2001 (also referred to as The Chronic 2001 or The Chronic II) is the second studio album by American rapper and hip hop producer Dr. Dre. It was released on November 16, 1999, by Aftermath Entertainment and Interscope Records as the follow-up to his 1992 debut album, The Chronic. The album was produced mainly by Dr. Dre and Mel-Man, as well as Lord Finesse, and features several guest contributions from fellow U.S. rappers such as Hittman, Snoop Dogg, Kurupt, Xzibit, Eminem, and Nate Dogg.
2001 exhibits an expansion on Dre’s debut G-funk sound and contains gangsta rap themes such as violence, crime, promiscuity, sex, drug use, and street gangs. The album debuted at number 2 on the U.S. Billboard 200 chart, selling 516,000 copies in its first week. It produced three singles that attained chart success and has been certified 6× Platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA); and as of August 2015 the album has sold 7,800,000 copies in the United States. 2001 received generally positive reviews from critics, many of whom praised the music although some found the lyrics objectionable.
In 1995, the original successor to The Chronic was to be titled “The Chronic II: A New World Odor (Poppa’s Got A Brand New Funk)”. It was to include various new songs by Dr. Dre along with the Tupac single “California Love”, which wasn’t included on his album All Eyez on Me for this reason. However, this version of the album was scrapped after Dre’s departure from Death Row Records.
After the creation of Aftermath Entertainment, the album was initially titled Chronic 2000 until Priority Records, who had become Death Row Records’ new distributor decided, in conjunction with Death Row’s founder and then-CEO Suge Knight, to call their compilation album Chronic 2000. Death Row owned the trademark for The Chronic as did Interscope Records who previously distributed Death Row. Knight was tipped off about the name of Dr. Dre’s album since notification of the trademark use was required by his label Aftermath Records. When Aftermath found out that Priority and Death Row planned to use the same name for their album, Dre sought legal action. According to his lawyer Howard King, “both sides agreed that we’d allow the other to use the title, and then let the public decide which one they preferred”.
After the release of Chronic 2000, they announced that Dr. Dre’s album would now be named Chronic 2001. Shortly after, Interscope began a big budget promotional campaign for Chronic 2001. At this point, Priority decided not to honor the original agreement and threatened to sue Dre if the Chronic trademark were to be used in any capacity. Dre eventually decided to release the album as simply 2001.
In an interview with The New York Times, Dr. Dre spoke about his motivation to record the album and how he felt that he had to prove himself to fans and media again after doubts arose over his production and rapping ability. These doubts came from the fact that he had not released a solo studio album since The Chronic (1992). He stated:
For the last couple of years, there’s been a lot of talk out on the streets about whether or not I can still hold my own, whether or not I’m still good at producing. That was the ultimate motivation for me. Magazines, word of mouth and rap tabloids were saying I didn’t have it any more. What more do I need to do? How many platinum records have I made? O.K., here’s the album – now what do you have to say?
The album was intended to be released as a mixtape; with tracks linked through interludes and turntable effects, but was then changed to be set up like a film. Dr. Dre stated, “Everything you hear is planned. It’s a movie, with different varieties of situations. So you’ve got buildups, touching moments, aggressive moments. You’ve even got a ‘Pause for Porno.’ It’s got everything that a movie needs.” Speaking of how he did not record the album for club or radio play and that he planned the album simply for entertainment with comical aspects throughout, he commented “I’m not trying to send out any messages or anything with this record. I just basically do hard-core hip-hop and try to add a touch of dark comedy here and there. A lot of times the media just takes this and tries to make it into something else when it’s all entertainment first. You shouldn’t take it too seriously.”
Some of the lyrics on the album used by Dre have been noted to be penned by several ghostwriters. Royce da 5’9″ was rumored to be a ghostwriter on the album. He was noted for writing the last track, “The Message”; however, he is not credited by his legal name or alias in the liner notes. A track he recorded on the album, originally named “The Way I Be Pimpin'”, was later retouched as “Xxplosive”; this version has Dr. Dre rapping penned verses by Royce and featured Royce’s vocals on the chorus. Royce wrote several tracks such as “The Throne Is Mine” and “Stay in Your Place” which were later cut from the final track list. The tracks have been leaked later on several mixtapes, including Pretox.
The album’s production expanded on that of The Chronic, with new, sparse beats and reduced use of samples which were prominent on his debut album. Co-producer Scott Storch talked of how Dr. Dre used his collaborators during recording sessions: “At the time, I saw Dr. Dre desperately needed something. He needed a fuel injection, and Dre utilized me as the nitrous oxide. He threw me into the mix, and I sort of tapped on a new flavor with my whole piano sound and the strings and orchestration. So I’d be on the keyboards, and Mike [Elizondo] was on the bass guitar, and Dre was on the drum machine.” Josh Tyrangiel of Time has described the recording process which Dr. Dre employs, stating “Every Dre track begins the same way, with Dre behind a drum machine in a room full of trusted musicians. (They carry beepers. When he wants to work, they work.) He’ll program a beat, then ask the musicians to play along; when Dre hears something he likes, he isolates the player and tells him how to refine the sound.”
The album primarily featured co-production between Dr. Dre and Mel-Man and was generally well received by critics. AllMusic writer Stephen Thomas Erlewine noted that Dr. Dre had expanded on the G-funk beats on his previous album, The Chronic, and stated, “He’s pushed himself hard, finding new variations in the formula by adding ominous strings, soulful vocals, and reggae, resulting in fairly interesting recontextualizations” and went on to say, “Sonically, this is first-rate, straight-up gangsta.”
Entertainment Weekly’s Tom Sinclair depicted the album as “Chilly keyboard motifs gliding across gut-punching bass lines, strings and synths swooping in and out of the mix, naggingly familiar guitar licks providing visceral punctuation”. NME described the production as “patented tectonic funk beats and mournful atmospherics”. PopMatters praised the production, stating that “the hip-hop rhythms are catchy, sometimes in your face, sometimes subtle, but always a fine backdrop for the power of Dre’s voice.” Jon Pareles of The New York Times mentioned that the beats were “lean and immaculate, each one a pithy combination of beat, rap, melody and strategic silences”.
The album marked the beginning of Dr. Dre’s collaboration with keyboardist Scott Storch, who had previously worked with The Roots and is credited as a co-writer on several of 2001’s tracks, including the hit single “Still D.R.E.”. Storch would later go on to become a successful producer in his own right, and has been credited as a co-producer with Dr. Dre on some of his productions since.
The lyrics on the album received criticism and created some controversy. They include many themes associated with gangsta rap, such as violence, promiscuity, street gangs, drive-by shootings, crime and drug usage. Stephen Thomas Erlewine said that the only subject matter on the album was “violence, drugs, pussy, bitches, dope, guns, and gangsters” and that these themes have become repetitive and unchanged in the last ten years. Critics noted that Dr. Dre had differed from his effort to “clean-up his act” which he tried to establish with his 1996 single, “Been There, Done That” from Dr. Dre Presents…The Aftermath.
NME mentioned that the album was full of “pig-headed, punk-dicked, ‘bitch’-dissing along with requisite dollops of ho-slapping violence, marijuana-addled bravado and penis-sucking wish fulfilment.” Massey noted that the lyrics were overly explicit but praised his delivery and flow: “His rhymes are quick, his delivery laid back yet full of punch.” The rhymes involve Dr. Dre’s return to the forefront of hip hop, which is conveyed in the singles “Still D.R.E.” and “Forgot About Dre”. Many critics cited the last track, “The Message”; a song dedicated to Dr. Dre’s deceased brother, as what the album could have been without the excessively explicit lyrics, with Massey calling it “downright beautiful” and “a classic of modern rap”.
Three singles were released from the album: “Still D.R.E.”, “Forgot About Dre” and “The Next Episode”. Other tracks “Fuck You”, “Let’s Get High”, “What’s the Difference” and “Xxplosive” were not officially released as singles but received some radio airplay which resulted in them charting in the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks. “Still D.R.E.” was released as the lead single in October 1999. It peaked at number 93 on the Billboard Hot 100, number 32 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks and reached number 11 on the Hot Rap Singles. It reached number six on the UK single charts in March 2000. The song was nominated at the 2000 Grammy Awards for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group, but lost to The Roots and Erykah Badu’s “You Got Me”.
“Forgot About Dre” was released as the second single in 2000 and like the previous single, it was a hit on multiple charts. It reached number 25 on the Billboard Hot 100, number 14 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks and number 3 on the Rhythmic Top 40. It reached number seven on the UK single charts in June 2000. The accompanying music video won the MTV Video Music Award for Best Rap Video in 2000. The song won Dr. Dre and Eminem Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group at the 2001 Grammy Awards.
“The Next Episode” was released as the third and final single in 2000. It peaked at number 23 on the Billboard Hot 100, number 11 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks and number 2 on the Rhythmic Top 40. It peaked at number three on UK single charts in February 2001. It was nominated at the 2001 Grammy Awards for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group, but the award went to another single from the same album to Dr. Dre and Eminem for “Forgot About Dre”.
During the hype of the Nu Metal era, the band Korn kept Dr. Dre from hitting number 1 in America’s Billboard 200 with their album Issues which sold 575,000 copies. As a result, the album debuted at number 2 on the US Billboard 200, with first-week sales of 516,000 copies. It also entered at number one on Billboard’s Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart. The album was successful in Canada, where it reached number 2 on the charts. The record was mildly successful in Europe, reaching number 4 in the United Kingdom, number 7 in Ireland, number 15 in France, number 17 in the Netherlands and number 26 in Norway. It peaked at number 11 on the New Zealand album chart. Closing out the year of 2000, the album was number 5 on the Billboard Top Albums and number one on the Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart. It re-entered the charts in 2003, peaking on the UK Albums Top 75 at number 61 and on the Ireland Albums Top 75 at number 30. The album was certified six times Platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) on November 21, 2000. It is Dr. Dre’s best selling album, as his previous album, The Chronic, was certified three times platinum. As of August 2015, the album has sold 7,800,000 copies in the United States.
2001 received generally positive reviews from critics. Stephen Thomas Erlewine of AllMusic stated, “2001 isn’t as consistent or striking as Slim Shady, but the music is always brimming with character.” Entertainment Weekly’s Tom Sinclair praised the production, calling it “uncharacteristically sparse sound” from Dr. Dre and that it was as “addictive as it was back when over 3 million record buyers got hooked on The Chronic and Snoop Dogg’s Dre-produced Doggystyle” and went on to commend Dr. Dre, stating, “If any rap producer deserves the title “composer”, it’s he.” NME mentioned that Dr. Dre didn’t expand the genre, but it was “powerful enough in parts, but not clever enough to give Will Smith the fear”. PopMatters writer Chris Massey declared that “Musically, 2001 is about as close to brilliant as any one gangsta rap album might possibly get.” Christopher John Farley of Time stated that “The beats are fresh and involving, and Dre’s collaborations with Eminem and Snoop Dogg have ferocity and wit.” Although he was ambivalent towards the album’s subject matter and guest rappers, Greg Tate of Spin was pleasantly surprised by “the most memorable MC’ing on this album com[ing] from Dre himself, Eminem notwithstanding” and stated, “Whatever one’s opinion of the sexual politics and gun lust of Dre’s canon, his ongoing commitment to formal excellence and sonic innovation in this art form may one day earn him a place next to George Clinton, if not Stevie Wonder, Duke Ellington, or Miles Davis.”
In a negative review, Robert Christgau from The Village Voice found Dr. Dre’s lyrics distastefully misogynistic, writing “it’s a New Millennium, but he’s Still S.L.I.M.E. … For an hour, with time out for some memorable Eminem tracks, Dre degrades women every way he can think of, all of which involve his dick.” Chicago Tribune critic Greg Kot said Dr. Dre’s production boasted unique elements but “the endless gangsta babble, with its casual misogyny and flippant violence,” sounded flagrantly trite. AllMusic’s Erlewine spoke of how the number of guest rappers affected the album, and questioned his reasons for collaborating with “pedestrian rappers”. He claimed that “the album suffers considerably as a result [of these collaborations]”. Erlewine criticized the lyrics, which he said were repetitive and full of “gangsta clichés”. Sinclair mentioned similar views of the lyrics, calling them “filthy”, but noted “none of [this] should diminish Dre’s achievement”. NME spoke of how the lyrics were too explicit, stating, “As the graphic grooves stretch out, littered with gunfire, bombings and ‘copters over Compton, and the bitch-beating baton is handed from Knock-Turnal to Kurupt, 2001 reaches gangsta-rap parody-level with too many tracks coming off like porno-Wu outtakes.” Massey referred to the lyrics as a “caricature of an ethos [rather] than a reflection of any true prevailing beliefs.”
In 2006, Hip Hop Connection ranked 2001 number 10 on its list of the 100 Best Albums (1995–2005) in hip hop. In a 2007’s issue, XXL gave the album a retrospective rating of “XXL”, their maximum score. In Rolling Stone’s The Immortals – The Greatest Artists of All Time, where Dr. Dre was listed at number 54, Kanye West talked of how the track “Xxplosive” inspired him: “‘Xxplosive’, off 2001, that’s [where] I got my entire sound from—if you listen to the track, it’s got a soul beat, but it’s done with those heavy Dre drums. Listen to ‘This Can’t Be Life,’ a track I did for Jay-Z’s Dynasty album, and then listen to ‘Xxplosive’. It’s a direct bite.”