Dr. Dre’s ‘The Chronic’: 10 Things You Didn’t Know
Although Dr. Dre had already helped put L.A. gangsta rap on the map as a member of N.W.A, it was his solo debut, released in December 1992, that made the good doctor a household name and turned Death Row Records into a hit factory. The Chronic introduced the world to stars like Snoop Doggy Dogg, Nate Dogg and Lady of Rage, sold millions, and settled scores with foes like Eazy-E and Luther Campbell. But it was Dre’s groundbreaking production and string of hit singles that made The Chronic one of rap’s most revered LPs, ranking at number 138 on Rolling Stone‘s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
To celebrate the album’s 25th anniversary, here are some things you may not know about The Chronic.
1. The Chronic‘s low end was inspired by A Tribe Called Quest.
To fans in the early Nineties, Dr. Dre’s West Coast gangsta-rap movement and the East Coast’s insurgent conscious-rap collective Native Tongues may have seemed to exist in direct opposition. But it turns out that Dre and A Tribe Called Quest shared a mutual admiration that spurred both of them to make landmark albums. Tribe’s jazzy sophomore album The Low End Theory directly influenced Dre’s development of The Chronic‘s rich, bass-heavy G-funk sound. “It was listening to N.W.A’s Straight Outta Compton that inspired us to make The Low End Theory,” Q-Tip said in an MTV News interview. “And years later I spoke to Dr. Dre and he told me that hearing The Low End Theory inspired him to make The Chronic.”
2. Multiple major labels passed on The Chronic.
Dr. Dre recorded The Chronic without a distribution deal in place for the newly formed Death Row Records, and then shopped the completed album, cover art and all, to multiple major labels. But even coming off the chart-topping success of N.W.A’s swan song EFIL4ZAGGIN, labels were shy about paying Death Row’s asking price, taking on Dre’s legal issues with Ruthless Records, or releasing a gangsta-rap album at the height of media hysteria about explicit lyrics. Sony came close to releasing The Chronic, but after that deal fell through, Death Row and Interscope secured distribution through Priority, and began building an empire.
3. A song was removed in the wake of the “Cop Killer” controversy.
It might be hard to believe that Dr. Dre shied away from any controversy on an album that included “Fuck Wit Dre Day” and “The Day the N****z Took Over.” But as The Chronic was being prepped for release, one song, “Mr. Officer” featuring RBX and Prince Ital Joe, was removed from the running order. The furor over Body Count’s “Cop Killer” had recently resulted in the track being removed from copies of Ice-T’s band’s album – so Dre preemptively ditched the track (with its “Mr. Officer, I wanna see you layin’ in a coffin, sir” chorus) before the album ever hit stores.
4. Eazy-E directly profited from sales of The Chronic.
The Chronic opens with Dr. Dre dissing his former N.W.A groupmate Eazy-E, but Eazy actually netted a significant profit from the album that calls him a “penguin-lookin’ motherfucker.” Interscope had to pay off Eazy and Jerry Heller’s Ruthless Records in order to resolve Dr. Dre’s contract disputes and release the album. In S. Leigh Savidge’s 2015 book Welcome To Death Row: The Uncensored Oral History of Death Row, record promoter Doug Young estimates “Eazy was getting like 25 or 50 cents a copy for Dre’s Chronic album.” That means that Eazy raked in as much as $1.5 million from the LP, which had been certified triple platinum by the time of his death in 1995.
5. A family connection brought Dre and Snoop together.
Although Dr. Dre was already a well-connected star when he made The Chronic, he handpicked a largely unknown supporting cast of rappers and singers to help write and perform the album, most notably a trio of Long Beach friends: Warren G, Nate Dogg and the album’s breakout star, Snoop Doggy Dogg. The LBC trio, who had a group called 213, got in their foot in the door via Dre’s family: He and Warren became stepbrothers when Dre’s mother married Warren’s father. Dre was handed a 213 demo tape by his stepbrother, flipped when he heard a teenage Snoop rapping over the En Vogue hit “Hold On,” and the rest is history.
6. Snoop looted in the L.A. riots and brought merchandise to the studio.
The Chronic sessions were underway at the Hollywood offices of SOLAR Records in April 1992 when the Rodney King verdict sparked the L.A. riots, which directly influenced songs on the album like “The Day the N****z Took Over.” Dre raps about looting in the riots himself in the song (“got a VCR in the back of my car”), but in this year’s HBO miniseries The Defiant Ones, Dre says he never joined on the looting. Several others in the Death Row crew, however, did, including Snoop Dogg. “I went out lootin’ and stole all kinds of shit and brought it all back to the studio,” Snoop recalled in the documentary.
7. The D.O.C.’s new voice made itself useful on “$20 Sack Pyramid”
Five months after Dr. Dre’s talented protégé the D.O.C. released his hit 1989 album No One Can Do It Better, his larynx was crushed in a car accident, leaving his with a much raspier new voice. The D.O.C. continued writing rhymes for Dre and N.W.A, but it would be several years before he regained enough of his voice to rap again on his second album, 1996’s Helter Skelter. However The D.O.C.’s voice can be heard briefly in skits on both N.W.A’s 100 Miles and Runnin’ EP and on The Chronic. On the latter, The D.O.C. plays the shaky-voiced game show contestant on “The $20 Sack Pyramid.”
8. The D.O.C. wrote the “Nuthin’ but a ‘G’ Thang” chorus.
Snoop Doggy Dogg wrote rhymes for himself and Dre throughout The Chronic. But the chorus that helped make Snoop into a star was actually supplied by the album’s silenced ghostwriter the D.O.C., who came up with the irresistible “It’s like this and like that and like this” refrain.
9. P-Funk is sampled five times on “Dre Day” alone.
George Clinton’s pioneering Seventies bands Parliament and Funkadelic had been sampled a few times by N.W.A and other rap groups before The Chronic, but it was Dre’s solo debut that made P-Funk’s outlandish grooves into the unlikely sonic backbone of gangsta rap. At least 11 tracks by Clinton & Co. are sampled across The Chronic, with five alone on “Fuck Wit Dre Day,” including the bass from Funkadelic’s “(Not Just) Knee Deep” and the chant from Clinton’s “Atomic Dog.”
10. Dr. Dre is still owed royalties for The Chronic.
Although Dre is the richest man in hip-hop thanks largely to selling his Beats brand to Apple, he’s long been denied millions of dollars in royalties from his most famous album. He walked away from Death Row in 1996, giving up many of the profits from the album for the “peace of mind” of cutting ties with Suge Knight. And in the years since Death Row filed for bankruptcy in 2006, Dre’s been unsuccessful in recouping unpaid royalties for an unauthorized re-release of The Chronic, losing a court ruling in 2014.
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