Number two on the Billboard 200, over seven million copies sold to date, 22 tracks, 26 different performers, three producers, who knows how many different writers. The final product: 2001, Dr. Dre’s sophomore and last album to date.
Today marks 15 years since the release of Dr Dre’s 2001; one of the most seminal rap albums of all time by one of its most controversial and polarising figures. During a nasty divorce from NWA he was ridiculed by Eazy-E and Ice Cube for his eyeliner wearing, bubblegum rap days in World Class Wrecking Cru that ran counter to the gangsta don image he’d cultivated as the head of NWA, as well as his current position of (often enforced with abuse and violence) subservience under serial piece of shit, Death Row’s Suge Knight.
After the wild success of The Chronic, Dre broke free of the stranglehold of Death Row, a sinking ship in any case, and founded Aftermath records. Choosing to focus more on the production side of the rap game, going behind the scenes and producing some of the best hip hop songs and albums of the late 90s, he then copped inexplicable criticism over his proficiencies as both a rapper and a producer having not released an album in seven years. Dre told the New York Times. ‘Magazines, word of mouth and rap tabloids were saying I didn’t have it any more. What more do I need to do? How many platinum records have I made? Okay, here’s the album – now what do you have to say?’
It was no surprise then that so much of 2001 was infused with such palpable fury. A message that Dre had sat back in silence for too long, that he had had quite enough of this shit.
The album is cinematic. A familiar story of Los Angeles street violence punctuated by semiautomatic gunfire, explosions and the drone of police helicopters, littered with intermittent skits and layered over classic West Coast G-funk beats, expanded and adapted for a new era in rap music. It was a masterpiece. Dre may not have written the script, employing a team of ghostwriters that became one of rap’s worst kept secrets, but on 2001 he was Spielberg, John Williams and the Weinsteins rolled into one. He was hip hop’s Commander In Chief, running the show and delegating duties to an all-star team.
All the familiar guests were there, a who’s who of late ’90s West Coast hip hop with Kurupt, Xzibit, Nate Dogg and more. Even MC Ren, old NWA wounds healed, had a guest verse in the gang anthem Some LA Niggaz. At the helm of the guests stars were Snoop Dogg, whose career had leaped forward followingThe Chronic, and Eminem, who absolutely skyrocketed to success off the back of both this and his timeless Dre-produced The Slim Shady LP released the same year.
The album gave us some of the most memorable moments in rap history. The Watcher kicks the album off, addressing the negative reactions to his climb out from his hood image, a silent observer of the changing scene and the new faces in it. Dre reminds everyone: ‘Nigga we started this gangsta shit. And this the motherfucking thanks I get?’
The album criss-crosses in thematics but sticks primarily to the West Coast holy trinity of sex, violence and weed. Xxplosive warping the thumping bass from Snoop’s Ain’t No Fun (If The Homies Can’t Have None) and turning it into a soulful porno groove that inspired no less than Kanye West, What’s The Difference a scathing comparison to Dre and his haters featuring Eminem and Xzibit, Let’s Get High pretty self-explanatory.
A lot of criticism of the album centered around some of the more misogynistic moments and they are pretty indefensible. Dre’s assertion that you ‘can’t make a hoe a housewife’ on Housewife was particularly offensive, as well as Pause for Porno, an interlude featuring nothing but grunting and groaning sex sounds. Comedian Eddie Griffin features on Ed-Ucation with a minute and a half rant vilifying side-chicks who become pregnant on purpose with ‘Keep-a-nigga babies’ perhaps the lowest point. Framed by Dre’s shocking assaults on an MTV VJ and a girlfriend in separate incidents several years previously and this should have been universally panned. It did receive some bad press but contextually, this was a celebrity and was well before the explosion of social media. With the ultimate success of the album and the misogynistic lyrics confined to a lot of the less known songs on the album, it got swept under the rug. Dre wouldn’t get away with this in 2014.
For all the misogyny though, 2001 ultimately served to propel rap into the new millenium. Still D.R.E. was the first single to drop and, for me, remains the highlight of the entire album. Featuring that instantly recognisable staccato piano bar, Dre’s laid back flow never better, again breaking his silence and letting his critics know what the fuck was up.
‘Ladies, they pay homage, but haters say Dre fell off. How nigga, my last album was “The Chronic”? They want to know if he still got it. They say rap’s changed, they want to know how I feel about it’.
All of it absolute fire. Those lyrics should be, they were written by Jay-Z.
The Next Episode was perhaps West Coast rap in it’s purest form. Go to any sweaty dive bar on a weekend and at some point the DJ will drop this. If you don’t find yourself dancing uncontrollably to that silky smooth G-funk beat, Dre and Snoop tag teaming to perfection and Nate Dogg’s unforgettable outro detailing his recommended dosage of marijuana (SPOILER: it’s every day), then you’re not a human being.
But it’s Forgot About Dre that is the avatar of this entire album. Dre at his pissed off finest, Eminem and his psychotic, nonsensical spitfire flow, his reputation as ‘public enemy number one’ in conservative 90s America at its peak. As fantastic as Eminem’s verse was this was unmistakeably Dre’s triumphant return to the throne, his venomous rebuttal to the critics and the naysayers. The mic drop line comes in the final verse:
‘So give me one more platinum plaque and fuck rap, you can have it back’
Well, 2001 went six times platinum. Frequently cited as one of the best albums in hip hop, Entertainment Weekly gave him the title of rap’s one true ‘composer’. Spin put him up there with George Clinton, Stevie Wonder and Miles Davis for ‘his ongoing commitment to formal excellence and sonic innovation in this art form’.
Dre was back alright.
And now he’s seemingly dropped off again. Focusing on producing as well as entrepreneurial pursuits, with his Beats headphones reportedly being sold for three billion dollars and making him the richest man in rap music. The criticisms have again cropped up in both the media and contemporary rappers; Although Schoolboy Q disdainfully asserted that ‘Detox is like a mix away’, the follow-up album (which won’t be called Detox anymore) has become known as the Chinese Democracy of hip hop, with release dates pushed back ad nauseum despite assurances from Dre, Snoop and countless others that it is coming. Will all this criticism provide the fuel for Dre to light an absolute inferno on the rap game the way he did with 2001?
I don’t know, perhaps not in this day and age and with Dre’s image so drastically changed. But when and if it finally drops, I sure hope so. Right now, a lot of motherfuckers actin’ like they forgot about Dre.