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An Orchestral Rendition of Dr Dre's 2001, The Mill, Digbeth - review

By James Driver-Fisher | Music | Published:

If you were into hip hop and of a certain age, this was an album that blew your then-young, tiny little mind.

The late 1990s and early 2000s were something special. It was post the likes of 2Pac and Biggie, and marked the beginning of the real explosion of rap music.

Or at least that was how I felt about it at the time. When someone like Eminem burst on to the scene and started rapping about things I could relate to, or things I just found really funny, Dr Dre then hit back with 2001 – which actually came out towards the end of 1999.

It was one of those albums where, from start to finish, there were no forwards (you stared down anyone who dared to skip any of the tracks, it was that good) and it set the bench mark for pretty much everything that followed.

It was not without its controversies. Gangster rap rarely is, especially when the majority of the album is filled with lyrics about bitches, hoes, shootings, drugs and murders.

Did I think I could relate to any of those things? Not really, but it made me sit down and listen to their world, what rappers dealt with on a daily basis and, most importantly, I just immediately loved the lyrics, the flow and the beats Dre put together on every single one his 22-track album.

So that’s a brief background about why the album meant so much to me and what a high pedestal I placed it on . . . so when I found out there was an Orchestra rendition of the entire album being played at The Mill, in Digbeth, last night, I had to go along to see what it was all about.

But first things, the warm up act deserves a big shout out. “I’m a bar tender, so doing this amazing for me . . . shout out to all the bar tenders!”

If he really was a bar tender, I hope he gets discovered soon because he did a great job getting the crown going and even added a bit of humour too.

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“I don’t wanna do this s**t” he got the crowd singing, in association with his day-to-day job, but then, right at the end, added, “But don’t tell your boss that because it could get you in real trouble”.

We thought the main act would soon follow, but an hour-an-and-a-half later than scheduled, they finally struck up the first chord.

But it was well worth the wait, although I had been stood there, in the audience, wondering how they were going to pull this off. I needn’t have worried.

The album is full of variety. Slow, grimy tracks mixed with upbeat and high-speed raps, all with Dre’s untouchable beats in the background pulling it all together. The album is like a story and it takes you on a journey.

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Lyrics

Credit where credit’s due, the rappers and live orchestra kept us entertained throughout. From The Watcher, which has that brilliant West Coast vide, to the F*** You, which has some of the world’s greatest/funniest lyrics going, it was straight into Still Dre.

Still Dre, when the piano kicks in, is just an all-time classic. It makes you feel good inside and has never grown old. Can you believe it’s nearly 20 years since that track was first released? It’s simply timeless.

There were so many superb contributors to the 2001 album, who all brought it together. Xxplosive featuring Hittman, Kurupt, Nate Dogg and Six-Two perhaps summed that statement up better than most.

Such a laid back, beautifully-crafted track, led by Nate Dogg’s dulcet tones. “Don't want to treat you wrong, don't want to lead you on, here bab, hit the bong, while the west coast rolls along”.

And then there was What’s The Difference, with Eminem and Xzibit. “What's the difference between me and you? You talk a good one – but you don't do what you supposed to do”.

Probably the only part of that track I can quote, but it’s one of my favourites.

Again, there were no forwards as Bar One and Light Speed followed. And then, it was time for Forgot About Dre. Is there a better rap song? If there is I haven’t heard it yet, although I am very biased as that track just brings me straight back to my youth.

Having rapped, or at least attempted to rap, the entire track – along with the live orchestra and superb real-life rappers who brought the house down at The Mill, the musicians then took us on a bit of a musical journey.

It included Eminem’s classic Stan, before they headed straight back to the 2001 album with The Next Episode – which doesn’t need any commentary from me – and the sublime Let’s Get High. One of the most upbeat tracks I’ve ever heard on a rap album. It just came from nowhere when I first heard 2001 and blew my mind.

And how can you forget Murder Ink? How good is Ms Roq on that track? The piano, then the bass, then the lyrics, “Who'da thought a sexy bitch could be a murderous sniper”.

Bang Bang was another stand-out performance on the night. “Everywhere I go, all I ever seem to hear is BANG BANG!! BANG BANG!!”. We did the ‘gun’ actions. It was pathetic really but it had to be done – and I have no regrets.

People who are not into hip hop will never understand why 2001 means so much to so many people. To those who do, I salute you.

Once you get rap, there’s no going back and I have to thank all the performers and musicians last night who allowed me to relive my youth and brought one of the finest ever records produced to life – right in my backyard of Birmingham.

I may have missed the Up In Smoke tour, but at least I caught An Orchestral Rendition of Dr Dre’s 2001. What a great night.

James Driver-Fisher

By James Driver-Fisher

Motorsport journalist and entertainment and food reviewer for the Express & Star and Shropshire Star.

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