Sunday, August 9, 2015

Dr. Dre's First Album in 16 Years

"While he’s rarely mistaken for a conscious leader, no one rallies a squad like Dre. His horde of mentees — among them Snoop Dogg, Eminem, 50 Cent, Kendrick Lamar, and in many ways his moneyman Jimmy Iovine — has used his recording insight and overwhelming mastery of production to launch superstar careers. (Is there any doubt Iovine — who is sampled delivering an aphoristic motivational speech on the new album — has now benefited from a Dre partnership at least as much as Eminem, the biggest rap star ever?) This talent management is highlighted in a crucial early scene in Straight Outta Compton, when a young Dre coaches a nascent Eazy-E on how to land on the beat during the recording of “Boyz-n-the Hood.” He shames Eazy into greatness, gently mocking a performance out of him. Dre has always had a knack for surrounding himself with the right collaborators, and for putting them in a position to succeed. He’s a flexible general manager, moving talent in and out without sentimentality, deftly executing his vision for a successful franchise. And not just superstars-in-waiting like Cube or Snoop, but figures like the Lady of Rage, Daz Dillinger, and Kurupt, who contributed lyrics and guest appearances during the making of his 1992 album, The Chronic; or the producer Mel-Man and multi-instrumentalist Mike Elizondo, who crafted elements of the aerated astral funk on Dre’s 2001. The list of absorbed and abandoned Dre coconspirators is long enough to fill a marble notebook. But Dre’s creative process is strictly egalitarian — to the winners go the songwriting credits.

Compton is no exception — it is flooded with names both bold and anonymous. There is a surprisingly visible underclass, like the relatively unknown Anderson .Paak and King Mez, tenacious young Los Angeles–based MCs recruited as much for their writing as their fealty to Dre’s historicity. There are several R&B singers here, too, more than he has ever employed, from the veteran Dre collaborator Marsha Ambrosius to the South African singer Candice Pillay and sandy-voiced BJ the Chicago Kid. Then there is the litany of longtime cohorts — a becalmed Cube, an invigorated Snoop, an at-home Xzibit, a so-at-home-he-might-sign-a-lease The Game — all aware of the moment, using their voices with a battering-ram force that has been absent in recent years. Most prevalent is Kendrick, who shows up for three inspired moments of desperate eloquence, all of a piece with his recent To Pimp a Butterfly. These are two-pronged gambits — on the one hand, Dre is a magnanimous discoverer of talent. (Imagine King Mez’s excitement this week.) But in another light, he is the beneficiary of so much youthful labor — happy to subsume the energy, insight, and hard-won lyrics of yet another wave of famished voices — while also flashing the digits in his Rolodex."

- Sean Fennessey, Grantland

"That’s a form of hiding, too, though. And on “Compton,” he has at least one good reason to fade into the background: Mr. Lamar, who appears on three songs. Mr. Lamar is the photo negative of Dr. Dre — he’s a dense lyrical technician who can be all trees, no forest. As strong as his albums have been, he’s still needed the caress of a Dr. Dre.

“Deep Water” showcases each at his best — it’s more propulsive than almost anything on Mr. Lamar’s recent album, and still an accommodating home for his dexterous verse. It’s an act of genuine intergenerational sharing.

For years, Dr. Dre was writing Compton’s story primarily through music; Mr. Lamar has made it the subject of his advanced-placement parables. Both men’s approach to their hometown is different, and personal — and here, for the first time, they’re truly in sync.

“Compton,” Dr. Dre has said, will be his “grand finale.” Maybe that’s because the torch is finally passed, and now he doesn’t owe anyone anything anymore."

- Jon Caramanica, New York Times

Michael Chabon's Kendrick Lamar Annotation
Hip Hop Messiahs

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