RBX And Lady Of Rage Reminisce On Dr. Dre’s ‘The Chronic’
[Ed. Note: This feature was originally published on Dec. 15, 2012]
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
RBX: At that time I was very street, and I was loyal to the cats I was loyal to. This who you ride with. This that L.A. mentality. It’s still in me but I’ve grown. You ride with your folks until the wheels fall off. Being that Snoop was my little cousin, I was down, so I just talked before the last verse. When he jumped in it, I jumped in it 10 toes in. I didn’t have no problems with Eazy though. I seen Eazy after that, and he was like, “Yeah, I know what it was.” I didn’t understand the severity of the beef but I was just riding with my team.
RBX: I was working on a project at the same time as everyone else. That song was going to be for my album. But Dre’s a perfectionist, and we had backed ourselves up to a wall, and our deadline was coming up. Dre was like, “We need one more joint. “ And I’m in working on my song in Studio B, and Dre came in creeping, like, “I need that. I need that so we can finish The Chronic off. Let’s put that on The Chronic.” Me being a team player, I said, “No problem.” Me and Snoop, we were really tight at the time, this is before all the hoopla came into the thing. That was my little cousin. He was like, “OK, I’m gonna jump in. You write the first verse, I’ll write the second verse.” And then we each did eight bars on the third verse. The first eight bars Dre is spitting on the last verse are mine, and the last eight is Snoop. I knew it was gonna be mad bananas. We was a team, so I never had hard feelings that it started as my joint.
RBX: It was right around the riot. A bunch of wilding out going on. I was at a bar where Suge was affiliated with the owners, I was just hanging out, and I saw the Rodney King verdict. I was seeing wild craziness, and the cops weren’t even doing nothing. I would be posted up and suddenly it would be a sea of people 40 deep and just five cops, so the cops wouldn’t even do nothing. From all that I went back in the studio and I just shared my story of what had happened and what I saw. Everyone just had different stories and they shared that. It was an experience of a lifetime. It was an iconic event.
Rage: That's my first verse on the album. I just wanted everybody to now what I’m about. Just wanting everybody to feel me. Like, “I got something to say, I’m not just your average MC. I’m not just a female MC. I’m an MC and I do this for real.” When the beat came in like that, it was just so hard, I was just like, “Ooh.” [That song] makes me smile. Before I went to California, I lived in New York. Me and DJ Premier we’re very close, and I remember trying to tell them that I could rap but he would always kinda brush it off, ’cause you know he got a million people telling him they could rap. When he heard that he called me and he apologized. He was like, “Yo, man, I’m sorry, I didn’t even know.” I said, “I tried to tell you.” A lot of people were shocked, but a lot of people already knew and they were probably happy for me. That was my moment. My main goal was just to let everybody know that I could do this and I wanted to be remembered. When it comes to the history of rap, I wanna be in that conversation, like, “Rage, damn, she’s one of the best.” That song was the beginning of me making that happen.
RBX: It was the time we were in. There was gangbanging going on; we did it lyrically. We had gone to all the projects in L.A., we had been to Nickerson Gardens, a few other ones. Suge wanted to see if he had the truth. “If y’all can run through everyone in the city unscathed, then y’all are the truth. We need real rap cats who can do it in the street.” He was like, “Let’s see what these cats are really made of,” and we passed the test. That’s where that came from ’cause we had to battle damn near the whole city. We were the ones that rose to the top. Me, Rage and Kurupt. Dre said, “I’m going to put you on the track and I just need y’all to tear shit out the frame.” Dre felt that we was the most lyrical as far as gutter. Snoop is more suave, he’s more the smooth macadamian, but for this song Dre didn’t want smooth—he wanted bang. It was like [the 1972 Bruce Lee film] Game of Death, and I was like Kareem [Abdul-Jabbar]. It was just like that, in a rap format. Like, “We got a real tall dude with some sunglasses on who will kick you in your chest.”
NEXT: RAGE AND RBX "DROP BOMBS LIKE HIROSHIMA"
RBX: It was about 4, 5 in the morning, Dre was pounding it out in the studio. Dre woke me up, nudging me. I’m wedged between the floor and the sofa probably, with a coat as a pillow. Knocked out. Dre was like, “Yo, I got this shit, man, see what you could do to this. I’m listening to this and I just say, “Seven execution-style murders.” And he’s like, “Yup! That’s it!” We started about 4 and we finished about 4:45. I had no idea what he was gonna do with it. Maybe a day later I heard it and I’m like, “Dre, I need to re-record that,” and he looks at me like I said something crazy. I’m like “I’m not really feeling that vocal, I think I could do it better.” But Dre knew what he wanted to hear. It had that raw, just woke up at 4 in the morning sound, and that’s what he wanted. It felt good that Dre trusted me enough to throw me out there on that song as one of his protégés. There wasn’t that many limbs on the tree, and for him to trust me to walk out on one of his limbs for his legacy, that was a good thing. I didn’t recognize that then, but now I see what he did and I appreciate it to the utmost. But on the flipside, a lot of people told me, “We bump that when we’re getting ready to do some way crazy shit.” It’s a rabble-rouser song. I don’t know if I like that; we striving to be on the positive side of things. But it is what it is.
Rage: I was gonna have a verse on that. My verse was gonna start, “Come, come, come again, come, come again, get with the wickedness.” And Dre was like, “Just say that. Just say that over and over. “I didn’t even do a verse. Then RBX did his part. You could go in the studio with certain intentions, but that’s not how it ended up. I think RBX and I were the first ones there for this. It was on a first-come, first-serve basis. If you were there while things were going on, you would most likely be part of what was going on.
Rage: I think I was being rushed. That’s why I don’t like writing in the studio. I don’t like being around a lot of people because I write slower than most, so I think I was a little slow that day. This song it sounded even harder than “Lyrical Gangbang,” and all of us are on there. I was like, “I really gotta turn it up a notch; I gotta outdo what I already done.” I ended my verse with “cell block H” ’cause I remember running across a television show called Prisoner: Cell Block H, and I think it was about a women’s prison. Me being the female in the crew, I just referenced a female’s prison, cell block H. When it all came together, that’s one of my favorites ever. I love it when we perform it, I love it when I hear it. Everybody’s verse is just “ooh-wee.” It’s just dope. That beat evoked some kind of emotion to me. I’m really picky too. A lot of beats I didn’t like. Like, “Ew, I don’t like that, And Dre would be like, “Damn Rage, I’m not even done—would you shut the fuck up?” As soon as I walked in the door—“I don’t like that.” He would give me that look, like, “Please don’t come in here with that. But [this song] was different. To me it sounded kind of like an East Coast track, and me coming from New York that was the type of beat that I liked. It sounded like an MC-type beat. It was incredible to me. It was rare that I would walk in and like a beat at all. I didn’t even like “Nuthin But a ‘G’ Thing” at first, but it grew on me. I didn’t like most of the beats at first.
RBX: I was trying to outdo the world on that song. I always tried to be the best. That song was when everyone was frustrated as hell and didn’t wanna be over there. That’s what that was. Me, myself, that was when everyone said I went AWOL, because I refused to be stranded on Death Row. It felt like nothing was happening. Money was being made—we was seeing Suge popping up in brand new Benzes and Rolexes, but we still in the studio grinding, riding the bus to get to the studio. We got frustrated. That’s when I started standing on my square. Me being from the block, I wasn’t scared to ride out. I was like, “Hold on, something ain’t right.” We putting work in, but they need to let some of that money trickle down. The money wasn’t trickling down. That’s when they were trying to get contracts together. And in between that time, we weren’t very pleased with the way Suge was running things, but our loyalty was to Dr. Dre. So we couldn’t go nowhere—we stranded on Death Row. We wanna ride with the homie Dre, but Sugarbear took the chips!
RBX: That was another situation where Dre had a beat playing, I was just talking and Dre was like, “Say that again. Go say that in the booth.” Dre just captured the moment, as he does. Honestly, I didn’t know what the album was going to sound like, because so much didn’t make it, and so much was getting done. The fact that I was on it as much as I was, it was a blessing. I didn’t ask for that, I was just being a team player. I used to come to the studio on the bus, on the train. I would get on the bus, open the back window, and just post up.
Rage: I think that was something where we were the only ones there and Dre would say, “Just go in there and do whatever.” There was a lot of that. “Just do whatever.” I remember one time I was so upset. I always told Dre, I tell anybody, “When I go in the booth, just press record. Even though I’m just checking the mic, press record.” And I was doing a mic check, and I was going off the head. I don’t know what possessed me but when I got through I was so excited, like, “Dre, did you get that? Did you record that?” He was like, “Na, ain’t that the rap you gonna do? I was like, “No, I told you to press record!” Me, when I’m going off the head, once I say it it’s gone. But it was so incredible. We’ll never know.
Rage: I wanted to be a part of “Bitches Ain’t Shit.” When I heard it, I was like, “Oooh, if I just could come back and tell y’all how y’all ain’t shit.”
NEXT: RBX AND RAGE ON THEIR LEGACY, BEEF WITH SUGE KNIGHT AND MORE
On the album’s reception:
Rage: Nothing like it. It was kind of surreal, like, “Is this really happening?” And just the amount of people that would come out and the amount of people that would show massive amounts of love, just wanting to talk to you and touch you and say something to you and just acknowledge you. It was incredible for me, ’cause I came from a small town and everything was coming to light that I said would. You know, “I’m gonna make it, I’m gonna do this, people are gonna know my name, people are gonna scream my name.” And to see that unfold right before my eyes was like a high.
RBX: On a lot of levels I was naïve. I’m a humble dude. I’m pretty much on the block with my homeboys and homegirls. I stay rooted. I had no idea: I knew Dr. Dre was the man, and I knew him from N.W.A, but I didn’t understand the business. I thought we made a hot record. I was thinking like, “Shit, we might even sell 500,000.” I remember I was talking to The D.O.C. one day, and I was like, “Doc, we about to sell 500,000 to a million. He was like, “Are you kidding me? It’s gonna sell more than 5 million records.” And I already thought he was slightly crazy and eccentric. [Laughs] But he was right. We did that.
We did a small tour, Chicago, Detroit, and a few other places. It was very dope. It was kind of overwhelming. We was a small label at the time and we had this big monster record, and we get out there and we have 40,000 people chasing us down the street asking us for one more song. It got scary. Me and Suge got into it on the road, and that was ugly ’cause I wasn’t no little homie. I’m not gonna bow down. When people saw me and Suge, it kind of shook people to the core. Dre was like, “Aw man, I don’t want to be in the middle of that.” We were young and ignorant. The tour just fell apart.
On the legacy of The Chronic:
RBX: We were so innovative and cutting edge. I do remember when we first finished the record and we let a few companies hear it, they was like, “That’s way too over the top. I don’t think we have a market for that.” But that thing took off. We became the innovators the trend-setters and everybody starting getting their Dr. Dre sound—you know the high keyboard, the Moog. Everybody was like, “Oh, I got that keyboard in Granny’s garage, I’m about to bring that back.” And us, as rappers, we were just raw. We brought a rawness that a lot of cats from the West didn’t have before. It made cats step their game up, whether it be their beat making or your lyrics.
Sometimes I can listen to that record and it will take me exactly where we were when we was doing the record. I gotta be in a good mind-frame when I listen to it. It can be overwhelming, ’cause lot of people that I know and had respect for are no longer here, and that’s real. The cat that was doing the cymbals on that joint is no longer here, and the cat that was doing that is no longer here. Sometimes I have moments like that. Then there are times I can snap out of that stinking thinking and just enjoy the music, and when I do that its still some of the hottest shit I ever heard. At the end of the day I respect it for being a classic that I was a part of. It’s an accomplishment, especially for that time when everything was cracking and popping. A lot of people didn’t make it. I’m proud to be here, glad to be here.
Rage: “I think it set a standard. After The Chronic came out that’s when lot of people came out in groups. They would have a certain amount of people on their team, they would have a girl on their team. I know Roxanne Shanté was on Juice Crew, and there were other females before me, but after that it seemed like a necessity. Like, “We have to have a female in the crew, she has to rhyme, we have to have certain beats.” It seemed like a lot of independent levels sprouted up after that. It seems like Death Row set a standard, The Chronic set a standard, and a lot of people followed that lead. And you have a lot of labels that are here now because of that seed that was planted.
I miss those days. I miss the closeness. I miss some of the people that we have lost. It was Dre and Suge, all of us together. I miss that. Even though we had our ups and downs, it still was a unit. It was unit that was a force to be reckoned with.
NEXT: RAGE AND RBX ON THEIR RELATIONSHIP WITH DR. DRE AND SUGE TODAY
On their careers after The Chronic:
RBX: I can’t speak for Rage, but I was just disenchanted with everything to the point where I didn’t even want to rap no more. When I just sat back and thought about all the 50 people I know, including Tupac, including Biggie, they’re all just gone for what? I sometimes cant even put my finger on what the beef was. I was disenchanted and didn’t want to do music. When people were approaching me [with business opportunities], I was like, “Nah.” I was just trying to find my place in this world, because I’m losing a lot of loved ones, there was a lot of death around all this. “Is this what I want? Is this what I was striving for?” I had to make that decision. And I came to the decision that I love doing my music, but I don’t love the drama. And sometimes the music and the drama go hand in hand. I’m not so much into the Hollywood scene. I’m not trying to go to an event ’cause I know TMZ is there. I never wanted to be that guy. That put me on the underground tip ’cause I didn’t want to be in front of those cameras. That broke my career down a little bit. People don’t understand that if there's some weirdo that was mad at Suge and he sees me and he knows I’m at an event, then I have to deal with that. So I wasn’t into letting people know where I was. If there’s people with guns, and they might be trying to shoot me, and they got my name on a flyer for an event, then they know where I’m going to be at.
Rage: I was bitter at first ’cause when I got there the plan was Dre was gonna come out first, Snoop was gonna come out next, then I was gonna come out next . That was the format. The way I came in on the introduction on Snoop’s album [Doggystyle], that was gonna be the way we let people know I was next. Like on my album, Dogg Pound was probably gonna be on the intro, because they were gonna be next. I don’t know why mine was pushed back, but I know when I did start working on it that’s when the empire was crumbling. That’s when Dre left, Snoop was unhappy, Suge was incarcerated, Tupac had got killed. And in the midst of that it was like, “OK we’re gonna do your album.” So the same formula as before, I didn’t have that. I didn’t have all the input that everyone else had, I didn’t have that structure or foundation. So it was already being built on shaky ground. Hey, that’s just how it happened. It was bitter at first, but I just looked at it as it wasn’t meant to be. But I also looked at it as people already know my capabilities. People already know that I’m nice. When I got into it, it wasn’t about selling a million records believe it or not, I just wanted people to know how nice I am. Acting is actually what I wanted to do. I was using rap as a vehicle to get to act. Rap was just a hobby; I knew I could do that. I love to do it, and it’s done well for me, but it’s not something that I really, really wanted to do. It was a means to an end, to get to what I really love. But I’m not unhappy. People know my name. People know what I can do. I have a legacy, I’m on The Chronic, I was on Death Row. I will be talked about for years to come. I succeeded in what I wanted to do.
On their relationship with The Chronic crew today:
Rage: We all are cool. I have no bad relationships with anyone to my knowledge. I haven’t seen Dre since last year, at a BMI presentation for Snoop. I still work with a lot of them—Snoop, Daz, Kurupt, RBX. Our relationship is good. I haven’t seen Suge in quite some time, but I don’t think were in bad standings.
RBX: People always ask me, and I’ma tell you straight up: I ain’t never had no problem with Dr. Dre. And I still don’t. That’s fluff from haters, and a lack of communication between Dre and myself. ’Cause those haters, they don’t want Dre and RBX to get together to make a project. Dre is a no-nonsense dude, and if he thinks I’m stuck on my 1995 thing, running around gangbanging, that means we’re probably not gonna get together and work. But that’s not where I’m at. We don’t have no problems. And if we ever do an album, it’s game over. The N’Matez, we got songs, we just gotta figure out the business route. Daz wants to go the independent channel, but me and Rage think it could be way bigger than that. We want to go with a major situation. I don’t have a problem with Sugarbear, that’s my alumni brother. We went to college together. We were both in the same football team at UNLV. That’s the gridiron; that’s really blood, sweat and tears, literally. We’re gonna always be brothers. But just ’cause we are doesn’t mean I have to kowtow or agree with his bullshit. Now when he ain’t on the bullshit, I’m 100 percent with him, like, “Hey Sugar Bear, what’s good?” But when he’s on that bullshit, I ain’t got time for that. We’re not 18 trying to prove nothing to nobody. We’re businessmen, CEOS running corporations. We’ve got people that depend on us. I don’t have no time to go out squabbling.
On what they’re up to now:
RBX: January 1 I’m supposed to drop Shake the Dead, my mixtape with DJ Paul from Australia. The mixtape is gonna let people know, “Oh, he ain’t went nowhere as far as skills”. We’re gonna drop that, and I got a rock album. ’Cause I was on the road with Korn and Papa Roach and Metallica. I got a little rock EP going on. It’s called Liquid Metal. I don’t wanna talk about it too much ’cause we’re calling meetings, trying to go a major route with it. And then I got my album, my masterpiece, called Equinox. I think it’s gonna drop in March. I’m also on Xzibit’s new album, Napalm.
Rage: I’m a full-time mother. But I still do dates with Snoop, I still do my own dates, I’m pursuing my acting career. I’m working with [activist] Chairman Fred Hampton Jr. were working on a project, “The Life of Chairman Fred Hampton.” I’m also working with MC Lyte, YoYo, Lil Mama, Monie Love, MC Smooth—we’re doing a project about what’s going on in our lives, and coming together as a sisterhood in rap. And N’Matez is still happening—myself, Daz, Kurupt, RBX. I think we have about two more songs to do. We’re going to go in the studio next week and just bang it out, polish them up. I like working with them, it’s just a familiarity. We feed off each other; we know our quirks and what buttons to push and not to push. It’s like home.