A few weeks ago there was an incredulous gasp that rang across the music community when it was revealed that Dr. Dre was releasing his long awaited third album, but it wasn’t the much rumored Detox that fans got, instead we have received his most ambitious record yet in the form of Compton.
The music industry mogul, producer, rapper, tastemaker, headphones baron, legend, all of these titles belong to Andre Young, otherwise known as the Doctor or Dr. Dre, had the audacity to scrap the long awaited Detox because it was not the direction he wanted to take his music, which after listening to 2011’s tepid “I Need a Doctor”, doesn’t sound too bad.
Dre instead releases an album that reflects on his career while paralleled with painting a contemporary picture of Compton and his milieu. From what could be gleaned about background on Compton is that Dre was inspired to create this record while being on set for Straight Outta’ Compton , the critically acclaimed biopic chronicling the rise of the legendary N.W.A.
Either out of good marketing or true reverence to his story, this record came at the right time. The massive 16 tracks and over an hour of runtime tells the narrative that it is billed as a soundtrack to Dr. Dre’s reflection on past exploits and exploration of new methods of delivering his music, along with this comes a star studded list of collaborators that Dre have enlisted for the record, and holy shit the names here are incredible.
The slew of Rappers or wunderkind producers he culled for this album is nothing short of amazing, nothing feels too Dre-centric, even on the songs he is more forefront, he shares the spotlight. After the harrowing intro comes the booming “Talk About It” to kick things into gear, King Mez’ great opening verse leads into Dre reminding you all who he is and that you can’t get in his way, I mean he still has Eminem royalty checks to cash in, c’mon.
Whether Dre comes from a personal place, like the sleek candor of “It’s All on Me” or the introverted opus in album closer “Talking to my Diary,” or a broader thought process with stark social commentary, with tracks like the bellicose “Loose Cannons” or the dissident “Animals” (an incendiary lambaste towards a fear mongering media perpetuating a negative portrayal of the black community,) Compton flows smoothly but each song can be pulled out and be amazing on it’s own but still feel apart of a larger story.
Going into this album, you must abandon all expectations of it being a continuation of his seminal “The Chronic” or the equally important “2001”, Dre is a man of the times, that has been the secret to his success as a producer, music exec or as an artist. Here he has curated a record that is fresh, even in the glimpses of nostalgia, most notably in DJ Premier’s beatwork and turntable play on “Animals”, brandishing the sounds of 21st century jazz tinged hip-hop with the innovative G-Funk and west coast hip hop, whether you like hard hitting 808s, silky old school beats or some brass work, this record has something for you.
With all of these stars on his songs it’s important to remember not just who he gets on each track, moreover, it’s how they work together. On each cut of this record there is an actual collaboration between the artists rather than isolated verses. A definite highlight has to be “Genocide”, the clangy beat behind Dre and Kendrick Lamar both matching each other on the front of voice bending, delivering acerbic verses while Marsha Ambrosius’ mellifluous vocal work tie it all together, Kendrick delivers some of his wildest verses on three tracks of this LP, especially on the frantic “Deep Water” which is a very intense track to take on but is a rewarding listen nonetheless.
It was great to see legends like Xzibit, delivering his meanest riff in a long time on “Loose Cannons”, or Snoop Dogg, giving the most aggressive verse that we have seen from him in a good while in “Satisfiction” or Dre’s former N.W.A compatriot Ice Cube completely blowing it out of the water on “Issues”, all of these can be attributed to working with Dr. Dre, Dre brings out the best in whoever works with him.
Especially in the penultimate “Medicine Man”, we see Eminem giving a fusillade of words in this track that reminds us why Dre backed him in the beginning. Or Kentucky MC King Mez slaying his triple feature on this record, I wasn’t completely familiar with his work but listening to him here has made me a fan.
Dre culled a great line up of co-stars, but this is really his show. Sure, the platitudes of rags to riches may be overplayed at this point, but when it is coming from Dre, it’s sincere, from the fringe to almost Mt. Olympus power, Dr. Dre IS the truest example of success, while he approaches his past with pride, there is a feeling of disbelief, whether he reminisces on the heyday of N.W.A and the rest of his legacy on, it still amazes him, and he is humble enough to admit it.
There is a slight pathos that hovers over this record, in both the bright and dark moments, this is, as of right now, the last Dr. Dre album, despite the thought of this avenue of his career ending, it is important to know that his name has been engraved on pop culture, there will never be another Dr. Dre, even if he ostensibly retires, he has an empire that surrounds him.
Partnering with Apple and continuing to make other big ripples in the business side of music is what he has been doing outside of his own music for years now, you don’t need Compton, or the movie documenting his initial rise to fame with N.W.A or a much anticipated N.W.A reunion tour to be reminded of his success, the name of Dr. Dre itself is pretty much synonymous with success.
Here he ends Dr. Dre: music with a bang, it may not be a perfect bang, there are clunky moments through the record that feel a little incongruous with the larger picture, but he couldn’t have done this record any better. Instead of just releasing a summation of his past, he instead offers up a fresh record that makes me feel like he never went away and that he belongs in Hip Hop now as much as he did when he helped shape it.
Whether you love old school Dr. Dre, his golden ear for production, his Aftermath imprint along with the many other artists he helped catapult to stardom, this album has every aspect of Dre you could enjoy, especially if you’re listening to it with some sweet Beats headphones on Beats 1 on Apple Music (all of these plugs are on me, Dre).
Compton is by far the one of the most well arranged records of the year, if not the decade, and it reminds us why we love hip-hop in the first place in all of it’s theatrics, surrealism, composition, storytelling and awareness of our society at large.