Twenty-five years ago, hip-hop changed forever.
After a surly split from Compton rap group N.W.A and Ruthless Records, Dr. Dre released his solo debut The Chronic on Dec. 15, 1992. In sheer numbers alone, the album was a phenomenon: winning one Grammy Award, spawning three top-40 singles and peaking at No. 3 on the Billboard 200, where it spent eight months in the chart’s top 10.
Since then, its imprint on modern MCs has become undeniable: Kanye West himself said in Rolling Stone that it’s “the hip-hop equivalent to Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life. It’s the benchmark you measure your album against if you’re serious.” Kendrick Lamar, too, told Complex it was the first rap album growing up he remembers “playing in the house from top to bottom,” and later gushed to Variety that lead single Nuthin’ but a ‘G’ Thang contains the greatest single verse of all time.
(Warning: The video below contains graphic language and content)
So why have fans and artists alike continued coming back to The Chronic? In short, it’s an album that solidified Dre’s place as one of rap’s master storytellers, while also moving the needle forward for West Coast hip-hop.
Much of gangsta rap until that time was characterized by abrasive, rock-inspired beats, echoing the frequently violent lyrics they accompanied. But with The Chronic, Dr. Dre helped popularize the subgenre known as G-funk — rapping over slower, bass- and synth-laden grooves, and favoring live instruments over samples. And the samples he did use reflected a more soulful sensibility: incorporating the bluesy opening drums of Led Zeppelin’s When the Levee Breaks into Lyrical Gangbang, and James Brown’s Funky Drummer in Let Me Ride.
With that, verses also took on a more laid-back, lyrical cadence that came to define commercial West Coast hip-hop. That’s no more evident than on hypnotic party anthem Nuthin’ but a ‘G’ Thang featuring Snoop Dogg,…