This week’s Sonic Breakdown covers Dr. Dre’s new album, Compton. I grew up listening to Dr. Dre, starting when he was part of the rap collective N.W.A. This album is his first in sixteen years since 2001, the follow up to The Chronic, and both are certified classic albums. This album is inspired by the making and release of the movie Straight Outta Compton, which chronicles the formation and maturation of N.W.A. I will follow the same format, giving a breakdown of each track followed by a conclusion on the album as a whole.
The album begins with the cinematic sounds associated with watching the beginning of a movie at the movie theater. Then a reporter begins to describe the formation of Compton as we have come to know it since the 90s. The instrumentation behind the reporter is a great audible atmosphere of Compton, California’s smooth vibe with hard-hitting bass and jazz soulfulness gliding through the layers, matching the feel of the content of the information being dispersed. The report is extremely informative and enlightening, setting the tone while providing context for the theme of album.
“Talk About It”
The ending of the intro bleeds into this track so smoothly that if you’re not looking at the track list, it would seem as if it was one song. The tempo is sped up, giving a more energetic air, creating a hyper environment with the feeling that more than words are needed, that some action must be taken now. King Mez’s first verse is heard relatively quickly, adding to the bleeding over from the intro feeling. His delivery is lively, which is contrasted against the smooth, lighter singing of the hook by Justus. Dr. Dre on the second verse begins by asserting the wealth he has accumulated. He is highlighting this to illuminate the hard work and time he put in to reach that monetary level while at the same time stifling any notion of becoming complacent. His business intellect on how to invest that wealth is expressed later in the verse. Dre is showing some vulnerability when he alludes to his mortality, but he immediately refutes it with lines like, “Andre still young enough to say fuck y’all. Fuck you, fuck you, and you in the corner too,” which instantly reminded me of the hilarious indie movie scene from Waiting when Dean, the character Justin Long plays, quits and tells everyone off. That line is interesting on another level due to the use of his surname, Young, which has multiple meanings. King Mez finishes the last verse by comparing himself to other respected rappers while later expressing the lack of quality of today’s hip-hop as a result of overly sensitive artists.
A very West Coast, old-school gangsta vibe with a clean, smooth quality that transports the sound to be relatable to today’s generation. This is a song that sounds great in the car and seems tailored for that atmosphere, and not due to the screeching of the tires in the beginning but the head nodding aspect it provides. Dr. Dre on the second verse with, “Reload the Pro Tools and we throw the clips in both trays. That’s one in the left hand and one in the right hand, Scottie Pippen both ways,” is a nice line due to Scottie Pippen often being underrated, not only as a great player but as a contributing factor to six championships. He is overshadowed, somewhat understandably, by the greatness of Michael Jordan. Scottie wasn’t only a great defensive player but a good offensive player, making him an All-Star on both sides of the court. He was recently brought up in social media for the discussion between him and Shaquille O’Neal in regard to their impact on their respective teams. The line draws attention to the fact that Dre is still extremely focused on improving his skill set and continuing to be versatile. He also indicated that he feels underrated as well, and that drives him to keep striving to be better in the music industry.
“It’s All on Me”
The production has an introspective soul sound and has a lighter, soft layer that was taken from Guy’s “Let’s Chill,” all contributing to a smooth listen. The intro has Dr. Dre saying a line of what the situation is followed by a line from his inner self or subconscious, retorting in a way that reminded me of Nate Dogg and invoked a somber tone, knowing he would have been part of this album if he were still alive. The last two lines of the intro revolve around pressure from the business side to the streets, which I notice is a recurrent subject on this album. The chorus interjects some energy, still maintaining the smooth vibe and blending perfectly with the dynamics of Justus and BJ the Chicago Kid. The chorus expresses how Dre understands or believes in the philosophy found in this Shakespeare quote, “It is not in the stars to hold our destiny, but in ourselves,” and in self accountability. In both verses, Dr. Dre is using the smooth, clear, classic tone we all know and like. He is reminiscing on what it was like in the beginning, before the money and fame, on a very personal level for Dre, who is known to keep those feelings at a distance from the outside world. He doesn’t delve deep but gives enough to understand or gain a feeling of how it was for him as he maneuvered through and maintained his relevance in music and entertainment. This song is easily one of my favorite tracks just for the level of smoothness, change in dynamics due to the chorus, and the introspective aspect. The piano section to finish the track was a nice touch.
“All in a Day’s Work”
Jimmy Lovine sets the tone with a soliloquy about his mentality of fearing failure pushing him to try to work harder than anyone and everyone just to make it. This is a sentiment that applies in any field in order to not be complacent, and it is shared by Dr. Dre. Anderson .Paak is on the first verse with a nice, smooth rocker tone that adds to this “hip-hop rocks” sound. There is a section after the interlude with Marsha Ambrosius’s beautiful voice where it has a Kanye West “Dark Fantasy” sound mixed in that adds a grand air. Dr. Dre intimates in the second verse the amount of work that he puts in and his devotion to music. The rhyming scheme is structured in a more retro format of Dr. Dre and Anderson .Paak alternating lines at varying length, which matched the production perfectly. “There’s so much fuckin’ pressure, there’s so much pressure.” This line stimulated the thought that he might be talking about the pressure he felt in making Detox that the hip-hop world has been anticipating. In the last verse, Dre drives home his work philosophy that is almost obsessive in how much and how hard he feels he needs to work. This philosophy is what allows him to maintain longevity and prevents complacency. The last section has the sound of chains and an older gentleman stating, “We gotta work,” representing the ball-and-chain struggle some people have in regards to work. The saxophone playing adds a jazz feeling and pushes the pain some people feel about heading to work. The guitar and bass section is clean and smooth, followed by the drum solo to end the track.
This track is composed in two sections, expressing slightly different emotions. Darkside, giving the emotion of how a young artist feels trying to become successful juxtaposed with Gone, highlighting the tone of what happens after success is achieved. Darkside has a fiendish, dark tone with the gangsta bounce LA is known for. King Mez is on the first verse being honest in the fact that he isn’t a gangsta but knows real ones and expresses how he is an outsider of that life but has an inside view because of the people he knows and associates with to a degree. This gives King Mez the ability to empathize but not sympathize with people living that gangsta life. Dre comes in on the second verse slowly, building up the cadence with more braggadocio involving his stature and power in the music world, proven by his longevity, ending with a shout out to Eazy-E. A clip of Eazy-E transitions to the second half of the song, “Gone.” Marsha Ambrosius sings the hook to a bounce beat with a soft piano that oscillates, gaining bass as Dre’s tone becomes more aggressive. He expands on how he went from being poor to having money and gaining that by being business savvy with determination and passion. I believe he is eluding to the fact that N.W.A. didn’t make any money really off their first record, and from that point on he has had the mentality: I have to work every angle I can to make sure I get the best deal I can and to earn me the most money I can. This ideology was shown to him by the music business, and he adapted it and improved it to his benefit. Mrs. Ambrosius sings the hook again to a smoother instrumental followed by Kendrick Lamar on the fourth verse. Kendrick brings into account how society sees him as a rich guy that can get anything and go anywhere, but there are still people out there that want to bring him down. They might be other artists or media members such a Geraldo Rivera, who insinuated if not flat-out stated that Kendrick Lamar was promoting violence. Those comments by Mr. Rivera are hard to digest for me because Kendrick Lamar’s lyrics promote stopping gang-related deaths and violence in general. Kendrick goes on to express that regardless of how much money he makes or how successful he is, those same types of people will still see him as worthless.
A 70s vibe with a cinematic tone is heard through the horns and drum, followed later by a guitar and triangle-flute combo. Dr. Dre expresses a celebratory tone with an up-tempo cadence, reminding himself how great of a life he has and the amount of success he has reached. The beat changes for the second verse, featuring Cold 187um, to a more bouncy, harder rock edge, later leading to a marching band tempo. The line that caught my attention and captured the theme of his verse is, “I’m Jordan and Jackson, the coach and the player,” indicating the mental aspect of seeing the big picture as well as the physical and mental awareness to do what he needs to get done. This is followed by another beat that switches to a slower, more classic gangsta tone with a classic-sounding verse from Xzibit highlighting the aggressive, deep, gravelly tone he is known for. Sly Pyper is next with the fourth verse, concluding the song with a story of him being angry and having suicidal/homicidal thoughts while being in possession of a gun. The outro is reminiscent of an Eminem skit with a cinematic auditory finish.
This has a higher electric 80s rock with a hip-hop bounce akin to a State Property or Bennie Segal song in feeling for some sections. Ice Cube and Dre have the only verses on the track with Anderson .Paak and Dem Jointz sharing the intro/outro and hook with some distortion to the vocals. Cube and Dre are giving updated lyrical styles we became accustomed to on N.W.A. albums.
A water theme is set through the sound of a buoy bell, water splashing, and the sound of someone drowning. A reporter is heard trying to find out what is going on in Compton, and the woman being interviewed states that she must be directed to Dr. Dre. The idea of deep water is a symbol for many things; one is how Compton or places like Compton are seen to the outside world. They see it as a place where you will drown, translating to being killed physically or financially or even mentally. A place that if you’re not from there, you will never understand, and if you are from there, you don’t tell an outsider what goes on. The deep water also refers to the rap game and gang activity in relation to the same principle mentioned previously. In the first verse, Dre talks about the respect he gives to others and the amount of respect he should receive based on that plus the longevity and production he has had. This track is like an affirmation that he never left and still has an ear for great talent like Kendrick Lamar. The hook with Justus and Kendrick has varying breaks in the beat that provide an enjoyable surprise and range. Dr. Dre is on the second verse, still playing off the water metaphor more frequently now and building on his influence on today’s youth. Kendrick Lamar’s first line and the last couple in the third verse have been getting a lot of media attention as being part of a diss to Drake. Kendrick changes his voice through the verse, indicating that he is talking from someone else’s perspective, and later goes back to his normal voice. He expresses how he almost fell into the gangsta or thug lifestyle but found out it wasn’t for him. The verse is ended with the notion that even though Kendrick isn’t a gangsta, that doesn’t mean he is a pushover either. Marsha Ambrosius adds a sexy, sultry quality finished by a jazzy horn section as Anderson .Paak gasps for help until he drowns. Even the horn drowns, leaving only the buoy bell.
“One Shot One Kill”
The sound of someone resurfacing, as if the man drowning in the last song eventually made it. An electric guitar is the core of the production with a mid- to up-tempo beat providing a rock/hip-hop blend. Snoop Dogg has a decent verse nothing great and not weak.
“Just Another Day”
A more classic hip-hop beat is here with The Game leading the way with an aggressive gangsta first verse and a more rapid cadence in the second verse. The Game paints a picture of Compton and uses clever metaphors and similes to capture different aspects of that life. A line that was clever and funny to me is, “starts breaking like turbo on ozone,” playing on the words breaking and turbo that was set up from the previous line of people pulling out guns or the movie Breakin’, which had characters named Turbo and Ozone. Asia Bryant has a tough but sweet, feminine quality that adds to this laissez-faire atmosphere.
“For the Love of Money”
This track uses a sample from the Bone Thugs-n-Harmony song “Foe tha Love of $” with a slow, jazzier groove and a sexiness provided by Jill Scott’s sultry voice that adds another layer to the production atmosphere created in the intro and carries past the bridge. Jon Connor has a rough, hard voice but flows over the beat nicely, providing a contrast of his aggression to the smooth, soft quality of the production. Dr. Dre is on the second verse expanding on the sexy quality through the description of a woman’s body. The bridge with Dre and Anderson .Paak adds to the R & B vibe and shows Anderson .Paak’s versatility in vocal range and tone. Jill Scott sings the hook that also speaks on the how money is associated with evil. She finishes with the outro into a nice instrumental with many layers being mixed in and out with an electric guitar solo, then a pizzicato section over the electric guitar adds intimacy, blending it all into the bass line and Ms. Scott’s voice to conclude the song right. This is also one of my favorite tracks for the gangsta sophistication.
A reflective soul sound is found here, more vividly in some sections than others, with the entire production divulging an introspective feeling. Anderson .Paak has a hint of a Bilal-sounding tone with his own tone mixed in, creating diversity, which is showcased on the beginning of the song. Anderson .Paak asserts what he sees in society from how black people are treated and seen as animals to many in power positions. Dre and Anderson .Paak both discuss how condemning the youth for protesting is ignorant when you don’t understand the frustration they have internalized their entire lives.
A skit of being around a doctor starts the track, followed by Candice Pillay giving the doctor’s order. A high-energy, fast tempo with a deep bass line holds a dark tone. Dr. Dre breaks down his societal issues ranging over many facets of life from hip-hop culture to the education system all the way to the legal system. He also details that he works as hard as he does for the love of the music and not the money, which is why people feel his music. Eminem touches on how his perspective of race changed for him by his ascent to rap greatness. The beat changes to a darker, more menacing sound that would be a fitting theme in a scary movie for this verse. Eminem doesn’t disappoint with this verse, from the lyrics to delivery over the instrumentation, it is what a song toward the end of the album needs to be.
“Talking My Diary”
The production here is very similar to the instrumentation on The Game’s “Like Father, Like Son” or Ludacris’s “Growing Pains,” which are introspective tracks. Dre uses a reflective tone, flashing back on how things used to be and how much he has grown to this point in the first verse. The second verse touches on how he treats new artists fairly financially and tries to educate them on the hard work it takes to make it and keep being successful. He also reveals more glimpses of what life with N.W.A. was like then and now. A trumpet finishes the album, lending a smooth, energetic feeling that lingers even after the albums ends, providing a clean, clear conclusion.
This is a very good album that has the potential to be a classic. The album has a lot of features that does take some cohesion away from the album. The amount of features shouldn’t have been unexpected due to the previous album, 2001, which had a plethora of features, and he is more known as a producer then an MC. I do appreciate the openness that Dr. Dre provides on this album. The instrumentation on the album is superbly sophisticated and clean, with no additional sound that didn’t elevate the production, without losing that central West Coast hip-hop feeling that is expected from Dr. Dre. The artists chosen for the features made the best out of the opportunity and didn’t lack in quality or diversity. Anderson .Paak stood out to me the most among the artists I had never heard of until this album due to his Prince-like versatility and lyrical content choices. The first half was stronger than the second half for me, but it is still a very good, complete album with high replayability due to the range of topics and tones. Listening to this album, you could never tell that Dr. Dre hadn’t made an album in sixteen years, and hopefully we won’t have to wait another sixteen years for his next album.
Next Friday’s Breakdown will cover B.O.B’s Psycadelik Thoughtz.