Published Aug 12, 2015Compton is the album we didn't realize we wanted from Dr. Dre.
While we all thought we were waiting for the long-gestating and interminably delayed Detox, Dr. Dre apparently scrapped it and has instead delivered Compton, a record we never knew was in development. When news of Compton surfaced, it was initially billed as a soundtrack of sorts for the N.W.A biopic Straight Outta Compton. The "soundtrack" tag being applied to Compton is a ruse, however, possibly added to lower the expectations around a producer who hasn't released a solo project since 1999's 2001. But as a testament to Dr. Dre's sonic influence and ongoing relevance, Compton doesn't need any help standing on its own.
In truth, the formula for Compton isn't wholly different than the approach Dre has used for much of his solo career. Sonically, the refined cinematic sheen (hinted at broadly on this album intro as it was on 2001) is intact, and the beats are largely blessed by a mixture of hungry, talented upcoming artists and a cadre of grizzled veteran Dr. Dre collaborators. It could have been a mess, but this generation-meshing project is handled deftly, yielding excellent results.
Artists like Anderson .Paak, King Mez, Candice Pillar, Justus and Jon Connor impress in the generous time to shine Dre affords them. Snoop ("One Shot, One Kill), Ice Cube ("Issues"), the Game ("Just Another Day"), Xzibit ("Loose Cannons") and Eminem ("Medicine Man") also drop by with some of their best performances in recent memory to help the doctor with Compton's main recurrent theme: reflecting on his rise to fame and casting his eye (often disdainfully) on hip-hop's current state.
Dre has always raised his game working with newer artists, but it seems like being around Kendrick Lamar, now unquestionably a star in his own right, has rubbed off on the Dre in a good way. Lamar himself shows up in top form on three tracks, and while some are debating whether or not he disses Drake on "Deep Water," his overall subtle influence on Compton may be being overlooked. Dre's rapping voice on Compton is elastic and at times it isn't instantly recognizable, mirroring Lamar's slippery vocal register and multiple POV rapping approach, presumably liberated by his near-billionaire status. Additionally, the vocal work of some of the R&B singers featured on the record, like Marsha Ambrosius and Jill Scott (who delivers a standout performance on "For the Love of Money"), often take on the offbeat, staggered style Lamar employs when elongating his syllables. DJ Dahi, one of the producers from Lamar's TDE camp, gets a look in with co-production work on three tracks.
Compton is a fully collaborative project, with Dre often co-producing his tracks with a number of other producers, the most notable being a team effort with the incomparable DJ Premier on the relentless "Animals," one of Compton's most socially charged tracks, fuelled by Anderson .Paak's impassioned vocals. While virtually every track is equipped with speaker-shattering beats, Dre isn't afraid to change things up, with pleasing sonic detours including a doo-wop breakdown on "Genocide," a chain gang on "All In A Day's Work" and a sumptuous trumpet solo on album closer "Talking To My Diary."
Listeners probably could have done without the attempt at violent shock value at the end of "Loose Cannons," perhaps the album's weakest track, but imperfections like this are few and far between. While Detox seemed poised to erode Dre's sonic reputation, Compton, reputedly his last record, instead solidifies Dre's already ironclad claims to all-time status. Not only does Compton make you forget about Detox, it also makes sure you won't ever forget about Dre. (Universal)