2001, by Dr. Dre
I made a somewhat ill-advised challenge, perhaps, to review the Dr. Dre album 2001 if two of its songs charted as re-entries, thus ensuring its place as a significant album on the list of an online acquaintance of mine who keeps track of such albums. And so it is that I find myself having to review an album that I only originally heard two of the songs from, both of which are the two biggest songs that this album has on streaming by some margin. If in 1999 Dr. Dre had a reputation for not recording very frequently given his obvious skills at the mic, the more than two decades that have followed have made it clear that he had little interest in recording very often at all, only releasing one studio album the entire time–to coincide with a movie made about the career of NWA. Yet if an artist is going to more or less retire from the recording industry, it is interesting to see this album as the one he made, an album compelling enough that two of its songs were able to return to the top 40 of the charts more than two decades later.
The album begins with an intro then a track, “The Watcher,” which reflects on the passage of time within the rap community that is as relevant now as it was more than twenty years ago, with Eminem and Knoc-Turn’al. A phone call from a woman precedes the rather profane and not particularly romantic “F*** You,” which is an early representative in the “Stealing Your Girl” genre of rap song told from the point of view of a cheater who doesn’t want romance or cuddling, but just sex, with Devin The Dude and Snoop Dogg. “Still D.R.E.” is a reminder to anyone who wants to know from Dre and Snoop Dogg that he hasn’t fallen off and that he still has it, which is true now as well. Big Ego’s, with Hittman, is another reminder to haters that he is still armed and ready to defend himself if necessary. “Xxplosive” is another reminder about how awesome Dre and his crew are, with Hittman, Six-Two, Nate Dogg, and Kurupt. “What’s The Difference,” with Eminem and Xzibit looks at what separates some people from others, and the difficulty of keeping relationships in the music industry. Another short skit precedes “Light Speed,” which shows Dr. Dre (with Hittman) bragging about his smoking skills and his ghetto identity. “Forgot About Dre,” with Eminem and “The Next Episode,” with Snoop Dogg, present continuity between Dre’s past excellence and present greatness. “Let’s Get High,” with Hittman, Ms. Roq, and Kurupt, is an invitation to use drugs, while “B**** N*****z” is a track that is hostile to haters who pretend to be friendly but have violent hostility behind people’s backs. A short skit about a car bomb precedes “Murder Ink,” with Hittman and Ms. Roq, about the violence that comes to thugs who live by the gun and make enemies who watch them and catch them lacking. Another skit about education is followed by “Some L.A. N****z” is a posse cut that brags about the cultural power of Southern California rappers. A somewhat extended script is followed by “Housewife,” with Hittman and Kurupt, offering pessimistic advice about having relationships or marriages with people who don’t have loyalty. “Ackrite,” with Hittman, is a call to women to act right, with threats to violence to those women who are not willing to give it up. “Bang Bang”, with Hittman, and Knoc-Turn’al, is a a melancholy track about increased violence within the black community. “The Message,” with Mary J. Blige and Rell, is a melancholy and reflective song about dealing with the death of a beloved friend, followed by an outro from Tommy Chong.
This album is a clear case of an album that wasn’t made for me, but which offers some surprising depth. In this album, Dr. Dre finds himself caught between his need to defend his masculinity through warnings to would-be enemies about his willingness to kill others and demonstrate his sexual prowess with more reflective songs about the threat of internal conflict to the well-being of his community and a desire to use his skills as a producer to bring uplift to other rappers. Throughout the album Dr. Dre shows a collegial spirit to a variety of rappers and other performers, including comedians, while dishing out warnings to haters who feign friendship. While each individual track has its own purpose–and usually a pretty blunt and heavy-handed one–the album as a whole offers a complicated balance of messages that offers considerable insight to the complexities of someone who hustled his way to the top and has sought to remain alive and relevant and culturally powerful in a world of short lives, fast money, and untrustworthy people. Rather than filling this listener with envy or hostility, I am moved instead by a sense of pity for the people caught up in the sort of life that this album both exemplifies and cautions about.