HIGH POWERED: 20 YEARS AFTER “THE CHRONIC”

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The Root just published my 20th anniversary piece about The Chronic.1 You can read what I have to say about the album, the context in which it flourished, and its long-term legacies over there. I just wanted to add a personal postscript.

I didn’t like The Chronic when it first dropped. Much of this was for reasons that were quite silly in hindsight: I sided with Cube over the rest of the N.W.A. crew, I was a budding backpacker who was supposed to eschew so-called reality rap. Sonically, the main hits off The Chronic did little for someone who had come up on Prince Paul, the Bomb Squad and DJ Premier. For all these reasons, I don’t think I even listened to The Chronic the whole way through. I just figured, “if this all sounds like “Nuthin’ But a ‘G’ Thing”, I’m going to take a pass.”

It was a stupid attitude but I was 20 and thus more prone to stupid attitudes.

Over the next ten years, I slowly but surely came around to actually – you know – listening to the album more, all the while also becoming more musically open-minded and less driven by a rigid ideological stance. But the main kicker came about 10 years ago, when I was putting together Classic Material. The writer who was supposed to take on The Chronic had to pull out at the last moment and I decided to step in instead. It was certainly a move more initially motivated by necessity than desire; I would never have chosen to write about The Chronic for the book on my own, initial volition.

This is one of cases where the assignment lead to enlightenment (rather than the other way around). Once I allowed myself to jettison old prejudices and simply try to take on the album at face value, I could far better appreciate all its subtly and majesties, both aesthetically and politically. There’s aspects to it I’m still going to be ambivalent about – its misogyny for example or the fact that, at the end of the day, I still don’t like those damn synths so much – but I also recognized that it was a far more well-rounded and thought-out album than I originally gave it credit for. That’s one of the nice things about a persistent love for music that spans decades. I heard The Chronic differently when I was 30 vs. when I was 20 and now that I’m 40, I’m sure I hear it differently again.

I added this comment to The Root’s page and it’s worth including it here too: it’s interesting to compare The Chronic with this year’s West Coast supposed classic: Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d city. Take a lyric like Kendrick’s “the one in front of the gun lives forever” and compare that to Dre’s “who’s the man with a master plan?/a n—-a with a gun.” Lamar certainly can thrown down the bravado with the rest of them – “Backseat Freestyle” more than aptly proves that – but for the most part, GKMC is far more “real” in its vulnerabilities and uncertainties than the “reality rap” of The Chronic. That doesn’t make one better than the other but it suggests that a West Coast sound has never been as monolithic as some of its critics suggest.

  1. Shout out to Brett Johnson for soliciting me for the assignment.

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