The Chronic (Death Row, 1992)
Dr. Dre Presents….The Aftermath (Aftermath/Interscope, 1996)
First Round Knock Out (Triple X, 1996)
Back N Tha Day (Blue Dolphin, 1996)
2001 (Interscope, 1999)
Chronicles: Death Row Classics (Death Row, 2006)
With its late-Eighties Cali-thug albums, N.W.A basically told East Coast hip-hop to take its jazz-rap and shove it. (And its preachy politics, too.) After the group disbanded, producer Dr. Dre founded Death Row records and all but invented G-funk. His 1992 solo smash The Chronic features system-busting Funkadelic beats designed to rumble your woofer while the matter-of-fact violence of the lyrics blows your smoke — filled mind. On top of it all, Dre's trademark snaky keyboard twists give tunes like "Nothin' But a G Thing" an ominous melodic elegance. Dre's secret weapon, of course, was the young Snoop Doggy Dog, who graces several tracks with his behind-the-beat drawl. The duo brilliantly played off their home region's escalating gang tensions, mythologizing their alliance with Godfather-like gravity —"Compton and Long Beach together now you know you're in trouble." The album's release dovetailed with the palpable rage surrounding L.A.'s Rodney King riots, becoming in retrospect a de facto soundtrack of unrest. Dre and Snoop inspired many imitators but no real duplicators of their patented ability to give pure voice to the numb genius of a cannabis high amid solutionless chaos.
Dre produced Snoop's Doggystyle in 1993 and, among other projects, worked up tracks for Mary J. Blige and put the dig in Blackstreet's "No Diggity." Dre also worked with Death Row's recent acquisition Tupac, supposedly heralding a new dynastic era with the chummy "California Love," but soon ditched the label and its mounting legal problems to form Aftermath, releasing the uneven guest-artist compilation Dr. Dre Presents…The Aftermath. The only hit from that record was the good-riddance-to-bad-rubbish kiss-off "Been There Done That."
Dre's next big move was discovering Eminem. The two fell easily into fruitful collaborative mode. Again Dre played the cool, collected voice of wisdom to a burgeoning young talent. But where Snoop was a burnout savant, Eminem was a speed-freak hothead poet. Dre introduced the character of Slim Shady to the world on the comer's debut single "My Name Is." And in case anyone forgot about Dre's own rhyme skills (quite easy to do), his protégé stepped up the props on "Forgot About Dre," the single off Dre's 1999 album, the confusingly titled 2001, which also includes monster gangsta-pop trades such as "The Next Episide" and "Still D.R.E."
2006's Chronicles features the best of Dre's work on Death Row, including productions for Lady of Rage ("Afro Puffs") and Snoop ("Gin and Juice" and more). Back 'N The Day compiles Dre's forgettable pre-N.W.A. work, and First Round Knock Out is full of lesser Dre productions from both the Eighties and Nineties.
Portions of this album guide appeared in The New Rolling Stone Album Guide (Fireside, 2004).
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