work, although he was probably stoned out of his fucking mind. Rage's looped vocals in the background actually are a perfect fit for the beat, and RBX sounds decent; however, Daz doesn't actually rap on here, he just spits the outro for what is ultimately a glorified skit.

13. THE DOCTOR'S OFFICE
In case you didn't think that The Chronic contained enough sex for its violence, here you go. This interlude is so fucking ridiculous that you'll have skipped through it before anybody even fake-climaxes.

14. STRANDED ON DEATH ROW (FEAT KURUPT, THE LADY OF RAGE, RBX, SNOOP DOGGY DOGG, & BUSHWICK BILL)
I read Dr. Dre's biography by Ronin Ro, and I still can't figure out why Bushwick Bill (from the Geto Boys) appears on here, but whatever: this shit rocks. Kurupt's verses on both this track and "Lyrical Gangbang" are what made me look out for his work later on (I would soon be very disappointed, but that's a story for a different day). But the real star of this track is the guy who's sat out for a while, Snoop Doggy Dogg, who steals this shit as if he were an armed gunman at First National Bank.

15. THE ROACH (THE CHRONIC OUTRO) (FEAT RBX, EMMAGE, DAT N---A DAZ, JEWELL, & THE LADY OF RAGE)
I've always hated this outro. It's waaaay too fucking long, and since this fails in being an actual song, it's a complete waste of everybody's time and energy. A lot has been said of its freestyle jazz influences, but I don't give a fuck: this shit sucks. Luckily, it isn't even the final song on The Chronic, so I'll move on.

As mentioned before, the following track isn't listed in the liner notes of The Chronic, but should not be considered as a bonus track.

16. BITCHES AIN'T SHIT (FEAT SNOOP DOGGY DOGG, KURUPT, DAT N---A DAZ, & JEWELL)
The following comment may make me sound like a complete asshole misogynist when taken out of context, but it's a risk I'm willing to take, as I have to say that I love this song. Not for its lyrics, though (which contain more gossip-fueled tales than all of Perez Hilton's blogs), even though Dre's thinly veiled metaphor for his breakup with Eazy-E is more than decent. No, I love the track because the beat is bananas: it's both simple and fucking undeniable. Dre obviously knew how good the instrumental sounded, as this track is a recycle from a remix of his "Nuthin' But A "G" Thang" which appeared only on the 12-inch single: that particular track can be found online pretty easily if you know where to look.

FINAL THOUGHTS: The Chronic is frequently touted as the pinnacle of the West Coast gangsta rap movement, and for good reason: the lyrics are as violent as some of the West's best work, but the music itself is good enough to classify The Chronic as fucking art. Lyrically, there isn't anything new on here, but the energetically lackadaisical delivery of future star Snoop Doggy Dogg and the gruff, aggressive tone of Kurupt are the standouts. The Chronic still sounds as good today as it did back in 1992, which means that Dr. Dre is one lucky motherfucker: with this many no-name guests, it could have been a massive failure rather easily. Regardless of who produced what, though, one truth prevails: Andre Young knows how to put an album together.

BUY OR BURN? Seriously? I would be surprised if any of my two readers didn't already own this album. But, as I suppose it's possible (maybe you just woke up out of a coma or just returned to Earth after a twenty-year mission in space), I urge you to pick up a piece of hip hop history as soon as possible. There's something for everyone on here...unless you love polka. There are no polka influences on The Chronic. Sorry.

BEST TRACKS: "Bitches Ain't Shit"; "Fuck Wit Dre Day (And Everybody's Celebratin')"; "Nuthin' But A "G" Thang"; "Lyrical Gangbang"; "Stranded On Death Row"; "Let Me Ride"

-Max

RELATED POSTS:
Here's some other crap that Dr. Dre may or may not have had a hand in.

33 comments:

  1. Hey Max,

    Awesome review, except...

    8. A N---A WITTA GUN (FEAT SNOOP DOGGY DOGG)
    The energy level of The Chronic veers toward exhaustion at this point, thanks to a somewhat lazy beat, poor use of vocal samples on the hook, and a general indifference from Max. Oh, and also because of Dre verses that fail to capture your attention. You'll probably have already skipped this song before you reach the end of this sentence.


    The fuck?

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  2. hipster kids remake

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2_N3CK-6CHk&NR=1

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  3. Dre's production here is jaw-dropping. The beats for Fuck Wit Dre Day and Deez Nuts are fucking insane. Dre's a genius, this is one of the best produced albums ever.

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  4. nice review to start 2009 with Max. Nice !!!

    Happy New Year bro !

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  5. I read on another blog that the Deep Cover remix "187" was supposed to be track 8 on this album but removed because of legal reasons with Solar Records. I love Nigga Witta Gun but 187 might have worked better as track 8.

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  6. Since I asked for this write-up twice, unless I'm mistaken, I guess throwin comment is in order. Damn, such a grand opening of 2009 year. Review is cool, but I don't agree with your opinion about 'A N-uh Witta Gun'. Happy New Year Max, "and ya don't stop"(as Snoop said in 'Deep Cover') with reviewing.

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  7. this is the first hip hop/rap album you ever owned, how old are you Max? you make me feel old now and I'm only 29, damn man...

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  8. so, who invented g funk then?
    in the past i sometimes said that it was above the law (mainly cause i think black mafia live is way better than the chronic so i WANTED it to be them ...). then again, the earliest example of g funk might be alwayz into something.

    p.s. the chronic = the reason i dropped out of hip hop. i really didn't like it back then & the whole direction hip hop was taking, but listening to it now i realize it's not that bad ;)

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  9. black mafia life... where is cold 187um? didnt he change his name?

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  10. Mr. childs,
    Yeah he did.

    Great review Max!! Keep it up.
    :)

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  11. CR- Your comments about how The Chronic affected your view of hip hop is interesting. 2Pac's All Eyez On Me almost had the same effect. Maybe that's why I started buying more R&B and jazz during that period. When I first heard Hit Em Up, I said to myself, "this is not hip-hop". I know the album is widely considered to be Pac's best work but I disagree largely.

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  12. This album is fraud! Produced by Doctor Dre my ass! Anybody with a 10th of a brain knows Dat Nigga Daz did all the beats to this album and Dre just put his name on it. Dre was out fucking men and shit like that while Daz Dillinger put in all the work. The same goes for Doggystyle. Kurupt, DOC, RBX, and Daz were the only ones who wrote the lyrics. Dre and Snoop didn't do jack shit except remember the lyrics and rap them and get paid off the shit. Good thing Suge jacked those two hoes for most of the money because they didn't deserve shit. Dre's bitch ass should have been greatful and stayed with Eazy and Jerry Heller and kissed their feet everyday for even allowing him to get a shot. Fuck Dr. Dre and Snoop Doggy Dogg knows about doggystyle so much because of all his jail terms prior to rapping. He was the slim skinny one so do the math. Even in the NWA days it was really Yella and guys like Cold 187um producing all the hits. Dr. Dre hasn't produced a reocrd since the World Class Wrecking Crew, real facts. Fuck this review.

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    1. Are you Jerry Heller?

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  13. hahaha to the guy above.i kind of agree with the Daz production shit... Dre is like the Andy Warhol of hiphop. Gets others to donate beats, then he just spices them up or cleans them up and signs his name on it.

    Cold 187um? I think he still goes by Cold 187um....He has ALWAYS been also known as Hutch, but I just bought ATL's last album not long ago, and he was still 187um on that album cover...

    And yeah, for the record, I think Battlecat and Shock G were playing with G Funk before Dre was. He didn't even perfect it. I think Regulate was the best showcase for that lathered down pimped out funk sound.

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  14. BTW, The Roach is funny as shti if you are a Funkadelic fan, as they remake the "P-Funk (Wants To Get Funked Up)" almost to a tee... a nice homage.

    A Nigga With a Gun was dope! I loved the bass on this, and then I was surprised as fuck to hear the same bass on aa Beatie Boys track... hmm.. what was that song called? "Pass The Mic" (and I will put a P.S. on that there is a emix to this track that is fuckin bananas)

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  15. All in all, your review is ok Max. Except your comment about "A nigga wit a gun". This song provides the most explosive beat on the album! The only track here which is boring and makes you push the skip button is "Lil ghetto boy": too slow and with a ridiculous ragga singing chorus.

    Yes, Bushwyck Bill appears on the intro of "Stranded on Death Row" and on the "Dre Day" video. Both is a good fact, listening him on a track and watching him on screen bullshitting around. But participating on a video, which is dissing Eazy-E, well... means thumbs down for him!

    The "Chronic outro" isn't a bad way to finish an album. The only minus here is that it's too long. And it's interessting that Ice Cube uses the same sample to finish his Predator album on his last song "Say hi to the bad guy". I don't think that it's a coinsidence.

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  16. the most felonious vocalist in the wide world of showbusinessJanuary 08, 2009

    Happy New Year! I've been looking forward to this review since you started saying it was coming soon back in the middle '07. That statement and the fact that you reviewed Eazy-E's 5150 EP seem to contradict your claims that you're just getting to the review now because you always wanted to review the N.W.A. discography in chronological (Chronic-ological?) order. The more likely explanation is that Dre's procrastinating, perfectionist nature infected you and this review. Hey, it is a big one. The important thing is that you did it justice. I'll just assume you were being sarcastic about #8. That shit was like Deep Cover 2 and even inspired a part of Chris Rock's latest HBO standup special Kill The Messenger.

    I'd also like to mention that I don't find Dre's verse on "Deez Nuuuts" especially lacking. It sounds like several other Snoop-written verses on this album. Simplistic, heavy on spelling and delivered in a manner much too threatening to suit the lyrics. Dr. Dre has always had a tendency to come off like Teddy Pendergrass as described by Eddie Murphy in Raw or Delirious, sounding mad as fuck regardless of whether or not the lyrics call for it. Other than Kurupt, most of the rhymes from the non- singles don't hold up too well but this is obviously an essential album.

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  17. i'm sure i seen somewhere that 187 released an album as Big Hutch...great review...essential listening for whomever says hiphop/rap is their shit... based of his contribution on here i thought currupt would have gone on to be a boss in this ish...too bad... nwa affiliated shit always bing out the latent mysoginist in me: "Bitches aint Shit" was my joint

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  18. @ cenzi stiles: who is that battlecat guy? can you give me some examples of g funk pre alwayz into something?

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  19. just stumbled across this review checking our your site once again. this is so fucking cool, best hiphop site i found in the web. please keep up the good work. all the best from hiphop-city hamburg (germany)

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  20. Dre = 75 Million or more
    You = a Blog

    Case closed

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  21. Hmmm... i wonder if the guy "S" a few comments back is that long lost producer i found in an old documentary talking about getting underpaid and not one time his name showed up the credits of "The Chronic".. u sound like u got ripped off S but anyway on this review.. of course need i say more, Dr. Dre's best work.. name on it or not because Dr. Dre came up with the ideas. The only problem is he needs to be honest with his work (which we'll prolly never see since he's always low key *cough*detox*cough) but nevertheless he's a mastermind... if there's a mastermind behind him, there may be but i highly doubt it because there's this sort of consistency of essence that Dr. Dre puts into his own work.. hint: a great album every 10 years hint: "taking my time to perfect a beat" lol. Anyway good review again and a classic hip-hop album!

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  22. More hate on the west coast. And to the children that really think that Daz produced The Chronic and Doggystyle, here's a question for you. The only major album he ever executive produced, The Doggfather, sucked balls, though not as much as Max sucked Jigga's.

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  23. LOL Daz did not executive produce Tha Doggfather, he only produced 3 tracks on it. Check your facts before uttering nonsense. Daz did not produce The Chronic, but he did produce Serial Killa, For All My Niggaz & My Bitches, and Ain't No Fun on Doggystyle.

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  24. ..It just hit me that lyrical gang bang samples the drums from when the levee breaks by zeppelin, huh

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  25. Tile GroutMarch 01, 2012

    After avoiding this album for more than a decade (I completely O.D.'ed on the whiny high-pitched synth melodies on all of its singles), I found my old copy in the garage and gave it another listen. In fact, I've been keeping it around for several days. I'd forgotten how dark this album was. I still really can't listen to "Dre Day" or "G Thang" all the way through but I love the harder songs like "Lyrical Gangbang". And "Stranded on Death Row" is insanely good. How does Snoop's flow sound so incredible over such a dark, heavy beat? And RBX sounded great on every song he was on.

    Now that I'm older and hopefully wiser, I'm amazed at Dre's abilities here. I agree with you Max, some of these songs qualify as art. I don't know if I'll ever be able to stomach the stereotypical west-coast G-funk synth lines again, but I can't deny their audio quality.

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  26. AnonymousMay 15, 2013

    Since he isn't actually rapping on here, though, this is just another needless rap album intro

    Come on man it's one of the best intros and beat knocks!

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  27. AnonymousJuly 27, 2013

    Why don't you post your mixtapes you made back in the day on your blog? I'm sure three of your two readers would like to hear them

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    1. While that would be hilarious, I don't actually post music on the site, except for VERY rare instances.

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  28. The bass sound in "Stranded on Death Row" can make pregnant women miscarry.

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  29. Ferguson makes me put The Day The Niggaz Took Over in the deck. That's the today's sound.

    I imagine how white kids were buying the cd and bouncing under "and break the white man off somethin lovely, biddy-bye-bye, I don't love them so them can't love me")) Maybe it's democracy though)

    k/

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  30. Hey Max, just thought I'd mention (in case you weren't aware) that "The Roach (The Chronic Outro)" is basically a cover version of Parliament's song "P-Funk (Wants to Get Funked Up)" as you didn't mention it in the review.

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