Dr. Dre, wrapped up in a different mood Review: Master of hip-hop produces 'Aftermath' in a groove that lets sound speak louder than gangstas.

November 26, 1996|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,SUN POP MUSIC CRITIC

Even though rap has always been as much about rhythm as rhymes, its music men have traditionally drawn less attention than the word-slingers. So to the average fan, names like Marley Marl, Hank Shocklee, Herby Luv Bug and DJ Pooh mean almost nothing -- even though the hits these guys produced for L.L. Cool J, Public Enemy, Salt-n-Pepa and Ice Cube owe everything to their taste in samples and beats.

Fortunately, that hasn't been the case with Dr. Dre. Perhaps the only true superstar producer in hip-hop, Dre is considered the architect of the gangsta rap sound, and has been responsible for 11 straight million-selling albums -- including NWA's "Straight Outta Compton," Snoop Doggy Dogg's "Doggy-style" and his solo album, "The Chronic" -- as well as innumerable hit singles. If any man in rap can be said to have a platinum touch, it's he.

Needless to say, that makes the arrival of any new Dre project a major event for hip-hop enthusiasts. But "Dr. Dre Presents The Aftermath" (Aftermath 90044, arriving in stores today) isn't quite the album some fans may have expected.

For one thing, " The Aftermath" isn't a solo album so much as a sampler, intended to introduce many of the artists Dre has signed to his new label, Aftermath Entertainment. So even though he handled production duties on each of the album's 16 selections, he takes command of the mic for only one of them.

Moreover, Dre has pretty much turned his back on the gangsta aesthetic he helped popularize. It isn't just that the album puts as much emphasis on R&B as it does on rap; Dre has also distanced himself from the fighting words many gangsta rappers specialize in.

Although he's not about to start whining, "Can't we all just get along," he definitely doesn't see the point in the kind of cross-coastal rivalries his former label-mates at Death Row Records (particularly the late Tupac Shakur) have fostered.

That much is made clear in the album's first few minutes, thanks to the Group Therapy track "East Coast/West Coast Killas." This plea for hip-hop unity not only calls for an end to the N.Y.-vs.-Cali animosity that some think may have sparked Shakur's murder, but finds New Yorkers Nas and KRS-One joining L.A.'s B-Real and RBX over a snaky, synth-laden funk groove.

Dre's own solo turn is an outright dismissal of gangsta's gun-wielding, game-running thuggery. As he tells it, he's earned enough money and gathered enough power through his music business dealings that he can't be bothered even worrying about rivals who boast of pimping and tough-guy posturing. As the title puts it, "Been There, Done That."

Dre may have cleaned up his act, but even so, it's unlikely listeners will mistake " The Aftermath" for a Disney project -- not when the Mel-Man track is called "[Expletive] on the World."

Not only is there plenty of cursing, but there's also enough talk about sex, drugs and lock-and-load to make the "Parental Advisory" sticker on the cover fully merited. Although Dre himself has decided to put his gangsta days behind him, he doesn't seem to have any problem letting King T play the gangsta role to the hilt in "Str-8 Gone," dropping rhymes like "It's only one-way/Let's have gun play."

Still, most of his Aftermath artists rely more on wit than weaponry. Despite its drug-addled lyrics, "Blunt Time" by RBX boasts a couple of clever plays on old pop hits, including a gloss on "Summer in the City" and a passing reference to "Fly Like an Eagle," while Mel-Man's track features a wicked parody of Michael Jackson's "They Don't Care About Us" and a really funny reference to the Bud Lite "I love you, man" ad.

Above all, there's the music. What sets Dre's work apart from that of other rap producers is that there's more going on than just the groove; he puts as much emphasis on melody and mood as on bass-driven beats, and that lends an unexpected depth to these tracks. So the urgency we sense in "East Coast/West Coast Killas" has as much to do with the bleating, klaxon-like synth as with anything the rappers say, while Whoz Who's "No Second Chance" owes its aura of romance as much to the layers of keyboard sweetening as to the group's lover-man harmonies.

Add in a wicked cover of David Bowie's "Fame" by RC and a few rap meets R&B free-for-alls like Hands On's raucous, soulful "Got Me Open," and this "Aftermath" sounds like quite an auspicious beginning.

Doctor is in

To hear excerpts from the new release, "Dr. Dre Presents The Aftermath," call Sundial at (410) 783-1800 and enter the four-digit code 6115. For other local Sundial numbers, see the Sundial directory on Page 2A.

Pub Date: 11/26/96

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