I graduated from college in 1992, and during my time at Michigan State University, Public Enemy dominated the hip-hop landscape. Great singles by Young MC and Digital Underground were also popular, but PE was the perfect rap foil to what was then called "college rock." That year, however, things changed-- mostly due to The Chronic. On that album, the West Coast gangsta fantasy took wing, boosted by Dre's deeply funky sound and the brutal dreams of nearby Hollywood. The spectrum of nihilist violence on The Chronic is numbing, ranging from gangland territorial pissings to vengeful prison rape-style scenarios to naked misogyny.
With his feminized Slick Rick-inspired flow, Snoop Dogg manages to make a lot of this somehow charming-- or at least a little funny. Dre is occasionally awkward on the mic (he would later improve as a rapper), but Snoop is bursting with the skill and energy of someone who senses his big moment has finally come. Oddly, the backing tracks now sound rather thin and cheap, miles from the slick sound for which Dre has deservedly become famous, but the relative low fidelity works in this context. Dr. Dre's debut was a watershed moment. Every hip-hop record after had to address The Chronic in some way, either embracing or rejecting what it popularized. Hip-hop's indie/mainstream split started here.