The Rap’s Flat, But Ya Can’t Beat the Beat
DR. DRE “The Chronic”
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Dr. Dre, rap producer, N.W.A. apostate and architect of the Compton sound, is an enigma: a creator of an entire school of rock ‘n’ roll whose criminal record is better known than his platinum records. Plenty of newsprint has been devoted to his alleged thuggishness, relatively less to his artistry--which is on a par with Phil Spector’s or Brian Wilson’s.
The Dre sound is clean but edgy, featuring big-bottomed, slightly dirty beats, and powered by guitar and bass work that is not sampled, but recreated in the studio, so that--unlike East Coast rap productions--the fidelity of the final product is not inflected by the fidelity of scratchy R&B; records that have been played a million times. It is largely Dre’s production work--on Eazy-E, on N.W.A., on the D.O.C., on Above the Law--that made West Coast gangsta rap among the most vital pop genres to come along in the last few years.
It is no surprise that Dre’s solo debut is among the best- sounding rap records of the year, popping with Funkadelic beats, measured and dead-simple. The problem is that while several of the rappers he’s surrounded himself with here have devastatingly good voices--the buttery snarl of Snoop Dog in particular--none of them seem to have the quick wit, the rhythmic virtuosity of his former N.W.A. colleagues Ice Cube and Ren. Too many of the jokes fall flat; too many of the jabs just seem mean. Dre, forced, strained-sounding, is hardly as accomplished a rapper as he is a producer. But there are those beats . . .