"Since I left ain't too much changed," Dr. Dre suggests on "Chronic 2001," his first album since 1993's "The Chronic" and one of the music industry's most anticipated sequels. But in hip-hop, everything changes, often quickly, and sometimes drastically. Six years is an eternity, even for one of the most respected figures in hip-hop history. Dr. Dre--born Andrew Young--has revolutionized rap twice already, first with the hard-core gangsta rap he crafted as a co-founder of N.W.A. in the late '80s and again in the '90s with the more commercially palatable West Coast G-funk sound embodied by his great discovery, Snoop Dogg.
"My last album was 'The Chronic'/ they want to know if I still got it," Dre raps on "Still D.R.E.," one of several tracks reflecting a Little Richard-like obsession with his place in history. "They say that rap's changed/ They want to know how I feel about it/ Dr. Dre's the name/ I'm ahead of my game/ Still pulling my leaf/ Still funking the beat/ Still not love the police."
Dre's not too happy with a new generation of rappers, either, particularly those who dismiss him as an old-school fool. "(Expletive], we started this gangsta [expletive] and this is the [expletive] thanks I get?" he bristles on "Watcher."
Of course, just three years ago, on the single "Been There, Done That," Dre himself seemed to repudiate gangsta glorification that made him a multimillionaire. He left Suge Knight's Death Row Records to start his own label, Aftermath, and took the profanity out of his music. He denounced the hard-core lifestyle, telling Spin magazine: "Would I ever do that N.W.A. material right now? No way. I'm into totally positive moves."
The fact that his label sampler, "Dr. Dre Presents the Aftermath," was a relative stiff--the litter produced no Doggy Doggs--apparently led Dre to have second thoughts about his second thoughts, because "Chronic 2001" (Interscope) marks a return to the hard-core sounds of old. Or as Dre puts it on "Still D.R.E." (co-written with Jay-Z): "I'm still representin' for the gangstas all across the world. . . . I still got love for the streets."
This is evident in the raunchy misogyny of "Xxplosive," a posse cut with Kurupt, Nate Dogg and newcomers Hittman and Six Two, and on "[Expletive] You," one of four tracks on which Snoop Dogg guests.
There's also the sex-centric party jam "Let's Get High"; "Murder Ink," featuring John Carpenter's primal "Halloween" piano theme; "Some L.A. [Expletive]," another posse cut that includes former N.W.A. member M.C. Ren; and "The Difference," one of two tracks featuring Dre's latest discovery, Eminem, who riffs on his controversial "Guilty Conscience" single.
Overall, the new album updates the G-funk sound popularized by Dre, but there's no P-Funk reliance and little overt sampling. It's a triumph of simple grooves over big hooks, with guitars and keyboard and slinky bass dominating. Dre never was the greatest of rappers and he wisely surrounds himself with stronger voices. But ultimately, the sound seems somewhat dated, particularly the gunshots (and one silly car bomb skit).
"Chronic 2001," co-produced by Mel-Man, ends with "The Message." It's not the Grandmaster Flash classic but Dre's own homage to his younger brother, Tyree, killed in a street fight in 1998. It's a quietly reflective track in which Mary J. Blige sings this chorus: "I'm trying to tell you something good/ Don't get caught up in the hood." That message is curiously at odds with the rest of the album.
(To hear a free Sound Bite from this album, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8161.)
In the late '90s, Master P (the former Percy Miller) managed what Dr. Dre and his former partner Suge Knight couldn't: He built an empire with his label, No Limit, which has sold 35 million albums in the last two years. Recently, Fortune named Master P one of the 40 richest Americans under the age of 40; he's also on Forbes magazine's list of the highest-paid entertainers. Master P has expanded his ventures to include film and videos, fashion lines, sports management and even a Master P talking doll. About his only failure has been as an NBA prospect, though he still has those All Star MP shoes with Converse.
Somehow, Master P still finds time to make records, the latest being "Only God Can Judge Me" (No Limit), and to portray himself as some sort of victim. On the title track, for instance, he raps: "to my enemies, the media, the IRS, [expletive] all y'all!" That sentiment is seconded in such tracks as "Ain't Nothing Changed" and "Y'all Don't Know," where he also counsels, "To my homies doing time keep your head up/ To my soldiers on the street don't get fed up/ Sometimes we do bad but we all on it/ You got to learn to dream cause there's No Limit."
Sometimes Master P can focus on the community empowerment afforded his No Limit Soldiers ("Where Do We Go From Here," "Who Down to Ride," "Get Yo Mind Right"). He can get downright sentimental and maudlin ("Ghetto in the Sky," and "Ghetto Prayer," where he asks God, "Can I still be an angel on Judgment Day/ Or will you treat me like a stranger . . ."). He can be insensitive to women ("Stop Playing Wit Me") as well as supportive ("Boonapalist," a duet between newcomers D.I.G. and Ms. Peaches in which they promise each other, "Keep it real with me and I'll keep it real with you").
As always, P uses the album to introduce new No Limit recruits (here they are Magic, D.I.G. and MAC), while working in a few label mates (notably Mystikal on the rough-hewn "Y'all Don't Want None") and outsiders. The latter include Nas on "Where Do We Go From Here," an examination of friendship and loyalty, and Jermaine Dupri on the Dirty South-flavored "Da Ballers." Master P's not a great rapper, but he's a great entrepreneur.
(To hear a free Sound Bite from this album, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8162.)
Prince Paul (a k a Paul Huston) is neither a great rapper nor a great businessman, but his latest project, Handsome Boy Modeling School, has produced the most adventurous and accomplished album in hip-hop right now. "So . . . How's Your Girl?" (Tommy Boy) is built around Prince Paul as Chest Rockwell and West Coast DJ/producer Dan (The Automator) Nakamura as Nathaniel Merriweather, aging supermodels trying to scam a living through their Handsome Boy Modeling School.
Prince Paul invented the rap skit on his three groundbreaking albums with De La Soul, and the album opens with "Rock n' Roll (Could Never Hip Hop Like This)," an astounding audio collage crafted from instructional and self-help tapes, movie and television snips and other treasures dug out of their crates and craniums. There are some conceptual threads running through the album, notably "Look at This Face (Oh My God They're Gorgeous)," where a classical loop anchors appropriate cut-and-paste dialogue from comedian Chris Elliot's short-lived television series "Get a Life," and "The Runway Song," a sonic hodgepodge featuring turntablist Kid Koala.
But a very loose story line allows the two ambitious and innovative producers to create mind-blowing tracks with an unusual coterie of guests. There are rappers like Del tha Funkee Homosapien on "Magnetizing," and Grand Puba and Sadat X from Brand Nubian on "Once Again (Here to Kick One for You)," cleverly built on a Three Dog Night sample. Trugoy the Dove from De La Soul shows up to describe "The Projects (PJays)," a place "where gunshots keep you up instead of heavy snoring/ Pipes dripping instead of rivers roaring."
The sonic palette also includes Cibo Matto's Miho Hatori sounding like a demented teaching assistant on "Metaphysical (A Good Day)," which lopes along on a simple two-note piano vamp; Moloko vocalist Roison Murphy serving up a twisted trip-hop torch song on "The Truth"; Sean Lennon and Josh Hayden on the hazy groove of "Sunshine"; and digital hero Alec Empire noisily overriding Company Flow's EL-P on "Megaton B-Boy 2000." Fellow visionary DJ Shadow also serves up a breakbeat stew with scratching on "Holy Calamity (Bear Witness II)." In the end, "So . . . How's Your Girl?" makes its claim as the last great headphone album of the millennium.
(To hear a free Sound Bite from this album, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8163.)