As much as Dr. Dre has been absolutely essential to the growth and development of hip-hop, his discography lags behind his elite stature. Yes, he’s got a loaded track record that boasts legendary albums, from 1988’s Straight Outta Compton to this year’s To Pimp A Butterfly; and yes, he’s taken under his wing rappers like Snoop Dogg, Eminem, and Kendrick Lamar, and turned them into megastars; and yes, he became filthy rich through way of creating the world’s most successful premium headphone brand and then selling it to Apple for 3.2 billion dollars. However, when you look at Dre only as a rap artist, there’s simply not much there. You know the Jay-Z line from the “Takeover” where he says that Nas has dropped an average of one hot album for a ten year period (and that’s so LAAAME). Well, from that lens it seems that Dre is even lamer considering his rate of 0.86 hot albums every ten years. Not to mention the tumultuous “Detox” saga that saw fifteen years of speculation turn into nothing but a tease and leaked singles. Lackluster, mainstream-pandering singles “Kush” and “I Need A Doctor” pointed to the bitter truth; that maybe Dre’s return was best left in our imagination.
With that said, Compton’s consistency and cohesiveness are probably this year’s biggest surprise. Considering the heavy amount of misogyny and braggadocio present on The Chronic and 2001 you may find the subject matter on Compton refreshing. Whether it’s the youthful hubris of “Talk About It,” the introspective “It’s All On Me,” the frantic “Deep Water,” or the openly honest “Talking To My Diary,” Dre doesn’t come across as an asshole like he does on his other albums. Not only that, the conviction with which Dre spits some of these verses is unprecedented, which is impressive considering these beats aren’t necessarily accessible, nor easy to rap over. On “Genocide”:
“Cause delirium, mass hysteria, scarier area / I’m very aware hip hop needed somethin’ to carry it / So I married that bitch and swung down in that chariot.”
Did you ever think a Dre line in 2015 would feature such a smooth rhyme scheme? It’s probably because Kendrick ghost-writes all his shit, which also may be the reason he sounds like Kendrick all over the album. Nevertheless, the end result is arguably Dre’s best performance on the mic. On “All in a Day’s Work,” Dre rhymes “bullshit and bias” with “pulpits and choirs” with relative ease. Or on “Animals”:
“Just a young black man from Compton wondering who could save us / And could barely read the sentences the justice system gave us / So many rental cars with bricks, I think they probably funded Avis.”
For someone who is typically heard over low-BPM west coast beats, the change is definitely adventurous. Dre’s voice may seem a little weird – almost unrecognizable – at first, but once the change sinks in you’ll appreciate Dre’s intuitiveness.
Speaking of refreshment, the beats here are very different than his last projects. Whether this is for better or worse is obviously debatable but it’s hard to knock the cinematic instrumental that backs the “Intro” which leads seamlessly into the horn-ladened, snare-happy “Talk About It.” The beats are still expensive sounding (Why the hell wouldn’t they? It’s Dre), but the opening song is closer to trap than anything in Dre’s discography. There’s the beautiful, yet laid-back gospel sample that highlights the soulful “It’s All On Me”; the nagging guitar on the rock-rap highlight “One Shot One Kill”; or the looming piano on “Gone.” All in all you get a wide variety in sound here from Dre. Whether it’s trap-style drums or high-energy rock-rap – the fact that he made it all so damn consistent is a testament to his legacy as a producer.
However, the aspect that stands out the most are the features. Both the quantity and quality is enormous; ranging from megastars (Eminem, Ice Cube) to underground artists (Anderson .Paak, King Mez). The frontrunner in name and performance is clearly Kendrick. He drops three amazing verses, each with its own case for being the album’s best. On “Genocide,” (on which every artist absolutely kills their part) Kendrick does a complete 180 from his peace-leaning To Pimp A Butterfly ideologies; capping his verse with: “Fuck your daddy, fuck your dead homie / Fucked the world up when we came up, that’s Compton homie!”. He also manages to effortlessly spit:
“Our stadiums packed, Raiders in black, curls drippin’, silver bullet, palladium in my strap”.
Has anyone ever been able to depict the imagery of Compton with such eloquent efficiency? The biggest surprise comes from Snoop Dogg. That’s right, the now sensual R&B rapper is placed on a funky rock-rap track (“One Shot One Kill”) and sounds hungrier than ever on his verse (“My track record ain’t coincidental / And these verses is like hearses consistently killin’ all with instrumentals”). The Game also provides Dre with one of his hungriest verse in years on “Just Another Day.” Equipped with a horn-ladened instrumental, he spits an aggressive verse with impressive lines such as:
“Disintegrate niggas went into me, dome shots like Kennedy / Slugs drippin’ with Hennessey, got murderous tendencies”
The highlight, however, is the performance from Anderson .Paak. .Paak, a relative unknown in the mainstream circles, is featured on six of the sixteen songs and adds a certain personality that’s undeniably infectious. His raspy, yet soulful voice blends in beautifully with Dre’s soundboard and the result is sonically great. Whether it’s the verse he shares with Dre on “All In A Day’s Work,” the frantic chorus on “Deep Water,” or the beautiful performance over the Premier beat on “Animals,” .Paak’s talent stands out amongst a very impressive roster of guest features. Don’t be surprised if this is another one of Dre’s prodigies who blows up.
All in all this is a very consistent record, and the refreshing change of pace makes up for the fact that it lacks a monster hit. There isn’t anything that reaches nearly as high as the piano on “Nuthin’ But A ‘G’ Thang,” nor the bombastic bass of “The Next Episode,” but the consistency on Compton is what keeps it in the conversation with his prior two albums. Aside from another angry Eminem verse, a few lackluster Dre verses, and some forgettable instrumentals that fill the middle of the album, there isn’t much Dre did wrong. As a whole, it might be Dre’s most complete project as it avoids the massive fluctuations of 2001. Front to back this is Dre’s most consistent effort, and the fact that he brings it to us nearly three decades after the release of Straight Outta Compton, it’s an accomplishment in itself.