The Chronic at University of Rochester
During my final year at the University of Rochester I teamed up with No Jackets Required (NJR), a musical organization on campus dedicated to the performance of popular music. Previous performances included “A Tribute to the Beatles,” and “A Tribute to Funk Music.”
I wanted to do something different. Something daring. Something that would stand out and challenge the status quo. After some brainstorming with the co – director of NJR, we both agreed that a full, uncensored version of Dr. Dre’s “The Chronic” would attract a huge audience and make some waves across campus.
The year was 2008 (or was it 2009)? Well, it was somewhere in that time frame. The climate on campus was different than it is now and we both knew that producing this concert would be tricky. We could not simply perform this with no context. There is a huge cultural and historical significance to “The Chronic” and we wanted to make sure that this was not lost. In an effort to promote an educational and meaningful dialogue surrounding the concert, we enlisted the help of an english professor and teamed up with UR Hip-Hop. The language and subject matter on “The Chronic” is hard hitting and vulgar, but it needs to be heard and understood. I remember walking into a small lecture hall filled with about 130 students and discussing the context of “The Chronic.” The english professor related it to Grandmaster Flash’s “The Jungle,” pointing out that the message was similar. Dr. Dre and company ramped up the language so it was hard hitting, as if to say “in case you didn’t hear us the first time…”
I wonder if the University knew what we were doing? The Black Students Union was upset when they heard about our decision to cover Dr. Dre’s album. The biggest issue was that it was not only black students rapping the lyrics, there would be white students also rapping, and not censoring the lyrics. White kids saying the N-Word on stage in front of 250 other students did not sit well with the BSU. I knew this would be an issue, but in the name of education and learning about the historical and cultural significance of the album, the show must go on. I responded by saying that the lyrics were that of Dr. Dre and his collective, so we were simply covering the song.
What makes “The Chronic” a great choice for a musical performance? Not only is the music incredible, but there is so much embedded in the lyrics that demonstrates the rise of a new genre of music, gangsta rap and G funk.
Upon hearing The Chronic for the first time, I was floored by the crisp production style and funky beats. The lyrics were in your face and creative as hell. Offensive to some yes, but creatively offensive! I have always viewed the work as a masterpiece, so the chance to pay homage to it while also spreading awareness of the significance of the work was something exciting for me. Bottom line, the music is fun! It is a fun album filled with bravado and hard hitting beats. Yes, the lyrics can be offensive, but why should that detract from the huge impact it had on the music world and hip-hop culture? No matter how you feel about it, Dr. Dre made waves with this record, paving the way for what was to come.
I worked with UR Hip Hop and friends for 6 or 7 rehearsals leading up to the main event. We had drums, keyboards, guitar, bass, and even horns! Not to mention we had every skit worked out as it is heard on the album. This was no holds barred.
Performing “The Chronic” was fun, provocative, and exciting. Even the BSU enjoyed the show, when they saw that we were taking it seriously and wanted to educate students about the music’s meaning and significance.
I can only imagine that on most campuses today, this idea would have been shot down and most likely never made it to the stage. What are the long term effects of this? Does it mean that certain songs cannot be covered by white people because of the language? What is the intention behind it? Why does this music resonate with people of all colors? These are all valid questions, and asking these questions is important.
You could break down the album song by song, but for now, I will say that “little ghetto boy” is the most poignant track on the album. Dr. Dre uses some sound bytes from “A Birth of a Nation.” It makes sense given that the L.A. riots were fresh in everyone’s mind.
“So, all of you Africans
All of you Africans that wanna do things that’s working for other people
Y’all need to open your own business, save your money
Quit paying motherfuckers for jelly curls
Quit paying motherfuckers for perms
Save your money, start your own business
And you true Africans, will have put hundreds to work
This is our future right here, this our future right here”
“This some shit! The new generation is on! The new generation
Hey, I’mma tell you right now
If-if if I have to die today
For this little African right here to have a future
I’m a dead motherfucker! (You right!)”
Dr. Dre gave people a voice. He broke boundaries by doing what he wanted and not playing by the rules. Those who were marginalized now had a voice they could relate with, something to boost their confidence, similar to the effect of Nina Simone, but now speaking to a new generation. This is why The Chronic transcends, because it taps into a real story of revolution. It empowers people to own their struggles and press on in the face of adversity. To me, this music is honest, real, emotional, and tells the story of the fight for equality in an impactful way. Snoop Dogg is quoted saying “he only writes about what he knows.” Perhaps this is why “The Chronic” stands out as one of the greatest hip hop records of all time. It is detailed, honest, and passionate.
Afterthought: I would be remiss if I did not mention the cover of the album. The artwork is modeled after Zig-Zag rolling papers, used for smoking marijuana. Pot culture was a big part of the G-Funk experience. It was “cool” to vibe with the music and get high. It was fun to break the rules, to go against the grain, to listen to something that your parents would most likely not want you listening to. All of this combined to spread the influence of the music.
More thoughts: One cannot ignore the misogyny present on some of the songs, and I’m not entirely sure what to say about it. Dr. Dre and company are definitely flexing and having fun with the lyrics, and I could see why the subject matter is problematic to some people. It is an expression of where Dr. Dre was at this time in his life. It is interesting to note that the final track on the album was not on the initial release, it was added later. Perhaps Dr. Dre wanted more of a shock factor. It could also be that they were just enjoying themselves by saying these over the top phrases.
I remember the students at the concert loved the performance. The lyrics are so over the top that I feel they were not taken so seriously. Regardless of intention, you cannot control how others interpret your art. If some people laugh at overly explicit material, then that’s how it is for them. We perceive art through the lens we hold in our mind’s eye.