Rap’s big break, 10 years ago

By Claire Baldwin

Here’s something that will make you feel that the years are slipping by quickly — it was ten years ago that Dr. Dre released one hell of a badass album, The Chronic. Personally, the realization that it has actually been ten years since that album, combined with the recognition that the world has really only had Snoop Dogg for a decade, is mind-numbing. But back to Chronic — as a ten-year-old white girl growing up in West Los Angeles, that album spoke to me. Now I’ll take a brief respite from the topic so all of you can re-read that previous sentence and then start laughing.

Don’t give me that bullshit laughter. You all know that whenever you put that album on, you’re all like, “Shit, I get what Dre’s saying. Damn, these boys know my deal,” or perhaps, “Snoop’s a friggin’ prophet.” Don’t deny it, you say this shit when you hear Chronic, and hey, you go to the U of C too, and if I claim that Chronic was a fucking milestone, you can’t deny me my right to say so. OK, so I’ve got my own opinion on Chronic, and I probably should defend why I think it’s so brilliant. Now I can’t really lie, part of my love for it came as a result of those shout-outs that Dre and Snoop constantly give my hometown. Granted I don’t live in Inglewood, Long Beach, or Compton, but they’re close enough to me that I feel a unique bond with them. And hey, my friend’s dad went to Long Beach Poly High School, Snoop’s would-be alma mater if he had graduated. See, I’ve got legit connections to these boys.

All right, it wasn’t so much that they were from L.A., but I’m afraid that you won’t believe why I really love Chronic — see, I just love the music. Chronic was the first real rap album to hit the mainstream, and whether that’s a good or a bad thing now, it speaks loads about the music. The 70’s and 80’s gave us Sugar Hill, Run DMC, and Public Enemy, and as much as we all claim to have always loved them, that’s complete crap. Their albums are bought by the masses now, but how many white boys in Nebraska owned a Public Enemy album in the early nineties? (That was a rhetorical question; please don’t attempt to send in any statistics to the Maroon.) And then the early ’90s brought us a slightly controversial band, which I’ll call by its more politically correct acronym, N.W.A. Right, so we’ll just glaze over their appeal to the masses, politicians, and especially suburban moms, and acknowledge their contributions by simply saying that they were pretty damn important to rap music. But then back to Chronic: what made me, a little white surfer girl, go out and buy it? Dre’s no bullshit musician, but his real talent is making his music accessible to the masses. I hate to call the beats and rhythm catchy, but they are. Think more recently to Chronic 2000: if I write “la di da di da, it’s the motherfuckin’ D-R-E,” who can’t sing the melody that accompanies this line from “The Last Episode?” Chronic gave the masses the opportunity to hear rap music, politically toned down, yes, but it was rap all the same. Ten years later we have people like Puff Daddy (P. Diddy, Sean “Puffy” Combs, J. Lo’s ex., I am so confused) making millions of dollars off of the massive sales of the rap industry. Granted, Puffy isn’t the example of rap music gone mainstream that everyone wants to acknowledge, but if a prepubescent white boy in Iowa claims he’s listening to rap, there’s a 90 to 95 percent chance it’s Puffy.

Now I’m thinking that on the off-chance Dre reads this article (right, Dre reads a paper printed by his oh-so-loyal fans at the U of C), I should say that it’s not his fault that we have Puffy, rather Dre’s impact on the genre of rap music is heartily appreciated. With Chronic, Dre gave little white girls like me some music to dance to. Again, I’m not thinking this comment is exactly what Dre wants to hear, but what should be recognized about Chronic is that it made rap a universal musical form. You may beg to differ; my grandmother may beg to differ, but I don’t really care. Think about how many rap stars you can name off the top of your head right now; it’s a lot. Ten years ago, you’d still be going, “uhhh, I think his name is something like Ice Tray, Ice Box, maybe Ice Cube — I’m not so sure, but I know his music, I swear.” Chronic comes out, and all of us are suddenly, “Shit, Dre’s my man, and Dogg, damn that boy’s good.” Basically, Dre and his Chronic gave us a form of rap music that we liked, and moreover, a bunch of characters to identify his music with. Really, who can’t recognize Snoop? The man’s like 6 foot 5, 100 pounds, and who can forget the MTV awards where he wore Pollyanna curls?

OK, so back to my point, which I think may have been lost in the tangent on Snoop, Chronic was a musically important album. Mozart’s rolling in his grave right now, but the truth is you can’t deny rap’s popularity today. Before its release in 1992, there wasn’t much mainstream desire for rap, but that’s most definitely not the case today. Dre’s album may not have been the most successful rap album ever, but it was, in my most humble opinion, one of the most important. But hey, Puffy still’s releasing albums, who knows what artist he’ll rip off next — maybe he might actually produce a good piece. Right; so we’ll be waiting for a while and until then, all of us, white L.A. girls included, should just sit back and load up The Chronic.

Claire Baldwin is a second-year in the College concentrating in English.