Altogether now: La-da-da-da-dah, it’s the motherfucking D.R.E. (Dr. Dre motherfucker!). Christ, it’s been a while since we’ve heard that voice. At least in a context that wasn’t to do with headphones or how Detox is ‘still coming’. And yet here we are with a new Dre album in our hands, slightly marvelling at this ‘farewell’ and the fact that we even got here in the first place.
Like everything Dre does, it’s no accident that the record’s full title happens to be Compton: A Soundtrack by Dr. Dre. Sure, it serves as the companion piece to the NWA biopic, but it clearly also allows Dre to go full-scale epic in a way that only his status demands. The intro alone is a twist on full Hollywood orchestral glamour, strings jarred by a news report on black power. As far as framing a mission statement, it’s a hard one to refute.
And then comes hit after hit. Talk About It is the biggest re-entry since Space Shuttle Columbia, with pure fire bars. When the line “Andre still young enough to say fuck y’all” drops, it’s hard not to applaud and welcome Dre back with open arms. There’s barely time to catch breath before Genocide deceptively bounces along with beats like hydraulics, when in fact it hold Kendrick Lamar‘s warning about becoming a statistic. Dre and his pals aren’t playing around (ignore the headlines about Drake shade. There are much bigger ideas in here to talk about).
It’s equally impressive to see that neither beats nor rhymes have fallen by the wayside in Dre’s absence. More importantly, how he uses it as narrative goes to show much dross we’ve come to accept in the genre – if the baked-heat nostalgia of California is alive and well through It’s All On Me, it descends into world-weary anger on Loose Cannons and Issues. The production is indefatigably grandiose and ambitious, the politics are pointed (“the only time they turn the camera on is when we fucking shit up,” says Animals) but softened at the right times by the sharp use of Marsha Ambrosius and Jill Scott. And, of course, our old pal Snoop Dogg sounds more at home sparring with Dre on One Shot One Kill than he did on anything in his own album Bush.
It’s been easy to take the piss out of Dre for delaying Detox, but listening to Compton it makes so much sense for him to have scrapped something in the spotlight and quietly work on a cohesive record that no one expected. In doing so, he’s delivered something fresh enough to sit in both a modern hip-hop landscape and stand up to his own hall of fame. Best get those chunky headphones out, because you’re going to want to spend a lot of time in this neighbourhood.
Compton: A Soundtrack by Dr. Dre can be ordered here.