My life sort of changed in late December of 1992, when someone gave me Dr. Dre’s now-classic album The Chronic. Listening to that juicy, bouncy, drawly hybrid of P-Funk and the usual gangsta rap themes (hating police, shooting enemies, acquiring/dumping hoes) pre-dated my first experience with weed, as it should have. It made the whole concept—yes, _The Chronic _was a concept album, a rolling tour through late-afternoon Compton with a gat strapped to your waist and your homies riding in the back—even better, since I had no idea what “the chronic” was (a mixed drink of some sort, I believed) nor why it was so popular among West Coast gangstas. And of course this pre-dated the internet as we know it, assuring my ignorance remained until months later, when a certain roommate produced a bag of sticky herb and pronounced “_This _is the chronic.”
No, it was not “the chronic.” It was schwag, at best. But I didn’t care. I listened to “Nuthin’ but a G Thang” and felt far cooler than my actual incarnation (a freshman at Buffalo State College who owned several Sting solo albums).
It wasn’t just the terrific videos, or the terrific songs, or my first exposure to a female rapper who actually sounded hard (Lady of Rage on “Lyrical Gangbang” owned Queen Latifah, Money Love, and any other female MC I could think of). It was the relaxed vibe, the posturing, the nearly every track being the perfect party/driving/working out music, and all of Dre’s The Chronic_accomplished what most early rap attempted: to elevate the embarrassing to the coveted. By “embarrassing” I mean the realities of Compton are the result of failed economic policies, institutionalized racism, and just plain old villainy; the hood was a place one wanted to escape, yet _The Chronic _made it oddly appealing. Suddenly, the idea of a bench on my front lawn, a pitbull snapping at the end of a chain, a dorm fridge full of 40’s, a barbecue, and custom hydraulics on my grandfather’s car seemed cool. More than that, it seemed _authentic.[i] Certainly more authentic than anything I was experiencing, with my _Dream of the Blue Turtles _album and my J. Crew khakis and my 1977 Pontiac Parisienne. [ii]