Here's some hastily assembled notes with my initial thoughts on the Dr. Dre's new album, Compton.
We've been waiting since 1999 for a new Dr Dre album. Since the release of the classic 2001, we've been constantly teased with more Dre work. For years there's been a steady stream of collaborators (as well as Dre himself) mentioning the mythical Detox album in interviews and via social media channels (originally announced in 2002). A number of years back we even saw the launch of a limited edition set of Beats by Dre Detox headphones - further adding to the speculation that the album was on its way.
A couple of mediocre singles (purportedly from, or made for, the album) were released - Kush (feat Snoop Dogg and Akon) and I Need A Doctor (feat Eminem and Skylar Grey) - as Dre continued to work on production for other artists and worked with Jimmy Iovine in securing a deal with Monster for the Beats by Dre headphones, splitting from Monster, and then selling the brand to Apple and securing 'executive' roles within the company. While Detox never appeared, it's easy to forget the huge body of other work created during this time - classic hip-hop tracks and albums for the likes of Eminem, The Game, 50 Cent and Kendrick Lamar, as well as working with Nas, Mary J Blige, Gwen Stefani, Raekwon, Jay Z, Snoop, Timbaland, Missy Elliott and Justin Timberlake, to name but a few, as well as the seemingly endless studio sessions to keep on adding to the Detox vault.
But at the begining of August, Dre dropped something unexpected. During an interview on his Apple Music / Beats 1 show, The Pharmacy, he stated that Detox had never come out as he wasn't happy with the work and that it just hadn't been good enough. BUT, a new album was coming - his final album - Compton - inspired by the film that's also about to be released in cinemas which is based upon his days in N.W.A., Straight Outta Compton.
This is a marketing dream and shrewd move from Apple with the recent launch of Apple Music / Beats 1. To have Dre and Iovine onboard with the Beats and Music app project was already a coup, but to then have a brand new album from the likes of Dre, exclusively to their own service (for now), is a brillaint piece of marketing in order to bump up the ever-increasing Apple Music trial/subscription numbers as they begin to go up against a near 7 year old Spotify, as well as the likes of Google Play Music, Tidal, etc in the music and video streaming business.
I've been listening to the album since it's release on Apple Music (exclusively for now). I've probably averaged 3 full plays per day, and I have to say that it still gets better with each listen!
I've heard some nay-sayers claiming the album isn't "west coast" enough, when their point of reference is 1992's The Chronic (and other tracks produced during that early to mid-90s era). These also tend to be the same people who claim 2001 is a classic, yet this also isn't technically or particualrly 'west coast' sounding when comparing it back to The Chronic. Music has evolved and has changed. This is a standalone piece of work - something that's meant to be listened to from start to finish.
- The Snoop verse on One Shot One Kill is his best in a long time. Although, it should be pointed out that Snoop doesn't actually appear on the album writing credits for either of his appearances, so it's no wonder it's so good.
- Jon Connor's (and others) obvious input to a lot of the lyrics on the album is a real plus point. It's well known that Dre rarely writes many of his own rhymes, but those bought in to write for him are on form throughout the album, and make Dre sound authoratative, relevant, introspective and clear throughout - not something that even some of the best artitsts out there can do, let alone a 50 year old rapper/producer who pulls it off with ease on Compton.
- As is always expected with a Dre album, the drums are some of the best I've heard. The snares and high-hats throughout the album are super-crisp and sound brillaint, even on crappy earphones.
- The guest appearences are great (with the exception of Eminem). As with 2001, Dre has bough in local, little-known talent and paired them up with some of the best out there (in writing, rhyming and producing), and they all hold up well, especially Anderson .Paak. Kendrick lamar also shines on each of his guest spots.
- From a production and engineering perspective, the album is almost flawless. Maybe slightly over-produced in parts (Dre's a self-confessed perfectionist) and with slightly muddy vocals in parts, but all in all, sonically, the album sounds like the grand event that it's meant to. It's consistently slick, crisp and well layered in terms of sounds used. At the time of writing this, I haven't yet seen the engineering credits, but whoever did it, deserves a raise!
- DJ Premier's production and appearence on Animals.
- The production quality on tracks like Deep Water - with the beat and the vocals being distorted throughout the track to give it a sound of being underwater. These simple and over-looked touches really make the album.
- Minimal and understated sample usage throughout the album - only 5 tracks sampled during the production of the album, compared to the 19 on 2001.
- The sheer ambition and scale of the album is something to bear in mind.
With all that being said, it's not without its faults.
- It seems to me that there were a lot of good bits of work from the Detox sessions, and some of these have been added to this album. And, in places, too many have perhaps been squeezed in. There are a few occassions where the album sounds a bit muddled - it switches from one beat/style in to another completely different one mid-track, making it sound as if it's just becasue they were desperate to get a certain beat in. Although, the production quality across the album is that good that the switches still work. See Loose Cannons as an example of this where the beat randomly switches up, but still works and sounds great.
- There's one guest feature that has gotten some critisism in the media (and will also get it from me). The Eminem verse on Medicine Man is pointless at best, offensive at worst. We get 'shouty Em' for most of his verse (although the flow is good in parts), but it brings nothing in particualr to the track, and I'm not too sure where/how Detroit-born Marshall relates to Compton and the whole ethos of the album. In addition, a crude line about rape is also cringe-worthy from a 40-something year old man who just seems to rely on shock-factor these days, as opposed to the great bars and flows we were previosuly used to all those years ago.
- The vocals mix can be a bit annoying at times. On a low-end set of earphones (I'm using Apple earPods), and with the sound up, the vocals can seem muddy and at times it's even hard to distinguish who's actually rapping.
- The slightly random skit of a women being shot and killed by her partner (Cold 187um) and then buried by him and his friends. It's the sort of thing I'd expect on an Eminem album, and certianly brings nothing to Compton.
I'm never a fan of scoring music as it's all subjective and ultimately means nothing if I like an album - plenty of others won't, whether it's technically a great album or not. But if I had to give the album a number, it would be a solid 8 out of 10.
Just as 2001 was ahead of its' time when it came out in 1999, compton feels the same now. Grand in scale and ambition, and executed almost flawlessly.
2001 is one of the few albums where I can happily sit and listen to the full instrumental version with no vocals and be just as happy as listening to the vocal version - fully immersed in both the utterly complex and really simple sounds of the music that's been produced. I get the feeling that Compton will do the same to me (here's hoping an instrumental version is released).
Whether this is Dre's final album or not is still to be seen, but if this is what he's going out on, he's going out on pretty much a classic.