Hip-hop’s identity is one that is built upon both musical style and the region in which it was created. There’s no way Wu-Tang Clan could have come out of Los Angeles, and N.W.A. could have never been founded in New York. Location isn’t everything, but the identity that is passed on from the locales is something ingrained in the artists’ psyche.
In 1988 N.W.A. released Straight Outta Compton, an album that put all eyes on South Central and its emerging gangsta rap movement. It was not only a reflection of the harsh environment the group lived in, but it also became a smash hit that saw them bring gangsta rap to the masses.
Dr. Dre was the producer—and a performer—on Straight Outta Compton. His beats were abrasive, but strangely melodic; displaying a gigantic improvement from Dre’s former work with the World Class Wreckin’ Cru. It was obvious N.W.A. was running out of steam by the time its second album, Niggaz4Life, was released in 1991. This was due in large part to the departure of Ice Cube in 1989. The group eventually splintered and saw each member working on solo material.
In the year between N.W.A.’s last album and the release of Dr. Dre’s debut, the hip-hop community was begging for something new. Gangsta rap had blown up and even people like MC Hammer were attempting to cash in on the emerging trend. The music started to become stagnant and the rhymes were increasingly derivative.
It would take of one the genre’s innovators to reclaim the subgenre from becoming completely stale, and Dre was there to rise to the challenge.
Upon its release at the end of 1992, The Chronic was quickly embraced by mainstream audiences on the strength of the album’s first single, “Nuthin’ but a ‘G’ Thang.” It was this momentum that allowed for The Chronic to be certified gold in just under a year’s time.
It’s easy to see why Dre succeeded with “Nuthin’ but a ‘G’ Thang.” It was the first breakthrough for the emerging G-funk (gangsta rap and funk) subgenre, by combining the harsh beats of N.W.A. of with grooves funky enough for pioneers like Funkadelic.
Looking back, what The Chronic had that no other hip-hop album did was Snoop Dogg. On “Nuthin but a ‘G’ Thang,” Snoop opens the song with a laidback flow that shook the hip-hop world to its core. Aggression was built in to Snoop’s lyricism, but it was his delivery that allowed lines like “Showin’ much flex when it’s time to wreck a mic/Pimpin’ hoes and clockin’ a grip like my name was Dolomite,” to slide out in a manner that was unheard at that time. This isn’t to say Dre’s verses weren’t impressive, but it was his ability to take a step back and utilize the talent he was collaborating with that helped make The Chronic an instant classic.
Soon after the release of The Chronic, Snoop Dogg entered the studio to start work on his debut full-length. Dre was brought on as the album’s producer which is why Doggystyle bares more than a passing resemblance to The Chronic. The fact that Snoop was able to have a breakout single with “Gin and Juice” all but cemented the duo as one of the strongest pairs in early ’90s hip-hop.
After Dre’s production work on Doggystyle yielded Death Row Records another chart-stopping hit, many of hip-hop’s elite began reaching out to Dre in hopes it would yield similar results. 1996 saw Dre producing tracks for 2Pac, one of the West Coast’s emerging talents, and the product was “California Love.” In the same year, Dre would end up working on Nas’ sophomore record, It Was Written. While it did not produce a hit single, it did show that Dre’s G-funk sound was being embraced by the New York hip-hop scene, an impressive feat given the animosity that had been building between the two coastal hip-hop communities.
Finally, in 1999 Dr. Dre began to emerge from behind the mixing boards and into the spotlight once again. His production credits on Eminem’s hugely successful The Slim Shady LP came mere months before dropping his long anticipated follow-up to The Chronic. Simply titled 2001, the album reintroduced Dre to his old fan base as well as a younger audience that was embracing harder edged hip-hop.
On the album’s second single “Forgot About Dre,” both Eminem and Dre work to educate younger audiences as to why Dre is such an important figure in the hip-hop world. “Who you think brought you the OGs, Eazy-E’s, Ice Cubes, and The D.O.C.’s, the Snoop D-O-Double-G’s, and the group that said ‘Motherfuck the police’” asks Dre in the song’s introductory verse, boasting a résumé that is damn impressive.
It’s easy for someone born in the early ’90s to forget how important “Nuthin’ but a ‘G’ Thang” was to hip-hop, because it seemed as if it was always there.
The track’s context is easily lost in today’s modern culture, but it hasn’t lost any of its charm and is still The Chronic’s standout track. While other songs on the album now feel dated, “’G’ Thang” is timeless. The verses are still smooth, the beats still fresh and the choruses still infectious. It singlehandedly changed hip-hop’s trajectory and showed there was a possibility to have fun while projecting a gangsta image.