East and West: Same Equation, Different Variables: Live-Blogging The Chronic
Yesterday, when I live-blogged Stankonia, I got a lot of feedback. Most of it was, “I can’t believe you’ve never heard this record before!” And the like. I put an internet meme (that WordPress, for some reason, made the lead image on the post) on it because it was the only way I could describe my feelings at the end of Stankonia: “I noticed that you’re gangster…I’m pretty gangster myself.”
If you’ve never had this feeling before, it’s very real. And indescribable.
Now, before I look up the track listing for The Chronic, full disclosure: I may or may not have heard certain songs from this record before. But yes, I’ve never heard it all the way through before. Instead of calling this very segment “live-blogging,” I might as well just call it “White Girl From South Jersey Writes About Hip Hop.”
A brief side note/introduction to, actually, (usually) leads every post about hip hop:
Recently, I may or may not have had a breakthrough about my racial identity (with hip hop.) My best friend and hetero-life-mate suggested that, if every genre is just borrowing from each other (at this point), then nothing can belong to any one group of people. We didn’t go as far to stretch it that, in fact, rock and roll is stolen from R&B – which is in fact, historically black music – we were just talking about hip hop.
(Earlier that day, I was playing Eminem in the car, which surprised her. Here’s my thing: I don’t like listening to hip hop in front of other people. I feel like the genre doesn’t belong to me and I am an interloper when I listen to it in public. I judge myself more than I judge other people. And I’m not sure how to get rid of it. We all have our faults, so don’t let it exhaust you. It’s my curse. Usually it’s a daily struggle, but I’m working on it. Just this past year, I played hip hop on the stereo, occasionally, with my roommate home, someone I’ve known for seven years.)
So, now that that’s out of the way: The Chronic. The one thing I can FOR SURE tell you about this record is: you can buy it on vinyl at Urban Outfitters. (Which makes me feel all kinds of annoyed at everything involved in that sentence.) Ah, I see it’s 62 minutes. Like all the others start, let’s get to it.
1. The Chronic (Intro): Is that Snoop? I feel like I know nothing about him, other than he lost a joint rolling competition to Willie Nelson on Howard Stern’s morning show once. I don’t know his music, I mean of course I know the hits. But right here, it’s all an extremely modulated synth – which have given me preconceptions (unfair?) about Dr. Dre and Snoop’s records. Wow, a straight “fuck you” to Eazy-E. Why do people invite trouble just to invite trouble? Where’s the beef with this whole hip-hop situation? What’s the fucking point? Really?
2. Fuck Wit Dre Day (And Everybody’s Celebratin’): This is 90s and I’m not even sure why. There’s something about under-produced simple beats that just agree with me. The other day I was listening to Backspin in the car, alone, and Run DMC just seemed so orchestrated and so easy, compared to the bullshit A$AP Rocky is pulling on everyone. Ahh, the first “bow-wow-wow/yippie yo/yippie yay.” I had no idea that I would hear it so soon. Lots of Snoop on this record. Looks like he was using it as a platform, or so says Wikipedia. “I must’ve been a mark because I hung with Eazy.” Two out right snides at Eazy – this time from Dre. NWA was so ground breaking, it’s a shame they started feuding because of money. Wasn’t money the problem in the first place? Hip hop started to rebel against what made everything/the music industry a big scuffle? To avoid hate and merge with peace and harmony? Money and business bullshit stands in the way too much for the music industry, STILL. This record is proof that it tears people apart. If this isn’t proof of that, I have no idea how else to explain it to someone.
3. Let Me Ride: The beats on this record are so simple. They’re GREAT but they’re simple. They highlight the rhyme and lyricism of Dre’s voice. (And Snoop’s voice.) Those strings in the background, with the flute on this track, make it all sound so romantic. Woah, more Snoop. We’re getting some head nods here. For some reason, this record is already easier to listen to than Stankonia. It doesn’t sound as busy. The synth breaks are clean and Dre is smooth enough to follow. (Not that Big Boy and Andre aren’t smooth.) His style of simple melody and complex lyricism works so well. (Foreshadowing for Em.) And I might be committing hip hop suicide with this next one (get it?) but, what’s the big difference between West and East Coast sounds? They all had really great lyricism and great production. I guess maybe it’s the content of their lyrics. Dre is all about rollin’ around Compton and living life in the game while Biggie is more about community in Brooklyn and, wait, the game. What’s the beef about again?
4. The Day The Niggaz Took Over: “If you ain’t down for the Africans here, in the United States, point blank, if you ain’t down for the ones who suffered in South Africa and apartheid and shit, you need to step aside…” Hmm, politically heavy-osity going on in this track. “I got my finger in the city/so niggas wonder why/but livin in the city is/do or die.” Ahh, this track samples an documentary about LA riots, “Birth Of A Nation” – which are all on youtube. This record is so much about the racial unrest in Los Angeles. We’re still three years away from Rodney King (1995) by the time The Chronic came out (1992) but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t happening before then – or since. I like that Dr. Dre is a producer and that he produced this. He had practice with NWA for two records. It just shows his commitment to the overall musical package.
5. Nuthin’ But A “G” Thang: Ahh, the single. I have heard this song. Snoop and Dre really impressed the world with this record. They made it about money, about street style and about lifestyle. This song reached number two on the Billboard Hot 100 – out-charting the other singles released from The Chronic. Sampling “I Wanna Do Something Freaky To You” by Leon Haywood. Damn, Snoop is smooth on this track. Is he the ultimate story of selling drugs to making music? Or is that Biggie? Or Jay Z? I can’t decide who matters more. Or why it matters if one matters more than another. They were all doing groundbreaking things in the beginning. I wish hip hop could be like this now. (The Blueprint wouldn’t come out until 2001. I wonder what Jay thought of this record?) Those synth hook lines, played just like a piano, work so well. HOOK.
6. Deeez Nuuuts: Ahh, a skit. TV on in the background and a phone call. Is that Snoop? Nope, it’s Warren G. Fuck. This is some filthy shit. We’ve found Dre’s hook: the simple synth-piano-whatever hook line with computerized beats and smooth sailing rhymes. Ahh, that’s the difference. I have no idea why it took me so long to figure this out. West is computerize and East relies more on soul and funk samples. But they both use the simple background and heavy foreground tactic. Same equation, different variables. What’s the big fucking deal? …Considering this is Dre’s first solo album, he’s barely on it at all. I mean, when he’s on it, he’s ON IT. But, there is so much more happening here musically than Dre showing off with words. (He’s just showing off with production.) Really, he was just a vessel for so many other people, so many other ideas about producing a record, an image and being a part of hip hop.
7. Lil’ Ghetto Boy: Ahh, some actual drums are happening right now. Skit, background…”stop giving your money to [people with?] jerry curls.” WAIT. Snoop was 18 on this record? What’s happening in the world? Nope – simple math. He was born in 1971, and in 1992 he was 21. Maybe I should re-hear that lyric. Either way, Snoop is killing it. This record is so much about making money. Artists making money, not by selling records, but by “being back out on the street.” I mean, B.I.G. rapped about that too, but this really glorifies it. Hip hop has such a complicated issues woven into its past – hell, into it’s beginning. I don’t even know where to start. What kind of image was this selling to people? Positive ideas about selling on the street? (Meanwhile, Reagan is waging war on black America by militarizing the police and passing the 100 to 1 Cocaine Drug Laws.) Hey look, this track samples Gil-Scott Heron. Nice moves. Everyone seems to agree that Heron was right all along. (The revolution wasn’t televised….until it was.) Loving the flute track on this record. Very old jazz.
8. A Nigga Witta Gun: More skits. Why isn’t this prevalent in modern hip hop? Did people forget they could do whatever they wanted and be creative, instead of using those GOD DAMNED drum machines that make all the tracks sound the same? But let’s get down to it more: this track is glorifying gun use on the city street by civilians. (Maybe due to militaried police?) We ALL know where that leads, as this record is more than 20 years old and we’ve all lived it. “Who’s the man/with the master plan?/a nigga with a mother fuckin’ gun.” SHIT, he’s rhyming about AK47s. Murder. Things are afoot in my brain right now. Great bass line on this track. The ENTIRE fucking idea here is so simple. It’s a total shame that any one else ever needed to rhyme about guns, because this one is so perfect. I’m not asking for more music to be made that glorifies bringing violence into any community. I’m just surprised anyone could do it better. Then again, this track is so repetitive. I wonder if Dre would change it now? What if artists could go back and edit their own records, decades later? Would people be into that?
9. Rat-Tat-Tat-Tat: HOLD THE PHONE. CHANCE THE RAPPER ALSO SAMPLES THIS TRACK. I know Dre did it first – DUH – but that flute line, lots of flutes, eh, does it well. Sampling is a beautiful thing. Lately, since I’ve spent a month living at home, I’ve found myself explaining to my parents who Afrika Bambaataa is and how he invented hip hop. Both of their reactions were that head nod, you know the one, like, “hmm. I had no idea.” The amount of sampling going on here with the bass line, the skit in the background, and layered vocals with SFX – is awesome. Shows off Dre’s producing ability. He can make a track busy without you losing track of what’s happening, what hook is in the foreground and what’s happening on the track. The song title itself is a great hook. Man know’s what he’s doing. But hey, it kind of sounds like “rat-ta-ta-tat/never hesitate to put a nigga on his back,” kind of sounds like, it maybe could be, gun clicks? Or a nod to them?
10. The $20 Sack Pyramid: Skits. Where are you? Fuzzy television sets…talk about dated. That’s what makes this record rich. A woman’s voice, who isn’t playing the role of a girl friend. Nice. She’s MC-ing “The $20 Sack Pyramid” skit-TV show, kind of like the $20,000 Pyramid. And one of the prizes is a gift certificate to the Compton Swap Meet. PRICELESS. But what’s with the stereotypical creepy, raspy (almost homeless) sounding male voice? They end up winning the game and the money. So I guess we all win?
11. Lyrical Gangbang: Well, here we have a whole other kind of glorification. And the drum beat, from what it sounds like, “When The Levee Breaks” the Zeppelin track. Ah, and yup, it is. The Lady Of Rage. Finally a woman shows up. But ironic, no?, that she’s on “Lyrical Gangbang.” Likely, this was done on purpose because Dre is smarter than all of us. Or maybe it was done for another reason, unknown. But she knows what she’s up to. Cheers to women at least being a part of this record. I will say, I’m so distracted by the Zeppelin hook in the background that I have a hard time focusing on anything else. Mainly, I’m reading about the short NWA discography and digesting the Doggystyle album art. It is SO not what I expected.
12. High Powered: Nice work, that Zeppelin hook feeding into this track. But what gives with the synth piano track, note by note. Didn’t they think that it would get old? Because it’s getting old. Barely any Dre on this record. He’s really just producing it. And not really working any words. I can’t tell what I’m more: surprised or annoyed by that. With the repetitive note by note synth, its really not as fun to listen to unless there’s something lyrically complicated going on. “I drop bombs like Hiroshima.” Glorification? You decide. This track samples “Buffalo Gals” by Malcolm McLauren. But “High Powered” sounds nothing like it. “Buffalo Gals” is ALL about the scratch and the bass drum. What’s happening here? Where is Dre getting what from? But at least now I know where “go ’round-the outside/ ’round the outside/’round-the-outside” comes from.
13. The Doctor’s Office: Skit. Really, its just like the “Fuck Me (Interlude)” from Ready To Die. Still though. What happened to the skit?
14. Stranded On Death Row: Opening with a preacher and gospel, church organ (I honestly don’t know how else to describe it) “I’m in the house now/I want to talk about the hearts of men/ who knows what evil works within them.” Ahh, the equation is back, simple yet noticeable beats, and complicated rhyming with a live Isaac Hayes track sampling. And The Lady Of Rage is back. More Snoop. Where’s Dre? Oh, nice underwater modulation. I wonder what that plug in is called. And further more, was this recorded on tape with separate tracking? Or did they splurge to go digital?
15. The Roach (The Chronic Outro): Ooo, horns WITH the synth. I dig it. And we’re finally talking about what The Chronic actually is. “Make my bud the chronic/i wants to get fucked up /make my shit the chronic/I got to get fucked up.” That is QUITE the hook AND it’s sung. We have a sing-a-long here people. With vocal layers, people talking and commenting, singing. Dre’s arrangements are unmatched. (Maybe for now, until he out-does himself.) With that note by note electric piano synth thing that’s happening in the background. This track also has the most soul on it. It sounds new and electric, but it has a throwback bass line kind of holding it all together.
16. Bitches Ain’t Shit: Now, this is one we all know. I will say, I heard Ben Folds’ cover before I heard this original. I actually heard him do it live when I saw him at the Scottish Rite Theater in Collingswood, NJ in high school. (Everyone in my high school was into Ben Folds. AND everyone from my high school was at that concert. It was awesome, he was out touring Songs For Silverman – arguably the last great Ben Folds record. After he finished “Bitches Ain’t Shit” some guy down front yelled, “Hey! I’m here with my daughter!” Ben apologized. I think?) This song is pretty rank. Oh, and HEY LOOK, it samples Funkadelic. I had no idea. The Snoop verse on this is pretty famous. They’re all good, despite how disgusting the lyrics are. You know the verse I mean. Although this is QUITE a closing track. Impressed? I am. Although, I’m even more impressed with this last verse by Jewell, which I’m not sure I’ve ever heard before. KU-DOSE.
This is a great record. Maybe not one I’d revisit too often. Likely, I will, ironically, skip over the skits. It acts as a nice soundtrack to Los Angeles’ history. VH1 Roc Docs do a good job. Last year they released one about the LA Riots: Uprising: Hip Hop And The LA Riots. It’s more about the LA riots than it is about LA, but they parallel nicely. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in hip hop AND (either/or, really) American history. A MUST SEE.