After 16 Years, Dr. Dre Returns With 'Compton'

Aug 7, 2015
Originally published on August 8, 2015 12:13 pm

Though his presence is felt every time we see those ubiquitous Beats-branded headphones and hear stars he ushered into the mainstream, like Kendrick Lamar and Eminem, Dr. Dre the musician, the creator has recently been absent from the music world. In the 16 years since he released his last studio album, 2001, hip-hop trends have come and gone and a new generation of artists has come of age. Now a 50-year-old Dre — with a reported nine-figure net worth — returns to present us with his self-described "grand finale," Compton, named for his hometown.

From the album's dramatic opening to his self-mythologizing verses throughout, it's clear that Dre feels he has come full circle. He recounts his rise from Compton's ghetto to the top of the music industry — marveling at his successes but also lamenting his losses along the way. His soured relationship with Eric "Eazy-E" Wright is one of his deepest regrets: "It gets the hardest when I think about the dearly-departed/ Like the n**** I started with/ I know Eazy can see me now, looking down through the clouds/ And regardless, I know my n**** still proud," he raps on "Talking To My Diary."

His saving grace, the one constant whether he was at his highest or lowest, has been his passion for music. And for all the gangsta posturing, bad language, and alpha male bravado, music is what Dre does best. On Compton he gives us the the cinematic, maximalist production we've come to expect from hip-hop's most lauded musician. The sound of the album is crisp, enveloping, ornate and overall funky — signature Dre.

He also reminds us that that he's not only a great producer but an amazing talent scout, bringing back collaborators from every part of his career to make guest appearances and introducing us to his new class of proteges including singer-songwriter Candice Pillay and the multi-talented Anderson .Paak . The result is a an album that feels more like a grand group effort than a single man's vanity project. As always, that is Dr. Dre's trademark, even though he is — once again — standing at hip-hop's center stage.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

It's been 16 years since hip-hop icon Dr. Dre released his last studio album. During that time, hip-hop trends have come and gone, and a new generation of artists have come of age. And now a 50-year-old Dre, a multimillionaire businessman, returns with a new album named after his hometown, Compton. NPR Music's Timmhotep Aku has this review.

TIMMHOTEP AKU, BYLINE: Though his presence is felt every time we see those ubiquitous Beats-branded headphones and hear stars he ushered into the mainstream, like Kendrick Lamar and Eminem, Dr. Dre the musician, the creator, has largely been absent from the music world. On his new record, "Compton," Dr. Dre introduces us to a wide range of artists, as on this track, "Genocide."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GENOCIDE")

DR. DRE AND KENDRICK LAMAR: (Singing) Stone-cold killers in these Compton streets. One hand on the nine, all eyes on me. Murder. Murder. Murder. Call 911, emergency.

AKU: From the album's dramatic opening to his self-mythologizing verses throughout, it's clear that Dr. Dre feels like he has come full circle. He recounts his rise from Compton's ghetto to the top of the music industry.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TALKING TO MY DIARY")

DR. DRE: (Singing) I just need ya'll to try to bear with me for a minute while I talk about the pages of my diary, yeah. Listen up. I remember when I got started, my intention was to win, but a lot of [expletive] changed since then. Some old friends became enemies in the quest of victory, but I made a vow - never let it get to me. I let it pass so I consider that part of my history, and I'm strong financially, physically, mentally. I'm on a whole 'nother level...

AKU: His saving grace, the one constant whether he was at his highest or lowest, has been his passion for music. And for all the gangsta' posturing, bad language and alpha male bravado, music is what Dre does best.

On "Compton," Dre gives us the cinematic, maximalist production we've come to expect from hip-hop's most lauded musician.

(SOUNDBITE OF DR. DRE SONG)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Singing) All my life...

AKU: The sound of the album is crisp, enveloping, ornate and overall funky - signature Dr. Dre. He also reminds us that he's not only a great producer but an amazing talent scout, bringing back collaborators from every part of his career and introducing us to his new class of proteges. The result is an album that feels more like a grand group effort than a single man's vanity project. As always, that is Dre's trademark. Even if he doesn't have the most lines, he is once again standing at hip-hop's center stage.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ANIMALS")

ANDERSON PAAK: (Singing) These old sneakers, faded blue jeans. No tricks no gimmicks. I'll be stomping down down down demons...

CORNISH: Dr. Dre's latest album is called "Compton." Our reviewer is NPR Music's Timmhotep Aku.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ANIMALS")

PAAK: (Singing) The bottom of the beat, glad I got my sticks. Are you jumping on a fad, laying in a ditch? I be stomping down demons, stomping down quick. Come on. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.