9 first-listen highlights from Dr. Dre's 'Compton'
As Jon Stewart said goodbye and 10 Republican candidates debated, anyone willing to mute the TV and flip over to Apple Music Thursday night could enjoy something that hasn’t happened this millennium: A new album from Dr. Dre. In its highest-profile exclusive yet, Apple’s new service premiered the rap legend’s new record Compton—his first in 16 years—in its uncensored glory for three hours.
Like the city captured in its album artwork, Compton is grandiose and chaotic. It’ll take a while to fully digest verses from newcomers (Jon Connor, King Mez) and vets (Snoop Dogg, Ice Cube), and the variety of instrumentals that underscore them. But Compton also has heaps of instantly memorable moments—here are some of the best.
The cinematic opening.
Dre has billed Compton as a soundtrack inspired by the N.W.A. biopic Straight Outta Compton—and it starts not with the rapper’s voice or a scratchy sample, but the strings of a movie studio introduction. As the strings die out, a spoken report details Compton’s plight: Homicide stats, white flight from the area, and the civic problems facing the community. Compton is often in dialogue with 2015’s other major West Coast hip-hop opus, Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly, and despite keeping quiet himself at first, Dre sets a political tone immediately.
Jon Connor seizes the moment.
No, Compton doesn’t exist in the Terminator‘s cinematic universe. Check out the homepage for Dre’s label, Aftermath Entertainment, and you see three names besides his: Eminem, Kendrick Lamar, and Jon Connor. The 30-year-old rapper from Flint, Michigan signed to Aftermath in 2013 and obliterates his two guest spots on Compton, distinguishing himself from the pack of very-talented young guns Dre recruited for the album. As profane as he is dextrous, Connor (along with Snoop) carries the Dre-less “One Shot One Kill” with startling aplomb.
Dre may be an exec at a cutting-edge tech company, but sometimes he sounds dated as hell.
Forget sonic trends or new competition. The most daunting challenge for a rapper returning after a decade and a half may be the relevancy of his references. Dre largely leaves that to the next generation on Compton, but he has a couple groan-worthy lines that sound like they were written not long after the release of his last album, 2001. TV show Survivor didn’t premiere until months after that album’s release, which might explain Dre’s outdated reality TV reference on “All In A Day’s Work.”
“It’s All On Me” is the #tbt of gangsta rap.
Maybe Dre chose to drop Compton on a Thursday, despite the stiff primetime competition, because of the album’s nostalgia factor. The MC chronicles everything from tough times as a kid to N.W.A.’s meteoric rise with production polish that’s the sonic equivalent of Instagram’s Mayfair filter. Case and point: “It’s All On Me,” an origin story cut where Dre raps about an unfurnished apartment, borrowing a car from Eazy E, and “DJing parties in my neighborhood just for the love / dope dealers overtipping and bitches stripping.”
Kendrick slays all three of his verses.
Seeing what Dre’s latest acolyte dreams up never gets old and his contributions to Compton are unsurprising show stealers, from his violent turn on “Genocide” (“F—k your blessing, f—k your life, f—k your hope, f—k your mama, f—k your daddy, f—k your dead homie, f—k the world up when we came up”) to racial analysis on “Gone” (“But without all the diamonds though / to you I’m just another n——”). But Kendrick’s greatest Compton moment comes on “Deep Water,” where he encapsulates the gangsta ethos better than any of Dre’s verses: “Once upon a time I shot a n—— on accident / I tried to kill him but I guess I needed more practicing.”
From dissing f—kboys to a painful simile, Ice Cube has a good day.
Ice Cube is the only member of N.W.A. besides Dre to appear on Compton, and he doesn’t let his former crew member down. Cube kicks off his verse on “Issues” by comically suggesting “f—kboys should tighten up a whole lot.” From there he says he’ll “F—ks ’em up like battery acid.” And, like most of Compton, he keeps the nostalgia trip going: “Respected from SoCal out to the Bay / Cashed a lot of checks this mornin’, guess today was a good day.”
The Game gets trashy.
He references the decades-old assassination of a president (“dome shots like Kennedy”) and weaves oral sex, cheating, and gang affiliation into a particularly crude line (“ask your baby mama, she’ll tell you how a Blood taste”). But, The Game’s verse is also fresh: He compares his gunslinging to Martin Scorsese, talks about about drowning Fritos in chili, and big ups Dre when he shouts, “Produced by a billionaire up in this motherf—ker!”
Has Dre been listening to Surf?
High-end as it is, most of Compton’s production is standard-issue Dre. Well, except for the trumpet flourishes that appear at the end of the experimental “Deep Water” and closing cut “Talking To My Diary.” This isn’t an N.W.A. throwback—it’s Dre looking forward and, we hope, proof that he’s listened to Surf, the excellent record Donnie Trumpet & the Social Experiment dropped earlier this year.
Dre’s still Dre.
The biggest fear any long-term Dre fan had was that Compton would be a tired retread. But Dre doesn’t need the money—he’s donating all the album’s proceeds, after all—and this is an album all about legacy building. It’s too soon to tell where Compton will stand with Dre’s body of work, but swagger-filled lines like “Would you look over Picasso’s shoulder and tell him about his brush strokes?” are muscle flexes from the MC that make the record an undeniable blast.
UPDATE: An earlier version of this piece included a lyric from “All in a Day’s Work” that is not yet confirmed.