They say that good things come to those who wait. For hip-hop fans, it has been a long 16 years of waiting since Andre Romelle Young last released a solo album. The rapper and producer, better known as Dr. Dre, helped solidify the gangsta rap genre as part of the “world’s most dangerous group,” N.W.A during the early ‘90s. His first solo album, The Chronic, is widely respected as one of the top rap albums of all time. A beautiful technicality in his follow-up release, 2001, made it a classic in its own right. Then, for over a decade and half, the world has waited for what would come next. Dre spent years working on, and delaying, an album called Detox; expected to be the ultimate finale to one of the most successful artistic careers ever seen. The pressure steadily mounted as expectations grew with each delay. Eventually, they grew to a point where Detox could never live up to what his fans had built it up to be in their minds. Understanding this, and using the very genius his career has thrived from, he scrapped the project and announced Compton. An album, which would serve as the soundtrack for the movie depicting his N.W.A. days, Straight Outta Compton, but would consist entirely of original tracks produced and performed by the living legend. In it, Dre declares his dominant position in the rap game while calling out today’s artists on their monetary obsessions and lack of passion. He discusses his views on societal issues, and looks back on his career, opening up about the tumultuous end to the N.W.A. group. He displays his production prowess, and of course, pays homage to his hometown, all while continuing to show his ability to promote up and coming artists. The album consists of 16 tracks, including an intro describing Compton’s transition from a white suburban neighborhood to one of the nation’s most dangerous, most African-American dominated areas, leading into Dre’s first declaration of his position on rap’s throne following a transition from the intro fit for a blockbuster film rather than an album.
In Talk About It, the first full track on the album, the good doctor announces his pinnacle position in the rap game based both on his wealth and overwhelming influence over the genre with lines such as, “Still got Eminem checks I ain’t opened yet.” The 50-year-old, near billionaire rapper and producer turned headphone and speaker guru, makes it clear; however, that the money is not his primary focus. Throughout the album, he describes his rise from struggle as his true legacy-quite a contrary view from the themes riddling rap and hip-hop since the release of his last solo project. On the album’s fourth track, All In A Day’s Work, Dre describes the grinding efforts it took for him to reach his current status, originating in an era when “a rapper needed guns way more than a stylist.” In Satsifiction, Dre calls out the fake wealth portrayed by most Hip-Hop personalities and their videos, alongside his original youth prospect Snoop Dawg. He continues to mock modern rap’s cash addiction in the track titled For The Love of Money, questioning the passion of today’s artists and allowing Anderson. Paak, a relatively unknown artist featured on more than a few of Compton’s tracks to leave an optimistic thought to listeners, reminding them “we can do it for love.”
Anderson. Paak, is one of many artists on the album I had never heard before, all of whom heavily influence its sound. Justus and King Mez, up-and-coming rappers, are attributed as writers, either together or separately, on every one of the album’s tracks. The Raleigh native, King Mez, also drops Compton’s first verse. Female artists Marsha Ambrosius, Candice Pillay, and Jill Scott all get their own hook or bridge in at least one track. Dre even gives his latest prospect, rapper Jon Connor from Flint, Michigan, his own track, One Shot One Kill, while also rapping alongside him on For The Love of Money. The Game, another Dre-raised prodigy, delivers a track reminiscent of his early days fresh out of the Bloods called Just Another Day. It depicts his views and memories from the South Central neighborhood, and is the type of track West Coast fans have waited for from Game for years. He saves one of his most prosperous recruits for last; however, finalizing the Eminem era with Medicine Man, and Em more than delivers. With a rapid-fire, lethal verse describing his own rise thanks to Dre’s leadership, Eminem thanks his mentor in the only way he knows how- by slaying the lyrical dragon and all who doubt him with his undeniable flow and lyricism.
Despite allowing two Michigan natives a chance to leave their mark on his final album, Dre is sure to pay respect to the state and city, which raised the musical mastermind. Genocide, the second track, opens with a raunchy beat oozing a ‘90s view of palm trees and bullet holes, reminding the world the man is still very “187.” After a verse describing the abundance of drugs and guns in his youth, “One in the left hand, one in the right hand, Scotty Pippen both ways,” Dre allows the game’s new king, Kendrick Lamar, to remind everyone how little the urban neighborhood has changed since the days of Blood and Crips feuding. His fiery, poetic verse describes the artist face down in the L.A. dust, “I lie on the side of a one way street, nowhere to go, death all I can see.” King Kendrick is featured twice more on tracks Darkside/Gone, and Deep Water. Each time, zooming the microscope on his own career progression and on the neighborhood, which raised the industry’s greatest producer as well as rap’s prodigal son. Throughout Compton, Dre’s beats practically bleed the Golden State, with heavy bass, consistently bouncy rhythms, and the under-the-sun vibe of West Coast hip-hop.
Much like Dre’s ability to illustrate his memory of the Compton streets in the minds of his listeners, his ability to relay his views on societal issues is nothing new, coming through quite prevalently in the 2015 release. A leading member of one of the first groups to openly speak out against African-American targeted police brutality with their infamous track, Fuck the Police, one he name drops in It’s All On Me, Dre is no stranger to being profiled based on race. However, his view on the way the country’s correctional officers treat his community has lost its rage sharpened edge and developed a solemn plea on one of my favorite tracks, Animals. The song acts as Dre’s podium to speak out about the feeling of being tagged “dangerous” due to the color of one’s skin, and his hope for such views to be left in the past, evidenced by Anderson. Paak when he says, “and the old folks say that it’s been going on since back in the day, but that don’t make it ok,” in the hook. The same racial profiling that has garnered public attention in recent years has been occurring since long before Dre’s days in Compton, with very little evidence of improvement whatsoever. In Animals, he asks the world to end their judgement of a community very few can relate too. People tend to forget that Dre has a rich social conscious. He has used his platform in the industry to voice his opinions as far back as Straight Outta Compton, and continuous to do so with a maturity and wisdom stemming from his years of experience throughout his finale.
The entire production of the album is unrivaled. Tracks lead into and contrast each other like scenes in a film. Rappers follow the beat, and then Dre mixes it up for the next artist or silences it completely to emphasize their lyrics. Though each song’s theme focuses on discussion of real issues, each remains a dance-able, potential club-banger in its own right. Even Genocide, one of the most violent and angry tracks, fades into a smooth A Capella rendition of the word “murder,” before Dre cuts the beat, and brings it back with one of the most powerful drops in recent memory. Dr. Dre has always been and will remain, a producer first, who just so happens to be a powerful lyricist on the side. His eccentric musical interests open the door for samples from a wide range of influences from Italian funk bands, to Turkish psychedelic artists, to use of classic jazz trumpets, all blending beautifully together to paint the incredible story of his career.
Hearing such a story from the man himself is the album’s greatest trait. Covering each era with separate tracks, Dre speaks about his violent youth, his rise to prominence, as well as the turbulent events between the days of N.W.A. and the creation of Death Row records. Speculation about the demise of the group that first brought Dre into the limelight has abounded since their breakup. Dre seems to lift the stress from his shoulders caused by the group’s fallout and correlating well-known feud with the late Eazy E on the track It’s All On Me. Discussing his meeting the outspoken, Compton personality as well as his first interaction with Snoop Dawg and a menacing mention of the moment he crossed paths with the infamous Suge Knight. Sampling the late, N.W.A. front man on Darkside/Gone, Dre shows he has long forgotten the bitterness between him and Eazy. By bringing back other legends such as Xzibit, Snoop Dawg, and fellow N.W.A. member Ice Cube, Dre links the various eras of his career and influence, culminating in the final track Talking to My Diary. In the album’s epic sendoff, the living legend walks us through his phoenix rise from the L.A. streets to the world’s one percent. Thanking his mother for her unwavering love and support and openly admitting to forgiving, and missing Eazy and the rest of the N.W.A crew, calling out each by name, before allowing a dramatic jazz trumpet to carve his unrivaled career into the Mount Rushmore of rap.
Compton is Dr. Dre’s announcement of his own legacy. The man has been one of the industry’s most influential characters for over 30 years yet he proves he is still perfectly in-tune with modern expectations and still shatters them with the classic style of the genre he helped to create. Energetic, menacing lyricism is his tool for recapping the major events of his career, teamed with consistent top-notch production- his original talent and the staple of his artistic output. He leaves his views on issues, which have plagued society his community from adolescence on. All of the loose ends and bitterness between fellow artists tie up neatly like the most perfect Christmas wrapping you can imagine, while also continuing to pave the way for developing talent as he has since the establishment of both Death Row and Aftermath records. Compton cements Dr. Dre as one of the elite in rap history in its ability to connect to the modern genre in a way few believed the sleeping giant could surmise, and we are all lucky to have waited for what we should have always known would be more than worth it.