The wait for Dr. Dre to put out a proper album is officially over. What we’re getting won’t be the perpetually-in-progress Detox, because Dre ultimately decided he didn’t like what he made and decided to shelve it. Instead, he’s releasing Compton: A Soundtrack by Dr. Dre, which was made in a rush of inspiration after overseeing the creation of the N.W.A biopic Straight Outta Compton, which lands in theaters next week.
Compton represents the first album that Dre has authored under his own name since the confusingly-titled 2001, which was actually released on November 16, 1999. (Also released on that day? Will Smith’s Willennium, yet both that and 2001 were denied a chart-topping debut by another new arrival on the scene in Korn’s Issues. 1999!) Since then, while Dre hasn’t put out a full-length album under his own name, he hasn’t exactly been slacking either. In addition to building a headphones empire, he also worked pretty steadily behind the boards for a number of artists both, typically falling into one of two categories: Friends from the past (Eminem, Snoop Dogg, The D.O.C., Xzibit, Busta Rhymes) or upstart newcomers (Knoc-Turn’al, Bishop Lamont, Stat Quo, and a bunch of other never-weres). He even helmed an entire album for Eminem with 2009’s Relapse.
His appearances on the microphone have been slightly scarcer, and most of his vocal work in the last 16 years happened pretty much in the wake of his last album. The allure of an entire album’s worth of Dr. Dre verses is one of the more enticing aspects of Compton, as Dre has always been something of an underrated lyricist with a booming basso profundo voice. According to the credits on Compton, he’s spitting on at least 13 of the album’s 16 tracks, or roughly 30 percent of his entire vocal output of the past 16 years.
But before we dive into the future, we must put away the past. With that in mind, I went through each one of the 43 tracks that Dre provided vocals for since the release of 2001 and then ranked all of them. (I’m not counting Shaquille O’Neal feat. Dr. Dre’s “That’s Me,” recorded for O’Neal’s scrapped album Shaquille O’Neal Presents His Superfriends Vol. 1. The collection was nearly erased from existence and though some tracks made it online, Dre’s remains a mystery to most everyone.) Which track stands tall? That’s at the end. Let’s start with the dregs and go from there.
Dr. Dre’s rhymes tend to have two modes: He’s either bragging about his bona fides or warning you about underestimating his ability to come back. But he occasionally drifts into hardcore sex rhymes, and boy is he bad at it. On this track, Dre’s verse opens with the line,”Y’all ready to get x-rated?” The answer is a resounding no. At one point he declares, “Speed back the clit/ Leave it black and blue,” which is all-time awful.
This track was theoretically slated for the now-abandonedDetox, and it’s easy to understand why Dre might have thought this wasn’t good enough. This is another sex rap, and while the beat is pretty tight and Tip is on point, we’re only dealing with Dre’s verse here, which contains the cringe-worthy bit, “Girl I hope your vaginal/ Has endurance/ Because I’m about to do something tragical.” If there was ever a reason to bury Detox, this was it.
Sometimes Dre just likes to help out with some back-up vocals on the chorus of tracks he produces. Still, him barely talking is better than those boner jams.
Another minor contribution to a chorus, but this one gets an extra slot because it’s a slightly better beat.
Yet another blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearance.
38. Knoc-Turn’al feat. Dr. Dre & Missy Elliott, “The Knoc”
Though Dr. Dre introduced the world to two of the biggest names in the history of hip-hop in Eminem and Snoop Dogg, his eye for talent has not always been solid. Knoc-Turn’al was an MC signed to Dre’s Aftermath label who was given numerous chances to impress, but he was mostly a lesser Snoop simulacra. Dre is pretty flat on an uninteresting track, exacerbated by the fact that both he and Knoc get absolutely blown out of the water by a particularly hungry Missy Elliott.
Why is it that Dre can’t narrate sex? Is his voice too deep and his flow too aggressive to make it sound anything but threatening? Also, how terrible (and difficult to type) a name is Knoc-Turn’al.
36. Toni Braxton feat. Dr. Dre, “Just Be a Man About It”
Dre is actually barely on this song—he doesn’t even really rap, instead providing dialogue as Braxton’s two-timing boyfriend who won’t come clean about his philandering despite her demands. Dre’s a convincing actor, and this gets a boost because Braxton gets the last laugh in the video when she decides to bed Q-Tip instead.
Snoop is undeniably Dre’s greatest foil, as the rest of this list will prove. But Eminem is a close second. Slim Shady often seems to bring out the hunger inside Dre, and his delivery on most Em tracks is engaged and enthusiastic, even if those lines often aren’t that inventive. There’s a buoyancy to Dre’s contribution here, but it doesn’t add up to much unless you want to hear Dre rap a lot about his cars.
Again, Dre is engaged here, but it’s too short (and the track too uneven) for him to make much of an impact.
Another terrible sex rhyme courtesy of the good Doctor, though on this he does prove once and for all that he’s a better rapper/producer than Timbaland.
The D.O.C. is one of the most underrated rappers in history. He provided a lot of behind-the-scenes contributions to the early N.W.A records, and his solo work is top notch G-funk. (He also appeared on the classic The Chronic skit “The $20 Sack Pyramid.”) His multiple team-ups with Dre are always solid if sometimes unspectacular, which pretty much describes Dre’s work on the chorus here.
Dre only actually contributes one couplet, but it’s so good and authoritative (“Welcome to California, my n—-/ The home of palm trees and sticky green killers”) that it represents the cream of his low-impact work.
From here on in, Dre’s work on this list is good-to-great. Alongside a bunch of other greats operating in cruise control, Dre reminds us that he’s still here and hasn’t fallen off—which, if you’ve been listening, he does pretty often.
From a vocal standpoint, Dre rarely eclipses the people he is working with (he is, after all, primarily a producer). This is one of those times: Dre’s rhymes are competent, but he gets bogged down by a rare stumble by the late Nate Dogg. (For those interested, this is the best of Dre’s sex rhyme work.)
Though it has been almost entirely forgotten, the film The Wash is a fun (if lightweight) flick starring Dre and Snoop that arrived in 2001. Dre is a decent actor, and his work on the soundtrack is also on point. This is the least of them, mostly because it borrows multiple elements from “Ain’t Nuthin’ But a G Thang.” On the one hand, that’s kind of lazy, but on the other hand, if you’re going to steal from yourself, you might as well steal your best stuff.
27. Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, MC Ren & Snoop Dogg, “Chin Check”
There was a mild attempt to reunite N.W.A at the turn of the century, with Snoop filling in for the late Eazy-E. This is one of two tracks the combination recorded (it appeared on the soundtrack to Next Friday). It’s the lesser of the two, and though Dre is pretty strong on this one, he’s also the fourth best rapper involved.
This more recent effort is pretty much a tribute to Eminem, and though it’s a little self-serious, Dre acquits himself well, and provides a nicely chill counterpoint to his protege’s shouty exuberance.
This is another track that was supposedly marked for Detox. It’s a pretty strong, confident bit of delivery by Dre that is brought down a bit by Jay Z’s cruise control delivery. The pair would show up on a far superior jam and elevate each other later on down this list.
A fellow Comptonite, King Tee (now known as King T) first came up as a member of the Likwit Crew, which included the Alkaholiks and Xzibit. His laconic style melded extremely well with both Dre’s production and his flow, and while this is their most workmanlike outing, it’s still pretty sweet.
23. Rick Ross feat. Dr. Dre & Jay Z, “3 Kings”
Dre sounds as authoritative as he ever has been on this three-way dance, which goes a long when when he’s rhyming words with themselves and dropping the line, “You should listen to this beat through my headphones” twice in the same 16 bars.
Of all the “Guess who’s back?” verses that Dre has dropped in his career (and he has dropped a lot), this is one of the better ones. The Game always seemed to elevate Dre’s game, probably because the former held the latter in such high esteem.
If Eminem ever wanted to challenge Snoop as Dre’s best tag-team partner, this is one of the songs he should submit as an exhibit.
20. Eminem feat. Jay Z, 50 Cent, Dr. Dre, Cashis & Stat Quo, “Syllables”
As well as this one.
For a guy who put out an album called The Chronic, Dre doesn’t rap about weed very much any more. (Maybe he took the Detox concept seriously.) That’s a minor shame, because “The Chron” is top shelf ganja rhyming.
Hittman seemed ready to be a star after showing up on nearly half of the tracks on 2001, but he never ended up making a solo album of his own. Dre’s work on both these tracks is solid—in fact, “Not Many Dayz Left” was rumored to be left off 2001 at the last minute, and it would have made perfect sense on that album.
From this point on, it’s nothing but excellence for Dre. This jam became a bigger hit when Keys remixed it for herself, but Dre’s booming guest spot not only eclipses cohort 50 Cent, but also rides the beat exceptionally well. His braggadocio is top notch, even going as far as declaring, “My only competition is myself.”
15. Xzibit feat. Dr. Dre, “Symphony in X Major”
Here’s a great testament to Dre’s greatness as both a rapper and as a general presence on a track. Xzibit’s “Symphony in X Major” is spectacularly corny, but Dre saves it with another dose of glorious hubris: “20 years in the game with a constant buzz.”
Ambrosius has guested on a ton of Dre-produced tracks over the years (she’s also on Compton), and her 2014 album Friends & Lovers is a grossly overlooked gem, partially because Dre’s drop-in on “Stronger” (which the two of them also co-produced) is so slick.
13. Slim the Mobster feat. Dr. Dre, “Back Against The Wall”
Of all the potential Detox tracks that have escaped into the world, this is the best one. Slim the Mobster is an excellent foil, and Dre manages to give the “Guess who’s back?” idea a new twist.
Charmingly, Dr. Dre declares that his fee for guest appearances is “eight digits,” which brings up a question: Did he charge longtime pal Xzibit that rate, or does he get a discount? Even if he didn’t, this was worth it.
The other N.W.A pseudo-reunion track just misses the top 10, but it’s still strong. Each member announces, “I started this gangsta s—/ And this the motherf—ing thanks I get?” and Dre doubles down with the line, “We came a long way from not giving a f—.” Also, the fact that he declares that he “made a million plus” is charmingly modest considering he’s worth hundreds of times that today.
Dre doesn’t stop to smell the roses very often, but this refreshingly reflective track finds Dre spitting a rare socially-conscious verse over a smooth beat. It paints an alternate reality picture of what his life easily could have been: “Imagine a life that you can’t win/ When you get out the ghetto and go right to the pen.”
Hands down Dre’s best weed rap in the 21st century.
8. Bilal feat. Dr. Dre & Jadakiss, “Fast Lane (Remix)”
What ever happened to Bilal? Even Dre wonders, “Where you at, Bilal?” This team up is so strong that I know want an entire Dre/Bilal album, which we should expect some time in 20NEVER.
7. Nas feat. Dr. Dre & Nature, “Everyday Thing”
This only appeared on an oft-bootlegged (and scrapped) Nas album, and it’s easily the best thing on it. Dre sounds remarkably hungry on this, as though he feels like he has to challenge Nas on his own track.
Snoop is Dre’s best partner, with Eminem a close second, but the songs I’m most excited about on Compton are the ones that feature Kendrick Lamar. Kendrick always elevates everybody around him, and Dre is no exception. Their back-and-forth exchanges on “Compton” are razor sharp.
5. Dr. Dre feat. Snoop Dogg, “On the Blvd.”
Over a crazy funky Jelly Roll beat, Snoop and Dre tap into their classic chemistry in the best song from the soundtrack to The Wash.
Dre’s intensity here is unparalleled on this Ja Rule diss track. When he spits, “I don’t even listen your s— to know who the f— I’m dissing,” he sounds as angry and energized as he did on Straight Outta Compton.
3. King Tee feat. Dawn Robinson & Dr. Dre, “Money”
The best buried treasure in all of these tracks, this is Dre tapping into everything that made G Funk a massive success. His verse is equal parts deadly serious pride and cartoon comedy, and it’s shockingly effective.
In a crowded room, Dre manages to rise above everybody—even Eminem—on this posse cut from The Marshall Mathers LP that acted as a sequel to a Dre-produced track from Snoop’s No Limit Top Dogg. Dre rapping, “Let me lay back and kick some more simplistic pimp s—” perfectly encapsulates everything awesome about his on-mic presence.
1. Kendrick Lamar feat. Dr. Dre, “The Recipe”
This is probably only the 16th best Kendrick Lamar song, but Dre is positively on point in his best guest spot since his last album. He switches up his flow once or twice (a pretty uncommon thing for Dre), and at one point brags about the fact that he wants to buy the Pacific Ocean, which is both spectacularly silly and kind of badass.