The Chronic 2001 at 15

By mid-November, Dr. Dre’s g-funk classic 2001 will have experienced fifteen years of existence. While not as celebrated or as lauded as his seminal debut solo record The Chronic2001 remains a staple in West Coast hip hop that continues to influence rappers all over the country.

2001 also holds a special place in my heart for an unorthodox reason. I was only six years old when the album was released, a snot-nosed first grader whose conception of popular music didn’t stray beyond boy bands and whatever Van Morrison album my parents decided to play in the car. My introduction to g-funk, and gangsta rap in general, came from Dave, a large teddy-bear of a man who picked me up from school and dropped me off at an after school center a few miles away. While making his rounds of the local primary schools, Dave would blast Los Angeles hip-hop mainstay Power 106 non-stop, and we tiny people in the van would bounce around to lewd classics like Nelly’s “Country Grammar” and Jay-Z’s “I Just Wanna Love You.” But in the fall of 1999, 2001 hit the airwaves even harder than The Chronic did, and during that school year it felt as if every third song was a brand new Dr. Dre production. Pretty soon I was bouncing around regularly to “Xxplosive” and “The Next Episode” wondering why there were so many audible gaps in the lyrics (thanks FCC).

So when I say that 2001 is better than The Chronic, understand that I originally arrived at the conclusion based on anecdotal evidence during a critical part of the development in my taste in music. I’m not the only one, thankfully. I’ve discovered that 2001 is an incredibly polarizing album amongst the rap fans I talk to. Amongst my favorite talking points (nothing made before the nineties as worthwhile, Drake’s eventual ascension to the throne, the free pass to the charts white rappers seem to get), my assertion that 2001 is Dr. Dre’s better album usually elicits strong reactions; about half the responders enthusiastically agree with the statement, and the other half just assume that I know nothing about hip hop (which is a valid point).

As much as I love this album, there is so much not to like about 2001. It’s way too long, for one, many of its songs feeling like superfluous skits and its skits feeling like phony imitations of an already unnecessary staple. 2001 also tries to recapture the reckless and quasi-revolutionary attitude presented seven years earlier, and its players often come off as former kings trying to recapture the glory days. Worst of all, it’s treatment of women is downright disgusting, and any semblance of sexual decorum needs to be suspended for an enjoyable listen (and even then it may be a stretch to call the album “enjoyable”).

But even though listeners have every reason to hate this album, it’s hard to maintain disgust when its high points are positively stratospheric. 2001 may be the most loathsome album in the hip hop canon, but it’s a classic nonetheless.

The Good

When we’re talking about 2001, we’re really talking about six or seven of the album’s 22 tracks, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Rap albums by nature generally run longer than modern attention spans can last, and as such those without a skippable track are few and far between (even Ready to Die and Late Registration have a few duds between them). Still, when the number of forgettable songs on any individual album climbs up into double-digit territory, it’s usually a sign of trouble.

But 2001‘s listenability revolves around the mastery of it’s two centerpieces, “Forgot About Dre” and “The Next Episode,” and four other standout tracks that deserve a place amongst rap’s greatest hits. As great a producer as Dr. Dre is (probably the easiest to defend as the GOAT), his ear for talent and willingness to showcase his co-conspirators may be his enduring legacy. As he did for Snoop Dogg on “G Thang,” Dre allowed Eminem to shine on the album’s second release “Forgot About Dre,” and the result is quite possibly the most impressive performance from arguably the greatest rapper of all time at the peak of his creative power. “Forgot About Dre” best demonstrates Dre’s developing production ability with ghoulish strings and a cement-truck slow snare hit, sounding nothing like the synth-and-sample heavy instrumentals on The Chronic.

Though Eminem may be the biggest name ever associated with Dre (and though Kendrick Lamar may realistically give this whole GOAT thing a shot), Snoop Dogg had as much to do with Dre’s breakout success as Dre himself, and the maestro rewarded his disciple with some standout verses and the album’s best hook. “The Next Episode” is a stunning orchestration, and as the highly anticipated sequel to “Nuthin’ But A ‘G’ Thang,” it bumps harder without sounding anything like its predecessor. It’s impossible to listen to Dre’s guitar lick without bobbing your head, and far from the laid-back picnic raps on “G Thang,” Snoop and Dre make their comeback sound like an agressive affirmation of their preeminence.

As incredible as these songs are, their production doesn’t compare to “Xxplosive,” a song that wasn’t even officially released off the album but still got the most airplay in Los Angeles. The untouchable beat on “Xxplosive” sounds like the catalyst of everything that rap embodies today, all with a high-necked guitar hook and some impressive glockenspiel work. And yes, Hitman, Kurupt, and Six-Two sound pretty awful on verses 1, 2, and 4, respectively, but every time I spin the track I can’t help but think that Nate Dogg’s masterful appearance is nothing less than rap’s pinnacle (it’s also often the only verse played on local radio, possibly because it’s the cleanest, but mostly because Nate Dogg had the album’s best bars amongst a lineup with some of the greatest to ever rap).

Dr. Dre may be a clunky rapper, but at least he recognizes his rhyming limitations enough to pass the baton to superior talent when needed (he doesn’t even show up on “Xxplosive,” the album’s highlight). He’s also not afraid to stray away from the iconic g-funk sound that made him such a legend to begin with, and by releasing a handful of genre-shifting songs on 2001, he only strengthened his resume as one of the greatest to ever sit behind a soundboard. If 2001‘s highlights were the album’s only defining features, it would be a consensus classic, one of the greatest to ever be released. Unfortunately, there’s a lot more to the album than its singles (or rather, a whole lot less), and it all looks pretty ugly.

The Bad

When defending rap’s widespread misogyny, many people I’ve talked to follow the Chris Rock defense, which is valid for anyone who has ever observed an American party with young women and rap music. There’s a stronger defense that misogyny is misogyny is misogyny, and that rap has done very little to rid itself of harmful messages about violence against women. Rappers have always gotten a pass on misogyny when artists like Robin Thicke don’t, so one can hardly be surprised that Dr. Dre & co. capitalized on rap’s patriarchy without repercussions. But even in that sense, 2001 suffers from an endless barrage of uncreative hedonism and unironically pandering the “positives” of a shallow and dark lifestyle.

A very good portion of this album is dedicated to dick sucking. Everybody who appears on the album (save Mary J. Blige) makes it abundantly clear that they enjoy fellatio. In Dr. Dre’s world, women are only worth as much as their mouths, and his crew isn’t even coy or creative in saying so. It’s as if Xzhibit, Kurupt, MC Ren, and anyone else who made a few stacks off Dre’s efforts didn’t even deign women the courtesy of effort in telling them that their only value is in disposable flesh. At least when Dre and Snoop said terrible things about women in The Chronic, they allowed talents like Jewell and The Lady of Rage to respond with their own bars. On 2001, their mouths are still open, but they’ve been silenced.

But it’s not just women who get the brunt of Dre’s hatred. At one point, Xzhibit raps: “Anyone hatin’ on us can suck a dick/If I catch you touchin’ mine you’ll catch a flatline/dead on the floor.” Hittman goes: “I know your type/so much bitch in you/if it was slightly darker/lights was little dimmer/my dick be stuck up in yo’ windpipe.” So, yeah, homosexuals too, they aren’t worth shit on this album (sorry Little Richard). Kurupt may be the worst offender; I squirm every time his verse comes up on “Xxplosive,” climaxing (bottoming out, really) with the seminal line “bitch nigga/you more of a bitch than a bitch.”

At least when Eminem talks about slitting his girlfriend’s throat, it comes from the tongue-bursting-out-of-cheek theatrical Slim Shady that made him such a show-stopper to begin with (and even then it’s hard to defend), and when Snoop talks about his escapades as a gangster in Long Beach, he has the documentation to back it up as art imitating life.  Everyone else, Dre included, sound like old fools passing out Thanksgiving turkeys not realizing that everyone talks about how much they hate them behind their backs. They could have probably released a song called “We Hate Women” and there would be a good chance that it would be less offensive than half the slime on 2001.

The Verdict

What’s less blameworthy but more frustrating is that there seemed to be a semblance of a theme in 2001 that just wasn’t exploited. Dre’s ghoulish production and theatrical track listings set the table for what could have been a glorious feast; instead we got what happens when studios release a sequel seven years after the first classic.

Many of my criticisms of 2001 can be applied to The Chronic as well, but there are a few key differences. For one, The Chronic was a cultural response to the suffering surrounding South Los Angeles, as if Dre put a tape recorder into the hearts of addicts, slingers, cops, stoners, and the unemployed and asked them to speak their minds. 2001 feels like a continuation of The Chronic‘s theme one it was realized that g-funk was profitable: all glitz, no substance, much hate, and a skewering of the ugliness of a life of excess.

It’s not intellectually valid, but I take the Chris Rock stance: I love 2001, but I can’t possibly defend it. Hopefully listeners can filter out the hate and focus on what makes the album enjoyable: six or seven hooks you’ll blast in your speakers for the next twenty years wondering how often Clear Channel had to use the censors on Dr. Dre’s intolerable masterpiece.


1 Comment

  1. […] As a native of Los Angeles County, I performed my civic duty last Thursday by listening to Dr. Dre’s new album Compton. And after approximately sixty-two minutes of listening, I concluded that Compton is an  enjoyable album. It blasts Dre’s patented histrionics with unshakable confidence, glued together by some of the most talented rap artists past, present, and future. It shines with quality that should be expected after sixteen years of waiting, a testament to Dre’s ear to constantly changing public tastes and his perfectionism in the studio. It’s probably better than 2001, an album I hold in higher esteem than even The Chronic (for reasons I explain here). […]

Comments RSS TrackBack Identifier URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s