Dr. Dre Orchestrates ‘Compton: A Soundtrack’ for His Next (and Final?) Episode by Justin Chadwick [ALBUM REVIEW] @drdre @Beats1 @AppleMusic @justin_chadwick

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To quote a certain Mr. James Todd Smith, don’t call it a comeback, Dr. Dre has been here for years. Thirty years to be more precise, if you rewind to Dre’s first appearance on wax on the World Class Wreckin’ Cru’s 1985 debut EP World Class, which immediately preceded his five years as the sonic mastermind behind west coast hip-hop juggernauts N.W.A. Following the dissolution of the group in 1991, Dre flew solo and never stole even the slyest of glances in the rearview. His 1992 solo debut LP The Chronic proved a creative and commercial behemoth of a record, solidifying Dre’s reputation as an ingenious producer blessed with superhero powers, while establishing the g-funk blueprint that elevated the west coast’s sleek and funky brand of hip-hop to the forefront of the genre.

In 1999, seven years after The Chronic’s massive worldwide success, Dre released his sophomore offering 2001 through Aftermath Entertainment, the appropriately named label he launched a few years prior, in the aftermath of his acrimonious exit from the Suge Knight-helmed Death Row Records. And today, nearly sixteen years after 2001 hit stores, Dre has unveiled the third—and allegedly final—chapter in his album trilogy, Compton: A Soundtrack.

And you thought Sade took her sweet ol’ time between albums? Well, Mr. Young has Ms. Adu beat, and it’s no contest.

Though if you’ve followed Dre over the past decade and a half, even in the most cursory sense, you know that he has not lacked for stimulation during the album hiatus. Rumors of the ultimately ill-fated album Detox project have swirled for years and years, but as we recently learned from the man himself, Dre placed the kibosh on the album due to creative stagnation. Ever the consummate perfectionist, Dre recently explained via his Beats 1 radio show The Pharmacy that “The reason Detox didn’t come out was because I didn’t like it. It wasn’t good. I worked my ass off on it, I don’t think I did a good enough job, and I couldn’t do that to my fans and I couldn’t do that to myself, to be perfectly honest with you. I just wasn’t feeling it.” Refreshing candor and humility from a man of Dre’s iconic status, and if we refresh our collective memory of the few tracks (“I Need a Doctor,” “Kush” and “Under Pressure”) that did surface from the never-released LP, we’ll hear firsthand that Dre makes a fair point regarding the subpar material.

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While Dre has been largely removed from the public spotlight during this time, opting instead to work his magic behind-the-scenes among mixing boards and within board rooms, his influence and presence have been ubiquitous nevertheless. Indeed, for the past sixteen years, Dre has been instrumental in guiding much of how and from whom we digest music. Akin to his discovery and cultivation of Snoop Doggy Dogg’s many talents back in the early 1990s, Dre has successfully stewarded the careers of three of hip-hop’s most vital figures of the past twenty years: Eminem, 50 Cent and most recently, Kendrick Lamar. Not to mention the much sought-after sonic Midas touch he’s bestowed upon an impressive A-list of cross-genre artists, including Gwen Stefani (“Rich Girl”), Mary J. Blige (“Family Affair”), and Jay-Z (”Lost One,” “30 Something”).

In parallel, Dre jumped into the music tech game when he launched his Beats Electronics enterprise in 2006, with the grand ambition of fundamentally transforming the quality and accessibility of the music we listen to. Comprised of high-quality Beats by Dre headphone manufacturing and the Beats Music streaming service, it required only a few years for Beats to capture the ears and loyalty of consumers worldwide. Following a series of mergers, Apple acquired Beats for just north of $3 billion late last year, and in the process, the Beats Music streaming service brand was dissolved and formally transitioned into the recently launched Apple Music.

Hence, today’s arrival of Compton: A Soundtrack, a 16-track homage to Dre’s beloved hometown which may very well represent his “grand finale” when it comes to albums adorned with his moniker, as he has insinuated. Exclusively available through Apple Music and iTunes, the LP’s release is, not coincidentally, scheduled in conjunction with next week’s theatrical release of the N.W.A film biopic Straight Outta Compton. During Zane Lowe’s Beats 1 radio show just yesterday, Dre confided that “I’ve been really trying to do something special for Compton.” And that “something special” will arrive in the form of Dre allocating all royalties from the album’s sales toward funding the development of a new performing arts and entertainment facility for the youth of Compton.

The album boasts a balanced mix of more familiar guest conspirators (Ice Cube, Snoop Dogg, Eminem, Cold 187um of Above the Law fame, Xzibit, Kendrick Lamar, Jill Scott) and a handful of relative newcomers (vocalist Anderson Paak and emcee Justus the most prominent and impressive of the bunch), many of whom may not be instantly recognizable for most of us. This juxtaposition of older and newer voices offers further testament to Dre’s natural passion and penchant for championing fledgling talent, which is even more remarkable when one considers that Dre could have flooded the album with whatever marquee names he desired.

At the risk of stating the obvious, the album simply sounds AWESOME. Dre’s powerful soundscapes are as meticulously crafted as ever, replete with his signature beats, snares and synths, but also featuring several jazz flourishes throughout, which lend the album a more meditative feel overall than Dre’s previous efforts. Always revered considerably more for his production prowess than his skills on the mic, Dre’s vocals nevertheless sound rejuvenated across the whole affair, as if he’s been storing up all of his energy for years and can finally exhale.

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Admittedly, Dre and his contributors seldom stray thematically from the central focus of exploring the good, the bad, and the ugly that life in the CPT entails, in the process recalling the stripes they’ve earned and the dues they’ve paid along the way. But while the various narratives and reminiscences amount to a grand tribute to Compton, when coupled with Dre’s compositions and imbibed as a unified whole, one realizes that Dre’s hometown isn’t the only thing being celebrated here. Dre and his colleagues are also extolling the virtues of the album as art form, the album as aural cinema, as anyone tuned into Apple Music’s advance streaming event last night will surely attest to. Entirely bucking the customary industry trend of releasing singles prior to the album’s official release, it’s obvious that Dre conceived of and executed Compton as a cohesive, unified whole not meant to be skipped through by the sonically inattentive and impatient among us.

Standout tracks include the infectious drop-beat of the Kendrick Lamar blessed “Genocide,” with its unforgettably eerie chorus chant of “It’s Murder” which is sure to stick in your dome. The frenetic “Loose Cannons” features west coast OGs Cold 187um and Xzibit proving that they’ve still got the fire in them after a few decades in the game. “For the Love of Money” evokes nostalgic, chilled-out memories of Eazy-E’s most prized proteges Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, with the always-lovely Jill Scott crooning “It’s beautiful outside / Looks like it’s raining money, main” across the chorus. The DJ Premier co-produced “Animals” boasts an addictively loose groove that allows Anderson Paak’s Bilal-like vocals to shine, confirming that he is unquestionably an intriguing new talent to keep a close eye on. Slim Shady himself spits plenty of fire and even namechecks “the ghost of Lou Rawls” on “Medicine Man,” one of the more humorous tunes on offer.

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Arguably the album’s most thrilling track is the ominous “Deep Water.” It’s a disorienting yet undeniably arresting track, as voices are manipulated to sound as if they’re submerged underwater, and Kendrick Lamar invites you, should you be so bold, to explore “life in my aquarium.” If there’s any song that you’ll want to hold down the repeat button for on the album, this is the one.

With the addition of Compton to the already canonized The Chronic and 2001, Dr. Dre now boasts one of the most untouchable album trilogies ever heard in hip-hop, or in popular music for that matter. Though he has stated that this is his last hurrah as far as long players go, let’s hope that Dre reconsiders down the road, even if it takes another 15-plus years for a new masterpiece to surface.

Grade: A

Notable Songs: “Animals” | “Deep Water” | “For the Love of Money” | “Genocide” | “Loose Cannons” | “Medicine Man”

BUY/STREAM Dr. Dre’s Compton: A Soundtrack exclusively via Apple Music | iTunes

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