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In 1992, things were not looking good for Dr. Dre. He had left Ruthless Records and his revolutionary group, N.W.A., over money disputes, surrounded himself with questionable characters, assaulted a female reporter who had asked about the N.W.A. tensions, and been a party to numerous scuffles that made it to the press.
Dre was known as a producer who could turn anything to gold with the slightest touch, but no studio executive wanted to risk working with him. And on top of that, Ruthless Records claimed that Dre was still under contract, and brought suit against any company that tried to distribute Dre's music.
Completely disenchanted, Dre went to work in the studio while the new head of Death Row Records, Suge Knight, worked to secure a music distribution deal. However, the music literally had to stop before it could get started.
Dre had been invited to a bachelor party with some of his new music artists. His stepbrother, Little Warren (now Warren G), had been pestering him for some face time in order to play a demo for Dre, and asked if he could come along. At the party, Little Warren told Dre about his friends and their rap group, 213, but Dre didn't show much interest. Warren saw his opportunity to make an impression when the tape on the stereo ran out and the music stopped. He popped in the demo, which featured his friend, Snoop. Dre, along with everyone else at the party, took notice.
"This is what I've been trying to tell you about!" Warren said. (Source, 82) Dre sat down to analyze the tape. After another listen, he told Warren to bring his friends, Snoop and Nate Dogg, to the studio the next day.
At that time, Snoop didn't even have a car to get back to his neighborhood in Long Beach, so he stayed with Dre after the first meeting. Dre had to hit the studio and left Snoop alone with a homework assignment: he gave him the first line of a song idea, which had been commissioned for a soundtrack called Deep Cover. "Tonight's the night I get in some s--t / Deep cover on the incognito tip." When Dre returned in the evening, he was pleased to see that Snoop had written an entire song about his last drug arrest, complete with a hypnotic hook: "Yeah, and ya don't stop / Cause it's 1-8-7 on an undercover cop." Dre finished the song with Snoop, got it added to the soundtrack, and signed Snoop to Death Row.
With Little Warren's introduction of Snoop, the floodgates opened and Dre began to build a roster of rappers that would serve as the G-Funk team. Through an old friend, Dre heard a demo by the Lady of Rage and immediately brought her into the fold. Snoop introduced Dre to his cousins, RBX and Daz Dillinger, as well as South Philly rapper Kurupt. Dre knew that he couldn't carry an entire album alone, so he decided that his debut album would be something of an advertisement for the label, focusing only on hit songs. In the meantime, Suge Knight secured a distribution deal with Interscope Records. It was all coming together.
To see Dre at work was a completely new experience for everyone involved. A perpetual perfectionist, and spurred on by the mission of repairing his reputation, Dre had his studio musicians jam for hours until he heard something he liked, and it wasn't out of the question to ask his rappers to take up to 200 takes before it met his standards. By contrast, the musicians he was recruiting were all poor street kids who just wanted to have fun rapping, smoking weed, and rabble rousing.
But just as Dre was turning his recruits into professionals, they were introducing him to a level of criminality that he had never actually experienced. It wasn't unusual for Dre's musicians to bring in their neighborhood friends, who all happened to be members of rival gangs the Bloods and the Crips. When they weren't partying and rapping, fights and threats were common, and as a result, the recording sessions were pretty chaotic.
Even in the middle of all this chaos, though, Dre kept a singular focus on the feel of the album. With his studio musicians, he would normally hum the bass line or melody from a Parliament Funkadelic song until it gelled with his keyboards. While combing through his records, he found Leon Haywood's "I Wanna Do Something Freaky to You," which ended up providing the musical backbone for "Nuthin' But a 'G' Thang."
Unlike the music, which was meticulously pieced together, the verses for "Nuthin'" were entirely haphazard. Dre would put together the music for a track and ask the nearest rapper to jump in the booth and bust a verse. Snoop, as it turned out, was the hungriest, and he ended up featured on every song of the album.
When The Chronic was released, a number of critics hailed it as a masterpiece, and "Nuthin' But a 'G' Thang" became the 11th best selling single of 1993. The song is powerful on a number of levels. of the sample from "I Wanna Do Something Freaky to You" gave the song a familiar feel for fans of 1970s music, and channeled a decade heavy with pro-black artists and music, represented by Parliament, Roberta Flack, Marvin Gaye, Barry White, Smokey Robinson, and Stevie Wonder.
Additionally, the nonspecific lyrics of "Nuthin'" effectively sanitized the gangsta lifestyle that had been so explicitly described by rappers like Ice-T, Too Short, and N.W.A. While The Chronic certainly contained violent and misogynistic lyrics, the singles were edited for radio, meaning they were much more accessible than anything else in the gangsta genre.
Perhaps above all, the song was a perfect fit for cruising in a car or hanging out at a party. "Nuthin' But a 'G' Thang" appealed to a mass audience, which was a huge departure from other gangsta rap. It gained significant MTV play, and was the centerpiece of an album that would net Dre a Grammy in 1993. "Nuthin' But a 'G' Thang" didn't just open the door for mainstream acceptance of gangsta rap in the 1990s—it kicked the whole house on its side.
Although the success was massive, it didn't last long. Dre went on to produce Snoop's successful debut, Doggystyle, in addition to a number of other Death Row hits, but Suge Knight's involvement in criminal activity led to the introduction of real gangsters into the Death Row organization. Gang tensions, fights about money and strategy, and a blossoming feud with East Coast rap label Bad Boy resulted in bad press and detracted from Death Row's talent.
In 1995, Dre saw a studio tech beaten for rewinding a tape farther than he was supposed to. Dre left the label in disgust. He eventually founded Aftermath Records, which would launch the careers of Eminem and 50 Cent. The fact that Death Row is now a distant memory, though, doesn't diminish the success that Dr. Dre enjoyed with The Chronic and "Nuthin' But a 'G' Thang," in which he captured true G-ness—at least, musically speaking.