Album review: Dr Dre 'Compton'
Dr Dre has been busy making zillions with his annoying headphones but, energised by the making of the NWA movie Straight Outta Compton, he’s come up with an album that takes hip-hop off life support.
That’s a big throw down.
But as Ice Cube, who guests on Issues, points out, early rap got sidetracked by the mainstream media in favour of what he calls “escapism rap... booty music”.
Dealing with the motivating forces of his youth, at a time when the Black Lives Matter movement is the response to the prejudice and institutional violence that has long dogged his community, Dre gives it his best shot. The beats are monster and these 15 tracks are mostly bang on target. “Inspired” by the movie, they’re reflections on the struggles, aspirations and setbacks of life in Dre’s old neighbourhood.
Yes, it’s angry. But it’s also as poignant as a last will and testament. Not that Dre plans on checking out any time soon... even if he is calling this his “grand finale”.
Compton is a glorious collaboration, with Dre (real name Andre Young) as assured ringmaster. Some tracks have up to 11 names on the writing credits, largely covering the samples and the guest raps. Production credits can run to five with the best stuff featuring studio wizard Focus (aka Bernard Edwards Jr, Chic fans).
Though breathtakingly kaleidoscopic, the album isn’t a rag-bag compilation.
Even when blatantly nostalgic, the lyrical content across the album is mainly pertinent, engaging, dramatic, and only occasionally risible. Dre tries to move on from the misogynistic guff that NWA also peddled. Although attempting to rehabilitate his image, the 50-year-old can’t help including some gratuitous references to violence towards women.
As evidenced by his talent-spotting and production work, it’s as curator that he really shines. And here, apart from the beats and subtle production flourishes, it’s the younger guests who bum rush the show.
Kendrick Lamar sets the bar high on Genocide which sounds like how it must feel to be a low-rider. He also appears on the claustrophobic Deep Water, with black Korean Anderson .Paak, who channels Prince and Frank Ocean.
Eminem and Snoop Dogg rediscover vintage form but it’s .Paak on the mid-tempo groove Animals that lingers longest. “The only time they wanna turn the cameras on is when we’re f***in’ shit up…” The cut benefits from a welcome bit of East Coast magic courtesy of DJ Premier.