Dr Dre is possibly the most enduring name in hip hop. Other people have come along to become more famous and sell more records than him at certain moments in time, but he’s always there when they disappear. Often, he’s the production mastermind behind those people who temporarily take hip hop’s crown. So when he surprise dropped his first record in 16 years, it was a pretty big deal for a musical genre that Dre helped make a big deal in the first place. I listened to his solo debut The Chronic once years ago, and never listened to its follow up, 2001. So while it means I don’t have all that much context about where his latest, Compton, fits into Dr Dre’s discography, it also means I don’t have huge expectations for it to reach.
Why release an album now, with no proper warning? Well, Talk About It opens Comptoin by letting us know just exactly why. “Still got Eminem cheques I haven’t opened yet… I Want it all… Fuck you, fuck you and fuck you in the corner too… One thing I do know, is one day I’m have everything”.
With an amazing verse from hip hop’s current poster boy and ambassador for Compton , Kendrick Lamar, Genocide is a cool mix of trippy beats, a Capella instrumentation and some hard core gangsta rhymes, that bounces seamlessly between all of those elements and a few more. Things get a lot smoother on It’s All On Me, complete with its soul guitar samples and crooned vocal hooks.
Hearing hip hop’s first billionaire bitch about whinging fans on All in a Day’s Work makes me think Dr Dre needs to suck it up, just a little. But the bass groove and flow of Dre, Anderson .Paak and Marsha Ambrosius are just so good, it’s pretty easy to look past the entitled whines.
The biggest surprise for me on Compton might be Issues. With its guitars that sound like they might have come from turn of the century Daft Punk. It’s hyper tempo and aggressive opening verse from Ice Cube make it punch harder than anything else that precedes it. And it’s an impact that never lessens as the song continues on its relentless assault right up until its last instant.
Lamar makes a third Compton appearance on Deep Water, and it’s a more than welcome return. Before his contributions, it’s kind of sprawling and aimless. Once Kendrick Lamar gets involved, it all of a sudden has a real purpose and focus. Talking to My Diary is yet another retelling of Dre’s early days in the ghetto, his rise to fame and fortune, and his current standing as a corporate mogul. It’s a cool enough sounding song, but lyrically, it just feels like a rehash of so many other songs already trotted out on Compton.
If Compton is any indicator, Dr Dre has spent this last 16 years thinking about what brought him to this place. Or, more specifically, he thinks others have forgotten where he came from. He might be in his third decade of being part of the 1%, but he’s determined to remind us that things weren’t always quite so easy when he was coming up. And if it all just ads to his own mythology, then I’m sure sees that as mission accomplished as well.