Before the slow drag of progress known as Detox, Dr. Dre was known not only as one of the best producers on the planet, but also one of the most prolific. His hands and trademark touched almost every album that surfaced from the dank smoke filled halls of Death Row. He had his own projects to contend with and then there were the soundtracks.
Dre and Suge spread their business wings early. Not a year after Death Row was established they produced the lead single for the movie Deep Cover. The track, of course, launched Snoops career, but it also got Death Row’s foot in Hollywood’s door and Dre wasted no time supervising the design of two of the best Hip-Hop influenced movie soundtracks of that period, if not of all time. However, between Murder Was the Case and Above the Rim, there has to be a clear cut champion, but which is it?
Above the Rim was a loosely knit compilation of rap and R&B songs that showcased existing and new material as well as recognizable and fresh artists. The movie was set in New York but the California sound loomed heavy. Warren G’s hot like fire single, “Regulate” anchored the album, but was complimented by Tupac’s introspective “Pain.” Lady of Rage represented the only Dre produced track “Afro Puffs” and Tha Dogg Pound Gangstas introduced their easy flow and love for westside slang in “Big Pimpin” then flipped the script with an aggressive trunk popping anthem “Dogg Pound 4 Life.” This would have been enough to set the tone for the sports drama, but intermingled between the Hip-Hop was a healthy dose of early 90’s R&B.
SWV led the soul brigade with “Anything.” The catchy single was already well known as it was released on the group’s debut album, It’s About Time, earlier that year. The album produced the classic H-Town track “Part-Time Lover.” Al B. Sure chimed in with a remake of Al Green’s “I’m Still in Love with You” and it’s possibly the best Al ever sounded. B Rezell also contributed to the cause with “Blowed Away,” a song co-produced by a very-new-to-the-game Timbaland.
The album was received warmly, garnering a Source award as well as critical and commercial success. Not 6 months later though, Dre re-emerged from the Death Row lab with yet another soundtrack in tow. This time, Dre didn’t just supervise. He racked up several production credits, tightened the concept and even directed the movie it was attached to.
“Murder Was the Case” was in the vein of what the world had become used to from Dre; the eerie frenetic synth, bottom heavy thump and smooth funk samples. The cast of characters was smaller than “Above the Rim,” giving room mainly to the Death Row regulars. The album only featured 4 songs from Snoop, but after checking the contributions from the rest of the crowd, there was no reason to bitch. “Natural Born Killaz,” the much anticipated reunion of Dre and Cube, is one of the hardest songs released during Cali’s heyday. However, the next single was even better. The Dogg Pound’s “What Would You Do?” was not only funky, it proved Snoops underlings were more than weed carriers. And the spoken word section at the end is just damn dope.
The R&B on this LP is sparse and nicely constructed. Nate Dogg managed to carry the entirety of “One More Day” without running out of steam. Dre showcased his stretching repertoire with “Harvest For the World,” a soulful ballad full of brass and layered vocals. Jodeci linked up with Tha Dogg Pound for the seriously tawdry, yet enjoyable “Come Up to My Room” and Jewell returned with an updated cover of Betty Wright’s “Woman to Woman.”
Given it was a 70 minute soundtrack for an 18 minute movie and realistically, the flick was probably just a marketing vehicle for the album. However, it’s classic Dre at the highpoint of his game-hogging dominance when even film scores were part of his growing expertise. However, one has to be better than the other. Is Above the Rim’s funky eclecticism where it’s at or does the brash, yet soulful work on Murder Was the Case take the cake? You decide.
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