Final Rating: 8.6/10
Dr. Dre had the confidence of an angry bull, determined to take down anyone waving a flag in front of him. He feared not the spears that could have been launched towards him. He didn’t fear much at all. He established himself as a producer with the rise of N.W.A., and everyone in that infamous group felt indestructible. They tossed around taboo ideas and words, and the hip hop world followed. Decades later, Dr. Dre is wealthy, attached to headphones and technology. We never forgot about Dre, but we forgot what he could be capable of. It seems Dr. Dre himself forgot, too. We waited for his album Detox for the longest time. It never saw the light of day, and it may have been for the best. After a few subpar singles, Dr. Dre himself humbly stated that this album just “wasn’t good” on Apple’s Beats 1. He worked years on a dead end.
It took a biopic to open his eyes again. Straight Outta Compton tells the story of N.W.A.’s origins, and it, apparently, hooked Dr. Dre on the idea of a Compton devoted album since the principal storyboarding. These were the days Dre once lived, and they were all but a staple in hip hop history. We see Dr. Dre’s signature on boxes in stores and we hear his signature beats in some artists nowadays, but we haven’t experienced a project that oozes Dr. Dre in quite some time. We’ll never get The Chronic again, but that was one of the greatest examples of music production of all time. As well, he’s lived too many years to carry on the same attitude. He looked back at his past and came up with Compton: A Soundtrack by Dr. Dre. It has been labeled as his grand finale, and it isn’t because it’s his best album but because he truly knows what his roots mean to him now.
Dr. Dre escaped the lifestyle there because he and his contemporaries embarked on how it could affect culture. Dr. Dre changed but his hometown didn’t. That’s why this “soundtrack” is so bittersweet. He still has anger and there is still crime being raised on a pedestal. The confidence within the state of the city is gone, though. The album starts with a statistic that posts Compton as a dangerous area. It ends with Dr. Dre reminiscing on his younger days as he shouts out to Eazy E (a fellow N.W.A. member, who had an ongoing feud with Dr. Dre until his death from AIDS in 1995). All along the center of this juicy cuisine of an album, we find many people that Dr. Dre became affiliated with during his reign: Snoop Dogg, Eminem, The Game, and most recently Kendrick Lamar. Like his other albums, there are so many guest spots that this is more of a Phil Spector-esque release that promotes his findings and collaborations. His own lyrics are undeniably written by others, as per usual, but his intentions are pure.
For an album that coasts through nostalgia heavily, it still feels quite modern. The hop-skip-dip drop bass of Genocide feels like a song off The Chronic, but it plays like something that could have been on Lamar’s 2015 instant classic To Pimp a Butterfly. In fact, this isn’t just because Lamar breathes fire on this track. Almost every song feels this way. You can see where Dre’s head is (with his current production styles) and where his heart is (his G-Funk past).
Every song has this set up, and while the entire album is a solid homage to his roots, there are some standout tracks that are the clear winners for me. Who knows? You may have your own clear winners that fight against mine. One Shot One Kill is a Rick Rubin feeling bombardment that features Snoop Dogg at his best in years (although this track smells like it has ghostwriting all over it, Dogg’s delivery is powerful). It is super charged and angry. To retreat backwards a bit, there’s the more passive song Animals that somehow speaks even louder about the themes Compton has. It features Anderson .Paak channeling the late Nate Dogg, and his silky vocals on top of the haunting beat is a velvety combination. With the lyrics that depict how the media has portrayed the recent riots, it’s somewhat of a saddening track.
The best song, which also features Anderson .Paak, is All In a Day’s Work (which also features Marsha Ambrosius). The production here is the perfect blend of Dr. Dre’s old styles of layering and his modern depth of sound. It is undeniably one of the catchiest songs of the year. The way the melody is steadily fixated on pushing the song forwards while the bass splatters all over the spectrum is noticeable as soon as the song kicks in. The song starts with a sampled vocal track that talks about the ethic of hard work, and the sample fades away with a parade of echoes. This mimics the start of DJ Shadow’s song Building Steam with a Grain of Salt, and if there was ever an artist that Dr. Dre wanted to pay tribute to when it comes to being a perfectionist, it’s the plunderphonic master DJ Shadow. This song is real when it has Dre behind it, because there aren’t many men that work as hard as him.
This is why all of the songs on Compton work in the greater picture. While there are standout bangers that beg repeating (try getting that warped acid beat in Satisfitcion out of your head quickly), some songs stand better as plot points in the whole. I don’t find myself wanting to decidedly go back to Issues quickly, but I welcome it when the album creeps up to it. The two part song Darkside/Gone starts off with the former half relying heavily on the latter (which is another beautifully produced moment on the album). None of Compton is worth skipping, especially when you hear how each song leaks into the next thematically, but I can guarantee that you, too, will find your favorites pretty quickly.
Compton has story telling elements that would resemble fear and power back in the day, but now they feel like a psychological struggle. In a miniature skit, two men dispose of a woman one of them just shot, and it makes them anything but right in the scenario. You hear a man drowning and gasping for air in a few songs, and you feel like you are wishing to find land just like he is. Compton is no longer the place Dr. Dre wants to revolt with. It hasn’t changed, and it’s a concern for him. However, his soul lies there. The fact that Dr. Dre wants to open up a school in Compton shortly after Straight Outta Compton is released and his newest album is finally out means his upbringing was always on his mind. It’s time for him to give back, and he is doing so in many ways. Compton is a soundtrack that shows all sides of the scenario, and while it is a farewell to Dr. Dre’s solo work, he and his palls will never say bye to the city that made him and his legacy so real.