“Harris says he spoke frequently by phone in late 1991 to Knight and Young as they were putting together tracks for Young’s “Chronic” album, which was to be the label’s debut release. State records indicate that Knight visited Harris at the California Correctional Institution in Tehachapi nearly two dozen times over the next 18 months.”
December 15, 1992 marked the official release date of Dr. Dre’s hip-hop classic, The Chronic, which continues to garner new fans and satiate the desires of hip-hop purists even after reaching its 20th anniversary back in 2012. While many know the album for the G-Funk style of production, the debut of Snoop Dogg, and for Dre’s split with Eazy-E and Ruthless Records, we explore 10 tidbits that remain hidden to most.
1. The D.O.C. Ghostwrote “Nuthin’ but a ‘G’ Thang”
Dr. Dre is no stranger to employing a number of ghostwriters during his tenure when he was making records instead of securing hundred million dollar technology deals. While many will point to his return on “Still D.R.E.” – which was written by Jay Z – as a pivotal point in his career, it’s hard to ignore the fact that his first mainstream hit, “Nuthin’ but a ‘G’ Thang,” was also the product of someone else’s penmanship. Written by The D.O.C. who notably crafted songs for Eazy-E and N.W.A., he initially was a successful solo artist having released his debut, No One Can Do It Better, in 1989, which reached number one on the US Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart for two weeks. Months later, he was involved in a car accident that crushed his larynx – forcing him to forgo a sophomore followup for nearly seven years. Thus, he was viewed as a bonafide hit maker who just couldn’t execute it himself.
Telling the LA Weekly, “When ”G’ Thang'” was created, I was living in Agoura Hills, and Snoop and Warren G were living with me. In 1990 me and Snoop each took the beat to different parts of the house to write. Snoop went upstairs, I stayed downstairs, and we met back up in an hour. When he came back downstairs I said, ‘Let’s take this piece and put it here…This doesn’t really work there.’ It’s really just like a jigsaw [puzzle]. And then I said, ‘For the last line [of Dre’s verse], let’s put my name on there,’ because otherwise I wouldn’t get to be in the song. That’s why Dre says: Like my nigga D.O.C./ No one can do it better.”
2. Dr. Dre lost his royalties on the album to go to Interscope
Dr. Dre’s split from Death Row Records remains a move that begs the question, “What if he had stayed?” Certainly his status as a mogul would be in question, as would the careers of the illustrious artists that he brought to the forefront like Eminem and 50 Cent. Regardless, we know that he was the clear winner in parting ways with Suge Knight. However, he wouldn’t reap the financial benefits from his classic album based on the terms of his “release.”
According to a bankruptcy trial that occurred in May of this year, “an oral agreement [was reached] with the label that entitled him [Dre] to 18 percent of retail sales. The royalty rate bumped to 20 percent with sales over a million units, and additionally, Dre got producer royalties of four percent.” When Dre decided to go to Interscope, he was forced to make several concessions – specifically as it related to The Chronic. As Billboard noted, “Dre bought his freedom by disclaiming his ownership interest in both Death Row and the sound recordings he had produced there, but the deal left unaffected his royalties and limited Death Row from distributing “The Chronic” to “the manners heretofore distributed.”
When Death Row ultimately folded and ended up being sold for $18 million USD, many saw the value in snatching up the rights to The Chronic given the ability to use the songs across a variety of platforms like movies and video games (Koch Entertainment reportedly spent $280 million to acquire the catalog of Death Row). When Dre decided to recoup several millions of dollars he believed he was owed based on the contact he and Knight had agreed upon, he would realize that while the public continued to enjoy his first album, his bank account would never be the recipient of the hard work based on a “vague oral agreement.”
3. Kanye West called it the “hip-hop equivalent to Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life”
When speaking to Rolling Stone, Kanye West remarked, “”The Chronic is still the hip-hop equivalent to Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life. It’s the benchmark you measure your album against if you’re serious.”
4. Documentary filmmaker Matthew McDaniel’s footage from the LA riots figured prominently
At the time of its release, The Chronic could be interpreted as a postscript to the events that occurred during the LA riots as well the general public’s outrage to the acquittal of the police officers who were caught on video savagely beating Rodney King. At the time of the riots, Matthew McDaniel was an intern at KDAY – which to this day remains a dedicated rap station in Los Angeles. He took to the epicenter of the riots with a video camera which culminated in a documentary that chronicled the harrowing six-day ordeal that saw police create a perimeter around Beverly Hills while less affluent areas burned to the ground.
According to NPR, “His camera captured furious Angelenos, and one man in particular: ‘Damn it, you need to step your punk ass to the side, and let us brothers, and us Africans, step in, and start putting some foot in that ass!’ McDaniel never got that man’s name, but he says he listened to the clip over and over again. “I think he represented a million people that day,” he says. And there was another man. While he’s speaking, he lifts a toddler onto his shoulders: “I’m gonna tell you right now. If I have to die today for this little African right here to have a future, I’m a dead motherf- – -er.” McDaniel says he knew he had powerful tape. He called Ice Cube’s office and played him the 12 minutes he’d recorded in front of the First AME Church. Nothing came of it. A month after the riots, a promoter named Doug Young told him Dr. Dre was working on a new album. “At that point in time,” he says, “you could just call Dr. Dre up on the phone. Not so easy for people now. Anybody, you could just get Dre’s number, call him up, he’d pick up the phone, ‘Hello.’ ” Dre ended up using the audio files from McDaniel – resulting in the songs “Lil Ghetto Boy” and “The Day Ni**az Took Over.”
5. The album’s cover art is an homage to Zig Zag Rolling Papers
Zouave was the name of a specific regiment in the French Army between 1831 and 1962 – most noted for their exploits in the Crimean War between 1853-1856. According to legend, during the Battle of Sebastopol, a solider had his pipe broken by a flying bullet. Undeterred, he became the first person to roll a cigarette using the paper he had in his gun powder bag. Ultimately, the image of a Zouave soldier became the logo for Zig Zag Rolling Papers – undoubtedly familiar to anyone who has ever partook in a “puff, puff, pass” ritual. Given the name of Dre’s debut album, it seems only fitting that the album’s artwork pays homage to the Zig Zag logo.
6. Drug kingpin Michael Harris funded The Chronic
By the time Michael “Harry O” Harris was locked up in 1987, he was widely regarded as one of the most prominent distributors of crack in the LA region. According to The Los Angeles Times, during his 28-year sentence he “helped launch rap giant Death Row Records–a claim that the label’s founder disputes. He and his wife also negotiated deals with music labels owned by Time Warner, Polygram, Sony and Viacom.”
As the Times further reports, “According to Harris, the story of Death Row begins in the autumn of 1991 when he introduced David Kenner, his lawyer, to Knight, a former college football player and aspiring music entrepreneur who had access to a Hollywood recording studio. That October, Harris says, he asked Kenner–who was working on an appeal of his drug conviction–to bring Knight for a visit to the Metro Detention Center to discuss the possibility of cutting a demo tape of his wife’s singing.”
“Within months, Harris says, he put up $1.5 million in working capital for a half stake in an entertainment corporation called GF Entertainment that would include a record division called Death Row. Harris said he financed the company primarily because Knight had promised that Death Row’s music would be produced by Andre “Dr. Dre” Young, a co-founder of the hit rap act NWA and one of the nation’s most respected record producers.”
7. Led Zeppelin was sampled
While Dre achieved his G-Funk mission by sampling the likes of Parliament, Funkadelic, George Clinton, The Ohio Players, and James Brown, he also looked to rock royalty for “Lyrical Gangbang.” Pulling the opening drums from Led Zeppelin’s “When the Levee Breaks,” it was notably also the source material for Eminem’s “Kim” and the Beastie Boys’ “Rhymin & Stealin.”
8. Dr. Dre discovered Snoop Dogg from a freestyle over En Vogue’s “Hold On”
In the earlier part of their solo careers, Dr. Dre and Snoop seemed to be a package deal – with the latter being the first voice you hear on The Chronic. As the L.A. Weekly discovered, it was Snoop’s freestyle over En Vogue’s “Hold On” that got the good Dr.’s attention. As Snoop remembers, “Warren G called me and was, like, ‘Snoop, I got Dre on the phone, he liked the tape, he wants to work with us.’ And I said, ‘Nigga, stop lying.’ And someone said, ‘Hello?’ And I said, ‘Who’s this?’ And he said, ‘It’s Dre. Man, that shit was dope. I want to get with you. Come to the studio Monday.'”
9. Eazy-E got 25 or 50 cents a copy for each album sold
Eazy-E famously said, “Dre Day is only Eazy’s payday” when appearing on the Arsenio Hall Show and rapped “when you talk about spraying me, the same records that you makin’ is paying me” on “Real Muthaphuckkin G’s.” As the lines suggest, Eazy profited off the records (and The Chronic) that Dre made because of a deal he had signed while still a part of Ruthless Records.
10. An anti-police song called “Mr. Officer” was removed from the album
While it’s Ice-T’s protest song “Cop Killer” that sticks out in people’s minds as a potent example of using hip-hop to provide commentary on the state of affairs between law enforcement and minorities, Dr. Dre also had plans of painting the decrepit picture on his debut. Titled “Mr. Officer,” the song outlines a cop laying in a casket and was ultimately shelved due to the controversy surrounding the topic and several major record distributors passing on the album because of the song.