Nuthin’ But A G Thang was the origination of G-Funk, a strand of rap that was so intoxicating, it made California the most important place in rap, and that was the first time it had ever not been New York.
Dr. Dre does not seem like that fun of a guy to hang out with, and that’s surprising considering that just about every other fake doctor seems like a real hoot to be around. There’s Dr. J and Dr. Dunkenstein, and those guys are great if you’re super into basketball. There’s Dr Pepper, and he’s great if you’re super into sugary, carbonated, brown drinks.
There’s Aretha Franklin’s Dr. Feelgood and Kiss’s Dr. Love. There’s Dr. Evil, whose name makes him seem bad but he’s actually good. There’s Doc Hudson from Cars and Doc McStuffins from lunch boxes, and she’s just adorable. Dr. Phil is nerdy but also very positive, and very positive people are dope. Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman would of course be a handy friend. Dr. Moreau seems a bit weird, but he’d make for good conversation, I’m sure.1 So it’s surprising Dr. Dre seems so wooden.
It’s also surprising because the greatest thing he ever did musically was taking the gangsta rap of the late ’80s and early ’90s, a subgenre of music that was poignant and powerful and provocative but also very heavy, and turn it into the grandest, most accessible party of all.
He did so in the third quarter of 1992 with “Nuthin’ but a ‘G’ Thang,” the first single from his debut album, The Chronic, the flagship track that introduced America to the G-Funk sound. G-Funk took the stripped-down, broken-glass harshness of gangsta rap and framed it with the liveliness and conviviality of ’70s Afrocentric funk.
The synthesis created a fusion that managed to be as modern and inventive as it was instinctual. Suddenly, the aggressively autobiographical lyricism that hard-core rap was driven by, and what ultimately earned it a very specific kind of popularity, was surrounded by a warmth and lushness that was very nearly universal. And everything changed.
Dr. Dre seems very smart. It only requires a tiny amount of transitive logic to firm up that conclusion, what with him having been born into the breach of poverty and now being worth somewhere near a billion dollars.
And he also seems very astute. In each of the interviews he’s given that are available for viewing/reading on the Internet, his answers are almost exclusively insightful and forthright, even when he seems less than enthusiastic about responding to any particular question (him being asked about his oft-delayed Detox album, mostly).
But just not very fun.
SIX SONGS FROM 1992 THAT WERE NOT THE MOST IMPORTANT RAP SONG OF 1992
“Tennessee,” Arrested Development: “Tennessee” was the Grammy-winning single from the group’s debut album, 3 Years, 5 Months and 2 Days in the Life Of . . . , which eventually went platinum four times over. When I was a kid there was this guy named Tennessee who lived in our neighborhood. He was INCREDIBLE at dominoes. There’s a thing in Teen Wolf where the coach tells his basketball players that one of life’s rules is to never play cards with a person named after a city, and I definitely think an addendum should be added about playing dominoes with guys named after states. He was unbelievable. He looked at the domino board like how
Russell Crowe looked at the walls of newspapers and magazine clippings in A Beautiful Mind.
“Rump Shaker,” Wreckx-N-Effect: This one wasn’t ever really a contender, but the video for it featured a woman wearing a bikini fake- playing saxophone on the beach, and that’s just an image that we should talk about any chance that we get. We can never, ever let time push it into oblivion.
“Jump Around,” House of Pain: Matched in its iconography only by its own annoyingness.
“Don’t Sweat the Technique,” Eric B. and Rakim: A big, lovably lyrical record that has aged into importance. “Don’t Sweat the Technique” came in just as rap’s (and New York’s) boom-bap era was fading and its gangsta rap era was dominating. It was basically a basketball player hitting a seventy-foot buzzer-beater at the end of the game with his team down ten points; impressive, but couldn’t change the eventuality of the loss.
“Ain’t 2 Proud 2 Beg,” TLC: “Ain’t 2 Proud 2 Beg” was the first single from TLC, and let me be clear when I say none of the women I have ever known begged to have sex with me. I had a girl beg me for $300 once, but that’s not the same.
“Jump,” Kris Kross: “Jump” is the single greatest rap song by children wearing their clothes backward to heavily promote aerobic activity that’s ever been. It sold more than two million copies in 1992 alone, remarkable considering that neither Kris nor Kross was older than fourteen when it was released.
This is Ice Cube on the opening verse of “Straight Outta Compton” , the first single from N.W.A’s seminal gangsta rap album Straight Outta Compton:
“When I’m called off, I got a sawed-off / Squeeze the trigger and bodies are hauled off / You too, boy, if you fuck with me / The police are gonna have to come and get me / Off yo ass, that’s how I’m going out / For the punk motherfuckers that’s showing out.”
This is Dr. Dre on the first verse of “Fuck wit Dre Day (And Everybody’sCelebratin’),” a celebrated track from The Chronic:
“Used to be my homie, used to be my ace / Now I wanna slap the taste out ya mouth / Make ya bow down to the Row / Fuckin’ me, now I’m fuckin’ you, little ho / Oh, don’t think I forgot, let you slide / Let me ride, just another homicide.”
Both very plainly state that murdering a human is not altogether that big of a deal or even really more than an arm’s length of a departure from daily activities. But the first set of lyrics brought forth a locust swarm of criticism that carried with it radio bans, political protests, and more, while the second, its threats elbowed up next to an interpolation of Funkadelic’s gorgeous “(Not Just) Knee Deep,” inspired high fives and a very strong urge to stand near a barbecue pit.
G-Funk’s tranquility was instantly undeniable. “Nuthin’ but a ‘G’ Thang” soared, doing lots of very impressive, very easy-to-categorize-and-celebrate things. It:
- Helped push The Chronic to triple platinum.
- Prominently featured a then-mostly-unknown Snoop,6 helping to propel him into the rap stratosphere.
- Reached number two on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart (it was on the chart for twenty-seven weeks) and number one on their Hot R&B/Hip-Hop chart.
- Was one of only eleven rap songs8 selected by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as one of the “500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll.”
- Was picked by XXL magazine as the best rap song of the ’90s.
- Was picked by Rolling Stone as one of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, as well as one of the 50 Greatest HipHop Songs of All Time. • Was picked by VH1 as the third-best
- Was named the third-best song of the ’90s by Pitchfork.
- Earned a Grammy nomination for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group, the first nod from them of Dr. Dre’s career.
“Nuthin’ but a ‘G’ Thang” was transformative, and something larger than the song itself.
It took the anti-romance of gangsterdom and made it endearing, charming, almost insouciant. Even its video, which was built around a Day in the Life of Snoop and Dre premise, was perfect. People pined for the lifestyle. Being a gangster wasn’t dangerous, it was dope and wonderful, because you got to ride around in nice cars under ambient lighting from a perfectly warm sun and play volleyball with large-breasted women and pour beer on people if they weren’t accommodating.
“Nuthin’ but a ‘G’ Thang” did that. It took the nation’s most aggressive, most polarizing movement, a movement born of racism and classism and confrontation and unrest and riots, and made it, quite simply, fun, which made it ubiquitous, which made it unavoidable.
Perhaps the most insightful measure of the influence of “Nuthin’ but a ‘G’ Thang” came from Public Enemy’s Chuck D, a forefather of gangsta rap. “We made records during the crack era, where everything was hyped up, sped up and zoned out,” he told Rolling Stone in 2012. “Dre came with ‘“G” Thang’ and slowed the whole genre down. He took hip-hop from the crack era to the weed era.”
In 1997’s documentary Rhyme & Reason, Dre talked about how The Chronic never wandered away from its Compton birthplace despite him having vacation homes in basically every affluent suburb in the country, saying:
“Gangstas like the album because the album is gangsta.”
G-Funk bent the path of rap for all time, momentarily wrestling it away from New York’s iron grip for the first time, and it did so without lending any of its power to anyone outside of the culture.
“Nuthin’ but a ‘G’ Thang” did that, too, did that first, and did that best.