Dr. Dre’s ‘2001’ Turns 20
The success of Dr. Dre’s 2001 was hardly guaranteed. In the seven years fans waited patiently for its arrival, their expectations waned. By the time The Firm, Dre’s supergroup, flopped in 1997, even his biggest fans were starting to give up hope.
And then 2001 dropped on November 16, 1999, and all was right with the world. Against all the odds, it not only rivaled the immense achievement that was Dr. Dre’s 1992 album, The Chronic, but, arguably, surpassed it. 2001 was heralded by fans and critics alike, boasting ubiquitous hit songs like “Still D.R.E.” and such beloved deep cuts as “The Message.” It was West Coast hip-hop at its most cinematic—G-funk tuned to a unique, extraterrestrial frequency. If it weren’t for the album’s repugnant misogyny, it would be perfect.
Two decades later, the legacy of 2001 continues to thrive. Despite the countless kids who learned how to pirate music just so they could listen to it without their parents’ knowledge, 2001 has sold over 10 million copies worldwide. Multiple generations have come of age trying to nail the timing of Nate Dogg’s iconic “The Next Episode” outro. And now that these generations are the current torchbearers, they continue to embody the spirit of 2001 in ways they may not even realize.
To celebrate the album turning 20, we assembled this list to highlight its immeasurable influence on hip-hop and the world at large.
JAY-Z ft. Scarface & Memphis Bleek
“This Can’t Be Life”
On “Last Call,” from his 2004 debut, The College Dropout, Kanye West explains how he made the instrumental for “This Can’t Be Life,” the first song he ever produced for JAY-Z:
“I was listening to Dre Chronic 2001 at that time. And, really, I just like bit the drums off ‘Xxplosive,’ and put it like with a sped-up sample. And now it’s kind of like my whole style.”
It’s impossible to know whether Kanye would’ve gone on to have a similar career if he’d never landed this initial JAY-Z placement. We should all be glad “Xxplosive” exists, so we never have to ponder this terrifying hypothetical.
“Bag Lady (Cheeba Sac Radio Edit)”
Sampling its infectious guitar riff from “Xxplosive”—which Dre himself sampled from Soul Mann & the Brothers’ “Bumpy’s Lament”—“Bag Lady” is perhaps the biggest hit of Erykah Badu’s career. Peaking at No. 6 on Billboard’s Hot 100, the song (and its corresponding music video) went a long way toward bolstering Badu’s growing mainstream appeal.
JAY-Z ft. Dr. Dre, Rakim & Truth Hurts
“The Watcher 2”
Three years after 2001 came out, JAY-Z released a sequel to its second track on The Blueprint 2: The Gift & the Curse. Featuring a beat nearly identical to the original and a verse where Hov expertly riffs on the flow Dre used in its earlier iteration, the song is a fun recontextualization. As to why JAY felt the original version of the song needed a redux, the answer is immaterial—bringing together three legends on wax produced by peak-Dr. Dre is reason enough.
“What Would You Do?”
Everyone’s favorite one-hit wonders, City High topped Billboard’s rap chart in 2001 with the heavy-handed “What Would You Do?” Helping to propel the record to success was its gratuitous sample of Dr. Dre’s “The Next Episode,” which makes excellent use of Nate Dogg crooning “Hold up.” Unfortunately, City High was never quite able to recapture the success of “What Would You Do?” Still, we’ll always have this track to remind us that the beat for “The Next Episode” was so infectious it could make a cautionary tale of teen pregnancy seem club-ready.
The Game ft. Busta Rhymes
The Game’s Doctor’s Advocate, the rapper’s 2006 sophomore album, stands as a tribute to Dr. Dre. 2001’s influence can be felt in the stabbing keys of “Let’s Ride,” the synthetic strings scoring “Too Much,” the mimicry of Dre’s intonation on “California Vacation” and at various other points throughout the album. Nowhere is it more apparent, though, than on the album’s title track. Taking the form of a vulnerable apology to Dre, the song recalls Dre’s heart-wrenching stanza on 2001’s “What’s the Difference,” on which he raps, “’cause you my n—a Doc, and Eazy, I’m still with you/Fuck the beef, n—a, I miss you, and that’s just being real with you.”
Kanye West ft. JAY-Z, Pusha T,
Cyhi the Prynce, Swizz Beatz & RZA
In 2015’s eponymous Steve Jobs biopic, Jobs describes his role in the product design process as follows: “The musicians play their instruments. I play the orchestra.”
Incidentally, this is also a salient way to describe Dr. Dre’s role in the recording process of 2001. He famously didn’t write his rhymes or play his own instruments, but the record nonetheless feels like a singular expression of his artistic vision. Reading about the legendary Hawaii recording sessions that yielded 2010’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, it’s clear Kanye West took a page from Dre’s playbook. “So Appalled” comes across as particularly Dre-influenced: Ye uses RZA’s voice as an instrument, in a way that evokes how Dre tapped the rapper Phish for the chorus of “What’s the Difference.”
“Twist My Fingaz”
On this funky track from 2016’s Still Brazy, YG brags, “I’m the only one who made it out the West without Dre.” It’s a bold claim, to be sure, and it’s not entirely accurate. With its fat bassline, courtesy of George Clinton, and G-funk synth, the Terrace Martin-produced track summons up several 2001 songs, most notably “Let’s Get High.” YG may have made it without a direct cosign from Dr. Dre, but the canvasses for his music wouldn’t exist without 2001.
Nas’ 2012 album, Life Is Good, is a hallmark in the genre of grown-man rap, and “Bye Baby” is arguably its best song. Thirteen years prior, however, Dr. Dre offered a blueprint for older rappers to follow on 2001’s “The Message.” Baring his soul and reflecting on the murder of his half-brother, Dre proved there was a viable niche for this type of emotional maturity in rap. The line from “The Message” to “Bye Baby” isn’t a straight one, but the two songs undeniably pull from a similar well of thoughtful introspection.
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