More about: Dr Dre
It’s been a while since we’ve been blessed with a project full of all new material from legendary producer/rapper Dr. Dre. In fact it’s been almost two decades. In that time Andre Young has championed and helped kick start the careers of Eminem, 50 Cent, G-Unit, The Game and more recently, Kendrick Lamar. Not too shabby, right?
Aside from catapulting the aforementioned artists into super stardom, Dre also became Hip Hop’s first billionaire (well, before tax that is) thanks to selling his and partner Jimmy Iovine’s Beats by Dr. Dre headphone line to Apple. This then led to his executive position on Apple’s payroll and to the creation of his first album since 1999’s 2001.
Compton, a city in south central Los Angeles, is a place that Dr. Dre has been shouting out on his records going all the way back to his N.W.A. days, a group in which he, Ice Cube, Eazy E, MC Ren and DJ Yella put Gangsta Rap on the map with, influenced by fellow west coast rapper Ice-T and Philadelphia’s Scholly D. Inspired whilst on set of the newly released N.W.A. biopic, Straight Outta Compton, Dre created Compton, an album that leapfrogged the pecking order ahead of his highly anticipated Detox album, which has been scrapped so many times due to it not meeting Dre’s usual high standards. Will it ever come out? Dre says no. Does it matter now that we’ve got his third official album in Compton? Probably not.
Featuring big names such as Eminem, Snoop Dogg, The Game, Kendrick Lamar, Xzibit, Marsha Ambrosius and Jill Scott, just like he did on 2001 Dre’s new album also includes input from some new names that will more than likely become household names following the release of this album.
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Delving deep into Compton, read on for a track by track review of one of Hip Hop’s most anticipated releases of the past 15 years.
1. ‘Intro’: Setting the scene for Dre’s soundtrack to Compton, a little history lesson is given educating listeners on how the city used to be predominately white until the Supreme Court declared all racially exclusive housing contracts unlawful, therefore opening the city to working class African Americans. Over a cinematic backdrop that sounds like something production giants J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League might put together for one of Rick Ross’ infamous ‘Maybach Music’ tracks, Compton’s journey into gang culture at the hands of the Regan Administration’s blind eye to cocaine trafficking in the U.S. paints the beginning for N.W.A. and Dr. Dre.
2.‘Talk About It’ (Feat. King Mez & Justus) Produced alongside DJ Dahi, whose strong and haunting synth sound - best exampled on ScHoolboy Q’s ‘Hell of a Night’ and Kendrick Lamar’s ‘Money Trees’ – truly dominates this particular record, the introduction of King Mez’s aggressive delivery, similar to former Full Surface rapper Yung Wun’s, is not only the first voice on Compton but one of the most prominent. But let’s not forget Dre’s out-the-gate “I’m the king of California and I’m back” war cry either. Over a trap drum roll thrown in throughout, Dre spits, “Millionaire before the headphones or the speakers/ I was getting money ‘fore the internet/ Still got Eminem cheques I ain’t opened yet/ MVP shit, this is where the trophies at/ D-R-E, this is where the dope is at.” Blowing your speakers out and firmly plating his flag in Hip Hop, this is a great way to begin an album, and in all honesty, it might be the weakest moment on Compton, so this should help you understand the standard at which this album has been created.
3. ‘Genocide’ (Feat. Kendrick Lamar, Marsha Ambrosius & Candice Pillay) The instrumental soundscape on ‘Genocide’ sounds like some mid-nineties Death Row Records-meets-early Xzibit. The rapid-fire keys running through a scale that blends with a futuristic drum tap that could so easily have been the work of Mannie Fresh during his Cash Money Records days is both crazy and devilish. Highlighting Compton’s issues with gun crime, as well as paying homage to slain teenager Mike Brown (“Hands up in the air for the world to see”), while Dre pitches a few solid lines, especially his gun shot metaphor (“Reload the protools and we throw the clip on both trays/ That’s one on the left and one in the right hand, Scottie Pippen both ways”), it’s King Kendrick who steals the show on this go-round. His erratic description of Compton is a dark and corrupted one (“Ride with the eyes of five blind men, my vision (corrupted)/ Mama tried counseling, five plans for Kendrick (but fuck it)”).
4. ‘It’s All On Me’ (Feat. Justus & BJ The Chicago Kid) Arguably the best track on Compton, this soulful account of how Dr. Dre created ‘Fuck The Police’ and came to meet both Snoop Dogg and Suge Knight will be every true Hip Hop fan’s favourite education. In fact, it sounds like an episode of The Combat Jack Show. If you don’t get a chill down your spine when Dre spits, “And then that night came in when that n***a Knight came in,” then this album isn’t for you. Also highlighting the fact that fair weather friends played a big part in his life during the come up, the story of how money changed everything - sung by BJ The Chicago kid, one of today’s most respected R&B/soul voices – just leaves you in a state of reflective euphoria with endless relatable quotables laid out over a Raphael Saadiq-esque guitar lick.
5. ‘All In A Day’s Work’ (Feat. Anderson .Paak & Marsha Ambrosius) Giving listeners a glimpse into the types of pressures that come with being a rap icon whose new album has been 16 years in the making, again Dre steps up to the plate with some solid lyrical content - whether he wrote them or not is a different story – and he even delivers some of them at double time. Assisted by one of his favourite singer/songwriters, the UK’s very own Marsha Ambrosius of the group Floetry, the track also introduces one of the album’s standout newbies, Anderson .Paak (formerly Breezy Lovejoy), who feels like he might have fallen from the same smokey-sounding soul tree as Bilal. Ringing out with some echoing momentum on the beat, the track starts off with an inspirational speech from Jimmy Iovine and ends with the beat stripping itself down to its bare bones leaving just a climatic hi-hat.
6. ‘Darkside/Gone’ (Feat. King Mez, Marsha Ambrosius & Kendrick Lamar) Switching from one direction to another early on, it was probably a good idea this happened following the unnecessary use of Auto-Tune on King Mez’s voice. Leaping from ‘Darkside’, a moment that explores a before-the-fame mentality, to ‘Gone’, a joint that hears Dre and Kendrick defend their position at the top of rap’s totem pole and the fame and fortune that comes with it, the mid-tempo key and string-driven Best Kept Secret and Dre production hugs Marsha’s floating notes while also laying the foundation for Kendrick to do what he does best, and that’s ride the beat like a pro with an unconventional style.
7. ‘Loose Cannons’ (Feat. Xzibit, COLD 187um & Sly Pyper) Seeing Xzibit’s name on a Dr. Dre track again was exciting enough, let alone finding out that his contribution was a tough-talking reminder of the insane chemistry the two have, best displayed on both Dre’s 2001 and X’s Restless album. With beat switch-ups similar in nature to Memphis Bleek’s ‘Change Up’ with Beanie Sigel and Jay Z, this is where the real west coast fans will stand up and be counted. Assisted by Focus… on the boards, Dre’s typical Gangsta Rap formula of low rider sound bites, snappy drum loops and engaging keys plays the backdrop perfectly. Hearing Above The Law’s COLD 187um on the track adds a large dash of authenticity to the record, but if truth be told, Dre missed a trick by not including Tech N9ne on this one. He would have bodied it. Ending with a skit that details the horrific shooting of a woman and her burial at the hands of three friends, it’s very Eminem-esque. Think ‘Kim’-meets-‘Soldier’, and the narrative runs into the next track.
8. ‘Issues’ (Feat. Ice Cube, Anderson .Paak & Dem Jointz) Listening to half of N.W.A. reunited on record for the first time since ‘Hello’ back in 2000, which also included MC Ren, is magic. It’s as if Ice Cube and Dre haven’t lost a step collaborating together. Picking up where N.W.A. left off, the heavy rock-influenced soundscape with thumping bass line was designed exactly for moments like this. Cube comes in full force rapping, “Fuckboys should tighten up a whole lot,” and this pretty much sets the tone for the entire record. It’s hard. It’s fast. It’s a whole of aggressive profanities and distinct picture painting of Compton streets from the mind of two super stars who got out. Like your rap edgy and covered in shattered glass from a crack head’s smashed Heineken bottle? You’ve found it.
9. ‘Deep Water’ (Feat. Kendrick Lamar, Justus & Anderson .Paak) Diving deep into the rap game, some drown and some float to the top and sustain a successful career, the latter of course applies to Dr. Dre. Spitting many water-related metaphors, Dre and Kendrick go in over the top of the claustrophobic production - this includes what sounds like an iPhone alarm - forcing the listener to feel like they too could drown at any given moment thanks to the instrumentation created by all-star production trio Cardiak, Dem Joints and DJ Dahi. Something else to look out for on this one, word is Kendrick is taking shots at Drake when he says both the lines, “Motherfucker know I started from the bottom, vodka baby bottle,” and, “They liable to bury him, they nominated six to carry him.”
10. ‘One Shot One Kill’ (Feat. Jon Connor & Snoop Dogg) Billed as a Jon Connor solo record, Dre doesn’t actually appear on this particular record. Letting his young bull go, Connor is given his opportunity to shine after being on Dre’s Aftermath label for quite some time. Playing as a continuation from the previous track, while ‘Deep Water’ was all about drowning in all of the pressures of the industry, ‘One Shot One Kill’ is about swimming to the surface and proving who’s boss, who’s precise when they take their shot. Complete with a rigorous guitar riff that sounds like an automatic weapon discharging, Dre handles the production on his own this time around. Standing out, as he usually does, Snoop Dogg exchanges his easy-going comical flow and lyrical content to reinstate the fact that he is one of the best (“Who hold the crown, it ain’t no conversation”). It’s been a while since we’ve have heard Snoop bark like this and it’s music to our ears.
11. ‘Just Another Day’ (Feat. The Game & Asia Bryant) Another song billed as someone else’s record, The Game takes point on this one. Short and gritty, ‘Just Another Day’ sounds like something that could so easily have been cut from his debut album The Documentary. Murderous horns, pounding bass kicks and some clever wordplay from The Game (“Disintegrate n***as went into me, dome shots like Kennedy/ Slugs drippin’ with Hennessey, got murderous tendencies), this might be the hardest moment on Compton. Fan of The Game’s ‘Bigger Than Me’? You’ll love this one.
12. ‘For The Love Of Money’ (Feat. Jill Scott, Jon Connor & Anderson .Paak) Chills will run down the spine of those who love the Bone Thugs-N-Harmony classic ‘For The Love Of $’ upon hearing this for the first time. Or better yet, some may remember the original version of this record by Yomo & Maulkie, featuring Jewell, and drift back to 1991. Chilling keys and chattering drums, combined with Jill Scott’s angelic vocals, make for one hell of a backdrop for Jon Connor and Dre to spit game about money and the evils that come with it.
13. ‘SatisfIction’ (Feat. King Mez, Marsha Ambrosius & Snoop Dogg) Pulling the curtain down on the fame façade, Dre and the crew pinpoint the holes in the stories some of today’s rappers tell. A little Auto-Tune is used but in a way that works without jeopardising the authenticity of the record - think George Troutman on 2Pac and Dre’s ‘California Love’. While not the strongest record on the album it’s still better than half of the material put out by today’s rappers at the butt of Dre’s subject matter on this very record.
14. ‘Animals’ (Feat. Anderson .Paak) With a bounce, rock, skate type of feel to it, ‘Animals’ is politically-charged soulful joint that showcases Anderson .Paak as Compton’s stand out new artist. Singing about police brutality and being treated like an animal this particular track rings true with everything going on in the American media at present. Produced by DJ Premier, this is the collaboration everyone was waiting to hear. Probably the most 90s sounding west coast cut on the album, it’s produced and scratched by a Houston-born, New York-bred Hip Hop icon.
15. ‘Medicine Man’ (Feat. Eminem, Candice Pillay & Anderson .Paak) Getting the most attention, mainly because Eminem is on it, ‘Medicine’ is crazy! Candice Pillay comes into her own with some stadium vocal presence that combines elements of Rihanna, Jhene Aiko and Rita Ora but with a dark undertone. Soul stirring, with what sounds like the cries of a tortured soul, Dr. Dre points out the symptoms of a over saturated industry full of fakes and phonies. Continuing the doctor/patient theme he and Eminem pushed on the single ‘I Need A Doctor’, the stand out moment, as expected, is Eminem’s verse. Full of fire and rage, Marshall once again addresses his critics who can’t help but talk about his race, while fighting for his legacy to really mean something (“No signs of slowing and these lines full of nines/ I just load up the most rhymes and open fire with a closed mind”).
16. ‘Talking To My Diary’ Penning an audio-biography, Dre gets a lot off his chest on Compton’s final cut. Taking it all the way back and reminiscing about the come up, the time spent with Cube, Ren and Yella, and saluting Eazy E knowing he’s looking at him down from heaven, this is a sentimental track that should help the average listener learn a little more about Dre and his legacy, while the more clued up fan is given an insight into the mind of a man with a master plan from the very beginning. Instrumentally very Dre, although help on the boards comes from DJ Silk and Mista Choc, with the trippy strings and hesitant drum kicks the perfect vehicle for this one, closing the album out with a heartfelt understanding of thoughts and feelings mirrors the closing track on Dre’s 2001, where on ‘The Message’ he spoke on the loss of his brother with some touching vocals from Mary J. Blige.
VERDICT: While not quite a soundtrack to Compton in the sense that it doesn’t necessarily sound like the Compton Dre and N.WA. first brought to the masses in the late 80s/early 90s - it’s more a soundtrack to Dre and his prolific career - but that’s the point. Dre is Compton.
Like Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly on steroids, the production and engineering on this album are flawless. Been listening to it on your tiny laptop speakers? Try again on a better system or in your car and you’ll experience this album in a completely different way. Aside from the big guns, with a crop of new talent on display – Anderson .Paak being the most notable – Dre continues to prove his greatness by molding these unknowns into something that will lead them into longevity. Not too many other artists can do that.
A masterpiece that will age well just like his previous efforts, this is a modern day west coast album that rap fans of all eras can enjoy. Will it be considered a classic? Who knows, only time will tell. Compton is out now.
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More about: Dr Dre