“Compton” opens with a really cinematic fanfare, setting the stage for just how cinematic this album is. It’s not a story, but like a great movie, for the run time of the piece, you are temporarily transported to a different place, making this record wholly immersive, from the creative, fresh, unique, and colorful production, the god-level MC’ing, down to the damn album cover. This fanfare then breaks into a really bright and epic instrumental, which is topped by a news report explaining how Compton came to be the infamous place it now is. And while this record, though it is named “Compton”, isn’t giving you a history lesson on the city and is much more focused on the life and times of Andre Young and the many artists he brings in to collaborate on this album, it certainly has its ear to the streets in how cut throat it is. While there certainly are some slow burners on this record, much of it is really fucking hardcore, loud, and full of energy, and has nothing in the way of corn, a la “I Need a Doctor”. In fact, this is probably the least commercial album of Dre’s career, excluding of course his NWA stuff. Now, I’m not saying that this is super abrasive or challenging or anything like that, it’s still Dr. fucking Dre, but not even just by his 50 year old standards this thing is hardcore. And while this maybe holds the album back from having that song, like “The Chronic” had with “Nuthin’ But a G Thang” or what “2001” had with “Still D.R.E.”, as in the track that everyone in the world will take to, nothing here feels forced or unnatural in any way, and for that I applaud this album.
Dr. Dre’s albums have always been very meticulously crafted, production focused albums, where the main draw of the songs is the fact that Dre and his slew of co-producers are serving up incredible beats. (I mean, there’s a reason why so many producers have imitated Dre’s style of beatmaking.) But as a result of this, the lyrics have never really been particularly mind blowing. Although, this was fair because Dre and his friends were the pioneers of the violence, sex, drugs, money lyrical topic range, and they were also some of the most entertaining and unique MCs in the game. (Snoop Dogg, Lady of Rage, RBX, Kurupt, Warren G, Dat Nigga Daz, Nate Dogg, etc. were not a bad crew to tell you about how many bitches they fucked.) But on “Compton”, Dre and his fellow rappers offer up the best lyrics and rapping of any Dr. Dre solo album. And that’s because the lyricism and spitting stands alone. Never before have we really heard such proven, and to varying degrees, legendary veterans like Dre, Ice Cube, Snoop Dogg, Eminem, Xzibit, and The Game sound so hungry. Snoop is rapping like he’s got something to prove on “One Shot One Kill”. It’s wild. And this is simply due to the fact that every MC on here avoids every stereotype you could imagine about hip-hop lyricism, even the ones they helped create. Sure, there is violence and money, but all of it (in the case of the veterans on the album), is rapped from the standpoint of someone who is aged and sort of looking back upon prior days. Dre is very quick to remind you on “Talk About It” that:
“I remember selling instrumentals off a beeper.”
And he also drops this killer bar to close his first verse:
“Goddammit I’m too old, I forgot I got it all.
But Andre young enough to still get enough,
And Andre still young enough to say fuck y’all,
Fuck you, fuck you, and you in the corner too.
If you wanna beef, make sure that that’s somethin’ you wanna do.
There’s some missin’ people that felt that way too.”
Like I said, every older MC here is in touch with their roots and is very knowing of the fact that they’re getting up their in age. Dre, Snoop, Cube, and Em could have very easily just said fuck you to all the doubters by rapping about their unprecedented wealth, and that would have been fine I’m sure, but all of the OGs take a more emotional, hungry, and reflective approach to their appearances on the album, and that lends “Compton” a really unique feel.
But thought provoking veteran MCs aside, the features here are just dope as fuck. For one, Kendrick appears on three different songs here and just murders every verse, especially on “Deep Water”, where he opens his verse with the line,
“Motherfucker know I started from the bottom, vodka baby bottle
Mixin’ up with Similac, my momma knew I had a problem.”
With this line Kendrick just explodes onto the song and provides easily one of the three best verses on the album, and what has made this appearence so hyped up are the subliminal people are saying he’s throwing at Drake, with the lines,
“They liable to bury him, they nominated six to carry him
They worry him to death, but he’s no vegetarian
The beef is on his breath, inheriting the drama better than
A great white, nigga this is life in my aquarium.”
Personally, I don’t see it, and even if these are references to Drake, they’re clearly compliments, not disses. He would be calling Drake a master at rap beefs, a great white, and after the Drake vs. Meek Mill fiasco, I would have to agree. But if there is one line that could be a shot at Aubrey, it’s this one, a line that no one seems to be considering:
“Once upon a time I shot a nigga on accident (boom boom boom)
I tried to kill him but I guess I needed more practicing (boom boom boom)
That’s when I realized banging wasn’t for everybody.”
This is a possible call back to Kendrick’s legendary “Control” verse, and while many of the rappers he famously called up either ignored it or made a response track, Drake instead got really sensitive and questioned whether or not anyone’s going to want to work with Kendrick after that. Kendrick failed at metaphorically ‘killing’ Drake (“shot a nigga on accident”/”guess I needed more practicing”.) He then realized ‘banging’ wasn’t for everybody, meaning Drake and himself, in the way that direct shots at rappers weren’t Kendrick’s lane, and he has subsequently removed himself from the fame and celebrity status and is much more withdrawn now, and Drake couldn’t these kinds of shots from a heavyweight like Kendrick. This all reminds me of the line from Kendrick’s BET Cypher:
“Yeah, and nothing’s been the same since they dropped “Control”
And tucked a sensitive rapper back in his pajama clothes.”
Maybe I’m reading way too much into this, and maybe in fact Kendrick is not throwing shots at anybody here, but either way he just destroys this verse.
There is also an incredible solo track from The Game that lands on this record, and is easily one of the best songs here. The beat and all of the different flows The Game finds on here just ooze this effortless confidence, and while The Game isn’t exactly re-inventing the wheel with his lyricism here, he just comes off as so hard and threatening, but in the “he’s gonna wait for his enemies to come to him while he cooks up a strategy”, as opposed to what Snoop Dogg is doing on “One Shot One Kill”. It’s been a long ass time since we heard Snoop Dogg go this hard on a track, and it completely reminds us why he is one of the best rappers ever, with lines like:
“Guess who’s back, it ain’t a fuckin’ question
They know the name, bow in the presence of a livin’ legend.”
“I’m like Ali, your fuckin’ champ, now watch me rope a dope
Just watch him choke, cause everythin’ I drop is dope, now watch
’em all go up in smoke.”
This is all well and good, as in typical Dr. Dre fashion, this album is full to the brim with incredible features, but it is Eminem that absolutely steals the show. Aside from Kendrick’s verse on “Deep Water” and The Game’s appearance, he blows everyone here out of the fucking water. Now, I’m going to be honest. I don’t really like Eminem. Of course, “The Marshall Mathers LP” is really good, but over the years I’ve kind of grew to dislike Eminem, even hate him at times. His beats are usually pretty bad, his hooks are underwhelming, he can be super corny sometimes, and while his rapping is technically impressive, that’s been the only draw of his music since after “The Marshall Mathers LP” for the most part. But he goes the fuck in on “Medicine Man”. As the penultimate track on this record, coming before the Dre only closer “Talking To My Diary”, it’s clear the whole album has been kind of building towards this verse. It’s the climax, and Dre really set him up to go insane with the super dramatic beat that supports him on this track. Lyrically, Eminem kind of details his rise to fame with Dr. Dre, the complications of his skin color and his controversial nature, and what he hopes his legacy to be. Of course, his flow is hard and unique, but it’s not like the recent Eminem where he is trying too hard to pack the fastest flow with the most useless wordplay into the beat, a la “Phenomenal”; instead, Em finds the perfect cadence and just fucking goes for it, and it sounds absolutely perfect and really epic, especially with lyrics like:
“And I hope my spirit haunts the studios when I’m gone
My picture jumps off a poster and just floats through the halls.”
He also gets a little sentimental about his relationship with Dr. Dre, but not in a corny way, instead acknowledging that due to the fact that Dre is supposedly retiring after this record, this very well could be the last time that Em is in the booth while Dre is on the boards, saying:
“Dre make the bass pump and let the tape run for old time’s sake
I spit it straight through, this is take one…”
This verse, along with the dramatic production behind it, is wholeheartedly epic and over the top, and is one of the clear highlights on the album, which is saying a lot. I honestly didn’t expect Eminem to provide one of my favorite moments on an album in 2015, but goddammit he did.
There are also a couple of young bucks and more unproven artists that provide important contributions to the album, like Marsha Ambroscius’s really catchy hook on “Genocide”, Candace Pillay’s nice opening verse on that song, Jon Connor’s killer hook on “One Shot One Kill”, and Anderson .Paak’s contributions to “Animals”, but King Mez is the big takeaway here. Aside from his own guest verses here (and him being the first rapping voice on the album), he wrote much of Dre’s verses here, and overall seems very important to the making of this album. Given Dre’s track record for exposing artists to the masses and turning them into stars, watch out for King Mez. I’m looking for him drop something that’s going to reach a lot of people within the next year.
Of course, this is a Dr. Dre album, so the production can’t go unspoken about. Track for track, Dre brings on a slew of producers like DJ Dahi, DJ Premier, Dem Jointz, Best Kept Secret, and Focus…, among others. Together they craft a hip-hop subgenre spanning album; on “Genocide” you get a futuristic, Neptunes-esque beat, “It’s All On Me” features a gorgeous soul inspired instrumental, and “Deep Water” is full blown trap rap. The variety presented here is astounding, but it is all held together by of course the god-tier rapping, and by how colorful everything here is. Whatever mood it is going for, the sounds are consistently unique and produced to a tee, whether it is the sunny “It’s All On Me” or a more hardcore track like “Loose Cannons”. (Which features three different beats within the song, the last of which goes harder than uncooked pasta.) Literally every instrumental here has its own creative and unique flavor, and while this could have just been a jerky roller coaster of sounds, you can tell a lot of artists poured their heart and soul into this, but also acted with tons of care and precision, which makes every twist and turn “Compton” takes feel totally natural. And above all, its a Dr. Dre album, so of course the instrumentals are going to be fucking dope.
On “Compton”, Dr. Dre does a great job of being a director, to paraphrase Anthony Fantano. He had his hand in every aspect of the album, and while he didn’t craft every beat by himself or write all of his verses, his presence is felt even if he doesn’t show up on a song, and that is the mark of someone with a great artistic vision. I really do like to think of him as the director of this album if you were to relate it to a film, and the various producers are the cinematographers, and the slew of guest MCs are the actors, and so on and so forth, and all of these artists help turn “Compton” into a living, breathing piece of art, like any great film. And by looking at the final product, you immediately know it’s a Dr. Dre album, just like you know a Spielberg or Nolan film the instant you see one. It’s these factors and more that prove not only how much of a legend Dr. Dre is, but just how certifiably incredible an album “Compton” is. Virtually every second is a thrill to sit through, as consistently the album offers up wildly creative production that both calls back to the past, mines up the sounds of the present, and looks toward the future with sheer joy and optimism. We’ve been raised on Dr. Dre’s vision and influence, and as he gives things one last go around, he offers up another instant classic record that will leave a stamp on plenty of more hip-hop to come, as he’s always done. Dr. Dre has given us so much and impacted so many artists that no matter what corner of hip-hop you look, Dre’s influence can be heard. (OK, slight exaggeration, but the sentiment is still scarily close to the truth.) And by pretty much handing the keys over to fellow Compton native Kendrick Lamar by allowing him such a platform on this album and having a hand in Kendrick’s two masterpieces, Dr. Dre has ensured that hip-hop will be in good hands for years and years to come. Contrary to one his biggest hits, we will never, ever forget about Dre, nor will we ever want to.