On December 15, 1992, Dr. Dre released his solo debut album “The Chronic.” Dre was already a well-known figure in rap and hip-hop from his days as part of the LA group N.W.A. The success of his 1992 solo endeavor (which featured multiple other rappers, including Dre protégé Snoop Dog) made him a legend.
I don’t have much to say about the significance of the album or the creative impact it had on the future of hip hop. That’s been done for the last twenty years by critics far more skilled than me. For me, as a Gen X Chicano living in southern California at the time, the album held some personal significance.
I’ve never been a huge rap fan. (At least I’ve never put the music first on my list of musical loves.) But it’s always been a part of my musical life. As a young person of color coming of age in the 80s, a person who felt like he came from a world that was not recognized (or even known) by the mainstream, early hip hop represented that “subjectivity” authentically. Songs by N.W.A. (and everybody from Grandmaster Flash to L.L. Cool J to Doug E. Fresh to Run DMC) and others connected my Chicano-dominated, multiracial cultural world to the Black American cultural world. As it did, it also kind of legitimated it. The music became the soundtrack of large part of my social life.
But for me, “The Chronic” wasn’t just another album that provided background to life, it also exists in my mind as something more. The album felt like it ended the specific comfort that genre of music gave me. I remember it as an album that moved the entire world of hip hop firmly into the mainstream. I’m sure this is an overstatement that has a lot to do where I was in my life at the time (in a “white” college struggling to find my place in the world). But I remember feeling that “The Chronic” made rap part of “American music.”
Maybe it was me that was changing more than hip hop. “The Chronic” was the soundtrack to a particular time in my life, a time of transition, a time of crossing into a mainstream and hybrid world.
Twenty years ago I was 20 years old. I send and received my first emails. I had long hair, and wore a leather jacket. I spent countless precious evenings with dear friends, all of us growing up in a cloud of Camel cigarettes and a mix of Bud Light and Henry Weinhard’s. And I remember this like it was yesterday: