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The ChronicRolling Stone Chronic (1992)

Wrapped in a Batman cloak of larger-than-life mayhem and straining its pants with adolescent horniness, it's beloved by millions, black and white; they devour its percussive snap, crackle and pop. To adult white people, it's anathema. But California hardcore rap is simply one of the most imaginative sounds in the world today. Its radical wordplay mainstreaming the scatological cut-up poetics that William Burroughs debuted in the '50s, it hurdles the aesthetic line in the sand that original rap drew when it began to rethink rhythm, compositional method and studio technique so decisively that it redefined the very perception of music itself. Along with the 12-tone scale of modern classical fare, Ornette Coleman's free jazz and the triumph of punk attitude, the rap revolution is 20th-century fact.

At its vanguard are the gangstas. Formerly of the trailblazing N.W.A, Dr. Dre is the form's wizard producer. High-volume hypnotism, "The Chronic," like the marijuana it's named for, alters the senses. Mixing loping beats, smooth and gruff voices from South Central, giggles, snarls and reggae intonations, it updates the aural movies P-Funk (and psychedelia) once made. Its sounds are as raw and complex and real as life. The assaultive Dre and the more relaxed Snoop Doggy Dogg (the latter formally charged with murder in September) may be, to put it mildly, problematic souls, and romanticizing criminal behavior sucks. This music, however, cannot be refuted ­ or easily forgotten.

With "Black Sunday," Cypress Hill make baroque rap so arcane in its samples (Bobbie Gentry, Black Sabbath, Joe Zawinul) and verbal references (sumo wrestling, Louis Armstrong, "The Wizard of Oz") that the mind reels. This crew, too, is made up of potheads. And next to their musical inventiveness, black-Latino hipness and zany comedy, most rappers seem as lame as old hippie bands did next to Frank Zappa. Skull-strewn, their album art looks B-movie Gothic, but what's truly scary is their titanic, subversive intelligence.(RS 672/673)

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