The pressure of a follow-up to an acclaimed album can be more challenging than the album itself. Add a sixteen year intermission? It’s almost impossible.
For nearly two decades, we’ve questioned the existence of a follow-up to Dr. Dre’s legendary 2001, released in 1999. In the years since, we’ve heard whispers and rumours about the mysterious Detox. A featured guest here, a release date there. For nearly two decades, we were fed on nothing but rumours. Rumours and an increasing sense of lost faith.
Skip ahead to August 2015. Out of absolutely nowhere, came the sudden announcement that Dr. Dre was dropping a whole new album. In one week’s time.
It was almost too good to be believed. Taking to his radio program on Apple Music’s Beats 1, Dre set the bar straight: A new album is coming out. It’s not Detox – Detox has been scrapped. This new one was inspired by upcoming N.W.A biopic Straight Outta Compton, of which Dre is an executive producer. Alongside familiar Dre collaborators like Eminem and Snoop Dogg, we were told that we’ll be hearing bars from 2015’s hip hop Messiah Kendrick Lamar and a long-awaited reunion with Ice Cube, among others. Cue the blogs, the artists and the fans unanimously going bananas.
Of course, many were sceptical. Understandably. With so much time, so much uncertainty, so much anticipation: what if it’s terrible? Dre called it his “grand finale,” but what if it’s a Chinese Democracy-type flop? I insisted, perhaps out of sheer, blind, desperate hope, that it would be excellent. Dr Dre is nothing if not a perfectionist – that much has been obvious since day one.
Compton is a triumph, a dazzling finale for the 50-year-old artist. Like any veteran businessman packing up his desk, this album is a portfolio of who he is, of what he’s created. To me, Compton is a showcase, a presentation: of the story (and his story) of Compton; of his immense talent as a producer; of his projects, his teammates and his protégés. His legacy.
First, let’s talk about Dre’s performance. Having 16 years to practise has obviously paid off. It is vicious. It burns. His spitfire lines are delivered with shotgun intensity, and the plump freshness of someone brand new to the game. We’ve never heard him this deep, this swift, this grisly.
Compton tells the tale of an adored, yet troubled city. Genocide, Just Another Day and Animals detail disturbing anecdotal evidence of drugs, violence, gangs, robberies and assault. The DJ Premier-produced Animals goes further, criticising the white, media interpretation of a black Compton. Anderson .Paak’s hook is a melancholy reflection, smack bang in the middle of police brutality, drug raids and vandalism: “And the old folks tell me it’s been goin’ on since back in the day/ But that don’t make it okay/ And the white folks tell me all the looting and the shooting’s insane/ But you don’t know our pain/ The police don’t come around these parts/ They tell me that we all a bunch of animals/ The only time they wanna turn the cameras on/ Is when we fucking shit up.”
Fame, fortune, and the problems that arise along the way dominate most of the other tracks, like Darkside/Gone, Deep Water, Satisfiction and Medicine Man, featuring Kendrick, Snoop and Eminem respectively. Supporting plots within the bigger picture, the aim of these is different: these are the tracks which show off Dre’s protégés, a pure display of talent, simultaneously giving them room to vent. Double track Darkside/Gone features some of the deepest Dre growls I have ever heard, followed by a sentimental Eazy-E sample, and a stellar Kendrick verse. No stranger to criticism of fame and fortune, Kendrick takes aim, and fires with precision. “With or without all the diamonds, to you I’m just another n*gga,” he spits, mic drop. As for Eminem? He is Dre’s greatest success, and his Medicine Man verse shows you exactly why. Of course, he knew that comparing his own talent to rape was going to demand headlines – it looks like he’s dusted off the long dormant Chronic-era Slim Shady.
Production-wise, this record is flawless. Even the pop hooks, usually the cookie-cutting Achilles heel of otherwise excellent rap tracks (*cough* half of MMLP2), are perfectly formed.
In what might be the greatest showreel of all time, each track seems to showcase a different manifestation of hip hop. It almost feels like an intentional call out: Dre may be a dinosaur in industry years, but he’s still a tyrant. Brappy, trappy Talk About It, featuring King Mez and Justus could have easily been slotted into A$AP Rocky’s recent A.L.L.A. Genocide, featuring Kendrick Lamar, Marsha Ambrosius and Candice Pillay has a classic beat and a drawling chorus, well and truly brought into 2015 with Pillay’s Rihanna-esque loop (she’s written for the Barbados-born pop star, so the similarity is unsurprising). The Game’s Just Another Day has an aggressive neo-gangsta vibe to it, while the menacing One Shot, One Kill blends chunky synths with a thumping bass, topped off with what is honestly my all time favourite Snoop Dogg verse. For The Love Of Money is pure venom, and of course, there’s the melodic rock ‘n roll romp that is Issues, featuring a tremendous Ice Cube verse.
Final track Talking To My Diary is the perfect way to end this album. The Doctor, alone, reflecting on his career, his youth, his friends and his enemies. The emotional tribute to Eazy-E tugs at heartstrings, and hearing Dre talk so fondly about missing his early NWA days is touching to say the least.
This is a brilliant effort from an artist who has truly planted himself within the sands of hip hop history. Compton shows off Dre as a producer and artist; it parades the artists he’s helped cultivate; it tells the story of the streets of Compton. Not a false step in sight, the production, collaborations and sheer musical prowess found on every single track has immediately earned this album, and Dr. Dre, legendary status. This is one grand goddamn finale.
Purchase Compton here or listen for free on Apple Music.
Watch the trailer for Straight Outta Compton: