Dr. Dre ensures that his new body of work, "Compton," was worth the wait.
For over fifteen years fans of Dr. Dre awaited the follow-up to 2001. Detox was rumored to drop basically every year that followed, but was ultimately sidelined as Dre turned his attention to Eminem and 50 Cent, and later, the success of Beats headphones.
As we found out recently, Detox apparently wasn’t shaping up to be any good. That isn’t the surprise, but the release of another album, inspired by the N.W.A. film Straight Outta Compton, was. Compton: A Soundtrack by Dr. Dre was announced and dropped in as many days as fans waited years to hear it.
The Chronic and 2001 proved Dre’s ability to make a classic, and there was no reason for him to go back into the studio other than a sincere itch to make quality music. One last prescription for the hip-hop fans of America to take, courtesy of the Doctor. With a strong SoCal scene rallying behind Kendrick Lamar, the Doc saw the opportunity to drop another West Coast classic along with the N.W.A. feature film. It would prove to be another gem in his near-perfect track record.
The album is packed with features from old friends and new faces alike. Dre is notorious for not writing his lyrics, but it's never been top-secret, and so no one cares because of his vision and stellar beats. Like 2001, Compton plays out like a movie with a wide variety of emotions and intense stories conveyed through the music. There’s a Hollywood amount of gun shots and car noises to attest to that, but better yet are the skits in between the songs. Although they aren’t track-listed like on 2001, they’re present on tracks like “Loose Cannons” and “Deep Water.”
The variety of voices is close to that of a movie’s as well. Some are better than others, but the difference between each song really helps to keep the album fresh and moving-- it's dense, after all. Anderson .Paak helps the most with this, as his often-frantic singing voice is present on six of the album’s tracks, including cuts like “All In a Day's Work” and “Animals,” where he takes an empowering stance on the issue of racial injustice in the country.
“Please don't come around these parts / And tell me that we all a bunch of animals / The only time they wanna turn the cameras on / Is when we're fuckin' shit up, come on.”
Dre joins him on the subject, saying, “I think I noticed this bullshit right around the fifth grade / Paraphernalia in my locker right next to the switch blade / Nothing but pussy on my mind and some plans of getting paid / But I'm a product of the system raised on government aid.”
Dre and Paak might be from different generations, but their words are a testament to the slow pace of change in the country. “And the old folks tell me it's been going on since back in the day, but that don't make it okay.”
Kendrick’s three verses are amongst the biggest on the album, as he continues to prove his skill. “Deep Water” continues to experiment with vocal pitches and effects as he spits some of his realest lines:
“Once upon a time, I shot a nigga on accident. I tried to kill him but I guess I needed more practicing. That's when I realized banging wasn't for everybody. Switched it up before my enemy or the sheriff got me.”
It’s a very interesting moment for an MC who has also posed the question, “If I told you I killed a nigga at 16, would you believe me?” It’s moments like this that make the album special, because not only did Kendrick drop a verse on Dr. Dre’s 2015 album, but he made it every bit as compelling as the best of his output from the past two years.
Ice Cube, The Game, Snoop Dogg, and Xzibit, drop off pretty solid verses, especially considering where they are at in their careers. Cube reminds us that music is his passion despite the fact you’re more likely to see him in a film than with a mic. The Game’s track is quite funky as he spits some of his best gang-banging lines. Snoop is always an appreciated addition, especially alongside the Batman to his Robin.
King Mez contributed, in some capacity, to twelve of the albums sixteen tracks. He’s officially featured on three of the tracks, but obviously lent his pen to the project where needed. Dem Jointz is in the same boat, and ATL-producer Focus… deserves mention for being credited as co-producer on nearly all the album’s tracks. It’s clear that Dre, like so many veterans in the game, was able to form a squad of young, talented heads to help him craft a sound that could tread the line of classic and modern.
As far as the hooks go, Marsha Ambrosius, Candice Pillay, and a beautiful sounding Jill Scott join the aforementioned Paak. Scott’s croon on “For The Love of Money” seguing into some hand-picked nylon guitar is amongst the albums most musical moments. Other moments of that live band vibe can be found on the trumpet-driven, extended outros on “Deep Water” and “Talking to My Diary.”
Each instrumental was crafted in an exquisite manner that you can only attribute to Dre’s tenure in the game. “Genocide,” is proof that Dre can still get experimental after 30+ years in the game. The track features an a capella breakdown and a modern trippy-if-not-jazzy sound. A dancehall-inspired verse from Pillay and bars from Kendrick are the perfect way to ride that one out.
Whether it’s darker sounding trap or soulful boom-bap, Dre proves that he still has what it takes to produce a great song. As he puts it on “Talk About It“: “But Andre young enough to still get involved, and Andre still young enough to say fuck y'all!”
The album is heavy though, like other great rap albums of this year have been. There is so much going on, so quickly, whether it be production, artists or lyrics. It’s another prime example of the attention span our current society is operating inside of-- but if you can make a beat with multiple tempos, why not? The best example of this comes during the album's penultimate moment: when Eminem ethers the listener with his crown-gripping verse, strategically placed nearly at the dead-end of the album. The beat cuts and some ominous keyboard kicks in:
“In the beginning a few of the people who had a problem
I was this good, scoffed, I just shook off
Probably reminded you of the first time you saw Tiger Woods golf
Never thought about how much my race and nationality meant
But based on how I ascended, see how plain it was now, they want me to jet
No one really gave a fuck about my descent, 'till I took off
Mistook me because I look soft
But I stood tall, I just follow the (Doctor's orders)”
He doesn’t let up, and a trap beat kicks in at half-time about halfway through the verse. It’s about as hard as rap gets. If Eminem really did that verse in one take, as he claims to, then he still may just be the best in rap.
In all, this album has more than enough classic moments to be considered worth the wait. It took him 15+ years, but the Doctor delivered another masterpiece. Compton displays hip-hop in a new light, progressing the art-form while still maintaing a sense of nostalgia. It introduces new artists at the same time, further legitimizes the current rap royalty, and even gives a few legends the chance to shine once more.