After a 15-year wait between albums, the maddeningly deliberate Dr. Dre returned at the perfect time to bring the focus back on what hip-hop is really all about after we wasted weeks of energy observing the Drake vs. Meek Mill “beef.”
Don’t get me wrong: Beef is a foundation of hip-hop, but nearly every aspect of the Drake vs. Meek Mill war was another reminder that much of hip-hop has lost its edge over the past 20 years. A rap beef over hurt feelings on social media? In which the (decisive) winner, a part-time singer, buried his opponent by bragging about a deal with Apple? Drake wasn’t wrong when he said, “When I look back, I might be mad that I gave this attention.”
Sure, Drake connected with a few solid jabs on “Back to Back” — “trigger fingers to Twitter fingers” has become a viral phrase — but nothing in his two diss tracks resembled anything near the vicious bars thrown between Jay Z and Nas more than a decade earlier. Just a few bars from “Ether” would send both Drake and Meek Mill back to their studios in shame. And Funkmaster Flex’s stumbling to reveal reference tracks — as if Drake’s fans ever cared about his use of them — left everyone feeling foolish for following the ordeal so closely.
The premise behind the beef was petty. And sure, it got headlines, but the reality-show-level drama did nothing to gain new fans or grow the genre. Everyone, save for Drake’s die-hard fans at OVO Fest, felt as if they just witnessed a replay of Mayweather vs. Pacquiao.
Just a few weeks later, Dr. Dre, flanked by a small army of rap legends, modern stars and up-and-comers, has put everyone in the industry on notice: It’s about the music again.
Compton: A Soundtrack is not a bunch of Dre’s old Compton buddies reminiscing about the good ol’ days with some fun raps and beats. Dre’s new album is thematic, lyrical, detailed and, most importantly, up with the times. While he has not released an album in more than a decade, Dre has been active in bringing along some of the biggest stars in the industry in that time, keeping a pulse on the flavor of the times — and it shows. Compton is a high-brow, conceptual album with thought-provoking themes, soaked in West Coast instrumentals with a modern flair.
It is no secret that Dre – like Drake, and others – enlists help writing his rhymes, but he certainly had a plan for how this album would be constructed. Each feature artist plays a specific role. Kendrick Lamar depicted the desperate, seemingly hopeless life in Compton (through some indirect shots at Drake), while Xzibit played a crazed, mentally ill killer.
And the fact that Dre produced an array of stellar beats in a modern style will make everyone regret they ever forgot about Dre. Compton has plenty of old-school names on the mic, but they are not rapping over an old-school sound. Featuring a lot of trap influences with resounding bass and hard-hitting snares, Dre is calling out the bland artists that dominate today’s airwaves. The majestic textures on “For the Love of Money” show that the growing world of trap music needs to step its game up. Whether it be the guitars on “One Shot One Kill,” the dripping quicksand beat on “Genocide,” or the well-placed, military-flavored snares on “Loose Cannons,” Dre reminds mainstream hip-hop the impact impeccable attention to detail he can have.
Dr. Dre could have walked away from the mic years ago with his legacy intact and bank account set. Even bothering to release another record was more of a risk than simply riding into the sunset. Yet, Dre, with nothing to prove, not only put together a record that could hold up with some of the best releases this year — he engineered a sound that seems ahead of its time.
The Meek Mill vs. Drake debacle gave hip-hop the attention it has craved. Dr. Dre arrived just in time to capitalize on this attention and push the genre forward. Compton was just what the genre needed to snap out of its social-media-induced daze and get back to making music of quality its forefathers would approve of.