16 years is a long, long time.
The musical landscape of Hip-Hop has changed drastically since “2001” came out in ’99, with today’s pioneering sounds coming from both an edgy, experimental standpoint (Madlib, MF Doom, Flying Lotus, the Soulection crew, Kendrick Lamar), and a more typically southern Hip-Hop style “Trap” base (Drake, A$AP Mob, Meek Mill, Big Sean, Fetty Wap).
And somewhere, in the middle of all this, was Dre.
In between album productions for his Aftermath label’s biggest hitters (Eminem, The Game etc) and becoming a billionaire business man with his “Beats” headphones, the Doc had been silent; Watching, waiting, planning his next move.
“Detox” was just an experiment. “Kush” and “I Need A Doctor” are forgotten B-Sides. This is the real shit.
I was so impressed with this album. It maybe happens a few times a year, where something just completely throws me for a loop. Kendrick did it to me earlier in the year with “To Pimp A Butterfly”. Now Dr. Dre has done it with “Compton”.
Make no mistake, the sudden shock of a 16 year drought being ended with an announcement of a new Dr. Dre album just two weeks before it’s release date sent pulses racing. Not only is Dre a super-producer and master businessman, he’s a brilliant showman. He knows just how to push buttons and drop literally everyone into child-like giddiness. With this announcement however, came obvious expectations, or to put it another way, THE biggest expectations of a follow-up album in Hip-Hop history.
“Please, oh please don’t fuck it up. Please don’t fuck it up.” Well, don’t worry. Our ears are safe with the Doctor.
Opening this masterful album, a classy Intro with a news-break style TV announcer discussing the economic and social decaying of Dre’s beloved hometown, and also revealing Dre’s wealth of session musicians.
The Doc is a conductor, assembling his ghetto orchestra very carefully. It’s been noted one of the reasons he was called Dr. Dre, (aside from the crazy medical getup he’d wear when he was a DJ back in the 80s), is that musically he’s like a surgeon. He knows exactly where to cut and how to sow it together, and on this new 16 track LP he does both exceptionally.
As the Intro descends into darker territory with strings and horns moving into minor keys, we’re hit with a wrecking ball of a first track: “Talk About It”.
This monstrous 808 shaker with hellish like orchestration backing it is ridiculously fierce and wonderfully energetic, containing brilliant vocal work from Dre, King Mez and Justus. It’s definitely the dream start I was hoping for.
“Genocide”, co-produced with the amazing DJ Dahi, continues with a bumpin’ worm of a beat, sounding like a Ferrari zooming through L.A. streets at 3am, cold wind sweeping through the open top with distant sirens catching up to you. It also features the first of 3 verses on this album from Kendrick Lamar; fellow Comptonian and probably the best rapper in the world right now.
Kendrick is among the many faces making up “Compton”. “Compton” is Dre’s story, a nostalgic trip through his life. The guests he has on the album are from both his past and his present, from artists he’s mentored through to his old affiliates from the golden era.
Check out “Loose Cannons”, with it’s gorgeous, Parliament-esque horn intro, gatecrashed by none other than Xzibit, who provides probably one of the best verses not just on this album, but of his whole career. Ice Cube pops up on “Issues” to deliver a scathing attack on anyone who called him a sell-out for acting in kids movies, with his bank account telling ya’ll where to go. Snoop is discovered hiding out on “Satisfaction”, Eminem completely bodies ‘Medicine Man’ with the best verse on the album, and there’s numerous N.W.A. shout-outs throughout the album to MC Ren, DJ Yella, and of course, Eazy-E.
Dre has always been a collaborator. He’s said his strongest talent is being able to zone in on something an artist is making and mould it into a hit. He’s done it time and time again. Pretty much everyone you expect to be on this album is on it, with some serious surprises to boot.
Firstly, I love how much Anderson .Paak is used on this album. He’s a brilliant talent thriving in the underground fame of Stones Throw Records and it’s great to see Dre recognising. Secondly, to see Kendrick, Justus, .Paak and the like being given such massive airtime on one of the biggest Hip-Hop records of all time is soul-warming. This isn’t about money (he’s donating all royalties to fund an arts centre in Compton), it’s about leaving behind a legacy where the next generation is thrust forward as well, pushing the culture along positively. Lastly, DJ Premier and Dre are together at last on “Animals”. Hip-Hop heads just lost their shit. It’s tremendous.
The album itself moves along like a movie. It’s a thinly veiled narrative, with stories from Dre’s past played out to us as if we’re there, spliced in between random events that are happening in Compton, signified by dialogue that appears and disappears throughout. It’s a welcome touch, tying the album together nicely, and giving it that re-listenable quality that “To Pimp A Butterfly” has. This isn’t just your standard album, it’s a listening experience, cinematic and at times thought-provoking. How this stuff still goes on today is genuinely sad to reflect on.
“Compton” is Dre’s third and final masterpiece. We now have the “Star Wars” of music trilogies, and if this really is his farewell, then, to put it simply:
He Fucking Nailed It.
We will never Forget About Dre.