It’s been 16 long years since Dr. Dre fans have gotten an album from him. In the meantime we have been repeatedly teased with the prospect of the release of the elusive Detox album. Detox has become a running joke since it has been so long since the initial announcement of its inception. So when Dre announced a new album inspired by the upcoming N.W.A. based Straight Outta Compton movie entitled Compton I was of course skeptical. Even when he went on his Beats Radio show and confirmed it. I was skeptical. Even though the track listing was floating around the media. I was still skeptical. We had gotten a track or two over the years that were said to be from Detox and even tentative release dates or seasons that didn’t result in the album we had been waiting for. Well…
Compton is real.
Compton, subtitled A Soundtrack by Dr. Dre, is the biggest news in music because of the lack of Dre material and because of the much-anticipated upcoming film. Does the album match up to the expectation though? Well as soon as it started streaming, by way of the exclusive Apple Music deal, Compton had social media on fire. The response was overwhelmingly positive. Every response I had seen was full of praise for the good Doc’s new prescription. There were of course some who weren’t feeling the stroll through Dre’s old stomping grounds though – some were disappointed. The voices I heard who felt that way were long-term Dre or Hip Hop fans that have roots in the times when N.W.A. first brought the capital CPT to the forefront of Hip Hop. I get it.
Compton is a good album with high replay value but I can understand what might turn some off. The album almost lost me from the first track. The intro sets up the album well, with celebratory horns creating the atmosphere of a movie about to start. The dialogue that details the history of the city of Compton, California from its optimistic roots to the crime-ridden and dangerous city that most think of when they hear the name builds tension and anticipation for the tracks to come. For a long-term Dre-brand of west coast Hip Hop fan that anticipation turns to confusion when the very contemporary southern sounding first track “Talk About It” kicks in with North Carolina rapper King Mez leading the charge with an Akon-esque effected hook by Justus. Cue the car screeching sound byte. Is this not a Dre album? Where is the funk? Did Dre forget about Dre? This type of track, rapper, and sound is something that you wouldn’t expect to be on an album by the west coast legend Dr. Dre. This won’t be the first time this influence creeps into Compton’s city limits. At least two more times the southern double time 808 kit set will pop back up later on “Deep Water” featuring Kendrick Lamar & Justus and “For the Love of Money” with Jill Scott & Jon Connor. These cuts don’t fit into the sound legacy that Dr. Dre has built over a 30 plus year career. I wasn’t expecting that a ride through Compton would sometimes take a deter through Charlotte, North Carolina. They aren’t tracks that someone would expect to find on a Dre album that they were hoping would be a departure from this over-saturated sound that has dominated and plagued mainstream Hip Hop for too long but it’s not the standard so ride on.
Fans of The Chronic and 2001 and the g-funk era releases will feel most at home with “It’s All On Me” featuring Justus & BJ the Chicago Kid, “All In A Days Work” featuring Anderson Paak & Marsha Ambrosius, “Animals” also with Anderson Paak, and “Talking To My Diary”. Basslines were definitely one of the aspects of production that contributed to defining the g-funk sound and on these cuts they help to drive the vibe.
Track three “It’s All On Me” has Justus giving some soulful vocals and filling the hook duties that Nate Dogg would undoubtedly have done had he still be in alive. It feels a lot like this would have been written for Nate in mind. “Animals” with DJ Premier popping up during the ending moments has a radio single feel to it. Dre and Primo split the production duties and I would be willing to bet that it was Preem on the drums and the external instrumentation was Dre, especially the strings. The cut works very well. It’s definitely a standout for production and content. Anderson Paak sings on the hook; “The police don’t come around these parts, They 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”. While not necessarily what you might hear on some old DoggPound era material, it’s a welcome change and shows growth in Dre who is in his fourth decade of life. “Talking to My Diary” is Andre Young in reflection. Dre chronicles his life and what he came up through in his career. He highlights old beef, and positive nostalgic moments with N.W.A. that made him the household name that he is today. He speaks to the late Eazy-E and gives a shout out to MC Ren and DJ Yella. It feels like a swan song as the last cut on the album that is expected to be the west coast legend’s grand finale.
One critique I have with this album in regards to what it represents – Compton, and the movie chronicling N.W.A. coming out, plus a speculated reunion tour in the air, there are missing members from the time that Dre says he misses. Even when the Doc yells “Where Ren at?” and shouts out Yella, neither one make the album. I know where Ren is, he’s on Twitter; he’s easy to get at. The real question is why wasn’t he on the album? Why wasn’t there an N.W.A. track with Dre, Cube, Ren, and Yella period?
There are some old favorites that did make the cut that you would expect would be there. Xzibit shows up and does what X to the Z does – now we’re in the west for sure. I suspect we’ll see some new X joints soon. Snoop D-O-double G makes two appearances on Compton, first on “One Shot One Kill” with Jon Conner then on “Satisfiction” with Floetry’s Marsha Ambrosius & King Mez, and they weren’t wasted moments at all. I don’t know if it’s the scope of the project, the idea that this is Dre’s last joint, or whatever it is but to me Snoop sounds the best here than he has in many many years. He sounds like he’s hungry, amped, and into getting busy. A good producer can bring the best out of an artist and it’s well-known that Dre and Snoop made some classics together, maybe they need to explore this a bit more. Dre’s other megastar prodigy, Eminem finally shows up at the end of the album on the second half of “Medicine Man” after a very different mid-song beat change. Eminem monsters the track even though the beat change is so different that it’s a bit distracting from the original song but it’s all pulled back together.
One thing that stands out, as it should on a producer’s album, is the production. There is a visit from ’80’s era Dre with the multiple layers, beat changes, skit scenes, sound effects, varied instrumentation, and sound bytes on the tracks. There is a lot of life in the sequencing of the cuts on Compton. Go back and listen to the old N.W.A. albums and listen to the beautifully hectic nature of the musical landscapes of some of the tracks.”Loose Cannons” featuring the aforementioned Xzibit and Cold 187um goes through and least three completely different changes over the course of the song bringing the emcees in with their own environment. “Darkside Gone” and “Medicine Man” are other examples where the track ends differently than they began. “Issues” featuring Ice Cube and Anderson Paak starts off sampling the same cut Mos Def used on “Supermagic” off of The Ecstatic, flips it, then half way through the track drops out some of the underlying music for a more minimal feel dominated by sound effects of what we can assume is Compton terrorized by gun shots and police helicopters before coming back for a brief outro.
Some of the tracks are loud in a good way in the sense that there are so many things going on but this isn’t anything new for Dre. I would say it’s more like something he hasn’t done in a while. Listening to the executive production of the album as a whole and the way the cuts move and change gives me no doubt that Dre really meant that the nostalgia brought about by the Straight Outta Compton movie inspired him. The concepts and subjects are more mature, less violent, and explicit than his previous classics with a story to tell in many places. Kendrick Lamar is definitely the standout microphone star all throughout. I can’t help but feel parallels to the idea that Dre originally outlined for Detox. Maybe this is that idea mixed with his recent inspiration. Over all Compton is less a singles driven project and more a concept album and that’s a good thing. The album speaks on the city of Compton and it’s issues and the influence it has had on Dre. It’s interesting to note that the black-dominated Compton, California of Dre’s day is currently going through a trend that is seeing a rise in anti-black violence from upcoming Latino gangs in an effort to force the black population out of the neighborhood. Dre signaling his finale with an ode to and reflection on a city and culture that made him who he is that also maybe seeing an end of that which birthed him is somehow fitting. Dre has ridden for his city, making it famous along the way and has even pledged to donate all of his artist royalties from the album to help create a new performing arts and entertainment center in the city. Compton is a solid enough album where if it’s the last thing we get from Dr. Dre it’s not a bad way to go out.