Dr Dre looks prepped and ready to announce an all-out European “Beats & Rhymes” tour for 2016, we’ve even heard one reliable source linking Dre to a headline slot at next year’s Reading and Leeds Festivals. Daniel Fahey thinks his reputed live return could be just what the doctor ordered.
Few things make festival organisers weak at the wellies like a headliner’s “come and get me!” plea. So when Dr Dre dispensed news that he fancied a final European farewell, we had to ponder his return.
On paper, it’s the Rocky Balboa saga: an aging, almost forgotten warrior punch-drunkenly decides to haul themselves out of retirement, convinced they’ve got one last uppercut to land; one final set of teeth to cave in.
Usually, it’s triggered by some mouthy, mystifyingly good Name Maker or a mega payday offer. That’s how Hollywood has it scripted.
So it’s strange that, in real life, we find gym-sculpted, genre-shaping gangsta rapper, Dr Dre, tightening up his gloves in the red corner. He had never need duck under the ropes again.
So why should we care? Haven’t we already seen enough uninterested Axl Roses, unlistenable Ian Browns and unlikeable Johnny Lydons scythe down their own musical standings for a stadium-sized banker’s draft? Do we need to chop up and chuck another Heyday Hero onto the pyre?
Is he only in it for the money?
If you ever become uninterested enough with everything this world has to offer (the absinthe, the AMT, the abridged works of Jeffrey fucking Archer), half-inch a copy of Forbes Magazine. Caffeinate your attention lobes enough and you’ll discover Dr Dre party popping among its pages as one of the richest musicians on the planet.
For him, a few performance cheques for some buddy-loving, back-slapping European dates would prove a mere piss in the Pacific, but the Doc has been scorched before: he was singed as a producer by Ruthless Records, then scalded by Suge Knight over his Death Row Records royalties.
Dre has grown into an astute businessman, a near billionaire from flogging Beats headphones. That’s on top of the record deals, the speaker sales, the production credits, the subscription music streaming service, the radio presenter pay cheques and the film royalties.
Europe, it seems, could be a prolonged lads’ weekend with beers and banter (or weed and ridicule).
So why now?
In short, the indicators flashed green: the candid and highly contentious N.W.A. biopic, Straight Outta Compton, defibrillated cinemas, becoming the US’s highest grossing music film ever. And while Spotify might not pay, its figures don’t fib, and The Next Episode and Still D.R.E. have notched over 173 millions rewinds between them. Somebody is listening.
A live return would be the film’s doing. It’s led to the Balboa Itch, a medical condition for a reminiscence that mutilates into a Mid Life Crisis.
The film allowed Dre a channel for his aging anxieties. Reliving his teens and twenties through THC-tinted specs, he rewrote history as His Story, bruising it up a little, settling a few scores.
Laced up in his 18-year-old sneakers, the poverty, prejudice and police profiling he’d documented with N.W.A. all still existed in 2015. His Compton album gave him another chance to wade in.
Has he got the hits, then?
Undoubtedly. Freeing himself from the chains of his own Chinese Democracy, the long-lorded (and from the leaked tracks, horribly underwhelming) Detox, Dre soundtracked Straight Outta Compton as a 50-year-old in a ‘90s baseball cap.
From the Middle Eastern riffs of ‘Issues’ to the introspective, bass bumping brass of ‘Talking To My Diary’, the Compton LP has swagger that shoots between sharp street talker and wistful old rapper.
Then there are his N.W.A. spits, which cover corner wit and adolescent braggadocio; they birthed bangers like ‘Straight Outta Compton’, ‘Fuck Da Police’ and ‘Express Yourself’.
The Chronic, with its high-grade title and rolling paper artwork, is still a hazy, girl-conquering joyride of an album; a self-fellating celebration of success as a young street hustler.
Moving from James Brown vamps to Bootsy Collins bassline licks and spiralling synth lines, it gave us the G-funk sound with ‘Nuthin’ but a ‘G’ Thang’ and ‘Fuck wit Dre Day’.
What’s more, it was irrevocably tied with Snoop Dogg’s ‘Doggystyle’ from 1993. ‘Who Am I?’ and ‘Gin And Juice’ were Dre all over, sparking a partnership that bled into The Chronic 2001.
For many, 2001 was Dre’s statement piece. Cutting it alone, it’s his most complete work: a solidification of G-funk, pornographic skits, bionic hydraulics, and a role call of the hottest rappers of 1999.
From the walking bass of ‘The Watcher’ through to catchy piano and louche drums of ‘Still D.R.E.’, it’s a tidy and unforgiving masterwork that had one ear on the party. It also featured ‘Forgot About Dre’, ‘What’s The Difference’ and ‘The Next Episode’; all of which can still destroy a nightclub today.
Can he still kick it live?
Quarry the wax from your ears: live is where Dr Dre excels. His shows aren’t his per se, they’re a consolidation of his successes, both it in the vocal booth and the studio chair.
After bazooka-launching the careers of Snoop Dogg, Eminem, 50 Cent, The Game, Xzibit and Kendrick Lamar, Dre’s concerts are a retrospective celebration of a musical solar system where Dre is the Sun that his protégés revolve around.
Take his Coachella return: Dre was a sharp and aggressive as he’d ever been. There were covers (okay, In The Air Tonight might have been misplaced), special guests, tributes, and even a hologram of 2Pac – it’s how all headline billings should be built.
After Kanye cherry-picked his way up his proverbial artistic A-hole at Glastonbury last summer, and with hoe-bashing and dick licking not quite V Festival’s bag, perhaps we will see Dr Dre at Reading and Leeds in 2016. It would be fitting to give him a final draw on the music biz blunt before he passes it on for good.