Monday, January 28, 2013

The Chronic: 20 Years Later

Has it been twenty years since The Chronic dropped in 1993?  Apparently this is true as National Public Radio (NPR) has undertaken to chronicle 1993, a "remarkable year in music."  In looking back at this remarkable year in music, NPR begins by examining Dr. Dre and his Chronic record which "had roots in the cultural and social upheaval sparked by the Los Angeles riots the year before."

While hip hop had long enjoyed wide popularity and important social commentary status, The Chronic became an anthem album for millions of young people in the United States and across the globe.  In responding in part to the L.A. Riots, The Chronic captured the anger, angst, and anxiety that encapsulated a city and community that considered itself, in some ways, at war with the police employed to protect them.  Hip hop had critiqued police brutality aggressively before 1993 and The Chronic, particularly in Dr Dre's former group N.W.A.'s still fiery "F*#k tha Police, and Public Enemy's "Get the F*#k Outta Dodge," but The Chronic was the first to deal with police brutality following the world's introduction to the Los Angeles Police Department's brutalization of Rodney King, which precipitated the L.A. Riots.

Recall, that in the late 1980s when NWA released "F*#k tha Police" and Public Enemy recorded "Get the F*#k Outta Dodge," hip hop was acting as the "Black CNN" reporting on inner city community ills that were largely ignored by the mass media.  NWA and Public Enemy came under intense criticism for their anti-police brutality songs in the late 1980s, as law enforcement officials and politicians simply denied such critiques.  Only after the LAPD was captured on a grainy hand-held video beating the prone and subdued Rodney King was America clued in to the truth that NWA and Public Enemy had been claiming through narrative lyric:  U.S. law enforcement commonly brutalizes the communities they are charged to protect.

Seizing on this moment, (i.e., America's eye-opening moment that police brutality continues against people of color), The Chronic bemoans the circumstances that attend life in the 'hood (through Lil' Ghetto Boy, Nuthin' but a G Thang, and The Day the N*#*#z Took Over, amongst others).  The NPR story concludes:  "[The Chronic] is an audio document, with a lot of creativity and art and entertainment going along with it. Some people might think that that's wrong, but it's art, it's poetry. And it's supposed to have pain in it. You can gather that from listening to The Chronic — about the L.A. riots — you can feel it, you can kind of understand. And a lot of people agree that they captured it incredibly well. . . . [The Chronic] doesn't have all the answers, and it didn't solve the problems of its time. It's low-riding party music, intended to provide an escape. It also gives voice to the frustrations borne of burned-out buildings, grinding poverty and a feeling that nobody cared."

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