It can be argued that album sales have declined because consumers don’t feel the need to purchase an entire set. There’s been so much focus on producing a hit song that the rest of the project can be easily dismissed after that feat is achieved.
Dr. Dre, however, is one artist who has always understood the need for a complete, cohesive body of work. He demonstrates this again on his latest offering, Compton, his first album in nearly 16 years out Friday exclusively on Apple Music.
Inspired by the making of the film Straight Outta Compton (in theaters next week), which tells the story of Dre’s old rap group NWA, Compton’s main strength is that Dre is at the helm as the executive producer and artist. He is clear that this project is a representation of his hometown, and he never loses focus. Every track, contributor, and concept achieves a purpose. Many of the featured guests, for instance, collaborate on multiple tracks, each time adding something specific to enhance the record.
Below, see our track-by-track review of Compton, highlighting his work with not only all-star protégés Eminem, Snoop Dogg, Kendrick Lamar, and The Game, but also his best crop of rising acts since his 1992 solo debut, The Chronic.
“Intro” – Imagine visiting Compton’s Department of Tourism. This audio would accompany a video offering the history of the city. Backed by a warm, thematic track, a documentary-styled narrator explains how Compton was once the American dream … that is, until it became predominantly black and plagued by crime. As the description worsens rapidly, it ends abruptly.
“Talk About It” – King Mez’s shattering opening lyric, “I don’t give one f***,” immediately changes the direction established in the intro. No more scholarly narratives about Compton: King Mez is on a rampage, dissing counterfeit rappers for ruining the game. Over a ferocious beat helmed by Dre and DJ Dahi, Dre makes an explosive introduction, boasting about buying California and having so much money that he “still got Eminem checks I ain’t open yet.”
“Genocide” – The music pace slows down a little for this more sinister track, which incorporates reggae chants, ad-lib raps from Marsha Ambrosius, and Kendrick Lamar’s tales of survival. An unexpected, brief a cappella vocal and beatbox add refreshing accents to the song.
“It’s All on Me” – This autobiographical song, in which Dre recounts his rise to fame, could have been used in the Straight Outta Compton film. Co-produced by Bink, it’s more soulful than hip-hop and is complimented by fitting crooning from BJ the Chicago Kid.
“All in a Day’s Work” – Dre reveals one of Compton’s secret weapons, Anderson .Paak, a multitalented singer who makes several appearances on the album. .Paak and Dre trade stories about their hustles as the music settles on soothing production featuring horns.
“Darkside”/”Gone” – Again, King Mez takes advantage of his moment to shine, kicking off the pulsating “Darkside” with the kind of honest lyrics not often heard in rap: “Now, I ain’t never been the one that would pull a gun on you / But I know who got em.” The beat switches one and a half minutes into the song, providing Dre, Ambrosius, and Lamar a mellower music bed to wish good riddance to their haters.
“Loose Cannons” – Cold 187um, Xzibit, and Sly Pyper collab on the album’s chilling entry, which depicts one of the characters having a mental breakdown and killing his girl. Though it is an odd fit for the album, the expert storytelling is captivating.
“Issues” – Hearing Ice Cube and Dre on the rock-fueled song is reminiscent of another post-NWA collaboration, “Natural Born Killaz.” Here, they aren’t villains, but reflect on the dramas of growing up in the inner city.
“Deep Water” – Dre opens the song with the disturbing sound of splashing water, and a man gasping for air as a metaphor to describe the retaliation he wants to impose on his critics. He raps, “Would you look over Picasso’s shoulders and tell him about his brush strokes? / Them opinions I don’t trust those.” The song continues with water references (i.e., sending his naysayers to the sharks) and the haunting track is perfect score for a thriller film. Kendrick offers Dre all the venomous backup he needs.
“One Shoot One Kill” – Dre and Snoop abandon their G-Funk safe haven for rock guitars, snares, and hi-hats on this track, which also responds to haters. Snoop raps, “These verses is like curses consistently killing y’all with instrumentals.”
“Just Another Day” – Even though The Game’s contribution is only two minutes and 20 seconds, Dre’s prodigal protégé, like usual, does not disappoint. Jayceon Taylor represents his city with pride, but his own encounters with crime will likely deter tourism. “Been shot, robbed, stabbed, chased home, stocked out, jabbed by esses, cops, degenerate n**gas with rags,” he raps. The song’s punchy horns and throbbing kick drums make for an even more dramatic listen.
“For the Love of Money” –Dre, Jon Connor, .Paak, and Jill Scott complain about the ills of loving money. With a lighter, jazzy styling, Scott sings, “Want that, need that / Root of all evil, man.” Connor brings the fiery opening verse, rhyming about his ability to seduce gold-digging women despite his broke status.
“Satisfiction” – On one of the album’s rock-edged tracks, Ambrosius’s fans may not immediately recognize her voice, as it adopts a nasal, alternative sound to compliment the music. King Mez and Snoop Dogg check those faking “to keep up with social tradition.”
“Animals” – After several songs that describe the hardships in Compton, “Animals” asks listeners for compassion. “And please don’t come around these parts and tell me that we all a bunch of animals,” .Paak sings, evoking a pleasant Paul Simon-meets-Curtis Mayfield vibe. Produced by DJ Premier, “Animals” stands out as did The Chronic’s message-oriented “Lil Ghetto Boy.”
“Medicine Man” – “Medicine Man” is the track all aspiring artists need to hear. Though they use jagged examples, Candice Pillay, .Paak, and Eminem advise musicians to “follow the doctor’s orders” and express their true voice. Em credits his success to taking the Medicine Man’s advice, rapping, “Alls I did was say what I’m feeling when the vocal booth calls,” and adds that any flack he has received for any of his controversial lyrics is worth it.
“Talking to My Diary” – Though Compton is full of Dre’s reflections about his career, this closing track puts everything in perspective. He raps about taking care of his mom, missing the days of being in NWA, and understanding the plight of struggling artists, saying, “I used to be the starving artist, so I would never starve an artist.”
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