Dr. Dre’s The Chronic vs. Ice Cube’s Death Certificate. Which Is Better?

One year ago, Ambrosia For Heads launched a debate among its readers seeking to answer one of Hip-Hop’s most hotly-contested questions: who is the greatest MC of all time? “Finding The GOAT MC” lasted between September 2014 and May 2015, engaging millions of readers and ultimately producing its winner, as determined by hundreds of thousands of voters. Now, “Finding The GOAT” returns to ask a new question: what is the greatest of all time Hip-Hop album?

“Finding The GOAT Album” has considered more than 120 albums from the 80s, 90s and 2000s (40 in each), with options for wild card and write-in candidates. Now that you and your vote have decided the Sweet 16 bracket, things are getting really interesting.

In the early 1990s, solo albums demonstrated Eazy-E’s incredible ear for talent. Dr. Dre’s The Chronic was the most successful example of how N.W.A.’s music could reach a mainstream boiling point. While Dre had the MTV and pop radio access points, a year earlier, Ice Cube’s sophomore solo also showed his visionary mastery. Death Certificate was a brilliant concept album, filled with anger, slick commentary, and crudeness that made the same masses embracing Dre’s beats uncomfortable. Musically, both albums were sample-driven Funk rides that influenced the field of Hip-Hop production. After Ice Cube knocked out two other Dre-produced albums in the bracket, will his LP go for the jugular? Or will The Chronic keep burning, even past Death? Only votes cast in the voting tool below will be counted, so use the power of your click (Click one then click “vote”).

the chronic

The Chronic by Dr. Dre

When Dr. Dre left N.W.A. and Ruthless Records, the greatest material asset the Compton, California impresario may have had was musical sketches. Having hit his stride on Niggaz4Life and The D.O.C.’s No One Can Do It Better, Andre Young built upon his G-Funk foundation, with an album that beckoned the galactic chariots of Parliament-Funkadelic themselves. While The Chronic threaded 1970s “grown-folks” music, its rhymes were rooted in the grim reality of L.A. Riots-era South Central. Songs like “Lyrical Gangbang” weighed the messages and attitudes of young, disenfranchised Black men and women in the U.S., and wanted Middle America to feel the angst, the high stakes survival, and the fearlessness of the youth. Snoop Doggy Dogg would be Dre’s vehicle to pack one of Rap’s most laid-back flows (and attitudes) against the life or death realities of gang-infested Southern California.

The Chronic was one of Rap’s first broad ensembles. Not a group, but a movement, the album called upon a crop of unknown and emerging talent from both coasts, all with skills to prove, and their best work ahead of them. Like Enter The Wu-Tang one year later, personnel knew that anything less than the best would not make the album. The hunger pangs of a cast that included Death Row Records’ would-be stars were manifested in an album that made its mastermind appear to be something of a Gangsta Rap Phil Spector. Dre created dynamic soundscapes built around samples, instrumentation, and a multitude of the slightest of tweaks. Within, he waxed a narrative that effectively spat at his former band mate Eazy-E, strong-armed Luke and 2 Live Crew, and overtook the industry with a forceful comeback statement. In one stroke to the consciousness of Rap, Dr. Dre exhaled indo’ smoke on the masses. His album was a cohesive, deeply-authentic party, and with its cinematic visual aides (see below), became as emblematic of the early 1990s as Grunge. The Chronic had everybody catching a contact—as this album’s wide tracks, extensive melody, and sharp-shooting role-players set the new standard in Hip-Hop. Although it’s surprisingly only triple-platinum, the diamond (status) is in the back of Dre’s symbolic ’64 Impala.

Album Number: 1 (solo)
Released: December 15, 1992
Label: Death Row/Interscope/Priority Records
Highest Charting Position (Top 200): #3 (certified gold, March 1993; certified platinum, March 1993; certified 3x platinum November 1993)
Song Guests: Snoop Dogg, Nate Dogg, Daz Dillinger, Kurupt, The Lady Of Rage, RBX, Michel’le, Jewell, The D.O.C., Bushwick Bill, Emmage, Ruben, Samara, BJ, Eric “The Drunk” Borders, Katisse Buckingham, Colin Wolfe, Justin Reinhardt
Song Producers: (self), Colin Wolfe, Daz Dillinger, Chris “The Glove” Taylor

For those starving for the Ice Cube they heard on Straight Outta Compton, Death Certificate signed a new lease on life. Following 1990’s AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted, a highly-acclaimed album recorded in New York City with The Bomb Squad at the helm, Ice Cube was back in his element, completely. Three months after Boyz N Tha Hood rocked theaters, Cube presented the audio companion to a cinematic look at life in South Central, California. Already a star, the MC checked his status and wealth at the door. Instead, O’Shea Jackson put himself in the shoes of an out-of-town drug dealer (“My Summer Vacation”), a visitor to the clinic (“Look Who’s Burnin'”), and a disenfranchised youth being followed around the stores he patronized (“Black Korea”). Almost all of Death Certificate is angry, unapologetic, and raw, but it is unarguably honest. Cube was still buckin’ shots at law enforcement and weaving in Rodney King. He criticized Black men with white women (“True To The Game”), and white men misusing Black women (“Horny Lil’ Devil”). Race and society, as perceived between the furrowed brow of the N.W.A. co-founder drove the way.

Without the charged East Coast production as a deliberate concept, Cube and original C.I.A. collaborator Sir Jinx were not out to imitate Dr. Dre’s sound. However, that same genre of ’70s Funk records that N.W.A. was using, were also part of the repertoire of Jinx, DJ Pooh, and Bobcat. These chops, whether throwing up a P-Funk flashlight or working down David Bowie’s “Fame” emphasized the drum, allowing Cube to emphatically make his points. Cube, such a rhythmic and commanding MC, lived between the wide grooves of Funk elements and bass drums. With songs like “A Bird In The Hand” and “Alive On Arrival” so grand, it took big beats to match. In between the bigger points, Cube could still unabashedly make novelty and porno Rap, and do it as well as anybody—including his former band-mates. After not directly addressing N.W.A. on the previous LP, “No Vaseline” would close out Death Certificate as perhaps the most cutthroat diss record not only of its time, but all time. Bottled up feelings reacted to Niggaz4Life in a way where one man appeared to take on four, and come out untouched. For a song that pulled no punches in its imagery of rape, lynching, and antisemitic remarks, no one could say that Ice Cube was not an incredible MC. That’s just it with Death Certificate. Regardless of Cube’s position on race, gender, or survival tactics, he presented himself as such a convincing character. Adamant that he was not trying to be a role-model, the Rap superstar was clearly reaching the mass audience with his emphatic deliveries and strong opinions. Before such terms existed, especially in the Hip-Hop space, Death Certificate showed how deeply Ice Cube understood his brand, and how to best leverage it.

Album Number: 2 (solo)
Released: October 29, 1991
Label: Priority Records
Highest Charting Position (Top 200): #1 (certified gold, October 1991; certified platinum, December 1991)
Song Guests: King T, Kam, Threat, WC & The Maad Circle (TK), J-Dee, Khalil Abdul Muhammad
Song Producers: (self), Sir Jinx, The Boogiemen (DJ Pooh, Bobby “Bobcat” Ervin, & Rashad Coes)

So which is the better album? Make sure you vote above.

Related: Finding The GOAT: The Albums.