20 years ago today, Dec. 15, a bomb dropped. Or at least that’s what it felt like. That’s the day The Chronic, the solo debut from Dr. Dre, hit stores. The album was widely hailed as an instant classic, sold 8 million copies worldwide and almost immediately changed hip hop as we knew it. Two decades later, it’s impact is still being felt. “The Chronic is still the hip-hop equivalent to Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life,” Kanye told Rolling Stone in 2005. “It’s the benchmark you measure your album against if you’re serious.”
But Dre didn’t pitch a perfect game by himself; The Chronic was a true team effort, really more of a crew album than a solo one. An ensemble cast of hungry, young legends-to-be—Snoop Dogg, Nate Dogg, Tha Dogg Pound, Warren G, Lady of Rage and RBX—are featured all over the album, sometimes spitting verses, sometimes ghost-writing for Dre, sometimes just sprinkling in a hook or an adlib. Snoop went on to become one of the biggest household hip hop names of all time. The late Nate Dogg, rap’s go-to crooner, contributed hooks to dozens of classic hits. Tha Dogg Pound and Warren G eventually had their own multiplatinum albums.
But for Lady of Rage and RBX, The Chronic was the peak of their career. Stalled by label politics and real-life drama, their respective solo albums—RBX’s The RBX Files in 1995, Rage’s Necessary Roughness in 1997—didn’t match the star potential each showed in 1992 with Dre.
Still, both Rage and RBX made their mark as star contributors to one of the best, most influential albums ever made. Here, the two legends sit down with XXL to reflect on the legacy of The Chronic, break down their contributions song by song, and fill us in on what they’re up to now. High-powered, indeed. —Alex Gale (@apexdujeous)
On first linking with Dr. Dre:
RBX: I was taking Snoop, who’s my little cousin, to go see Dre. They had to handle some business. They were doing a video shoot. I was working at a shoe store and Snoop was in the mall where I was working. Snoop was looking for kicks to set off his outfit for the video shoot. He came to my store and told he was doing stuff with Dre. But he said, “I have a problem—I don’t have a ride.” So I told him to come by when I got off from work at 8. We smashed up there and Dre wasn’t there, but I didn’t wanna leave Snoopy all the way out there, stranded with no ride. So I posted up with him to make sure he was good. Snoop was in this room playing this beat and I was explaining to Snoop how he should rap on it. Like, “You should do it like that, hit ’em like this, and drop the verse there and have this type of pocket. And Dre had came up without us knowing. He was in the hallway and heard the whole conversation. So Dre creeps up, like, “Who’s this?” Snoop told him, “That’s my big cousin RBX I was telling you about.” Dre was like, “Your voice is crazy, it’s rumbling all through the hallways. You rap?” I was like, “Not really, I work at a shoe store, my MC days are over.” Dre told me to spit some shit; Snoop convinced me to do it. I did and Dre was like, “Oh, snap! You can’t leave.” I was trying to get back to the crib, ’cause I was staying with mom and couldn’t be popping up at 4 in the morning, but Dre stood in front of the door. He was like, “We’re gonna start working on this record tonight.”
Lady of Rage: I was living in New York and I was working at Chung King Studios. I was working with the L.A. Posse, and they did a compilation album [1991’s They Come in All Colors] that I was on. When they came back to L.A. they let Dre heard it, and he heard me. He inquired about me and wanted to know how to get in touch with me. At the time I was working with Chubb Rock; he wanted to do an album with me. I think Suge called me first, before Dre. I told Chubb that they were calling and told him they want me to come out to L.A. This was around the time that Cube had left N.W.A, and Cube had Yo-Yo, so Chubb, his thought at first was Dre probably wants you to be like Cube and Yoyo but it will be you and him. He was like, “Dre is all that with the production, so go see what they’re talking about, and if not, we’ll just do your album.” I remember when I talked to Dre on the phone, I was like, “How do you know you’re the real Dr. Dre?” He said, “There’s only one way to find out.” He sent me a ticket. But when I got there, there was no one at the airport, and I was mad. I had a round-trip ticket and I was about to head back. I remember Leaders of the New School was on the same plane as me, doing Soul Train or something. So I went to their hotel and Suge picked me up there. It was shaky at first, ’cause Suge and Dre were coming out of pocket for me and all the other artists—our rent, everything. I remember getting a job at the Palladium, doing security. Money was tight. A lot of artists came through there to perform or chill and I’d see them. Chubb came through one time and asked me how I was doing. It was bad then—I had no money, I had an eviction notice. Chubb said I should back with him to New York that night. But I wanted to stick around a little longer—a few weeks later “Deep Cover” came out and money started flowing a little more.
On the creative process behind The Chronic:
Rage: We would get in the studio early and we would stay till the wee hours of the morning; if the creativity was flowing we’d stay there as long as it was going. This was in the beginning stages, so there wasn’t a lot of money floating around. I remember there was Popeye’s chicken across the street, and when we ate, it might have been 10 of us but we only had enough for a four-piece. We’re sharing that and smoking and somebody might just start humming something or singing something, and Dre would say, “Go in the booth and say that.” And somebody would lay the hook down. Then somebody would write a verse to it. It was piece by piece like a puzzle. “You do this part here.” Somebody did one thing and it just fell into place like a domino effect.
NEXT: RAGE AND RBX BREAK DOWN “HIGH POWERED,” “LET ME RIDE” AND OTHER CLASSICS FROM THE CHRONIC