This year marks the 20th anniversary of a remarkable year in music. Over the 12 months of 1993, the Wu-Tang Clan, Snoop Dogg, Queen Latifah, A Tribe Called Quest, Salt-N-Pepa and more than 20 other rap groups released albums that helped change the sound of America. The flowering had roots in the cultural and social upheaval sparked by the Los Angeles riots the year before. Our series about rap’s greatest year begins with the album that started it all by drawing directly on the riots: Dr. Dre’s The Chronic.
In January 1993, there were still burned-out buildings in South Central Los Angeles. It hadn’t been a year since the acquittal of four police officers in the videotaped beating of Rodney King. Anger at the verdict had not cooled, and you could hear it in the music on the radio, in songs like “” and “Dre Day,” singles off Dr. Dre’s solo debut, released mid-December, 1992.
Dr. Dre’s The Chronic was in part a response to the riots, but its incendiary sound began long before the first match was lit. Five years earlier, his previous group, NWA, put out “.” Dre made the beat, and Ice Cube took the first verse.
NWA’s tales of police brutality were not only prescient they were also common knowledge, according to Matthew McDaniel, who was an intern at KDAY, then a Los Angeles AM station devoted to hip-hop. He was also a filmmaker who interviewed just about everybody in the L.A. rap scene.
“This is what was happening,” he says. “This was the relationship with the cops and young black people, young Mexicans, and nobody seemed to care to even talk about it. So when they stepped out with that one, it was like, ‘Oh, my God.’ ”
The song was still huge when the Rodney King verdict came down on April 29, 1992. The city erupted.