Still Smokin': The 20th Anniversary Of Dr. Dre's "The Chronic"

The larger-than-life figure we now know as Dr. Dre wouldn't be possible without arguably his greatest contribution to popular music, "The Chronic," which celebrates its 20th anniversary this week.

Endurance. Longevity. Persistence. You can make a solid argument that those ideals aren’t exactly pillars within Hip Hop. Granted, at this point in its history, the genre has a whole generation of elder statesmen that have remained relevant. But being frank, the lifespan of a career in Hip Hop is not prone to longevity for most artists.

This is why it becomes all the more admirable to me that Andre “Dr. Dre” Young is still a force of nature in Hip Hop, albeit one that moves in near monk-like muteness. By nearly all accounts, Dre has become utterly untouchable and irreplaceable. His multi-million dollar, celebrity endorsed premium headphone empire, Beats By Dre, has made that a certainty. But the deified, somewhat cryptic figure we currently know as Dr. Dre wouldn’t be possible without what is arguably his greatest contribution to popular music, The Chronic. That landmark album celebrates its twentieth anniversary on Saturday, and time allows us to look back and examine the things we couldn’t 20 years ago as Hip Hop history was being made before our collective eyes.

How Dr. Dre Made Gangsta Rap Mainstream

In the time since its initial release, Dr. Dre’s seminal debut has gone on to be a cult classic and a cultural phenomenon. According to the RIAA, The Chronic has sold over 3 million domestic copies to date. In addition to producing three top 20 singles on Billboard magazine’s Hot 100 singles chart, Dre’s official solo debut is counted among the greatest musical achievements in both Hip Hop and in pop music during the 20th century. Rolling Stone, still considered the pinnacle of music journalism, listed The Chronic as one of the 100 best albums of the 1990’s, and number 138 on its list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. Similar accolades from Entertainment Weekly, The Los Angeles Times, USA Today and The Washington Post, and heavy MTV and top 40 radio rotation would ensure that The Chronic was a fixture in the suburbs.

“The thing about the Death Row, Dr. Dre productions with Snoop was that those were real, real pop records,” notes writer, director and cultural critic, Nelson George. “Even though it had a gangster vibe and attitude, the actual records and singles were very pop and accepted in the mainstream. Nothing had been like that before with the level of consistency that they achieved.”

Further, The Chronic has been cited in an endless stream of Hip Hop magazines as one of the greatest albums ever, from being named Ego Trip’s best album of 1992 from their 1999 list of 25 Greatest Hip Hop Albums By Year, to The Source’s 100 Best Albums of All Time in 1998, and three of VIBE’s Greatest lists from 1999, 2004 and 2007. And the praise doesn’t stop there by a long shot.

Technical And Musical Innovation On “The Chronic.”

Beyond the accolades and awards, The Chronic did something more important for Dre musically: it re-energized his career after his very public and personal split with N.W.A. and Ruthless Records. The album also laid the critical and commercial groundwork for his multi-million dollar business empire and established a reputation for developing emerging talent.

One of the enduring legacies of The Chronic is the use of live instrumentation. In a 2006 interview with Scratch magazine, Dr. Dre pointed out that while he used drum loops as a member of N.W.A., he only sampled instrument sounds when the live session players he brought in couldn’t replay the desired sample. Ironically, as Dre looked to incorporate more live instruments into his production, he would also meet increased resistance.

“To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t sure,” Dre noted in a 2008 interview with VIBE. “Before I got with Interscope…everybody was slamming doors on me, talking about, ‘This isn’t hip-hop; you’re using live instruments.’ It had me second-guessing myself. I remember being on my balcony with Nate Dogg, listening to my record like, ‘Is this shit good or not?’ I had no idea it would do what it did.”

That successful fusion illustrates Dr. Dre’s forward-thinking nature. Think about the last few live shows that you’ve been to, or even the albums, songs and mixtapes you’ve downloaded. From Jay-Z sampling Afro-beat horns on 2007’s “Roc Boys” to The Roots standing as arguably the greatest band Hip Hop’s history and Dr. Dre’s own frequent work with former Roots keyboardist, Scott Storch, there’s plenty of common threads.

Much has been made of the $300 price tag on a pair of Beats By Dre headphones. But few can deny Dre’s audiophile reputation, as a deejay, producer and an engineer. Small tweaks, such as the move to EQ his drum sounds before sampling them into a sequencer, led to the signature low end that Dr. Dre productions (and headphones, for better or worse) are known for. Dre’s fondness for the ARP String Ensemble, Fender Rhodes and Clavinet speak to his tastemaker function and foresight to popularize the hybrid Hip Hop sub-genre that would eventually be tagged G-Funk. Having one foot firmly planted in the past by sampling artists ranging from 1970’s Funk superheroes Parliament Funkadelic and Rock royalty Led Zeppelin, while the other stomped arrogantly into the future, Dre was clearly seeking to do what no other debut solo album had ever done before.

A Multimedia Recipe For Hip Hop Longevity

The laid back, kush smoke-drenched bass line of “Nuthin But A ‘G’ Thang” was irresistible, and the video was so much damn fun just to look at. Dre and Snoop’s visceral, uncompromising attack on Eazy-E, Tim Dog and Uncle Luke with “Dre Day,” reinvented and the art of the diss record. “Let Me Ride” stands as a subdued and cooled-out Sunday afternoon groove, yet was still a cocky, prideful smack in the face to anyone that dreamed of outdueling Dre on a Hip Hop record, as well as those that had doubted his abilities in the past.

But it’s not merely the lead singles that have allowed The Chronic to stand the test of time. Songs like “The Day The Niggaz Took Over” and “Little Ghetto Boy,” sampled voices and sounds of the uprising that was the L.A. Riots. Dre essentially found a midway point between the politically charged rage of East Coast groups like Public Enemy and Boogie Down Productions and the funked-out, gangster/pimp lifestyle-fueled by artists from the West like Ice-T and Too $hort. The staunchly unapologetic sexism and misogyny of “Bitches Ain’t Shit” and “The Doctor’s Office” skit ruffled many feathers, and may have influenced a political figure like C. Delores Tucker to set out on her campaign against Hip Hop in the ‘90s. And the model of the West Coast posse cut got new life on a strong majority of The Chronic (“Stranded on Death Row,” “The Roach,” “Lyrical Gangbang,” “Deeez Nuts”).

Aside from the classic songs on The Chronic, some of the smallest, sometimes overlooked elements add to its lore. From the D.O.C.’s raspy spew on “The $20 Sack Pyramid”, to Snoop’s drawl-laden yet focused lyrics, to the strategic and the brilliant one-liners (“This is dedicated to the niggas that was down from day one…” “1,2, 3 into the 4…”).

Aftermath’s Lasting Legacy

In addition to the millions of albums he helped sell as co-captain of the Death Row Records empire, Dr. Dre is directly linked to helping move over 50 million albums since establishing his Aftermath Entertainment imprint. And it all began with The Chronic—an album that simultaneously showcased his musical chops and business acumen. The proof can be seen and heard throughout Hip Hop’s history after 1992: from the string of hit albums that Death Row would release that had Dre’s fingerprints all over them (Doggystyle, All Eyez On Me, Tha DoggFather), to his “comeback” album, 1999’s 2001, that shattered all expectations of a successful follow-up album, reunited him with Snoop. And let’s not forget Dre’s continued musical mentorship of the new generations of emcees that came after him including 50 Cent, Game and, most recently, Kendrick Lamar. Even Mr. “Imma let you finish” himself, Kanye West, gave props to the influence of The Chronic in an interview with Rolling Stone some years ago:

The Chronic is the hip-hop equivalent to Stevie Wonder's Songs in the Key of Life,” West noted. “It's the benchmark you measure your album against if you're serious.”

Beyond just his musical influence though, Dre’s model stretches past The Chronic. When asked in a rare 1997 interview about having a long-term perspective and how the Hip Hop generation could begin to think and act similarly, Dre cites music icon Quincy Jones as a major influence and his mentor and goes on to talk about how Hip Hop artists should prepare for “when your shit ain’t happening no more.” And from the staggering success of Beats By Dre, coupled with the number of rappers and Hip Hop entrepreneurs that have followed in Dre’s footsteps with headphone deals (Diddy, 50 Cent, Ludacris, Meek Mill) we can pretty much say that he’s got that in the bag right about now.

Ultimately, 20 years ago, Dr. Dre changed Hip Hop forever with The Chronic, much the same way that legends like James Brown and Miles Davis changed Soul, Funk and Jazz music. But Dre did a lot more than that by building a solid model for influence, entrepreneurship, mentorship and career longevity that today’s artists, whether they’d admit it or not, are still using as a case study and a blueprint to their own success.

Ron Grant is a freelance writer originally from Detroit and currently residing in Orlando. He has contributed writings to, and runs two independent music blogs. Follow him on Twitter @RonGreezy.


  • Ron Grant

    You're absolutely correct. Dr. Dre did not have anything to do with the album Tha DoggFather directly in terms of production or music, and I own up to that mistake. Though there's no denying that his INDIRECT influence in terms of music is all over the record, I'll be forthcoming and say I made a misstep in terms of wording, so my apologies. And no, I wasn't high. ;-) Thanks.

    • BeanTown Breezy

      Hey, you admitted But why the fuck does it seem like DX has a bunch of clowns in skinny jeans working for your sight nowadays? was not like this 6 or 7 years ago?...too many mainstream hip pop supporters represent this sight and it makes me sick at times. Too many little pink candy fuckboy kids who have no clue as well on here. I have been down with this site since the early 2000's and wtf is going on with you writer clowns?..where are you from?...Wyoming?....Idaho?...Oklahoma or West Virginia maybe?...does anyone there rep a time when you could feel the culture in the air and it was beautiful or do you rep for the fagz like XXL who put homo thugletts like Chris Brown on the cover and give bullshit ratings like you do at HipHopDX at times?....seriously put down your man purse, grab yo nuts, and man the fuck up instead of reppin' the pussifed generation in hip hop today. Too many ATL booty bouncin' divas as well in this hip hop shit too. Time will tell and the fakers will be ousted.Peace

  • Ni M. Cartagena

    Whoever wrote this must've been high, because you need to get your facts straight first. Dr. Dre's fingerprints were not all over Snoop Doggy Dogg's sophomore release "Tha Doggfather." Dr. Dre was absent from the label & there was absolutely no production, no mixing, no contribution from Dr. Dre on this album. Get your facts together instead of tryin to sound like your a true hip-hop fan.

  • Anonymous

    Why do they call it Beat By Dre???? I mean they could better call it: Beats By Dre's Ghostproducers. BTW Dre didnt invent G Funk but Above The Law did it.

  • Heavy Chevy

    A lot of people started smoking weed cuz of this album...

  • Anonymous

    rest in peace hip hop

  • Morpheus

    What If I Told You.... The person who wrote this article forgot to mention Eminem, another successful move by the Good Doctor.

  • insanemacbeth

    DR. DRE = don status.

  • Anonymous

    Dre has ghostproducers, overrated DJ Quik > Dr Dre

    • Kokane

      Chuuuuuch!!! Plus Above the Law invented G-Funk, so The Chronic ain't so important!!!

    • LucasO11

      100% True! Quik is so underrated it gets on my nerves that people doesnt recognize the outstanding producer and MC he is

    • BLEH

      must agree here. most of Dre's stuff is a bit sparse and basic... quik always offers fuller, richer, and funkier production. plus he actually plays instruments which is cool

  • The MG

    Undisputed classic album, not just in hip hop, but pretty much music in general. Always holds a spot in my top 5.

  • Ken

    Dr. Dre: GOAT when it comes to hip-hop producers. No one compares. I mean, Focus... and Mr. Porter are great, and of course Mark B., mike elizondo, and storch (back in the day when he actually made dope beats). they come close sometimes (I loved Focus' work on bussa buss' song "Decision"; the piano riff reminded me of Dre's one for Snoop's "Imagine"). Primo's good but kinda off lately. same wit timbo. Cool & Dre are still doin it right. tryina think here... just blaze usually bring it. lately I really like Mike will's stuff, Phoenix, older kanye (except for Otis all his recent songs have just sounded like just maybe he got swizzy to ghost-produce his shit). Scoop DeVille was awesome on Joe Crack's UNDERRATED Darkside part 1 (or volume 1, whatever). that album is slept on on the real. Raw Uncut did fuckin great with "How did we Get Here". G5 had a brilliant track i forget what it was though but anyway they need to do more. Cardiak has been great too mostly dready beats' tracks on busta's latest album/mixtape were fucking MURDEROUS. "King Tut" that song's beat is just deadly Producers that SUCK: Alex da Kid and his tired made-for-radio horseshit. David Guetta; he's not even a rap producer but rappers really like him cuz he corners the market in terms of the "shit that drunk sluts like to dance/fuck to" demographic. anyway fuck i wrote a lot (I'm kind of a geek about who-produced-what, i wish more people could talk producers for real. "it was better back in the day" doesn't count though, cuz first off it's not true, it wasn't better just different and focus on the present. SLEPT-ON PRODUCER: Focus... why don't more people know about this guy? he deserves more recognition (not to mention more work) than he gets. "Decision" and "Respect My Conglomerate" are of a higher order of beats than what we usually hear.

  • kathyswenson84

    Julia. if you, thought Keith`s comment is amazing, last wednesday I got a new Lotus Elan since getting a check for $5383 this - 5 weeks past an would you believe 10k this past munth. this is certainly the best-job I've ever had. I began this four months/ago and right away was bringing home minimum $83... p/h. I follow this great

  • McCray

    Wonderful article About a legend. I just wish he would put out a new album there were so much hype over a new album and I kind of felt let down that it never materialized

  • gra

    waiting for Detox turns 10

  • Anonymous

    Dre Day and everybody is It changed the game the beats the skits the subject matter. Listen to rap before the chronic its was on some Kid N Play and Kwame rap. Thats when thugs use to dance like crazy lol. Damn that was good era. Im glad I lived thru it and survived because it was no joke.

  • Hip Hop please

    CLASSIC And...CLASSIC All I can say about The Chronic in 1992 And all I can say about The Chronic in 2012

  • Lil Loc

    I remember when I bought this back in December 92 nobody even knew Dre had a solo album, then when it was about February or March 93 you couldn't go anywhere without hearing someone bumpin Nuthin but a G Thang

  • Anonymous

    Eazy made a G about of that bitch DR Eazy

  • dre

    dre had no contributions to the doggfather and only 2 on all eyez on me.

  • Anonymous

    Ironically the whole album was packed with choice words for bitches meanwhile Dre was the real bitch, 'Dre day is Easy's pay day'

  • Anonymous

    I always 2001 was slightly better, but Chronic was definitely a classic still bump it to this day Favorite songs: Day Niggaz took over, Deez Nutts, Lyrical Gangbang, Bitches Aint Shit

    • BeanTown Breezy

      Wrong...not even close to being better than the original. Noone even thought that shit back in 1999 when we were bumpin' it either?...where you from?

  • yolo

    if you don't own this CD you must get it

  • yadigG

    fuck dr. gay.....his contributions means noting no more. hes got money n is like fuck all yall

    • shh

      THE HOUSE THAT MADE...SNOP DOGGY DOGG...MARSHA MATHER$....AND NOW...BLACK HIPPY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!...PO3-A-Tr33....LADY GAGA THE QUEEN OF TRAPP HOP...*smile

    • shh

      UR LOOKING for "DJ YELLA"...&."MC REN"!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!....#NO POETRY...NO SONGZ "MY AZZ"...*smile

  • Anonymous

    One of the greatest records of all time.

  • yolo

    this album would still move major units today and be one of the best albums out.

    • shh


  • Jon

    Timeless classic and one of my favorites. I'mma listen to it again. "like we always do about this time"

  • wu wear

    Greatest album of all time. I bought it the day it dropped (Dec 92)and they were still playing it on the radio on the regular in the summer of 94. Definition of a classic.

    • BeanTown breezy

      Thnak you cuz I can feel the realness for hiphop knowledge and respect in your words. Miss those dayz too man.