Dr. Dre’s storied 31-year career is the stuff of dreams. His talents brought him from a high school graduate with bleak outlook to a successful and innovative producer, rapper, entrepreneur and mentor. There’s nothing Dre hasn’t taken on and conquered.
With Friday’s release of Compton, his third album in 23 years, Dre doesn’t continue with his trend of cutting-edge projects. Instead, he chooses to use ambiance to create lasting impressions and depictions of life in his hometown Compton, California, making an undeniably engaging experience.
For those not familiar with Dre’s previous two albums, The Chronic and 2001, it might be surprising that the artist himself raps less than half of the verses on Compton. This is a standard move by the artist, who since his days with hip-hop group N.W.A. has used his tastes in production to develop some of the best beats rap music has ever heard.
The bold production moves on this record don’t aim to create hits like Dre’s previous two releases. Instead, the songs blend together, creating an emotional and theatrical approach. Similar to how a book lays out its scenes, this soundtrack paints a clear picture with its mood and lyrics, allowing listeners to create their own imaginative experience.
But that experience isn’t pretty — Dre’s lyrics delve in excruciating detail into the violence and the lack of police support, and the result is often unsettling. Dre takes the listener on a wild ride as the record’s introduction explains de-gentrification’s role in creating the Compton he grew up in: a black-dominated neighborhood where the police gave up.
Although sampling is a dying art, Dre sticks to his guns for some intriguing results. This intellectual-of-sorts approach best appears on the neo-soul inspired “It’s All On Me.” BJ The Chicago Kid provides a catchy hook, which makes the song to stand out among a sea of quality tracks. Dre makes another notable moment when he uses a speech from producer and collaborator Jimmy Iovine to succinctly convey his message on “All In a Day’s Work.”
Dre acts more like an orchestra conductor than a star, as some of his friends and mentees provide the lyrics. Kendrick Lamar dominates every chance he gets, providing superb verses on three separate occasions. His verse on “Darkside/Gone” has impeccable flow and is, bar none, the best moment on the album.
Anderson .Paak embodies the chilling aura Dre was trying to create. His hooks and interludes are crucial to keeping the mood consistent and hard-hitting. The collaborators are many, but as a group, they work together to paint Dre’s big picture.
The record isn’t without minor flaws, though. It’s occasionally difficult to pin down exactly when Dre is rapping because of the slight overproduction of his vocals. A couple of tracks, specifically “Talk About It” and “One Shot, One Kill,” feel slightly lackluster compared to the rest of the album, simply because they do nothing memorable enough to become distinguishable.
These small shortcomings can easily be ignored to experience one of the best ambiance-centered listens of the year. It will be exciting to see how Dre uses this soundtrack to set the mood in the upcoming “Straight Outta Compton” movie release.
Just a week ago, Dre declared Detox, his long-awaited 2001 follow-up, dead. After listening to Compton, that’s not surprising — anything he could have released would have had a very little chance of standing up to the experience Compton creates. One listen to this record shows exactly why Dre can call it quits after this: He’s still the best in the game.
- Album: Compton
- Genre: Hip hop
- Tracks: 16
- Rating: 4/5 Stars