Sunday, November 17, 2019
"2001 still somehow sounds like the future"
The Ringer – "How Dre Forgot About Dre: The Story of ‘2001’"
"TheThe first sound you hear on 2001 is the THX Deep Note crescendoing and rumbling like an earthquake. It’s a fitting, on-the-nose introduction to one of the most cinematic rap albums of all time: Throughout 2001, Dre creates a highly curated noir L.A. soundscape, complete with skits, whirring helicopters, bar chatter, and whizzing bullets.
The production on “The Watcher,” like the rest of 2001, is the culmination of years of experimenting: It’s fermented, stark G-funk filtered through the noir of L.A. Confidential, complete with crisp violin plucks, delicate piano, low horns, skulking bass, and pulsing drums. The trademark high synth is still there, but instead of dominating songs, like The Chronic’s “Let Me Ride,” it lingers in the background, an eerie callback to simpler times. Dre had hinted at his new sound on those earlier Eminem and Snoop tracks that same year, but no one was prepared for what 2001 held in store. Even now, 20 years later, it somehow sounds futuristic.
Throughout 2001’s 22 tracks, Dre and Mel-Man reinvented what hip-hop could sound like. Instead of old funk records, this time around Dre incorporated French songs from the 1960s, several TV and film scores, and a bevy of R&B licks without compromising 2001’s nocturnal core. The album is a statement in simplicity, orchestration, and scientifically precise execution. “Xxplosive,” one of 2001’s best beats, flips the first few bars of the classic Soul Mann & the Brothers instrumental “Bumpy’s Lament” from the Shaft soundtrack and pairs it with triangle-twinkles and drums so solid that Kanye stole them to help find his own sound early in his career. “The Next Episode” prominently takes David Axelrod and Dave McCallum’s “The Edge” and pairs it with trembling, reverberating drum hits and a massive, endorphin-generating build-up. “Big Ego’s” and “Still D.R.E.” incorporate producer Scott Storch’s bone-chilling keys and Mel-Man’s gurgling bass, while “Fuck You” and “Light Speed” ooze synths so restrained they feel on the verge of petering out.
As I’ve gotten older, 2001 has remained in my personal rap album pantheon. The beats continue to thrill me, and most of the rapping hasn’t aged. 2001 still somehow sounds like the future. But my obsession with the album’s lore has steadily faded. I interviewed Hittman when I was 20 because his disappearance post-2001 only added more to the myth of the album—and the myth of Dre himself. But when I met Hittman, I found him living happily off royalties with his family in Pasadena, California. And when I learned the reasons for his disappearance—personal tragedy, a disinterested Dre, bad business deals—the bubble popped. Hittman didn’t mysteriously disappear; he got burnt out and chose to move on. The reality was far from the myth, and much more human.
How do we choose the stories we tell about ourselves? Dre chose to bury the shame, anger, and insecurity of his deepest self within tall tales of authority, menace, and, later, questionable contrition. He got one of the greatest rap albums of all time, and a remarkable life, out of that truth bending. But there is always a cost. I asked Hittman, back in 2014, on 2001’s 15th anniversary, whether he had any regrets. He quickly told me no. “And while I may have squandered any remnants of a career, I never compromised my character in exchange for one,” he said, sitting outside at a frozen yogurt shop, watching his two young daughters play. “So I can live with that.” "