The Chronic

This is dedicated to the Niggaz that was down from day one," begins Dr. Dre on The Chronic. But before joining N.W.A, this "nigga 4 life" was a love-song-singing, lace-shirt-and-eyeliner-wearing member of the World Class Wreckin' Cru. While serving time with Eazy-E, MC Ren, Ice Cube and DJ Yella, Dre created progressively more confident and slammin' soundscapes. He also proclaimed on the track "Express Yourself," "I never smoke weed or sess." Now a solo star on his own label, the producer-maestro has titled his debut set after the West Coast slang for high-octane marijuana. So what if history demonstrates that Dre wasn't "down from day one"? His album is a hip-hop masterwork full of big beats and little surprises like funky-worm keyboards and buried Perry Mason dialogue.

Although Dre's been making more trouble than music lately (the pummeling of a female video host, an assault in L.A., a brawl in New Orleans, other mayhem; the menacing single "Deep Cover" was his only output last year), the sonic architect — now charging that Eazy-E and N.W.A manager Jerry Heller robbed him — hasn't lost his stride in the studio. On The Chronic, he's conducting a hip-hop orchestra and stepping with a band of youngstas. Snoop Doggy Dogg is the star, but newcomers Kurupt, Rage, RBX and That Nigga Daz also explode in fury alongside Dre and a lineup of soul stirrers and reggae chatterers. The raspy-voiced D.O.C., who topped the charts in 1989 before damaging his pipes in an auto wreck, makes an appearance in the comical skit "The $20 Sack Pyramid." And Bushwick Bill, from the Geto Boys, anchors the take-no-prisoners ensemble jam "Stranded on Death Row."

Most of The Chronic follows the outlaw stance of N.W.A. "The Day the Niggaz Took Over" provides the soundtrack to a riot ("It's time to rob and mob and break the white man off lovely," advises Daz), while "Bitches Ain't Shit" and "--------Wit Dre Day (and Everybody's Celebratin')" throw heat Eazy-E's way. Cops and other folks get wasted ("Dem punk mutha-fuckas in black and white ain't the only muthafuckas I gots ta fight") in a sometimes frightening amalgam of inner-city street games that includes misogynist sexual politics and violent revenge scenarios. Throughout, The Chronic drops raw realism and pays tribute to hip-hop virtuosity. Get down — and never mind when Dr. Dre did.