Compton: A Soundtrack
After 16 years in gestation, Dr Dre's semi-mythical third album Detox became a hip-hop byword for something that takes an awfully long time indeed.
Until earlier this month that is, when its creator finally aborted the project. Detox, he said, "just wasn't good".
In its place comes this surprise 16-track collection inspired by the upcoming movie Straight Outta Compton, a biopic about Dre's influential formative gangsta-rap group, NWA. It will, he announced, also be his last album.
It seems a pertinent time to bow out – does a 50-year-old multimillionaire see much of the street life he once documented in such raw and gritty fashion?
While the rapper/producer extraordinaire, real name Andre Romelle Young, isn't quite so youthful anymore, Compton ... proves he can still cut it against a guest-list overflowing with the hottest West Coast rhyming talent alive today.
He's as preoccupied as ever with reminding us how he came to be one of hip-hop's most recognisable – and bankable – individuals. Yet his delivery retains its bombastic edge while making outlandish claims ("I just bought California") and referencing his Beats headphones company on the Dirty South-flecked Talk About It.
Dre's most renowned protégé, Eminem, and Compton's latest celebrated son, Kendrick Lamar, are the top-draw guests, conforming to their respective types: an ire-dripping Eminem courts controversy by dropping a lyric about rape on Medicine Man, while Lamar laces several cuts with his exhilarating flows, aiming subliminal disses at his long-time foe Drake along the way on the moody Deep Water.
Elsewhere, there’s a healthy mix of old friends (Snoop Dogg, Ice Cube) and, in Dre’s lineage of mentoring unheralded talent, a slew of newer names, the pick being Jon Connor’s gruff stylings.
Among the Californian love-in, there's even a UAE shout-out on Loose Cannons – Xzibit pimps his rhymes with the words: "Spent my birthday in Dubai/ Skyrise surprise and I'm dressed like a spy."
It's maybe unfair to judge Compton ... by the expectations we had for Detox. This is something more spontaneous, yet doesn't feel seminal or like a closing bookend to a glittering career. The production is slick throughout, but Dre has largely abandoned his pioneering g-funk template.
This is indeed a soundtrack in the purest sense, taking in a multitude of moods and rap vignettes, rather than spinning around a single sonic thread.
It's a perfect hors d'oeuvre to Straight Outta Compton – but for fans who have waited more than a decade and a half for Dr Dre's full-length return, it's ever so slightly anticlimactic.