Sixteen years since his last solo album and having released two singles in 2008 for a record that is now deemed to never see the light of day, Dr. Dre surprised the world by announcing Compton with just a couple of weeks notice. Speculation spread like wildfire instantly. Who would be on it? What would it sound like? Will it even be good? Some doubted him and others defended him. Luckily for us, Dre is a perfectionist, and we were never going to get a sub par product. It should not come as too much of a surprise then that he has released an album with the potential to revolutionise and revive the West Coast hip hop scene, yet again.
The list of artists that feature is dense. There’s plenty of new and relatively unknowns that appear frequently, (Anderson Paak and King Mez). Of course many of the most interesting moments are hearing Dre back in the studio with the likes of Snoop Dogg, Xzibit and Kendrick Lamar. All of the heavyweights deliver some of their best verses in years, perhaps realising that this may be how their career will be immortalised for this generation. The biggest star of the show is Kendrick. Many have been waiting to hear him over Dre’s production since he has emerged as the most interesting and prominent artist from the West Coast in years. It’s safe to say he makes the very most of the situation, demanding your attention from the first word he vocalises on ‘Deep Water’, rapping with an unrivalled confidence and skill and the intention of gunning for his competitors throats.
That’s not to pretend that there aren’t some mediocre moments though. Ice Cube’s verse is somewhat entertaining but the song suffers due to messy and repetitive production. Eminem also keeps up his streak of incredibly well written raps that sound impressive, but that lack any sign of emotion or message. What could have been one of the highlights of the album, hearing a reunion of the two recording partners and friends, falls into the now hefty category of forgettable Dr.Dre/Eminem collaborations.
Lyrically, Dre goes into detail on everything from the pressures of releasing an album (‘It’s All On Me’) to the treatment of people in Compton by police and the media (‘Animals’), the latter is one of the best tracks. The insightful lyrics are soulfully delivered by Anderson Paak over the smooth beat that is as immersive as J Dilla at his best. DJ Premier even appears at the end to scratch some vocal samples. It is little elements like this that Dre added in that prove he really pulled out all the stops to make this album sound like a classic. Not only should Compton stand the test of time, it will serve as a benchmark of influence for artists that will emerge in the next 10 years.
The real star of the album unsurprisingly is the production. He has created tracks that sound brand new but still have hints of ’90s west coast nostalgia that many crave from him. The mixing is supremely handled as always. Each kick and snare sounds crisp and lands perfectly over the intricately layered beats. It’s refreshing to see Dre taking the music in a different direction than many would have expected. If you think about the leaps and bounds hip hop has taken in terms of what can be done with production in the past 15 years, it is no wonder that this record isn’t particularly similar to anything we’ve heard from him before. In the long interim since Chronic 2001, Kanye West’s entire career has happened, Jay Z has become a business mogul and plenty of fads have come and gone. If Dre had of released a carbon copy of his critically acclaimed previous work, he would be deemed irrelevant by today’s standards, no matter how good it would have sounded.
What he has managed to do is create a new sound for the West Coast, one that is desperately needed. Compton will spawn many imitators as his others have before. This isn’t doubting the creativity of other artists, but you cannot deny the influence Dre has already had and now will continue to have because of this album. This may be our last appointment with the good Doctor but it is much like a prostrate exam. Briefly uncomfortable in parts, but much needed and we’re all a lot better off because of it.