Before we begin, a little backstory. For those who don’t know, years before I was in a goth/industrial band in the early 2000’s I was a teen growing up in the 90’s. Alternative music was a varied and diverse landscape back then. You could go see acts like Alice in Chains, Ice Cube, Cypress Hill, Henry Rollins and Nine Inch Nails all performing at the same festival.
The early 90’s was an incredible shifting point for hip hop. NWA totally changed the game the way that grunge changed rock music. Suddenly the music that was popular a few years before seemed totally ridiculous. For a teen growing up in the suburbs what Ice Cube referred to as “reality rap” was my first exposure to the world of the violence, crime and racism that the members of NWA experienced. This music blew my mind and I was hooked immediately.
For years he has teased his follow up to his second album, 2001. But between producing albums for other artists, growing a successful business and maybe just self-doubt, years go by with no new album. Over the years we hear parts of these tracks as songs under other artists like 50 Cent, The Game and frustrating half-finished leaks on the Internet. It only continues to fuel the mystique and legend behind the album that was then known as Detox. After the sale of Beats Audio to Apple my friends and I all thought that it had sealed the fate on Dre’s third album and that it would never end up getting released.
Then news starts picking up on the new NWA biopic film. People are getting excited about his music again. Flash forward to 2015, without warning Dr. Dre announces the release of Compton.
— Dr. Dre (@drdre) August 2, 2015
It sounds fresh, modern. It has the signature Dr. Dre touches but it doesn’t sound like a continuation of his last album. Just like how 2001 sounded nothing like The Chronic, Compton> sounds nothing like what we have heard of before from Dre. A big reason why Detox was never released was a feeling of boredom by Dr. Dre. He didn’t want to simply repeat a formula he had previously perfected, he wanted to release something that sounded new. So he ended up scrapping the body of work that had accumulated over the years and started fresh in 2014 during the filming of Straight Outta Compton.
The New York Times posted a well written review on the album and they make a point that a lot of people fail to grasp:
“His true peers aren’t other hip-hop producers, not even tenured greats like Kanye West or Pharrell Williams of the Neptunes or even DJ Premier, the New York formalist who produces one song here, “Animals,” in a sort of fantasy-league, best-of-both-coasts arrangement. All of them, even the ambitious Mr. West, focus primarily on how small parts of songs interact to create the whole. You can hear the gears at work.
Dr. Dre, by contrast, is more concerned with atmosphere, mood and texture. He has a production credit on about half of the songs on this album — and he uses samples elegantly, a dying skill — but he was involved with mixing all of them, and that’s a more important detail. Ever since “The Chronic,” it’s been clear that Dr. Dre’s real peers are film-score composers — say, John Williams or James Horner — who communicate emotional direction with broad, legible strokes that set the tone for the details to be sprinkled atop them.”
That’s why he doesn’t come out with an album every year and why he truly doesn’t have any peers in the hip hop community.
DJ Premier, who has long been regarded as the East Coast equivalent of Dr. Dre makes his first collaboration with Dre on Compton. When asked what the difference between a “producer” and a “beat maker” was, Premier had this to say:
“For me, it’s like film: You can shoot all the footage you want, but it’s all about the edit, the final outcome, when the world gets it. That’s what makes you a producer. That’s what Dre does.”
When Dr. Dre releases an album it’s an even that changes the sound of hip hop. That expectation is also probably why he was so hesitant to release his third album. Dre could have released a classic old school West Coast hip hop album 10 times over by now but instead forges ahead with something new and modern sounding.
I’m glad Dr. Dre was able to ditch the Detox baggage and finally put something out. If you are expecting another Chronic you’re about two decades too late. Rapping and guns and weed in the present tense would have been a cop-out. If you pick up Compton set aside some time and listen to it from start to finish as an album experience.
Favorite track “Talking to My Diary”