Dr Dre “Compton”
The hip-hop don is back with his first album since 1999. So what’s the verdict?
Just who exactly is Dr Dre in 2015? We know him as the astute businessman who made millions out of headphones (and used Clonakilty in west Cork to take of some of that business), the canny producer who marshalled original wet-behind-the-ears talent like Eminem and Kendrick Lamar to the superstar perch via Aftermath Records and the man who had a huge hand in inventing gangsta rap and G-funk back in the day.
That’s the Andre Young CV in a nutshell. You can also add in the occasional acting gig, Apple commitments, Grammy awards and a general cash-rules-everything-around-me buzz that gets him to the top of the Forbes’ rich dude list.
In so many ways, it’s a long, long, long way from the Dre of the early days, the young DJ and producer hustling for his break and working his way up the ranks with N.W.A. and dealing with all that came with being on the way up. When you get to the top of the mountain, though, there’s a much different view. You can kick back or you can touch the sky. Everything on the to-do list is done. You look down on the streets from where you came.
Yet as you listen to “Compton”, the first album from Dre since “2001” was released in 1999, his third solo release in all and the one which takes the place of the on-off-on-off-on-really-off “Detox” in the catalogue, you get a sense that the hunger and the hustle and the desire to make a point is still there. The boxes may be ticked, but there’s always shit to prove. Dre may get more ink for his business acumen, but it’s clear that the real beats by Dre are the ones which matter most to him.
The other thing which matters, as his CV and Aftermath track record shows, is his suss when it comes to new talent. You might have turns here from such established Dre-friendly names as Snoop Dogg, Eminem, Kendrick Lamar, Ice Cube and Xzibit to establish the bona fides of the Dre brand and the fact that these dudes will duke it out with him still. But the presence of relative newcomers like King Mez, Anderson .Paak (his album “Venice” is one of the unsung gems of the year), Dallas rapper Justus, Jon Connor, Baltimore jazzer Dontae Winslow, Candice Pillay and Asia Bryant – as well as the excellent though probably slightly unknown Marsha Ambrosius – indicate that Dre is keen to show his ears for new talent are still in full effect.
What this gallery of talents go to work on is an album shaded by the nostalgic shadow of Compton of old (which will also get a shine in the forthcoming Straight Outta Compton bio-pic of N.W.A.), but also an album powered by a producer well capable of slinging top-drawer beats. The album sounds magnificent, track after track rocking back and forth with a vibrant, invigorated and pointed momentum as Dre and team layer tracks with rich, thumping, textured, futurefunked riffs and grooves as if he’s taking a few pointers from Lamar’s last album. Tracks like “Talk About It” stand out because of the sheer power behind the flow, while the DJ Premier-assisted “Animals” simply thrills.
Lyrically, as has been the case on other big albums from black America in the last few months like “To Pimp A Butterfly” and “Black Messiah”, there are flashes of righteous anger and indignation from Dre himself, deploying that distinctive snarl of his, at the police violence visited on black communities on “Animals” and “Deep Water”. But the violence goes both ways and “Issues” ends with a brutal depiction of a woman being murdered, while Eminem shows on his short cameo on “Medicine Man” that Tyler, the Creator is not alone in displaying childish, tedious, misogynistic tendencies.
The album’s at its best in this regard when Dre himself rolls with it, such as the humorous bragging about his money stacks on “Talk About It” or when he talks about police harassment from his youthful days in Compton on “It’s All On Me”. The album closer “Talking To My Diary” shows a softer side to Dre, as he makes peace with N.W.A co-founder, the late Eazy E.
Forget about Dre? Not a chance. This may be billed as the last hurrah but, on the evidence of what “Compton” has to offer, he’s still got the juice required to produce crackers and thrillers and thumpers galore. It will be fascinating to see what happens with the young guns Dre is showcasing here, but it will also be interesting to note if the reaction to this album will colour his future plans regarding that retirement. After all, on the evidence of this album, the notion of a fiftysomething Dre still poppin’ is kind of appealing.
The album is streaming on Apple Music here.