There’s nothing like experiencing a classic before it becomes a classic. Dr. Dre’s solo debut, The Chronic, popularized G-Funk as a hip-hop subgenre, showed that N.W.A’s Dre was more than a producer, and introduced Snoop Dogg to the world. Classic. Unfortunately for me, I wasn’t quite four years old when it dropped. And fortunately for me, no one defiled my toddler mind by playing me the album. That glorious defilement would have to wait seventeen years.
As a self-described hip-hop head and member of the vestigial population of CD buyers, I was proud to add The Chronic to my collection (and relieved to discard the shame of never having heard the album). Sure I knew “Nuthin’ But a ‘G’ Thang” like everyone else, but I felt like a Sci-Fi nerd who’d never seen Blade Runner.
Follow me back to the summer of 2009 as I experience The Chronic for the first time.
Driving somewhere that isn’t as important as the music I’ll be listening to, I pop The Chronic into my car stereo. Did the disc just skip? Maybe they censored the intro as a joke. I hit the brakes and stop on the side of the road. Don’t want to get pulled over for reckless driving. Sir, have you been drinking tonight? No, officer. I just found out I bought the clean version of The Chronic.
How the hell did this happen? What kind of cashier lets a customer walk away with a censored gangsta rap album? Who censors that shit in the first place? Here’s a brilliant idea: let’s take the dirtiest music in America and clean it up so half the words are chopped up and backwards. Let’s also open an art gallery where you have to wear a blindfold!
[Actually, that sounds like something modern art aficionados would pay crazy money for. It probably even happened at Miami Art Basel. And LeBron James probably checked it out to show his impeccable sense of taste and incredible sophistication. Do the lensless hipster glasses go over or underneath the blindfold?]
I cancel all my plans for the night and go home to lie in darkness and brood. I need to make this right. I have to listen to The Chronic the way it was meant to be experienced, in all its profane glory, with the Compton wordplay making Tipper Gore’s crusade against 80s rock stars look like an attack on Nick Jr. I could just download the album. I did, at the very least, buy an actual copy, even if it wasn’t the right one. I won’t have to feel like I’m snatching food from the mouths of Dre’s children. But it’s not about the money. I have to avenge the good Doctor’s disgraced masterpiece.
I decide to dish out another twelve bucks. After finding a copy with a parental advisory label, I close and open my eyes repeatedly, making sure the label’s there each time. Satisfied, I check out, return to the car, and anxiously ease the disc into the stereo. Redemption.
Now what do I do with the clean Chronic? The cover looks like a pack of Zig-Zags. Too bad I can’t roll up the CD and light it.
I never did anything with that clean album. It’s sitting in my old room in Cleveland. Maybe I’ll save it for my kids. Mindfuck punishment for swearing.