31. Dr. Dre - Nothin' but a G Thang

Rap and hip-hop have always relied heavily on samples to lay the groundwork for many of their songs.  They take an obscure (or not so obscure) musical piece from a 70's soul record and loop it to rap over.  It's been happening for decades and will continue to happen.  And although many people my age sneer at rap and call it unimaginative at best and outright stealing at worst, there's an almost elegance when it's done right.  It takes a song that if you listen to it on its own, you think "That is one boring ass song," and turns it into one you can't stop listening to.

That is exactly what Dr. Dre succeeded in doing with "Nuthin' but a G Thang," off his seminal 1992 album, The Chronic.  Dre blurred the lines between producing and songwriting, taking multiple samples mixed with original instrumentation to make a newer, fuller sound that was its own.  So although "G Thang"s official songwriter is listed as Calvin Broadus (Snoop Dogg's given name), the song is Dre's through and through.  His producing skill takes center stage and creates a song with subtle complexity that immediately draws you in.  Dre's talent is in taking an identifiable sample and making it his own.

In this case, the base for the song is the dated disco era song by Leon Haywood, "I Wanna Do Something Freaky to You."  Other than that awesome name, it's a nondescript song from 1975.  It's got that great opening riff, but the rest of the song is filled with those strings you immediately identify with the disco era (even though this was before full-blown disco)  and absurd lyrics.  Dre takes the strings and gives them a singular sound, adds that looping bass line and emphasizes the hi-hat, giving the song a sonic sophistication. 

Listening to it now, it's easy to forget that before this song, we had never heard Snoop Dogg's unique voice.  Up until "G Thang," rappers, for the most part, tried to sound as hardcore as they could, pumping up the bass in their vocals, trying to sound as "street" as they could.  But Snoop took his unique voice and wraps it around phrases, making his voice sound like a jazz instrument.  Dre's more traditional rapping voice combines well, though, and gives "G Thang" a great vocal back and forth.

Lyrically, the song isn't as poetic as you get in most rock songs, but it is authentic.  The lyrics are typical rap bombast and braggery.  The misogyny that permeates almost every aspect of hip-hop is here, too.  It bugged me then and it bugs me now.  I've always thought that calling women bitches and hos is just trying to use vocal misdirection to hide your own inadequacies.  It's like the ten year-old who punches the girl he likes because he can't gird up the resolve to talk to her.  The immaturity is staggering and distracting to someone who respects women.  I try to ignore them when I listen to the song, so I don't get on my mental soap box.

The other lyrics, though, do a great job of capturing the spirit of rap and hip-hop.  First Snoop instructs with:

But uh, back to the lecture at hand
Perfection is perfected, so I'ma let 'em understand
from a young G's perspective

And then Dre, acting more like university chancellor to Snoop's English professor, adds:

Now it's time for me to make my impression felt
So sit back, relax, and strap on your seatbelt
You never been on a ride like this befo'
with a producer who can rap and control the maestro

Control it, he does.  Dr. Dre is the George Martin of hip-hop and The Chronic is the Pet Sounds.  He added sophisticated production techniques to a genre that could never hide its disdain for them.  He turned rap on its head and made being good at what you do, both in the studio and at the mixing board, the standard, rather than something to scoff at.  Although other artists had done groundbreaking work before The Chronic, like the Beastie Boys' Paul's Boutique, Dre took your run-of-the-mill rap song and turned it into art.  Dr. Dre would probably tell me I'm overstating it, but even in its entrenchment in the street vibe, it's a song that ages so well it still sounds fresh, almost twenty years later.

One fun fact and a cool story for this one....

(Fun Fact #623:  Before Jimmy Kimmel was ABC's JIMMY KIMMEL, he was the sports guy on L.A.'s iconic alternative radio station, KROQ's morning show with Kevin and Bean.  He was quickly promoted to on air talent and did so many hilarious things that it would take me five pages to break them all down.  One particularly funny bit was a song that Jimmy did for Kevin & Bean's annual Christmas album called, "Christmastime in the LBC."  He did it with a dead-on Snoop Dogg imitation that fooled me the first time I heard it.  So I had to put it on here so you could enjoy it as well.)

(Cool Story #4:  Coincidentally, another KROQ story.  When I lived in Los Angeles, I worked for a furniture rental company and I did design and project management for work station installations.  Doesn't sound fun, I know, but I really liked it.  One day in Burbank, I was helping my installers bring stuff up from the truck in the freight elevator.  The building we were delivering to also housed KROQ.  People hang out in the lobby occasionally to stalk musicians who might be visiting the station on that day, so they take the real big ones up in the freight elevator for some privacy.  So as I helped bring another load up, I rolled in an Aeron chair, made by Herman Miller.  It's the really cool mesh chair that all the other ones you see at Office Depot are copying.  It's a very expensive ($1,000) office chair that still makes me drool a bit.  Here's a pic:

Just before the door closed, I hear a "hold the door, please," and in walks Snoop Dogg along with a couple of his friends.  They're heading up to KROQ for an interview.  Growing up in Los Angeles, I've always prided myself on not ogling celebrities when I run into them, so I just nodded and said, "Hey."  Snoop looked at me and then looked at the Aeron chair and pointed.

"That's one funky lookin' chair," he said.

"It's very cool and extremely comfortable," I said.

He pointed again and said, "You mind?" 

I shook my head no at his request to sit in the chair and said, "Go ahead."

Snoop sat down in the Aeron chair and wiggled his butt around a bit and exhaled.  I showed him all of the adjustments as we rode up the elevator just to pass the time.  As he sat there, he said "That is one damn fine chair,"  I thanked him and then he looked at one of his guys and just nodded.  As they were exiting the elevator to go to KROQ, his guy stayed back and asked for my card.  I gave it to him and we ended up selling Snoop a couple of Aeron chairs.

If you see video of any recording studio, the chairs you're more likely to see than not behind the mixing board are Aeron chairs.  I have no idea where in the timeline of "Aeron chairs in the studio" my encounter with Snoop happened, but it was in early 1997, so who knows...)
1 Response
  1. Ramon Says:

    Kick ass story about Snoop. Didn't realize that KROQ was that diverse nowadays, but, I guess it shouldn't surprise me.

    Hope all is well with you.