Ageism works in hip-hop the same way it does in sport, it has been for the better part of its four decades of existence been considered a “young man’s game”. Rappers don’t have runs that stretch for decades; they only seem to have their peaks for blips at a time. The appreciation of rap music as a genre is such a fickle notionex that two corner kids, Nas & The Notorious B.I.G. could revert their entire rap careers into temporary Mafioso kingpins all because the most unlikely Wu-Tang solo star, Raekwon the Chef, had released the group’s most beautiful album. Nobody gets to pick how long their career stands at the top and rappers who continue to push past the age of 40 are revered, though not boldly and prominently as their younger peers.

Dr. Dre may be the exception. The demiurge of G-Funk (with a little assistance from Cold 187um), Dre has morphed from producer of the West Coast’s most formidable group into an altruistic gatherer for party albums for now three consecutive decades. He mutated the shine an gloss of ‘80s Calif. Funk for 1992’s The Chronic, shooting off the careers of Snoop Dogg, Kurupt, Daz Dillinger & The Lady of Rage. The puff expanded into an astral crawl with 2001, where thanks to Mike Elizondo & Mel-Man, fans outside of Texas learned about Devin the Dude, and more Dre protégés such as Hitman, Knoc-Turn’al and Six Two received life. Whenever Dre shines a beacon, his crew of merry men arrive to assist in something far greater than their individual sums. Eminem, 50 Cent, Snoop Dogg, Game, Kendrick Lamar, even Jimmy Iovine; all established names worth millions (and billions) of dollars and all of them linked to Dre. Fans have waited for Dre’s creations since 1988; a near 30-year path that resulted in a cancelled album that couldn’t live up to our own impossible aspirations and in its place is a surprise album. An album, ironically enough, inspired by a film crafted solely due to his influence on more than three generations of rap fans.

So what exactly is Compton supposed to be? It arrived last Thursday night via Beats Music, the right album for this current musical landscape. And for what it is, it’s a fitting project. Game sounds as if he is the Bruh Man from the 5th Floor equivalent of Dre’s universe on “Just Another Day,” Eminem still yells but has enough focused control and dexterity to prove why he’s one of the genre’s best (“Medicine Man”), Snoop takes two turns to be part bouncy (“Satisfiction”) and bark Deep Cover era fury (“One Shot One Kill” with Flint’s Jon Connor) and ultimately feels refreshed. Even the most frequent voice on the album, Dre’s is more curious in regards to how he emotes as opposed to how he grunts and throws around dubs. The layered crawl he gave us on 2001 has instead been replaced by double-time and ubiquitous flows with common factors stretched out. He discusses Compton in past tense, how he’s grown, lost friends and still carries some of the same emotions then as he does now. He even ties his new status as a billionaire along with his money man (Iovine)’s parables about dedication to a craft with “All In A Days Work”. Yet, Dre can still discuss kids getting held up at bus stops by gun toting thieves and students getting stabbed in classrooms. It’s dark and fucked up yet it occurs. Any Dre album over the past twenty-five years has featured in some capacity the same tropes that made N.W.A’s Efil4zaggin such a macabre rush. Murder, sex and mayhem stick out as talking points yet even at 50, Dre recognizes Compton, the city he’s from and the city as it exists now as parallels. It’s why a song as operatic as “Loose Cannon” with an invigorated Xzibit and past collaborators such as Above The Law and stick out in the middle of an album all moving towards the edge. Dre’s gunshots, about as common in his albums as any of his impressive drum patterns sound as clear and aggressive as they did in decades prior. All of Compton attempts to funnel its anger and rage in different directions even as its creator keeps pushing to remind people why he’s the greatest mind the genre has ever produced.


Lamar’s presence on Compton is merely an extension of his jazzman persona that dominated March’s To Pimp A Butterfly. He can act as Dre’s conscious of never being respected and considered black until the day he dies (the “Gone” portion of “Darkside/Gone”) but also pump with Ren like fury on “Genocide”, “My discretion, fuck your blessing, fuck your life / Fuck your hope, fuck your mama / Fuck your daddy, fuck your dead homie / Fuck the world up when we came up, that’s Compton homie!” He can allude to the present of slick idiots such as Geraldo Rivera and common frenemy Drake and stick every landing with panache. He’s both a mix of urgency and navigator for Compton, a valued asset to the new voices like Justus and Anderson .Paak by being the one manic who can flip like a switch. That position used to belong to Cube and even though his position as rap’s most outspoken political rapper has been passed down to Killer Mike, he gleefully tells the world that despite cashing a ton of checks, he’ll still get grimy if need be.

Sonically, Compton lives up to what anyone hypothesizes a Dre album to be. The samples which led slow marches into Dre classics such as Charles Wright’s funk parade leading into N.W.A’s “Express Yourself”, the spider walk from Leon Haywood that revealed “Nuthin’ But A G Thang” and David McCallum’s sweep that culls into C-walk beauty for “The Next Episode” are almost absent completely. In its place is something far more organic, probably the tightest and cramped Dre album ever. It’s busy from the opening television B-roll lead in to the numerous solos offered to trumpeter Dontae Winslow. It is ripe for collaboration, none more perfect that Dre & DJ Premier locking drum patterns together for the emotive “Animals,” dominated by California singer .Paak. It’s not “Fuck The Police,” nor does it need be. It rises around the chorus through ratcheted up horns and .Paak, paraphrasing deaths of black youths over the course of the past year narrates all of the pain and confusion. N.W.A. were labeled as antagonistic to everyone in 1988, offering far more ego driven and nihilistic moments than not. The cast that stretches over Compton aim to protect their own, whether it be implied or explicitly revealed.

Protection is all Dre has left now. It’s why a film like Straight Outta Compton exists; to protect the legacy he forged with the World’s Most Dangerous Group. It’s why he’s raps often about Compton in a romantic way or how he sometimes treats his memories of laying around listening to Roy Ayers and recording with Cube and Eazy E as fever dreams he wants back. It’s why he’s the fitting last voice we hear on Compton, a man secure with everything but the one thing that’ll forever be up for debate. Compton exists somehow in the most competitive and fruitful year in rap since the early ‘00s, a risk more than a reward. And for its creator, the only victory he may have is that he didn’t adhere to past trends and expressed himself inside his most adventurous creative bubble yet. Every hungry name part of this event album in 2015? They’re somewhat proven now. To them and to a story Dre has told for a generation of rap fans, do the victor go the spoils.