By the end, everyone suspected that ‘Detox’ was never going to come out. How does one make any piece of art for so long without it being forced? If you’re lumbering over a project for over a decade and you’ve only released two singles for the project and even they sound dated at this point, then the project is bound to be lacking inspiration. In many ways this biographical movie for NWA ‘Straight Outta Compton’ is the best thing that could have happened to Dr Dre; not in a business sense but in a way to get him back into his original craft. Perhaps it was both the film, and his protegé Kendrick Lamar’s burst into the mainstream so unapologetically representing Compton and the fact that Hip-Hop is in a good place, that inspired Dre to get back in the studio because his new album, ‘Compton’ — made during the making of the film itself –sounds anything but uninspired.
Dre has always had a willingness to push forward boundaries in Hip-Hop, with the birth of Gangstar Rap, to him pioneering G-Funk, to giving guest spots to rappers that would go on to be some of the greatest to ever do it like Eminem and Snoop Dogg. He’s always been lurking in the background like an ominous presence; he’s not afraid to hop on the mic but he tries to be influential the most he can in other ways leaving a lot of room for guests. He’s also never shied away from the fact that he uses co-writers and ghost-writers frequently, and on this new album it’s no different with fresh faces Justus and King Mez having writing credits on nearly every track on the album. More than on any of his previous material this actually shows in the way that Dre raps. Upon first listen it’s almost hard to recognise his voice, when the first track ‘Talk About It’ opens, Dre flows with a flamboyant bounce in his voice in a way that many of the rappers who spit of Trap orientated beats do.
Dre switches his flow in order to suit the artist he’s collaborating with and he often adapts to styles that have been popular in the last few years such as almost sing/raping in a Drake fashion on the track ‘It’s All On Me’, yet he has the ability to because of his charisma. There’s also a distinct lack of many of the musical styles that made Dre popular on his last albums to the dismay of many fans. Dre isn’t pushing boundaries on this album but he’s showcasing his ability to enhance modern styles such as Trap and Drill. The music on here uses live instrumentation for the low-end of the mixing with the bass and some guitars coming from the musician Focus (who put a lot of work into Detox before it was scrapped) and they often remain classy like on the tracks ‘All In A Day’s Work’ or ‘It’s All On Me’. Other tracks use a wide range of instruments like on the two-part song ‘Darkside/Gone’ which smoothly transitions from banger beat to a more piano driven instrumental almost in the same vein as ‘I Need A Doctor’ but done with a whole lot less corniness.
Dre has always been a producer first and a rapper second and this album showcases his ability to create a certain texture on an album that sounds so distinctively singular to him despite the fact that the record has very little in terms of coherency because it jumps all over the place from track to track. This album shows off his talent in being able to adapt to the times that we live in now while not forgetting where he came from. Dre uses the help of six producers on this album as well as producing a large chunk himself and mixing all of the tracks himself. Despite the fact it sounds ditinctively modern it also sounds somewhat timeless with a wide range of instrumentation — including big usage of horns –that although isn’t ground-breaking, sounds extremely cinematic. On the track ‘Animals’ he collaborates with none other than DJ Premier for the first time ever and gives us one of the best tracks on the album as the laid-back drumbreak lends Dre the room to express a genuinely interesting concept with guest vocalist Anderson .Paak.
Like on previous albums Dre brings a wide variety of guests that he likes to shine the spotlight on over himself a lot of the time (Kendrick Lamar, Snoop Dogg, The Game, Xzibit, Eminem, Ice Cube and the aforementioned up and coming faces Justus, Anderson .Paak and King Mez) and often runs the risk of actually being overshadowed by these guests. On the track ‘All In a Day’s Work’ Anderson .Paak is so heavily involved in the track that he’s often finishing his lines for him. The only reason Dre holds the entire project together is because it’s consistently got an interesting and engaging concept.
Dre spends the vast majority of this album talking about how he himself came up, looking back over his career and reflecting on the city where it all happened. On the opening track to the album Dre proclaims ‘I just bought California!’ in an act of chest beating pride showing off the fact that he’s come from the bottom and he’s now the richest person in Hip-Hop (and he’s able to donate the entire proceedings from this album to the City he came from). On the same track he brags of how he’s ‘Still got Eminem cheques I ain’t opened yet’ and on multiple points in the album he addresses how despite his old age he still isn’t anyone to mess about with often bragging about how essential he is in music despite not even releasing any material in 16 years.
Dre knows how to utilise his guests to bring out the best of them to suit whatever he’s talking about in terms of his concept, and considering the heavy talk of his home city it should come as no surprise that one of the most entertaining rappers on this album is Kendrick Lamar who grew up in the Maad City. Kendrick shows up on the track ‘Genocide’ which has him talking from the point of view of a youth driving around in Compton, while on ‘Darkside/Gone’ he talks of how far he’s come in order to try to inspire those still on the streets. Perhaps the most impressive track with him on comes in the shape of ‘Deep Water’ which has both him and Dre sounding like a big ball of rage ploughing through incredible amounts technical word play and complex flows as Kendrick switches it up with his voice multiple times throughout the track.
Elsewhere on the album Snoop Dogg sounds angry and hungry on the track ‘One Shot One Kill’ and equally as smooth on ‘Satisfiction’ (despite a questionable hook). Ice Cube reunites with Dre on ‘Issues’ sounding like he’s sick of people calling him out for becoming an actor and giving us a verse that proves that he still has a powerful punch when he spits. One of the best guest spots comes on the track ‘Animals’ with Anderson .Paak where he details how the only time the media ever covers the city is when people start flipping because of the injustice that they feel is done to them saying ‘They think we’re all just a bunch of animals’ ‘The only time they get the cameras out is when we fucking shit up’.
The only track where Dre is properly on his own on this album is in its closing track ‘Talking To My Diary’ where he really reflects on how he came up getting very nostalgic talking about his former-NWA member and lost friend Eazy-E (who shows up in the form of a sample earlier in the album) without sounding corny. The only time it does start to sound corny is on probably the worst song on the album ‘Medicine Man’ with Eminem where not only do they get a bit overly sentimental about their rise over a questionable instrumental, but Eminem sounds out-of-place over the top of Trap inspired beat in the latter half of the song and spits an absolutely toxic line about rape that sounds far from inspired. It’s also an ironic line due to the fact that Eminem’s acting half his age despite Dre actually calling out rappers who do just that in the first verse.
This song paired with the song ‘Loose Cannons’ where a woman is killed at the end for seemingly no reason at all in context of the album are the two times where Dre slips back into old habits. Because by and large this is Dre’s most mature release to date (there are certainly no moments like ‘Pause 4 Porno’ on this album) and he stays focused on something other than ‘that chronic life’. He seems to actually have adapted to modern life for the most part.
In a weird way this comeback record isn’t a comeback record at all, because it never felt like Dre left us. His presence is always being felt in music or in culture. In a time where it’s becoming less an object of where you come from in Hip-Hop Dre has adapted to this, enhancing sounds from all over Hip-Hop to create something that still represents where he’s from. ‘Compton’ is the sound of someone truly inspired rather than forcing himself to finish a project he probably lost interest in a long time ago.
Best Tracks: Talk About It, Genocide, Deep Water, Animals, Talking To My Diary, All In a Day’s Work
Worst Track: Medicine Man (Feat. Eminem)