The Chronic vs. 2001

They’re both classics, but which of Dre’s solo albums is the best?

After years of hype and promises, Dr. Dre’s long-awaited third ‘solo’ album, Detox, the most anticipated hip-hop album in history and often referred to as the Chinese Democracy of rap, was scrapped.

The reason? Well, as many suspected, “it wasn’t good.” (So I guess it was kind of Like Dr. Dre Presents…The Aftermath.) However, Dre is releasing a new album titled Compton, one that was inspired by the N.W.A biopic Straight Outta Compton, and features Dre protégés from three separate eras — Snoop, Eminem, and Kendrick Lamar.

So, in anticipation of Dre’s third and final (?) LP, let’s do a Nick Bakay-style Tale of the Tape between The Chronic and 2001. Let’s get into it…

Title

The Chronic: Although he once claimed “I still express, yo I don’t smoke weed or sess,” the title of Dre’s seminal solo debut refers to a lethal strain of marijuana and quickly became a slang term throughout the hip-hop community. Even B.I.G. refers to Chronic on Ready to Die.

2001: Originally intended to be titled The Chronic 2000, Dre was forced to add a year and drop the “Chronic” after Suge Knight pulled the ultimate troll move and used the title for a compilation album that was released six months before Dre’s. Most sequel titles are derivative by nature anyway, but an album released in 1999 but titled 2001 is just awkward.

Winner: The Chronic

Album Cover

The Chronic: Inspired by — and copying — the logo of Zig-Zag rolling papers, the cover is a perfect representation of what awaited listeners. (Later editions of the album featured a sidebar on the cover that announced “Featuring the Death Row Inmates” and listed most of the album’s guests.)

2001: A minimalist all black cover with futuristic font, it was sleek and conveyed the idea that it was a futuristic project, but it’s still not as good as its predecessor.

Winner: The Chronic

Beats

The Chronic: The birth of G-Funk: Parliament-Funkadelic-inspired beats with soulful singing combined with live instrumentation that still managed to rattle speakers and trunks even through the gritty crackle. Previously, most hip-hop beats had been fast, over 100 BPMs, but Dre slowed it down and, in the process, changed the sound of hip-hop and influenced the entire genre for several years. More than twenty years later, though, some of them sound just a bit dated.

2001: A more polished and developed sound that was was also somehow more stripped-down and sparse, it came off as both timeless and futuristic. Co-producer Mel-Man and keyboardist Scott Storch helped to create a more layered, nuanced backdrop that would, once again, change the direction of the music for a few years and actually sound better in hindsight.

Winner: 2001

Lyrics

The Chronic: The majority of the lyrics on The Chronic were handled by The D.O.C., Snoop & RBX and it gives the album a cohesive vibe in terms of flows and cadence coming from a single voice, keeping up the illusion that Dre himself may have come up with these lyrics. Aside from Lil’ Ghetto Boy, little of it deviates from the Death Row way of life of guns and hos all under the California sun, but that’s by design.

2001: An all-star team handled at least some of the writing on 2001, from Eminem’s incredible penning of “The Watcher” and “Forgot About Dre” to Royce Da 5'9"’s heartfelt “The Message” to Jay-Z’s excellent “Still D.R.E.” Snoop wrote only his own rhymes on the three songs on which he appeared and The D.O.C. contributed to just two songs, leaving much of the work to then-Aftermath artists, especially Hittman, who is also the most featured artist on the album. This makes it more apparent that these rhymes are not coming exclusively from Dre’s pen, and while the big names come through on the singles and superior songs, there are multiple awful lines and forgettable verses, especially on the second half of the album.

Winner: The Chronic

Singles

The Chronic: “Nuthin’ but a ‘G’ Thang,” “Fuck wit Dre Day [And Everybody’s Celebratin’],” and “Let Me Ride”

“‘G’ Thang” made it all the way to number two on the Billboard Hot 100, but its impact has only grown since its release. It’s become an undeniable classic, one of the greatest songs in the genre’s history. XXL proclaimed it the best hip-hop song of the decade, Pitchfork placed it third on their list of the “Top 200 Tracks of the ‘90s,” Complex named Snoop’s contribution that greatest guest spot in history, and it was selected by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as one of the 500 songs that shaped rock and roll.

The Chronic’s other two singles could never match such lofty praise, but they still made a mark. “Dre Day” was an anthem that cracked the top 10 with an iconic video that made fun of Eazy-E and Luther Campbell and while “Let Me Ride” was not a major hit, it actually earned Dre a Grammy for Best Rap Solo Performance. (Fun fact: “‘G’ Thang” lost the Grammy for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group to Digable Planets’s “Rebirth of Slick [Cool Like Dat].”) Weirdly, all three songs occur within the first five tracks of the album.

2001: “Still D.R.E.,” “Forgot About Dre,” and “The Next Episode”

While The Chronic’s singles trended slightly downward (despite what the Grammys would have you believe), 2001’s singles were all unique and, in their own way, great. One could make an argument for any of the three as the album’s best, something that can’t be done for The Chronic (or virtually any other album). “Still D.R.E.” has the early ‘90s G-Funk vibe over a backbreaking beat, “Forgot About Dre” flips the Down South sound on its ear and features an Eminem guest spot that is a classic, and “The Next Episode” boasts one of the best features of Nate Dogg’s career and has become an anthem in its own right. While “Forgot About Dre” also earned a Grammy, this one for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group, none of the singles even reached the top twenty on the Billboard Hot 100, but they resonated and have shown longevity.

“Nuthin’ but a ‘G’ Thang” may very well be the best rap song in history and it is certainly Dre’s best single, but if the singles are playing a game of three-on-three and I need to pick one side, I’m going with consistency.

Winner: 2001

Dre, Snoop & co. creating The Chronic

Guests

The Chronic: Snoop Doggy Dogg, Tha Dogg Pound [Dat Nigga Daz & Kurupt], RBX, Nate Dogg, and Jewell

The Death Row Inmates. A killer lineup of young West Coast talent that had an undeniable chemistry and were led by a superstar in the making that used the album as his introduction to the world. Both Snoop and Tha Dogg Pound would have their own multiplatinum albums within a few years and this feels like one big group album (which could have been titled Welcome to Death Row) rather than a slapped together collection of tracks.

2001: Snoop Dogg, Eminem, Kurupt, Nate Dogg, Xzibit, Devin the Dude, Hittman, Six-Two, Ms. Roq, Defari, Time Bomb, Knoc-Turn’al, King Tee, Kokane, Mary J. Blige, and Rell

A more diverse lineup. Hittman takes on Snoop’s previous role as the most-featured artist and he’s just not up to it. The features feel arbitrary and while Em, Xzibit, Nate, and even Snoop all bring it, it’s just not the same.

Winner: The Chronic

Skits

The Chronic: “The Chronic [Intro],” “The $20 Sack Pyramid,” “The Doctor’s Office,” and “The Roach [The Chronic Outro],” as well as the unofficial skits that serve as intros to the songs “The Day the Ni — z Took Over,” “Deeez Nuuuts,” and “Lil’ Ghetto Boy.”

Several of these are iconic hip-hop skits, from Snoop’s scathing intro where you just knew you were about to hear something incredible to Warren G’s prank phone call that ends in “Deeez Nuuuts” that still has junior high students yelling it at each other.

2001: “Lolo [Intro],” “Bar One,” “The Car Bomb,” “Ed-Ucation,” and “Pause 4 Porno.”

Yikes. The three skits on the second half of the album are cringe-worthy in their badness and none of them come close to most of the interludes on Dre’s first record. This one isn’t even close.

Winner: The Chronic

Conclusion

Both albums introduced a new sound to hip-hop while at the same time proving that Dre was not finished, regardless of the demise of N.W.A or the lukewarm response to The Aftermath compilation or The Firm album.

The Chronic is certainly not a perfect LP — “A Nigg a Witta Gun” and “Rat-Tat-Tat-Tat” are repetitive and the two skits near the end are unnecessary— but it ushered in a new sound that would be aped and copied for years and also introduced a superstar in the process.

2001, meanwhile, has some great songs, but there are far too many tracks with far too many features and subpar skits that bog the album down in parts. The highs may be a little higher, but the lows are much lower.

The Chronic is in the conversation of the greatest hip-hop albums of all time; 2001 is not.

Case closed.

Winner: The Chronic


Christopher Pierznik’s nine books are available in paperback and Kindle. His work has appeared on XXL, Cuepoint, Business Insider, The Cauldron, Medium, Fatherly, Hip Hop Golden Age, and many more. Subscribe to his monthly newsletter or follow him on Facebook or Twitter.