Dr Dre returns to street roots for new album

Dr Dre.

NEW YORK • Dr Dre has become one of music's richest entrepreneurs, but on the work he has declared as his grand finale, the rap legend vows never to forget his street roots.

Capping one of the biggest waits in rap history, he put out his first album in 16 years last week, timed one week before the release of the biopic Straight Outta Compton, about his former band, gangsta rap pioneers N.W.A.

Compton: A Soundtrack By Dr Dre offers a wistful look at the now 50-year-old's upbringing in the Los Angeles County city, long synonymous with gang violence.

While in time-tested hip-hop fashion the album's lyrics are full of bloodshed and boasting, his tone is striking for coming off not as angry but inspirational.

"I'm strong - financially, physically/Mentally I'm on a whole 'nother level/And don't forget that I came from the ghetto," he raps on the introspective Talking To My Diary, the closer of the album and perhaps his recording career.

Dr Dre, whose real name is Andre Romelle Young, was instrumental in creating the sound of N.W.A.

The group stunned much of white America in 1988 with F**k Tha Police, an unapologetic indictment of officers' treatment of young African Americans.

After massive success as a solo artist and producer, he headed Beats, an equally dominant company of headphones and other audio products.

Apple last year bought Beats and brought him into its fold in a US$3 billion (S$4.15 billion) deal.

Dr Dre, who released the album first on the new Apple Music streaming platform, has pledged to donate all his royalties to build a performing arts centre in Compton.

His net worth is estimated by Forbes at US$700 million. Or as he puts it in his first lines on the album: "I just bought California/Them other states ain't far behind it either."

Compton marks a wider musical exploration for Dr Dre beyond the turntable-driven hip-hop early in his career.

The album features powerful performances by Baltimore trumpeter Dontae Winslow, who closes the album with brassy strength.

Dr Dre drives into hard-edged funk on tracks such as One Shot, One Kill and Genocide. The Death Row Records co-founder also brings out an all-star cast of collaborators for the album, including his proteges Eminem and Snoop Dogg and N.W.A. bandmate Ice Cube.

Also appearing in a brief, posthumous snippet is Eazy-E, the original N.W.A. frontman who died in 1995 from complications of Aids.

"I know Eazy can see me now, looking down through the clouds," Dr Dre says in one of many references to his once estranged bandmate.

He also taps younger artists, including the relatively unknown LA rapper Anderson .Paak, British soul singer Marsha Ambrosius and especially 28-year-old hip-hop sensation Kendrick Lamar, who also hails from Compton.

Eminem, in Medicine Man, shows off his reputation as the quickest-tongued of rappers. But he also makes a crude comment about sexual assault - an indirect reminder that Dr Dre, despite his commercial success, has faced accusations of violence against women.

Dr Dre has released only two previous solo albums: the blockbuster 1992 work The Chronic and 2001, which, despite its name, came out in 1999.

He had long been reported to be working on an album called Detox, but recently revealed he had shelved the project, saying that the quality was subpar.

By contrast, he said that songs came to him quickly for Compton as he returned to sites to shoot the movie.

Interviewed on Apple Music's Beats One radio, he said that music remained his calling despite years in business.

"We made a lot of money. And it was very gratifying - I've got to be honest with you," he said.

"But it did not give me the same feeling that I get from making a hit record. There's something about that feeling that's the ultimate high."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 11, 2015, with the headline 'Dr Dre returns to street roots for new album'. Print Edition | Subscribe