Stakes Is High may be the title of the latest De La Soul album, but for hip-hop superproducer Dr. Dre, no phrase could better describe Dr. Dre Presents... The Aftermath. The inaugural release on his Aftermath label, it is also Dre's first music since his acrimonious departure from Death Row Records and his attempt to distance himself from the current shallow state of gangsta rap.
A compilation that hints at the diverse things to come from Aftermath's young talents, the album features both rap and R&B, even a cover of David Bowie's ''Fame.'' Mostly, Dre stays behind the boards, laying down the deep bass and off-kilter keys that are the foundation of his signature G-Funk sound. The one exception is the single ''Been There, Done That,'' on which the rapper steps front and center to dismiss his imitators. Dre may be known for his sledgehammer bass lines, but the song's Spanish guitars make the case for his subtler side.
''East Coast/West Coast Killas'' pits New Yorkers KRS-1 and Nas against Angelenos RBX and B-Real in a lively play for bicoastal unity. Other featured rappers Sharief, Mel-Man lack personalities of Snoop-like dimension. Still, the return of L.A. journeyman King T (on ''Str-8 Gone'') is more than welcome.
As vividly produced as the rap tracks are, don't sleep on the R&B joints. On Michel'le's 1990 solo debut, Dre masterfully fused R&B and rap while maintaining the G-Funk vibe. Here, on Kim Summerson's ''Choices'' and Whoz Who's ''No Second Chance,'' he envelops the singers in exquisitely sympathetic soundscapes.
Are the kinder, if only slightly gentler voices on The Aftermath really the dawn of a new Dre day? Too soon to tell, but no doubt, all eyez are on him. B+