'The Chronic,' 2 Decades Later

Dr. Dre's iconic album forever altered hip-hop production and turned him into a kingmaker.

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The Chronic wasn't even that inflammatory toward the East, though Snoop does bark back on Bronx rapper Tim Dog for his "F--k Compton" single from the previous year. Mostly, its contribution to the overbaked coastal rivalry was in how it swayed labels and radio stations out West, thus symbolically challenging the East's presumed claim to define all things hip-hop (by decade's end, it was really the South that proved most insurgent in any case).

A longer-term impact was how The Chronic elevated Dr. Dre from producer to kingmaker, especially once he supervised even more successful Death Row albums for Snoop and Tupac. Dre's imprimatur is arguably unique in hip-hop; no one's co-sign is seen as more influential, and the names of Eminem, 50 Cent, the Game and, most recently, Kendrick Lamar are always offered up as evidence. Of course, that conveniently overlooks the many failures connected to Dre's Aftermath imprint, including projects from King Tee, Busta Rhymes, Rakim and Eve that all fell apart, not to mention Dre's Detox album, for which "long-awaited" seems too tame a term.

None of this particularly matters. The Chronic was an album first steeped in fantasy that ascended into mythology, empowering Dre to craft a self-image that's almost unassailable. It didn't matter that most of his verses on the album were clearly ghostwritten for him, nor that many uncredited co-producers and musicians went into crafting that signature sound. That's the power of an album like The Chronic: It provides a gravity so irresistible as to bend reality around it, and even 20 years later, its pull still remains potent.

Oliver Wang is an associate professor of sociology at CSU-Long Beach. He contributes to NPR, the Los Angeles Times and KCET's ArtBound and writes the audioblog Soul-Sides.com.

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