Hip-Hop Evolution

Dec 15

HHE Transcripts: Saul Williams Details His First Experience With Dr. Dre's 'The Chronic'

Where were you the first time you listened to The Chronic? And if you weren't quite old enough yet, do you realize its impact today? During our interview with Saul Williams, he reflected on the 24-year old album, and what it meant to him in that moment.

"So she abandons the curriculum for the day, walks in, slams the door, and she just stands in front of us, arms crossed and is like, what is wrong with you guys?"

"The Chronic is interesting for me. I say it’s interesting because I was a student at Morehouse College in Atlanta. And I was a double major, philosophy and drama, and Morehouse is an all-male school across the street from an all women’s school called Spelman. The TV show, 'A Different World,' which followed the Cosby Show, was kind of based on that school...on those schools. And so I’m there, and my drama major... well, my school Morehouse didn’t have a drama department, it was actually at Spelman’s, an all-women’s campus. So I took all my drama courses there. And every professor in that program identified as a womanist or feminist or what have you. And my teacher at the time The Chronic came out was a woman who’s now a very well known novelist named Pearl Cleage. And she had just come out with a book called Mad at Miles, which is about... it was an instruction... it was a book of poetry and an instruction manual for women who found themselves in situations of domestic abuse. Like if you’re in a room with your boyfriend, and he punches the wall, like, that’s your sign to leave the room; like, it was all this type of stuff. And The Chronic comes out. So, it’s an all-women’s campus, and I’ll never forget the day, Pearl Cleage, my playwriting teacher walks into the classroom. I’m in my playwriting class; The Chronic has been out for maybe four days, right? And it’s awesome. I mean, like the beats are awesome. And she had the experience of seeing a woman driving a Jeep, blasting "Bitches Ain’t Shit," so she abandons the curriculum for the day, walks in, slams the door, and she just stands in front of us, arms crossed and is like, what is wrong with you guys? Am I gonna now what you guys nod your head and dance to your own demise? Like, do you realize what’s being said here? Do you understand what misogyny is? Do you understand what we’ve been learning in this course? And in this program? Do you realize that if you begin to make these, you know, distinctions and exceptions, what... how it will affect you? What it means to nod your head to some shit that’s degrading you. Right?

And me, I’m from New York, right? "Bitches Ain’t Shit" is a song that samples "The Bridge" - I know that; I’m like, that’s the dopest beat on the album. I’m between that and like Rat-Tat-Tat-Tat (laughs), but like that Bridge sample is crazy. No one had flipped a Bridge sample like that, before Dr. Dre did it on The Chronic, know? But the lyrics, ‘Bitches ain’t shit but hos and tricks.’ And she’s like, what does that song say? Someone says ‘Bitches ain’t shit but hos and tricks, lick on these nuts and suck the dick.’ She’s like, really?" 

‘Listen to how he’s talking about women. Read this bell hooks article. Read this. Now listen to that.’ 

The Chronic coming out, for me, is the beginning of my social awareness, where I realized that every little thing I do, and participate in, has an effect. It’s the moment where I’m still identifying as a dancer, where I start, not dancing to some songs as a form of protest. And it’s hard as fuck. It’s way easier to say it than to live through that moment as a hip-hop head, loving all these things that come out. Also, I’m a first year in college, and so, like everything is changing in my life. Like, you know, like, there are ways of talking that I’m not allowed to talk when I was at home living with my parents. But I’m not living with my parents, so I’m literally in some like, ‘Man, this nigga walk up to me, and I was like, bitch, don’t you know?!’ Like I’m trying... adding these flavours to my language that I can use all the time now because I don’t have parents where I have to be like, you know, respectful around. I’m a full-time student, away from home.

So I’m like, nigga and bitch are becoming a huge part of my vocabulary. And in terms of the idea of the bitch, and you know, ‘six in the morning’ and all that type of shit, ‘she needs to leave the room’ and all this shit. I happen to be studying on Spelman’s campus. I happen to be studying under a bunch of feminists when The Chronic comes out. I mean, like, we literally would have new moon rituals that were required for all the men and women to come to, and the women would... we’ve had menses rituals. And the men just were required to be there to hold white candles and shut the fuck up.

So we’re at parties, and I’m like, all my friends are like, ‘Yo!’ and I’m like, "Yeah, yeah," because all of my friends who are gorgeous, who I want to be invited back to their room, who I want to kick it with, are all of these young girls from Spelman who were like, ‘Listen to how he’s talking about women. Read this bell hooks article. Read this. Now listen to that.’ And I’m like, yeah. And I’m seeing, you know, my friend who speaks, who gives less of a fuck than me, ‘But yeah, the beat is dope, bitch; I don’t give a fuck.’ And I’m seeing him get chewed out, like, ‘What did you call me?!’ And I’m just like, okay, that is not the proper response. Wow, she’s right, fuck.

When The Chronic came out, it was the first time that I had to pick and choose what I wanted to bump, and not bump. 

I’ve already freaked out on how powerful music and hip-hop is, so I can’t deny and just be like, it’s just a song. I know. I already know. I figured that out years ago with all the stories I’ve told you about Public Enemy and all... and Rakim; I already know music is powerful. So I can’t suddenly say that music’s not that powerful. It’s just a good beat, and he’s just talking. So The Chronic is the first time for me where I’m like, huh, huh. You gotta be careful—for me, as an artist. And I’m not even rapping then. I’ve already quit. I think I’m too old by that time. I’m 19, fuck that. I’m too old, I wanted to be the youngest rapper alive. And I would; I still am, actually, because my birthday is February 29th. So like I’m ten years old right now (laughs).

But at the time, I’m like, holy shit. So, but I’m heavily identifying as a dancer. I’m super into the music. And I’m forced to pick and choose now. Chronic symbolizes that for me. It’s really the moment where I was like, okay, I’m in school, so I’m learning about COINTELPRO, I’m learning about what transformed you know, like the Black Panthers into, let’s say, Bloods and Crips. I’m learning about all that stuff, and I’m listening to these guys, and I’m like, we gotta be careful. And it’s funny, because I love those songs. And of course, you know, like, if I only was like, I can’t listen to anything that says bitch or da-da-da, I’d have a horrible fucking repertoire of hip-hop music. I found my peace. I was so happy later on in the poetry scene when I connected with Dead Prez, and hearing them say, not dancing as a form of protest.

And I was like... you know, and then of course, you know, whatever, Big Fat Joe was just like we don’t dance; we just lean back or whatever. But nonetheless, that’s what The Chronic symbolizes for me. I’m really clear on what else was happening at that time along with that. Because it’s a beautiful moment. I mean, like ‘90, what is that ‘92? I mean, that’s still the freshest year ever, ever, from Low End Theory to Cyprus Hill, to fucking Brand Nubian, to De La, to Gang Starr. To De La, to Cube. And Cube is on some other shit, even though he goes into that as well, you know? But that’s when I started picking and choosing. When The Chronic came out, it was the first time that I had to pick and choose what I wanted to bump, and not bump. You know? Because you’d be in a car, and you’d put it on, or it would come on, and some of the people in the car would be like, I was hanging out with people who were becoming politicized. Who were kids, and who were hip-hop heads, but who would still be like, ‘Why has he gotta say that?’ And I had... we had real simple answers; and it was like, probably ‘cause he hasn’t read bell hooks."