Dr Dre Compton: a Soundtrack by Dr. Dre Aftermath / Interscope
“I didn’t like it. It wasn’t good. The record, it just wasn’t good … I worked my ass off on it, and I don’t think I did a good enough job.” So that was that. After teasing the album for around 15 years, Dr. Dre abruptly stamped out the final embers of hope that Detox would ever see the light of day.
But the world had moved on anyway. By this point, even the potential Detox singles Kush and I Need a Doctor seem like a distant memory. Having felt a sudden rush of inspiration when the principle photography for the Straight Outta Compton biopic began, Dre forfeited the end-goal of radio play for a rawer, more experimental project. This is the man who sold Beats Electronics for three billion dollars – there is little incentive for him to be making rap music. There’s the thrilling suspicion that Dr. Dre made Compton primarily because he wanted to.
If you were to think of Compton as a movie – and it’s a record that insists you recognise its cinematic qualities – then it’s a post-modern work. While Dre’s never made much of a secret of his use of ghostwriters, here the voice of the relatively unknown rapper King Mez – who provided reference tracks for every Dre verse on the record – can be heard somewhere on pretty much every track. Rather than establishing a simple a ventriloquist and puppet dynamic with the album’s many contributors, it’s as if Andre Young has acknowledged that Dr. Dre is a construct, and he’s harnessed a large roster of guests to put him together.
With its grand love-letter-to-Compton theme, erratic instrumental switches and elastic hooks, the most prominent influence here is Dre’s former protege Kendrick Lamar – whose appearances are expected highlights. Breaking away from the nonchalant bravado of Dre’s former persona, Compton is an intense – and often ugly – record. The album is packed with growls, grunts and screams; Snoop completely looses his cool on One Shot Kill, a grim drowning analogy is stretched out on Deep Water and Loose Cannons ends with a skit during which a woman is murdered following a fit of male rage – which is especially hard to stomach considering the recently reprised stories about Dre’s real life history of violence towards women.
We eventually get some time alone with Dre on the album’s dramatic final track Talking To My Diary. While stumbling through his verses, he pays a heartfelt tribute to his former N.W.A group mates, yet somehow gets through it without really saying anything. And for an album that’s full of exhilarating theatrics but never maintains focus, it’s a fitting finale.