I got amped when I saw rave reviews of Dr. Dre's "Compton: A Soundtrack" filtering into my Facebook and Twitter feeds last Friday. Stuck doing especially boring office work, I skipped over to my Spotify to bask in that West Coast glory. Not on Spotify - exclusive to Apple Music and iTunes. At this point I'd pay the 13 bucks for the album on iTunes because Dr. Dre is great, and the 16 year wait was because he was building an empire, so it's not like he fell off. But I can't do that on my Android, so I "borrowed the album from a friend," still very excited to check it out. Complex said it was "better than anyone expected it to be" and if he scrapped Detox because he didn't like it, I already had Compton figured as fantastic.
The intro is an ironic old news clip set to a background beat, explaining how Compton went from being "the black American dream" to an "extension of the black inner-city." Interesting and it segues right to King Mez yelling "I don't give one fuck.." to open the first real cut on the album. Good verse, goes into a too pop friendly hook by Justus, singing about having everything one day. But then the moment I've been waiting for, a new Dre verse, and it's good. Funny line about selling instrumentals off a beeper, a great line about being too old to remember that he's already got it all, clever threats to other rappers. Definitely what I've been waiting for, but then that hook comes back and it sounds like a Flo-Rida radio song, so I skip to the next track.
"Genocide" starts with dumb computerized motorcycle noises, but then goes into a bass heavy beat, simple like old Dre, but without the bombast. Then a talk-sung hook about murder, which includes, "Call 9-1-1 E-mergency", and that's it, the song never gets me back. There's a good Kendrick verse but that's followed by someone beatboxing and making mouth noises like I made into the fan when I was 5, and literally Motown-Philly style doo-wopping the word "murder." I can't make this shit up man.
The rest of it was a blur of trying to settle into a song until something dumb or sappy sent me scrambling through my phones screen lock for the skip button. And I know it sounds crazy to use sappy to describe the brutal experience of growing up around murder, poverty, and drug-addiction, but that's the best way I can explain it. In his effort to make the songs sound cinematic he adds these brightly sung hooks and studio produced strings that had me thinking of will.i.am and Flo-rida. And while I don't say that in order to insult Dre, I can't imagine anything worse I could say.
When I finished skipping through the album I went looking for bad reviews, figuring there was no way I could be that disappointed and not find something negative about it on the net. But I couldn't. Jon Caramanica wrote a review that managed to salute Dre without really complimenting the music, and that was as close as I found to agreement. GQ put up a review a few days later saying that it was "Dad Rap" but specified that that "wasn't a bad thing." What the shit is that? Calling a rapper Flo-rida is bad, but I'm pretty sure calling him "Dad Rap" is a close second. And maybe that's what I'm missing. I was looking for "Ring ding dong, ring-a-ding ding ding dong" and I got, "Simple pleasures, rockstar living." Which is from "Satisfiction," a song about how rappers are rent-a-ballers, and they're satisfied by fiction... get it? That's "Satisfiction."
And that song was the nail in the coffin for me. I was very ready to chalk my distaste up to me being a weirdo who likes ODB more than Tupac. But then Dr. Dre made a song about rappers pretending to be rich when he's the real thing. But he didn't just call it "Check the Forbes List Bitches" because according to the 2015 Forbes list he's the richest person in hip-hop. The trump card of rap brags. If he stuck to scoring the city of Compton like a movie then I would understand if he avoided the topic of earning 620 million dollars last year. But if he's going to address it, address it; instead of leaving the last word on it to a video clip of a drunk Tyrese yelling "First billionaire in hip-hop."
There are some highlights on the album. "Just Another Day" puts a Spanish horn over a boom-bap beat and let's The Game rap over it. The song is solid, and I've caught myself strutting down the sidewalk like an idiot to it at least twice this past week. "It's All On Me" has great soul-sounding guitar sample on it and BJ The Chicago Kid - it's a nice little head nodder. It also has the Dre line, "And then that night came when that ni##a Knight came in, WHOA! / This one of those dreams you don't wake up from." Which offers an interesting insight into Dre's feelings about the Death Row record days. Dre apparently left millions of dollars on the table just to get away from Suge's label which says a lot about how hard it is to get away from him. And I'm impressed by how honest Dre is about the ghost writing on the album. King Mez has spoken about it in interviews, and everyone or most everyone is credited for their work. Which comes at a really pertinent time in hip-hop with Meek Mill trying to air out Drake for it and getting no response from the public but a Vine of Kanye and Big Willy Style laughing at memes of him.
So I can't say the album is trash. There are parts that are excellent and your uncle who bought the Macklemore album will probably love this. I'll probably spend the rest of the day with "Just Another Day" on loop to try to burn a positive impression of the album into my brain. I was a little disappointed by the Xzibit feature, but if I got excited about an Xzibit feature who's to blame for my disappointment? Me or Xzibit? Please "borrow" the album before buying it though. He's the one rapper you definitely don't have to feel guilty about shorting. And if you do get a hold of it, listen to "The Chronic" before and after you listen to "Compton" because the man says this was his finale and he deserves for us to remember him on a high note.
by Nathan Hankins (@NathanHMHankins)