It should come as no surprise that Dr. Dre scrapped Detox. He’s a mad scientist of epic proportions, tinkering, toying, and tweaking every last sound of a recording. As a fan, it’s easy to find frustration in his quest for mastery. After all, Detox was hip-hop’s equivalent to Guns and Roses’ Chinese Democracy; an ultra-hyped studio beast whose reputation generated more rumored hype than actual results.
Enter Straight Outta Compton, the F. Gary Gray-helmed biopic tracing the origins of N.W.A. and the west coast explosion fueled partly by Dre’s carefully tuned ear. That new film became a likely muse for Compton: A Soundtrack, Dre’s third studio album, and first of new material in 16 years.
Compton is the perfect record to surface in the midst of this phony Drake/Meek beef. In Dre, you have one of hip-hop’s most important creators, yet he’s never been hailed as one of the games most gifted MC’s. Like his previous efforts, he’s created this record collaboratively with new talent (King Mez & Justus) and old friends (Kendrick, Game, Snoop, Eminem) without the wasted breath of the ghostwriter discussion. Dre has always worked with writers in order to fine tune his craft, and nothing has changed here leading to near perfect moments throughout Compton: A Soundtrack. Let us not forget that Michael only wrote four songs on Thriller. Get over it.
Obviously Dre isn’t comfortable alone. Compton feels more like a party than a proper solo release. Where The Chronic was a stage for Snoop’s blistering genius, and 2001 was clearly the Eminem show, Compton is a family gathering that plays like a scene from Entourage high in the Hollywood hills; complete with an all-star cast, high security, Hennessy and a whole gang of weed.
This record is a testament to Dre’s cinematic style. We’re riding shotgun, and it’s a whirlwind. Guests come and go including Xzibit, Jon Connor, Ice Cube, and Kendrick Lamar; all taking turns painting their take on the sun-drenched realities of Compton, California. As much as Dre aimed for a snapshot of present day Compton, we’re left with the sort of California seen through million dollar lenses. That studio polish doesn’t tarnish a second of the album; instead, it serves as a vehicle to showcase the grandeur of Dre’s final hurrah.
Compton never once threatens to waterboard us with nostalgia. The production is crisp and current, ranging from the frantic opener, “Talk About It”, to the Kendrick and Justus assisted new classic “Deep Water”, which wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly. Standout verses come courtesy of Jon Connor (please stop sleeping on this man), Snoop on the gritty “One Shot One Kill”, and The Game on “Just Another Day”.
Billionaire businessman, beat genius, west coast ambassador… Call him what you want. Just don’t discredit his ability to take nearly twenty years between releases before unleashing one of the most stylistically focused records of 2015. It’s jam-packed (almost to a flaw) with ideas, killer verses, and a handful of irresistible hooks begging you to remember this is the same man who brought you some of hip-hop’s most recognizable left coast sounds. If Compton is Dre’s swan song, it’s a tremendous third act executed with legendary precision.