I’m a white guy who was weaned on rock ‘n’ roll. It took me a long time to get used to the idea of hip hop….
At least that’s what I’ve been telling people, but you know what? I’m not exactly sure if that’s accurate. Was there ever really a time when I hated the stuff? Maybe there was, but when I think back, I remember liking “Rappers Delight” from the Sugar Hill Gang and “Rapture” by Blondie in the ’80s. I remember Yo MTV Raps coming on and me not turning the channel when I heard NWA’s “Express Yourself.” I even bought 2 Live Crew’s Nasty as They Wanna Be just to see what all the court cases and fuss were about. I guess I grew accustomed to rap over the years, liking some of it, disliking some of it, pretty much like the whole country did. The whole world in fact.
When I hear someone, usually someone white, say they have learned to appreciate hip hop after years of thinking they hated it, it usually goes something like: “I just discovered [fill in intellectual/socially-aware rapper] and found out rap isn’t just about drugs and killing and hating women.”
I don’t say that at all. I can listen to the most socially obnoxious hip hop and it doesn’t bother me. In fact, I now get a kick out of the West Coast gangsta rap that got all the civilized folks so upset back in the early ’90s.
Lately, I’ve been listening to The Chronic, Dr. Dre’s solo debut featuring Snoop Doggy Dog, Warren G and others. It’s got it all: profanity, liberal use of the “N-word,” drugs, violence, misogyny, homophobia, glorifying gang culture and all kinds of creative insults and death threats.
Today, The Chronic is considered a classic album by all kinds of folks, black and white. It wasn’t quite so unanimous when it first came out. Songs like “The Day the Niggaz Took Over,” which glorifies the L.A. Riots, scared white people — some of whom were also fascinated. It was a glimpse into a completely different mindset, before rap became such a multi-racial phenomenon, before Eminem, a white guy from Detroit became one of the most popular rappers of all time. Vanilla Ice was around, but nobody took him seriously.
For some reason instead of offending me, The Chronic makes me smile. For one thing, it’s an extremely well-crafted album. The beats, raps and singing fit together perfectly. Would I have liked it in ’92? Not sure, but right now I find it downright irresistable. Also I guess it comes across as so over the top that it’s almost like satire, even though they didn’t mean it that way at the time. You know people can’t really live the lifestyle described on that album for very long without either winding up dead or in prison. You can’t just go around 187ing everybody just for the hell of it.
I almost can’t believe people took the stuff so seriously — rappers getting letters from the FBI about their lyrics, rappers threatening to kill each other (and possibly actually doing it), record store employees getting arrested for selling 2 Live Crew albums. It seems silly to me now, and nostalgic. Now Dr. Dre is a respected producer and Snoop Dog and Ice Cube are actors.
The Chronic might not be shocking or surprising today, mainly because it influenced so many other albums, but it still sounds pretty darn good. Definitely helps liven up the old morning commute.