R.I.P. the nameless woman murdered on Dr. Dre’s new album

As a native of Los Angeles County, I performed my civic duty last Thursday by listening to Dr. Dre’s new album Compton. And after approximately sixty-two minutes of listening, I concluded that Compton is an  enjoyable album. It blasts Dre’s patented histrionics with unshakable confidence, glued together by some of the most talented rap artists past, present, and future. It shines with quality that should be expected after sixteen years of waiting, a testament to Dre’s ear to constantly changing public tastes and his perfectionism in the studio. It’s probably better than 2001, an album I hold in higher esteem than even The Chronic (for reasons I explain here).

But there is one glaring stain in an otherwise neatly packaged product ready for mass consumption: the nameless woman murdered at the end of “Loose Cannons,” the album’s seventh track. Here’s the scene: a violently disturbed man (portrayed by former Ruthless Records rapper Cold 187um) shares his anger and suicidal thoughts before cocking a gun and threatening to take his own life. A nameless woman, potentially a lover, tries to intervene, frantically asking the man to put the gun down. But instead of taking his own life, the man points the gun at her, shooting the nameless woman for reasons that are never revealed.

It should be noted that the skit is a) fiction, and b) not unprecedented in rap. Horrorcore as a genre has been fictionally killing women for the last three decades, and artists like Eminem, Three-6-Mafia, and Geto Boys have turned their violent misogyny into serious record sales for two to three decades. But it should also be noted that killing women hasn’t been a prominent theme in mainstream hip hop since the early 2000s, and that whenever the subject rears its ugly head back into the spotlight, there always seems to be a connection to Dr. Dre.

At the risk of implying that violent misogyny was at one time an acceptable theme in rap music, killing women has thankfully become a lyrical taboo in mainstream music. Hip-hop’s biggest figures of the 2010s (Drake, Kendrick Lamar, Kanye West, Nicki Minaj) tend to eschew violence in deference to their semi-peaceful upbringings, a massive change from the 90s and early 2000s where blood was the norm on rap radio. Gun-toting musicians like Chief Keef or Bobby Shmurda don’t seem to get more than one violent hit on the airwaves nowadays. Even Eminem receives an eye-roll from critics whenever he attempts to reanimate the throat-slitting Shady that got him picketed at the Grammy Awards. The type of violent rhetoric that made record companies bags of money ten years ago no longer sells. So when I heard Cold 187um shooting the nameless woman on “Loose Cannons,” my first reaction wasn’t that the skit sounded horrifying, but that it sounded dated.

But that’s not my biggest gripe with the skit. It would be understandable if Dre stood by NWA’s credo of art reflecting reality as a defense of the performance, but the attempted-suicide-turned-murder comes off as a bombastic and unrealistic glorification of blood lust. That his victim enters the scene without a name, face, or background story only magnifies the idea that the skit functions only as gore-porn. We recognize the woman because of her voice, but there are no details that identify this woman as a human being with feelings and agency. The person who dies is not a person at all, but rather our idea of what a woman should be, and this interferes with our understanding of human relationships by reducing this scene to a simple stage direction: angry man kills hysterical woman. When 187’s character shoots the nameless woman, one could reasonably conclude that he’s attempting to rid himself of his destructive anger by killing the physical manifestation of women altogether. This skit continues the unreasonably hateful trope of gangsta rappers who hate women, a trope facilitated and popularized by Dr. Dre over the last thirty years.

Compare this song to Eminem’s “Kim,”(trigger warning: domestic violence) which is simultaneously the most disgusting and emotionally stirring song I’ve ever listened to. On the surface, “Kim” is far more violent and disturbing than “Loose Cannons,” but in a sordid way, it’s far more human as well. Because “Kim” portrays a realistic instance of domestic violence and murder, it holds value as a worthwhile exploration of men’s anger, women’s suffering, and the violent psyche of the human condition. Kim has a name, a family, and a soul, which is why we can claim her murder as a serious tragedy to be mourned instead of a cheap horror fest used only to discomfort the listener.

The woman on “Loose Cannons” experiences no such tragedy: she’s simply another faceless woman killed by another angry man. And even if Dre chooses to hide behind the rationalization of his ghetto imagination (despite his oft-forgotten history of violence against women), he still has to answer for a misogynistic mindset that hasn’t evolved over the last thirty years. Compton is a really good album, and if you’re in any way a fan of rap, you should pay to listen to it. But understand that rap as a genre needs to improve its perspective on women, and that skits like this give voice only to the hateful people behind the gun.

 

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