“It’s just another day in Compton,” explains Compton: A Soundtrack by Dr. Dre, designed to be the “soundtrack” to their home city Compton; full of crime, drugs, gangs, and murder. Dr. Dre prefaced Compton on Beats 1 Radio telling us that the long awaited Detox would never see the light of day. After all, Compton is Dre’s first album under his own name in sixteen years.
After the single, “I Need A Docor (feat. Skylar Grey & Eminem),” it seemed like Detox was close to due, but it never hit the shelves. “I didn’t like it,” Dre said of Detox to Zane Lowe on Beats 1, and that was that. The decade year long hype to hear Detox died right there, but it wasn’t all for naught. Coinciding with the release of the N.W.A. movie, Straight Outta Compton, Dr. Dre announced his “Soundtrack to Compton”, and dropped it exclusively on Apple Music a week before the film’s release.
Compton opens up with a dramatic introduction:
“Compton was the American dream. Sunny California with a palm tree in the front yard, the camper, the boat. Temptingly close to the Los Angeles ghetto in the 50’s and 60’s, it became ‘The Black American Dream.’ Open housing paved the way as middle-class blacks flooded into the city. Whites don’t buy houses in Compton anymore. Now with 74% of the population, black power is the fact of life. From banks to bowling alleys. But the dream that many blacks thought they were buying has turned sour. Though the mayor and four out of five city councilmen are black, they have been unable to solve the problems of crime and growing welfare which is slowing turning suburban Compton into an extension of the black inner city. Crime is now as high as the ghetto. 47 homicides last year gave Compton one of the highest per capita rates in the country. Juvenile gang activity, muggings, small robberies make some blacks want to leave.”
Immediately following the reading, which I incredibly enjoyed as a representation of the history of Compton, King Mez enters, a rapper I had never heard by name or rap before this track, and I got to say, it was very overwhelming, and not in a good way. For one, it’s way too much right off the bat and I wasn’t prepped for the vocal onslaught that is King Mez, besides the fact that I could also care less about who King Mez is. I know this is a Compton soundtrack, and Dr. Dre is never one to highlight himself on any of his albums, but King Mez is from Raleigh, North Carolina.
Not only can I not stand this first verse on the soundtrack to Compton, but it’s also not Dr. Dre, which I don’t understand why it wasn’t, and it’s instead this guy named King Mez, who’s not even from Compton. I’m not saying that everyone on the record should be from Compton, but if you’re Dr. Dre, the founder of Beats, N.W.A., Snoop Dogg, Eminem, Kendrick Lamar, and 1st billionaire from Compton, writing a magnum opus to finish and sum up your career in an ultimate homage to the city you’re from called Compton: A Soundtrack by Dr. Dre, and the first verse on the record isn’t from you, but from a rapper from North Carolina, that most people haven’t even heard of, then I am saying I have a problem with that.
For all the “Compton” that is Compton, the record more seems like a soundtrack “of Compton” or “about Compton,” than a soundtrack “for Compton.” If we’re talking about a “soundtrack for Compton,” we have Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City, which I honestly think pays a better homage to Compton than this record by far.
For one, I’m not too lyrically impressed. I know Dre uses ghostwriters, and King Mez is listed for writing credits a ton on the liner notes, but there isn’t much that makes me jump out of my seat. Even when Dre does rap, he usually borrows others’ flows from previously on the track, as he’s known to do, simultaneously wanting and not wanting the spotlight, a contradiction that’s oddly placed here on Compton. Compton is intense, not just the city but the record, with two tracks ending in screaming: “Loose Cannons,” which ends in a suicide, and “Deep Water,” which ends in someone screaming for help as they drown.
As it does present that intense, film soundtrack like quality, sometimes this record just gets way too intense for me. Is it an accurate description of Compton? That I can’t tell you; I’m a 20-year old Jewish white kid living on the opposite coast. But what I can say is that not only does Compton not resonate with me, it also feels uneasily and unnecessarily juxtaposed. There are times when I can’t tell if the record is about Compton, if the record is about Dr. Dre, or if Dr. Dre is comparing himself to Compton.
If I wanted to hear Dr. Dre boast about his career, showcase new artists like King Mez, Justus & Anderson .Paak, I would have wanted Detox, but here on Compton: A Soundtrack by Dr. Dre, I wanted more story, less anger and violence, more original material, and more of a focus on artists and rappers from Compton telling their story (Kendrick Lamar, Ice Cube, MC Eiht, The Game, DJ Quik, Problem, Tyga, YG, and some more Eazy-E samples).
Compton isn’t just a violent and corrupt hellish landscape. The city needs to see that people can rise up out of Compton and give back. Yes, Dr. Dre is giving the proceeds from the record to Compton, which I think is fantastic, he sure doesn’t need the money, but this give back has to be within the music too.
Jon Caramanica of The New York Times loved this record, and ended their article on Compton saying that “Dr. Dre has said that Compton will be his ‘grand finale.’ Maybe that’s because the torch is finally passed, and now he doesn’t owe anyone anything anymore,” but I have to disagree with his opinion of Compton‘s greatness, or Dr. Dre’s need to owe anyone anything. He’s never owed anyone anything, and he has gave back to Compton. I believe that the “torch is finally passed,” indeed, and that it’s time for the next generation of artists from Compton to not just soundtrack and describe the city that they’re from, but to inspire it to greatness.
Listen via Apple Music.