Let me put it out there upfront N.W.A. is my favorite rap group of all time. I will sing the praises of Eazy, Ren, Dre, and Cube (plus DJ Yella) until the cows come home. Except, there's an asterisk on that last sentence. Because there has to be. But we'll put a pin in that.
On Friday, August 7, 2015, Dr. Dre - he of the long-awaited Detox album, which Dre (himself) told us to look out for on The Game's FIRST album The Documentary in 2005 (!!!!!) - dropped his last studio album Compton. It's a solid album, though if I'm being honest, it gets more points for existing than it does for being good. Dre is long past his prime. While he's crafted hits for and been apart of the legacies of some of the biggest names in hip-hop (Eminem, 50 Cent, Snoop, etc.), the fact is Dr. Dre as we knew him even 15 years ago on 2001 is no more. Which is interesting; he still rhymes from the same chip-on-his-shoulder place that he's always rhymed from. It's odd considering he's worth over a half a billion dollars; what the fuck do you lament when you are literally richer than 99 percent of the world's population? Drake and Dre might as well do an album together called Don't Count Us Out (Even Though You Never Did).
Dre has never been one to deny that he's got others crafting verses for him. It's more evident than ever on this album. Dre has always been more of a greatest producer ever than a greatest rapper ever and this album is proof positive. On 2001, he may not have written the verses, but he made the verses his own. On Compton, there's no such fix. Dre is rapping in whatever odd cadence and rhythm the original author laid down and its sometimes clumsy and just plain fucking odd for this 50-year-old to be trying to spit like Kendrick Lamar. This album is the first time - though my sample size is admittedly small - where I feel like Dre may have gotten in the way of his own project. Again, it is a solid project, but classic material it is not.
I would do an album review but the truth is that would require me to actively listen to it and I don't really want to. I'm glad it exists because Dre making music is better than nothing at all. But if this is better than what he thought Detox was going to be, then I'm glad he kept it for himself, because I don't like to think of a world where Dre has "lost it". I will say, he's still got his ear and his ability to create epicness. He may not have produced every song on the album, but his blueprint and mastery of sound is all over the album. It's cohesion is a testament to just how good he is at what he does. I'm a fan of Dr. Dre and always will be. He's my favorite producer and is part of my favorite group ever exactly for his ability to make an album in 1991 that sounds like it could have been released today (and seeing how I've owned all of his albums since they actually dropped and they sounded that good back then, I'm not just blowing smoke up your ass here).
Of course, that love comes with it the problem of being a superfan of a group that is easily one of the most misogynistic, rape-happy, and reckless groups in rap history. Whatever level you're comfortable with - and be real, if you're a hip-hop fan there's a certain level of misogyny that you're comfortable with - multiply that shit times 1,000 and you have NWA. Especially on what is one my favorite albums, EFIL4ZAGGIN, an album that would be some of the scariest music set to record if it didn't seem SO ridiculously cartoonish and parody-like. It would be an interesting exercise to see just how many crimes were committed on this album; Ren is responsible for at least 1 million deaths ("Appetite for Destruction"). That's a lot of life sentences.
Over the next few weeks, your Facebook timelines will be flooded with countless articles and thinkpieces discussing NWA's place in music history (solid as a rock) versus how destructive they were (and particularly Dre's violent past), especially against the backdrop of the movie, Straight Outta Compton (a GREAT!! movie that I will be writing about), which barely scratched the surface of just how intentionally ignorant much of their music is. If you only saw the movie, you'd probably never think that these five guys who legitimately care for one another and are often talented victims of their environments would intentionally make shit like, "Findum, Fuckem, and Flee" or "One Less Bitch". "Just Don't Bite It", while instructional, also features the statutory rape of the preacher's daughter as she's getting a train run on her in the drive-in movie lot. When these niggas nigged, they nigged hard.
It is without a doubt beautifully produced ignorance, which I'm a fan of as I can still listen to these albums today. And yet, it feels different when I do. I can't as recklessly enjoy it as I used to. It feels…wrong sometimes. I know artists like to hide behind the fact that their creations are meant to be enjoyed and not taken so seriously (some anyway) but I can't for the life of me understand how they could make EFILFZAGGIN and say, "hey mom, listen to this work I did!" I cringed when I found out my mother took our book, Your Degrees Won't Keep You Warm At Night to church to show our fellow churchmembers that her baby wrote a book.
Sometimes, I feel like my ears have become Republican. Sure I can listen to much of the mindless music out there, but I also judge some of it at the same time. I listen to lyrics at times and wonder what the hell is happening, if I can understand them at all. The same has happened with my love for NWA, and to a lesser extent Ice Cube albums before he died and was reborn as "Hi Ice Cube I'm White And I Love You!" Cube, while a somewhat moral compass of the group lyrically, was a nigga too. Though he did litter his albums with public service announcements ("Look Who's Burning") and thought out social commentary. I'll tell you, those West Coast albums back in the early 90s were FILLED with cautionary tales about STDs. Nearly every album talked about ending up at the clinic because of fucking some hoodrat. There were a lot of hot wangs in Los Angeles in need of social services apparently. Um. Pause.
So I'm a fan of NWA even though I really shouldn't be. Not now. I know better. Even though I am able to divorce the messaging from the reality of it all, it's still some over-the-top ignorant shit. When I was 12 (which is when their LAST album came out!!!!) I didn't care. I don't think I even fully processed what was happening. I just loved the beats. But when I really did start listening I had to acknowledge that most of it really wasn't okay. Even if they were just shock jocks (and the jury is out on that), some shit is a bridge too far. NWA is every bridge that's ever gone too far. At least on EFIL4ZAGGIN, which to me is the album were Dre became Dre.
Luckily for them, it seems that their whole legacy is truly siphoned down to three songs on Straight Outta Compton: "Fuck The Police" "Straight Outta Compton" and to a lesser extent "Gangsta, Gangsta". That's pretty much their legacy (as a group) in most people's minds. Which works, since its one less bitch they have to worry about. See what I did there?
I will always love NWA because of where I was in my life when I discovered them via stealing my sister's tapes. And the movie only made it that much easier (seriously, we're gonna rap a taste about it) to remember and enjoy the group for what they ultimately were, kids gon' rich.
Because hey, a nigga(z) always into something. And I'm just talking to my diary. I got it straight outta Compton.