In 1992 Arrested Development looked like the future of hip-hop, but the future had other plans
More Hip-Hop And You Do Stop
- 1993 brought debut albums from The Coup, Tha Alkaholiks, and the Wu-Tang Clan
- 1991 found hip-hop in transition, with 2Pac leading the way to the future
- In 1990, Hammer, Vanilla Ice, A Tribe Called Quest, and Ice Cube reflected the splintering of the hip-hop nation
- 1989: when Beastie Boys, De La Soul, and sampling ruled
Hip-Hop And You Do Stop is a series chronicling Nathan Rabin’s deep love for (and growing estrangement from) hip-hop through the filter of golden-age and ’90s hip-hop. Each entry documents a year in the genre’s development, beginning with 1988 and concluding with 2000.
1992 witnessed the release of a number of landmark albums. It was the year of Dr. Dre’s The Chronic but also of Beastie Boys’ Check Your Head, Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth’s Mecca And The Soul Brother, The Pharcyde’s Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde, Gang Starr’s Daily Operation, Eric B. & Rakim’s Don’t Sweat The Technique, Redman’s Whut? Thee Album, Ice Cube’s The Predator, and Common’s Can I Borrow A Dollar? That’s a whole lot of awesomeness for any single year, and that’s just in hip-hop.
So what incontrovertible masterpiece topped the prestigious Village Voice Pazz & Jop’s critics’ poll that illustrious annum? That would be Arrested Development’s 3 Years, 5 Months & 2 Days In The Life Of… Actually Pazz & Jop’s hip-hop picks for the year are bizarrely off. While The Pharcyde, Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth, Gang Starr, Eric B. & Rakim, and Common all failed to crack the top 40 and Cube just barely held onto the No. 40 slot, mumbly folk-rap weirdo Basehead, The Disposable Heroes Of Hiphoprisy, and, perhaps strangest of all, the debut of Body Count (Ice-T’s cartoonish, over-the-top rap-metal provocation) all made it into the poll’s top 40. (Released in mid-December, The Chronic landed at number 6 in the following year’s poll.)
But Body Count, Arrested Development, Basehead, and Disposable Heroes were less representative of where hip-hop was headed at the time than emissaries from a strange alternate-universe hip-hop world filled with curious sub-genres that hardly even existed in 1992 and barely survived the year, let alone the decade. The critics of the world might have voted these acts the best of the best, but history has all but forgotten them, or remembers them primarily for their social significance, like Body Count’s notoriously controversial debut. Hip-hop fans will be playing “T.R.O.Y. (They Reminisce Over You)” as long as music and emotion and nostalgia exist, but I doubt even Ice-T is ever tempted to come home after a long day’s work of pretending to be a police officer and blast “KKK Bitch.”
1992’s albums from these four groups were all outliers from some of hip-hop’s strangest, least-palatable offshoots, but Arrested Development wasn’t just some weird group that a bunch of critics who probably didn’t listen to a whole lot of traditional hip-hop happened to like. They were fucking huge. The band sold four million copies of its debut. You know who sells four million albums these days? Just about nobody. Arrested Development won Grammys for Best New Artist and Best Rap Performance, was named “Band Of The Year” by Rolling Stone, and, in a very 1992 turn of events, was tapped by Spike Lee to write and perform the theme song for a little film he was making called Malcolm X. In December of Arrested Development’s big 1992, it recorded an Unplugged album that went gold in spite of containing no new songs; Arrested Development was so hot at the time it didn’t even have to write anything original to produce another hit.
Two years later it was essentially all over. The group that topped the critics’ poll and sold four million albums couldn’t even go gold with its flop follow-up, Zingalamaduni, an album that peaked at No. 55 and contained “Warm Sentiments,” an anti-abortion song featuring lines like “It wasn’t on crack / Nothing like that / It wasn’t by rape so why the escape,” and “After I scold you, I hope I can mold you.”
By the time I started writing professionally about hip-hop for The A.V. Club in 1998, Arrested Development’s name was bandied about less as a landmark group that helped advance the art of hip-hop and more as a joke. The masterpieces of 1992 tend to be timeless. The Chronic, Check Your Head, Mecca And The Soul Brother, Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde, Daily Operation, Don’t Sweat The Technique, Whut? Thee Album, and The Predator have only grown in stature and acclaim over the past 20 years. They’ve aged like fine wine, while an Arrested Development album the critical community hailed as a great leap forward for hip-hop has been half-forgotten.
This raises some interesting questions: Why was 3 Years, 5 Months & 2 Days In The Life Of… so massive, undeniable, and important in 1992? Bear in mind that Arrested Development didn’t top a critic’s poll or go gold with an album that was filthy with the kind of socially conscious messages that are historically toxic to album sales: It topped the critics’ poll and went quadruple-platinum. It was the top pick of a broad consensus, not just a few passionate acolytes. Why has the album’s legacy only diminished with time?
The answer, I suspect, has a lot to do with earnestness. Earnestness was both one of the group’s greatest strengths—it believed passionately in the rhetoric it espoused—and one of its downfalls. Nowhere is the downside to Arrested Development’s often-admirable earnestness more apparent than in its song, “Mr. Wendal.”
“Mr. Wendal” is a crazy contradiction: an upbeat pop single about homelessness. The group’s frontman Speech sets out to humanize an abstract social problem and lend dignity to the downtrodden and oppressed, but he goes overboard by presenting the title vagrant as a spiritual holy man who trades “knowledge” for shoes while “blacks spend all their money on big colleges,” yet “most of you come out confused.”
Mr. Wendal suffers from none of that kind of moral uncertainty. Being indigent has given him the kind of clarity and wisdom that only comes with taking hobo showers in McDonald’s bathrooms and sleeping on heat grates. For Mr. Wendal has ascended to a higher state of consciousness. In Speech’s admiring words, “[Mr. Wendal’s] only worries are sickness and occasional harassment by the police.” If society is intent on seeing Mr. Wendal and his ilk as sub-human, if they see them at all, then Speech is equally vigilant about depicting Mr. Wendal as super-human, a wise urban prophet/griot sent to an unfeeling world “to warn us about our ways.”
Speech doesn’t seem to realize that he’s just as guilty of denying the homeless their messy humanity as people who sneer at the homeless as human garbage. By positing the urban poor as wise mystics with much to teach us worldly but spiritually bankrupt seekers, Speech denies their fundamental complexity and fallibility and by positing “sickness and occasional harassment” as Mr. Wendal’s only worries, Speech minimizes and diminishes the real problems the homeless face.
“Mr. Wendal” is sweet and well-intentioned but also naive, myopic, and ultimately more than a little condescending in its portrayal of the very people it wants to help. The same is true of the album as a whole. 3 Years, 5 Months & 2 Days In The Life Of… has aged so poorly in the public imagination that when I revisited it, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the album critics of the world deemed the unassailable apogee of 1992 hip-hop is actually pretty damn good, if fundamentally flawed, in ways that foreshadowed the group’s rapid demise.
It’s remarkable that Arrested Development was able to propel a song about the awesomeness of homeless people onto MTV and Top 40 radio, but the song’s trembling sincerity and touchy-feely humanism sometimes borders on kitsch. “Mr. Wendal” would reek of freshman-dorm philosophizing even if Speech didn’t actually rap, “Civilization, are we really civilized? Yes or no, who are we to judge / When thousands of innocent men could be brutally enslaved and killed over a racist grudge.”
As those lyrics indelibly/unfortunately convey, Arrested Development had the misfortune to be hip-hop hippies, and history has not been kind to hippies of any stripe. Sure, De La Soul wrestled with the hippie tag early in their career but they fought that association from the beginning, rejecting the label as early as “Me Myself And I.” De La Soul may have nursed utopian tendencies, but the demented dark humor of producer Prince Paul, a preeminent prankster and provocateur, went a long way toward undercutting the group’s sunshine-y hippie vibe. Arrested Development were not savvy or lucky enough to have a Prince Paul to save them excessive earnestness and clumsy sincerity. Instead, it had Baba Oje, an old man Speech met at University Of Wisconsin-Milwaukee who served as the group’s “elder,” a role that, according to the group’s bio on its website, entails bringing “wisdom to the youthful energy of the rap.”
Arrested Development is a liberal dream: an assemblage of Afrocentric true believers who might as well have been working its way through a checklist of important topics for socially relevant message songs. On 3 Years, 5 Months & 2 Days In The Life Of…, Speech and the gang glorify and extol the role of mothers (“Mama’s Always Onstage”); reject Eurocentric notions of beauty while evangelizing on behalf of the natural beauty of African-American women in songs that marry the political with the sensual and the idealistic with the erotic (“Natural,” “Dawn Of The Dread”); and sermonize about black churches that preach salvation in the afterlife while ignoring the appalling social conditions in the here and now (“Fishing For Religion” in addition to “Mr. Wendal”). If that weren’t enough to make critics who were aghast at the sexism, profanity, and mindless adulation of materialism that characterized so much popular hip-hop of the time swoon, the group explicitly addressed, confronted, and rejected thuggish behavior on “People Everyday, ” a track complete with a chorus borrowed from Sly And The Family Stone’s “Everyday People.”
In the song, the battle between Arrested Development’s idealism and the boozy, leering sexism of gangsta rap plays out in microcosm: Speech is minding his own business, listening to his boombox in a park, when he spies a woman he’s been dating walking toward him. Speech’s delight turns into something much darker, however, when he spies a group of brothers “bugging out / drinking the 40 ounce, going the nigga route / disrespecting my black queen / holding their crotches and being obscene.”
The young hoodlums underestimate Speech because of his penchant for brightly colored clothing and peaceful aura, and while Speech explicitly states, “I ain’t Ice Cube,” it takes four or five cops to subdue the diminutive musician once he gets into a ferocious rage. Speech’s bravado is thoroughly tongue-in-cheek; it’s difficult to imagine him posing a threat to anyone, let alone a group of gun-toting hoods. In case there are any doubts about Speech’s pacifism, Speech closes the song with the plea “Africans need to be loving each other.”
To its credit, the album seldom feels calculating or contrived: It feels refreshingly warm and organic, qualities that extend to its bluesy, folksy, soulful production. Arrested Development’s debut aspires unabashedly to bohemian art. It sets out to create music with the deeply spiritual, transformative, soul-consuming power of great poetry and succeeds spectacularly on “Tennessee,” the single and music video that fueled the group’s unlikely ascent.
A song with the hushed reverence and intensity of a prayer, “Tennessee” is built on restless percussion; a moody, insistent groove that seems to push our spiritual seeker of a protagonist toward a mysterious but important destiny; and a sample from Prince’s “Alphabet St.” that’s been slowed down until it sounds ghostly and haunting, a specter of black music’s mysterious and regal past ushering Speech further along his path.
“Tennessee” is addressed with equal intimacy to the Lord and to the listener. The song finds Speech in a state of deep confusion and despair. In a voice quivering with emotion and sadness, the Arrested Development frontman raps, “My grandma’s passed / My brother’s gone / I’ve never at once felt so alone.” Speech cries out to the heavens for a sense of direction, literal and figurative, and discovers that fate is leading him to Tennessee for reasons he can only begin to understand. Prince isn’t the only ghost haunting the song. In the first verse, Speech raps of wanting to release the ghosts in his skull, while in the second verse he speaks of traveling to the deep South, “where the ghosts of childhood haunts me.”
On “Tennessee” Speech conjures up powerful spirits as he rhymes movingly of walking the same roads “my forefathers walked” and climbing the trees “my forefathers hung from.” It’s a song about the wonderful and tragic history of black men and women in the South, about the tricky intersection of the past and the present and a deep spiritual connection to land that extends from generation to generation. It’s about race and geography and identity and transforming tragedy into triumph and genocide into celebration.
Where time has not been overly kind to Arrested Development, “Tennessee” remains timeless in part because it’s so rooted in the past. The song almost singlehandedly justifies the deafening hype that surrounded Arrested Development even if its distinct note of self-importance helps explain why the group faded so quickly and permanently. In the song, Speech raps, “I ask you Lord why you enlightened me / Without the enlightenment of all my folks.” Speech’s rhetoric walked a thin line separating righteousness from self-righteousness and moral uplift from tiresome preachiness. “Tennessee” is powerful because it finds Speech in such a profound state of uncertainty. Speech sometimes rapped with a certainty that could be grating, but on “Tennessee” he was bold enough to concede that he was lost and seeking guidance from a higher power.
If Speech’s propensity for self-righteousness and preaching ultimately proved Arrested Development’s creative and commercial undoing, much of the charm of The Pharcyde’s landmark 1992 debut Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde lies in the fact that the group members’ (Imani, Bootie Brown, Fat Lip, and Slim Kid Tre) preaching began and ended with them evangelizing on behalf of marijuana on songs like “Pack The Pipe.”
When the group invokes hip-hop’s oppressive moral code or obsession with realness and authenticity, it’s invariably as a smartass stoned joke. “Ya Mama,” for example, begins with an introduction where The Pharcyde is being admonished to be among the righteous brothers “droppin’ knowledge” and “wisdom for the people” (admonitions a capital-A Artiste like Speech would, and did, take seriously) before the group devotes an entire song—its first single no less—to some of the most inspired “ya mama” jokes ever committed to delicious vinyl. “Ya Mama” is filled with hilariously vivid imagery, from the image of a naked mama with the wings and teeth of an African bat on a mountain top tooting on a flute while riding on a horse and drinking whiskey from a boot to an even sadder mama beat-boxing for Lou Rawls in some bright-red boxer drawers. “Officer,” meanwhile, opens with producer J-Swift and Fatlip doing their best Flavor Flav and Chuck D pressions as a prelude to The Pharcyde’s look at the lighter side of getting pulled over by racist cops.
On the gloriously demented close of “4 Better Or 4 Worse,” Fatlip goes off-book and out of his mind in a deranged freestyle where he seems to be cycling rapidly not just through different flows and rhythms but also radically different, even antithetical personalities, like an earnest-backpacker type who portentously proclaims, “The community grows like seeds, and the seeds will not fall from the tree if you don’t water the grass” in what could be, but is not, a fairly devastating parody of Speech’s posturing. Fatlip’s unhinged verse finds him oscillating wildly between faux high-minded earnestness and violent insanity. He begins his verse by calling up a would-be soulmate and offering to pick her brains in the most literal possible sense: by taking a hammer to the top of her skull then physically eating her brain before steadily making his way down the rest of her body. As Fatlip himself acknowledges just after he threatens to stick his fist inside the unfortunate object of his desire, he goes more than a little overboard.
Fatlip’s grotesque freestyle should feel jarringly out of place on “4 Better Or 4 Worse” and Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde, an album otherwise wholly devoid of surreal blood-splattered fantasies, but it adds to the exhilarating sense that inmates have taken over the asylum; anything is possible and permitted, even a rapper waxing theatrical about eating brains and then madly referencing the chorus to Black Sheep’s “This Or That” for reasons known only to him. The Pharcyde was the life-saving antidote to both the solemn self-seriousness of conscious political rap and the violent, profane nihilism of gangsta rap. The Pharcyde eschewed posturing and role-playing in all its forms, whether that meant adopting the high-minded mantle of righteousness or the uniform of outlaw criminality.
The Pharcyde didn’t seem to care about anything beyond having fun and smoking as much weed as humanly possible. They were kids living defiantly in the moment. There is a reason many of the greatest hip-hop albums of all time were created by broke, stoned teenagers too inexperienced and naive to realize just what they’re up against and don’t yet grasp what a soul-crushing, originality-destroying machine the record industry truly is. In the case of albums like Bizarre Ride, Paul’s Boutique, or 3 Feet High And Rising, ignorance—or rather innocence and obliviousness—truly is bliss. With Bizarre Ride, the members of The Pharcyde set out to do nothing more ambitious or world-shaking than make themselves and each other laugh. Like Arrested Development’s debut, The Pharcyde benefits from an incredible sense of community; the group was four men working as one.
Bizarre Ride is exuberant in its youth and vitality. It’s a kinetic rush that soars from one high to another, from the giddy high spirits and rambunctious humor of “Oh Shit,” “Ya Mama,” “Soul Flower (Remix),” and “I’m That Type Of Nigga” to the moody introspection of the breakout hit “Passing Me By” and “Otha Fish,” tracks that presage the grown-up vibe of the group’s masterful 1995 follow-up Labcabincalifornia.
Labcabincalifornia and Bizarre Ride share a wonderful clubhouse vibe. As a lonely 16-year-old, it was an honor just to be able to hang out with guys who seemed to enjoy themselves and each other so much, if only vicariously. But the group’s incredible chemistry on wax didn’t necessarily extend to their everyday lives. According to Brian Coleman’s invaluable book Check The Technique, outsiders like Jay Dee, who went on to produce much of Labcabincalifornia, were amazed by how by how much and how viciously the group members fought. Imani, Bootie Brown, Fatlip, and Slim Kid Tre loved one another and fought like brothers. Sometimes verbal spats and creative disagreements escalated into full-on fistfights, even though the group members all lived together in a house they deemed Pharcyde Manor.
The Pharcyde seemed to love each other and life in equal measure. Bizarre Ride radiates joy and friendship and youthful vitality, but the group’s happy exterior belies a level of internal turmoil and depression remarkable even for a group of talented musicians. Labcabincalifornia was the last album to feature the original line-up. Fatlip was kicked out of the group after the album’s completion and when The Pharcyde, or rather “The Pharcyde” released Humboldt Beginnings to deafening silence in 2004, Bootie Brown and Imani were the sole original members left.
The group tried to put aside their differences for the sake of a gaudy paycheck and toured together as part of the mammoth Rock The Bells festival in 2008, but “The Pharcyde” is now confusingly touring in two different line-ups: Fatlip and Slim Kid Tre perform together, as do Imani and Bootie Brown, but apparently only Imani and Bootie Brown are legally allowed to call themselves The Pharcyde.
If that weren’t dispiriting enough for Pharcyde acolytes, the post-fame travails of the group and their Bizarre Ride producer have inspired two separate documentaries about depression, substance abuse, and bottoming out. After parting ways with The Pharcyde, J-Swift became addicted to crack, a battle chronicled in the feature-length documentary 1 More Hit; and Spike Jonze, who worked with the group as a music-video director, made an achingly sad but funny short documentary about Fatlip called “What’s Up Fatlip,” after Fatlip’s comeback single of the same name. In the funniest, most heartbreaking moment in “What’s Up Fatlip,” Fatlip adopts the guttural croon of a drunken bum and croaks the chorus to “Passin’ Me By,” but the context is radically different. Fatlip is no longer a “fresh kid” but a sad, bitter old man wondering what in the hell happened to the beautiful, fresh-faced achiever he used to be. It’s the bleakest kind of self-deprecation. Bizarre Ride is a gloriously human comedy, one of the funniest and most alive hip-hop albums of all time, but by the time Fatlip referenced it on “What’s Up Fatlip,” it had morphed into a tragedy, albeit the kind that’s still good for some bleak chuckles.
Bizarre Ride and 3 Years each boasted the benefit of surprise. They were the products of unheralded, unhyped unknowns, so expectations were non-existent. The same could not be said of Dr. Dre’s The Chronic. The album may have marked Dr. Dre’s solo debut—it’s such a group affair and introduced such a preponderance of new artists that it almost seems like a misnomer to call it a solo project—but by the time it hit shelves around Christmastime of 1992, Dr. Dre had already established himself as one of hip-hop’s most influential, innovative, and important forces thanks to his groundbreaking role as the mad scientist behind N.W.A’s sound.
In a previous column I wrote that N.W.A. worked hard on Straight Outta Compton to create the impression that the group members were so into each other that they might as well have walked down the street in lockstep like The Monkees at the beginning of each episode, but The Chronic wastes no time immediately dismantling that carefully crafted facade of togetherness and brotherly solidarity with an all-out, no-holds-barred attack on Dre’s old boss and groupmate Eazy-E as well as rivals Luther Campbell and Tim Dog.
“Fuck Wit Dre Day (And Everybody’s Celebratin’)”—which is not yet recognized as a legal holiday in spite of all Dre has accomplished—is at once a defiant statement of purpose, one of the greatest diss songs of all time, and an incredibly puerile and sophomoric deluge of threats, mama jokes, and homophobic taunts coupled unself-consciously with extensive promises to make various enemies perform oral sex on Dr. Dre and guest rapper Snoop Doggy Dogg.
The song is hilarious, intentionally and unintentionally, a bizarrely oblivious one-two punch of homophobia wedded to over-the-top homoeroticism. Judging by the song’s lyrics, Dr. Dre and his ghostwriters (primarily protégé Dogg and frequent collaborator The D.O.C.) have spent a great deal of time fantasizing about making their professional adversaries perform oral sex on them. Listening to it as a 36-year-old man, I’m mildly surprised that I took The Chronic as seriously as I did when I was a teenager, but Dr. Dre and his associates were cool; they were older, they were on TV and the radio, and I suppose that gave them an authority in my eyes and those of my generation that their lyrics did not entirely justify. But mostly The Chronic had authority because it was so good. It was less the lyrical content of the album that bewitched a generation and made its creator and Snoop Doggy Dogg gods than the album’s sound, an airy, wide-open blaxploitation utopia rooted in the psychedelic funk of Parliament-Funkadelic and the bawdy party comedy of Rudy Ray Moore.
With The Chronic, Dre took the funk and soul albums of the ’70s and ’80s out of their sleeves and into the outside world where they could live and breathe and smoke and soak in the California sun. On The Chronic, the past met the present as Dr. Dre paid homage to his greatest creative influence on “Let Me Ride,” a celebration of car culture and the southern California good life that takes its liberating chorus from Parliament’s “Mothership Connection (Star Child).” For one song at least, Dre lets go of his paranoia and fatalism and finds escape and transcendence in a smooth ride and a laid-back groove.
The next track, “The Day The Niggaz Took Over” is both a return to the incendiary protest music of “Fuck Tha Police” and a reminder of the duality of a Los Angeles street life that could turn from idyllic to dangerous without warning. The song posits the Rodney King riots less as a violent outburst than as an armed revolt against racist forces of oppression.
The Chronic is notable partially as the album that introduced a lanky, skinny teenager who called himself Snoop Doggy Dogg to the world. Dre and Snoop Dogg had previously collaborated on the theme song to the underrated 1992 neo-noir Deep Cover. The song anticipated the sound and aesthetic of The Chronic: sinister synthesizer grooves and funky basslines as a silky, seductive sonic backdrop to the effortless give-and-take and instant chemistry of Dr. Dre and a wildly charismatic (if weirdly camera-shy) rapper he seemed put on earth to produce and rap alongside.
Snoop Doggy Dogg’s appearances on “Deep Cover” and The Chronic represent one of the purest star-making moments in all of pop culture. The second half of The Chronic is so loaded with hungry young talent that it almost feels like an open mic exercise, albeit one with the most talented producer in rap behind the boards, but even in this dense thicket of hungry up-and-comers, from tomboy Lady Of Rage to mellow crooner Nate Dogg, Snoop is the undeniable star, usurping even the similarly magnetic Dre.
Like The Chronic, Snoop Doggy Dogg was a mass of riveting contradictions, a gangsta rapper with a rap sheet to back up his words who nevertheless spoke and rapped in a lilting, soft-spoken, almost effeminate drawl. Snoop Doggy Dogg’s laconic presence helped make The Chronic’s nihilism palatable to a massive mainstream audience. His hypnotic voice and the incongruous prettiness of Dre’s fussy production lent a soft, silky texture and pop sheen to the album’s adolescent glorification of money, power, and strength.
The Chronic offered a stoned fantasy of eternal adolescence that was too good to be true. In leaving Ruthless Records and the team of Jerry Heller and Eazy-E for Death Row and a glowering football-player-turned-mogul named Suge Knight, Dre simply went from a difficult situation to an impossible, possibly life-threatening one. Yet, as with the internal ruptures tearing The Pharcyde apart, it was impossible to see any of this from the outside. As an impressionable teenager, I figured Dre had it all figured out and that Death Row, like The Pharcyde Manor, must be a magical clubhouse of brilliant young artists living their dreams, not a vessel for heartless exploitation and mindless brutality. When Kurupt, RBX, The Lady Of Rage, and Snoop Doggy Dogg rap about being “Stranded On Death Row” on one of The Chronic’s final songs, they had no idea just how prescient the song title would prove, only instead of being in prison or in the ghetto, they’d be stuck in one of the most brutal, unsparing corners of a record industry that tends to be heartless and soul-crushing under the best of circumstances.
Dr. Dre was able to escape Death Row with his life and his career intact, but he remains haunted by the enduring legacy of his solo debut. Dre hasn’t released a proper solo album since 1999’s 2001 in no small part because he knows his third solo album will have to live up to the impossibly high standards set by his first two albums. Arrested Development and The Pharcyde remain mired in the past in other ways. Both acts have embarked on 20th-anniversary tours behind their 1992 classics; they’re nostalgia acts while Dr. Dre continues to reign over a hip-hop landscape he helped shape.
Dre is in many ways a victim of his own success. As a distinguished elder statesman and one of the richest men in music, he is forced to compete with an army of imitators, producers and rappers who grew up on his music, but he also has to face the sky-high expectations of an audience that will be disappointed by anything short of greatness. So it’s understandable why Dre remains, to borrow the title of one of his landmark tracks, a watcher patiently surveying the ever-shifting and evolving hip-hop landscape. While Arrested Development and the various factions of The Pharcyde struggle to remain relevant, Dre has essentially won the game by taking himself out of it and making fans wait endlessly for a return that seems more unlikely with each passing year.
Up Next: The Coup, Tha Alkaholiks, and Wu-Tang Clan release three strikingly different debuts.