I got an early look at Dr. Dre’s Compton: A Soundtrack – and I was impressed (click for my review in The Skinny). The album was so good that most of us are probably ready to forget the long-awaited and now supposedly damned Detox – although I’m skeptical of Dre’s claim that Compton will be his final word.
Of course, Dee Barnes’ recent criticism of the movie that inspired this soundtrack, the Straight Outta Compton biopic Dre executive produced, accuses by virtue of proximity Compton the LP. I’m wary of any position that would demean, diminish, or demote high art because of its moral positions, outright or implied – this would drag down the vast majority of all the aesthetically excellent things mankind has made. I can’t speak to Straight Outta Compton‘s value as art or entertainment – I haven’t seen it yet – but Barnes deserves the mic she’s been denied for so long. Her criticism – that the film skips over Dre’s attack; that more broadly the film is a revisionist biography erasing the misogyny enshrined in N.W.A.’s expressions of outraged black masculinity, the horrible underside to their radical politics – also reflects on the album, in particular lending a frankly terrible weight to one of Eminem’s lines (in – yes, acknowledge it; we do wrong to deny it – a metrically excellent, powerfully performed verse), the line most reviewers (including myself) reference but cannot bring ourselves to type.
That the album is so worthy of study, then, itself recommends Dee Barnes’ reflection on the movie, the culture it (half-) portrays and the culture that made it. Her approach to the film has to be our approach to all good, dangerous art: we have to take it seriously.