Welcome to the beginning of my countdown of the top 10 Dre songs of all time. Many people will be surprised by what’s on here, what’s not, and especially where certain legendary song (“Forgot About Dre”, “Still D.R.E.”, end up.) By I promise that this list has been formed in my mind over a period of multiple years and through deep familiarity and knowledge of Dre’s entire Discography, from his Wreckin Cru of the 80s, to NWA, down through “The Chronic” and Snoop’s “Doggystyle”, and then the come up on Aftermath/Shady/G-Unit records and his godfathering of the careers of Eminem, 50 Cent, and Game.
In making this list, I’ve had to be a little coldhearted. I’ve had to listen to all of Dr. Dre’s songs in the current context of today’s musical world. Which songs are still most relevant today? Which of them still feel new to us today? Which can we listen to over, and over, and over, without them ever getting out? This means that, at times, I’ve had to disregard the influence certain songs had at the time they came out in order to rather pick the songs that they led to (hint, hint.)
In choosing these songs, I’ve also picked the song based on everything: production, beats, rap, the whole deal. So if a rapper kills it on a certain song, based on my perception that Dre probably had something to do with how their rap was crafted and delivered, I took that into account.
But without any more delay, the first song of the Top Ten Dre Songs of All Time:
(click above to hear the song)
Probably a shocker for many of you out there. Yes, the beat is absolutely dirt. It’s sick. It’s nasty. But the rap isn’t quite there. I think it was ghostwritten by the D.O.C., who, while being a very good rapper in his own right, simply couldn’t measure up to Eminem’s work on the rest of the 1999 album “Chronic 2001.” We’ll see the effects of Em’s lyricism with the placement of certain songs up and down this list.
Furthermore, the beat, compared to Dre’s later works, comes across as a bit one-dimensional. There is no elaboration or variation of different structural sections through hallmark musical ideas, like we saw in my examination of Dre’s orchestration decisions between 2000 and 2009, Rap Post Analysis #10, which you can navigate to on the right.
Now, however, for what’s good about the beat. As is usual with Dre, each part of the beat plays its own very specific part as being a part of the whole, which is where all the parts come together to be more than the sum of their parts. He fills out the whole frequency range of his instruments, with a high clean guitar block chord part, with the foreboding, ominous low strings. It perfectly conjures up the West Coast life that Dre strove to depict, and was certainly an unprecedented soundworld to evoke in rap up until that time. Even today, the beat sounds fresh. Dre’s natural minor world (the keys are in a minor key without any 6th or 7th scale degree inflections) would go on to form a cornerstone for songs over the rest of his career, including everything from 50’s “In Da Club” to Busta Rhymes “Get You Some.” We’ll be exploring this soundworld more in depth as we move through the list.
So yes, the beat is sick. But it suffers a little from a less than stellar rap, and Dre not yet knowing what he would learn over the rest of his career.
Look tomorrow for the 9th Top Ten Dre Song Of All Time!