Review: Dr Dre, Compton: A Soundtrack

A surprise cameo on Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly was a reminder that, contrary to widespread assumptions, Dr Dre had not retired from hip-hop.

Review: Dr Dre, Compton: A Soundtrack

That appearance broke a recording silence that went all the way back to the early 2000s, when Dre served as mentor to up-and-comers such as Eminem as well as basking in the ongoing glory of his genre-shaping albums The Chronic and 2001.

Since that halcyon period, the rhymer and producer credited with inventing gangster rap had moved onto a lucrative second career flogging outsized headphones (his Beats brand more or less owns the market in monster-proportioned cans).

Earning millions from Beats — which, surreally, has registered operations in Clonakilty — and with his endlessly hyped Detox LP mired in interminable delays, it was tempting to conclude that the now-middle-aged Dre had given up on on hip-hop before hip-hop gave up on him.

The unexpected release of a new record demolishes such received wisdom. Deeming Detox of insufficient quality, Dre has junked it and started over, with a long-player that accompanies a new biopic tracing his emergence, with his group N.W.A. from the benighted central Los Angeles suburb of Compton.

But while the subject matter may be backwards looking, Dre’s approach is aggressively contemporarily.

Clearly he was paying attention when Lamar had him swing by the studio during the making of Butterfly — as with that project, Compton celebrates the eclecticism of the playlist-era, Dre’s staccato rhyming style paired with swirling, swooning palette of blues, jazz and funk.

The most explicit acknowledgment of his storied past is in his choice of guests. Ice Cube pops up on the riotous ‘Issues’ and The Game delivers a surly diatribe against heavy handed law enforcement on ‘Just Another Day’.

Lyrically, however, Dre seems torn between the instinct to press ahead and to honour what has gone before. He reminisces about formative encounters with Snoop Dogg (another cameo performer here) and svengali Suge Knight on ‘It’s All On Me’, and makes nice towards his late NWA adversary Eazy-E on ‘Talking To My Diary’.

Elsewhere, the tone is utterly 21st century with ‘Deep Water’ quoting the final words of New York police brutality victim Eric Garner— “I can’t breathe”— and ‘Talk About It’ unfolding in a blur of machine tool beats and cutting-edge production.

Rating: ****

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