On the fourth song of Compton, the final album from Dr. Dre, gangsta rap’s Hippocrates lets us behind the myth. “It's All on Me” invokes hard times before the fame and describes his first encounters with Eazy-E and Snoop Dogg. Interactions usually buried in careful branding rise to the forefront.
It’s the fullest portrait of Andre Young that we’ve heard on record (even if he didn’t write the lyrics). His girlfriend yells in his ear when he’s recording to four-track. Eric Wright’s nasal sneer demands his car back. The D-O-Double-G introduces him to the chronic; a few years earlier he’d bragged about not smoking weed or sess on N.W.A’s “Express Yourself.”
If you’re of a certain age and grew up hearing Dre’s music bumping from lolo’s in Bellflower to BMWs in Beverly Hills, it’s hard to avoid getting in your feelings.
The last 30 years of nationally popular L.A. rap could be a Dre biopic. The seeds of inspiration are rooted in the first chapter of Dre’s life, as seen in this month’s Straight Outta Compton film. But Compton, billed as “a soundtrack,” plays like the last episode of Seinfeld, where familiar faces emerge from the distant past for a final send-off.
There’s Ice Cube, Snoop and Xzibit. The Game snapping like the Soup Nazi. Kendrick Lamar rapping his best verses of the year. Eazy-E’s disembodied rattle taunting us from the tomb over a “Foe Tha Love of $” sample. Eminem is back and Jimmy Iovine offers a motivational sermon.
Just as welcome are the shoutouts to often-overlooked legends and landmarks of West Coast hip-hop: WC, Eve After Dark, MC Ren, Yella and the late KMG the Illustrator, the latter invoked via a scorched rap from his Above the Law kinsman, Cold 187um.
If you only know about Death Row and Aftermath, you might mistake these names as a roll call of the obscure. But they represent the rich tradition and culture from which Dre emerged.
Above the Law helped create G-funk, but Dre got all the credit. Eve After Dark was the nightclub run by Alonzo Williams, the promoter, DJ and mastermind of the World Class Wreckin’ Cru. That was Dre’s first group, where he initially won fame performing electro-funk turntable surgery in a sequined suit and stethoscope. It’s the image he spent decades running from after N.W.A rebranded him with Raiders hats, gats and mug-shot scowl.
Their inclusion is an act of enshrinement. No co-sign ever mattered more than Dre’s does to L.A. rap. That’s why YG recently boasted about being the only one to make it out the West without Dre.
In one more Midas act, Dre offers his imprimatur to Anderson .Paak, the immensely gifted soul singer affiliated with Hellfyre Club and Stones Throw. It’s tacit acknowledgement that underground and mainstream are often only separated by a marketing budget.
The end finds Dre fixated on legacy. For the first time since The Chronic’s “The Day the Niggaz Took Over,” a sociopolitical bent consumes the music. Despite the money and fame, Dre wants people to remember the crack-riddled failures wrought by Reaganomics — not just the house parties that he DJ’ed for fun, but the LAPD goon squads who forced him face-down onto the pavement and directly gave rise to N.W.A. He reveals the city’s complications and interconnectedness.
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Compton has its flaws, but it’s far better than an album from a 50-year-old hermit tech billionaire has any right to be. Dre did what he needed to do: Celebrate, expand on and offer closure to an era. We no longer need a next episode.
An L.A. native, L.A. Weekly columnist Jeff Weiss edits Passion of the Weiss and hosts the Shots Fired podcast. Find him online at passionweiss.com, follow him on Twitter and also check out his archives.