Compton – The Soundtrack (released August 7, 2015)
I’ve spent the last 15 years trolling y’all about Dr. Dre’s mythical Detox album – the audio equivalent of CP time. Like your least reliable friend, we were always told that it was juuuuuust around the corner … but never showed up.
Honestly, what did Dre have to prove at this point anyway? He’s cemented his legacy as one of the greatest producers in hip-hop history with a sound that catapulted West Coast rap into prominence. He has two bonafide classic albums to his name, mentored game-changing artists like Eminem, Snoop Dogg, and Kendrick Lamar and has nearly a billion dollars in the bank, courtesy of his Apple Music partnership.
And oh yeah, he was also at the helm of NWA, arguably the most revolutionary musical group in American culture.
So when Dre recently admitted that Detox was actually crap on a stick and wouldn’t see the light of day, there were no hard feelings from me. Likewise, when he announced that his next album, Compton, would be a companion piece for the upcoming NWA biopic, I didn’t expect much. Dre has already given us enough, there’s nothing for him to prove in 2015.
Compton immediate proves one thing, though: Without the impossibly-high expectations of Detox looming over him, Dre still has a lot left in the tank.
Even the most devout West Coast fans will admit that Dre has never been an elite lyricist. His strength has always been crafting musical soundscapes and inserting all-star artists to complete his vision. That’s the story here, and as usual, it works expertly.
For a man who has been in the game for well over two decades, Doc has no problem reinventing his sound. He sounds like the fourth member of Migos on “Talk About It,” where he brags that he “still got Emniem checks I ain’t opened yet,” and oddly swipes Kanye West’s flow on “Darkside/Gone.” But, as customary for a Dre album, it’s his guest stars that steal the show.
Kendrick Lamar, coming off his own album of the year contender, sounds even more motivated (if that’s possible) on “Genocide” and “Deep Water.” He’s clearly influenced by his surroundings, amping up his usual laser focus to NWA-levels of intensity – he’s blasting through the track like Cyclops now. Cold 187um jumps off the back of a milk carton to join Xzhibit for “Loose Cannons”; The Game uses “Just Another Day” to reminds us that he’s a force in the booth when he’s motivated; Snoop makes his presence felt on “One Shot Kill” and “Satisficition”; and even Ice Cube shows up for a reunion on “Issues.” It’s a Gangsta Party with some of the best MCs the West has ever produced.
Sure there’s tons of nostalgia here – I nearly suplexed my desk when “For The Love of Money” hit my speakers – but what sets this album apart from Dre’s earlier solo works is its willingness to touch upon social issues. “Animals,” “Medicine Man” and “Talking to My Diary” are a three-part synopsis of a man who overcame the trappings of his environment but has to watch the cycle of injustice bind others.
On “Animals,” Dre readily admits he “could barely read the sentences the justice system gave us,” shaking his head in disgust as the media wags its finger at men who have simply become the products of their environments. Eminem drops the best verse on the entire album (and his personal best in years) on “Medicine Man” as he and Dre navigate the minefield of fame and fortune. And then, on “Talking to My Diary,” Dre finally extends the olive branch to fallen friend Eazy-E. It’s here that he realizes that petty beefs and misunderstandings are trivial in a world already rife with strife. Cube, MC Ren, DJ Yella all are shown love.
In a world this broken, family is really all you have.
I’m sure critics won’t place Compton next to classics like The Chronic or 2001. Quite a few songs are dragged down by lackluster hooks – Lord knows we could have used a few Nate Dogg guest spots. But those nitpicks don’t stop Compton from being the album fans have waited for – a collection seeped in West Coast nostalgia yet continues to push the art form forward. Even with nothing to prove, Dre proves his reputation is bulletproof.
Compton probably isn’t the Detox some of you waited for, but it’s not like we needed Detox anyway.
Best tracks: “Animals,” “Darkside/Gone,” “Talking to My Diary”
4 stars out of 5