If there ever was a stress test for Apple Music, streaming Dr. Dre's Compton was it. Instead of a typical album launch held in a famous LA music venue, Apple opted to use its 24-hour live radio station Beats 1 as the epicenter for Dre's ambitious aural return.
The service played host to the exclusive pre-release stream for one of the most celebrated names in rap history's first album in 16 years (a tie-in to one of the summer's most anticipated movies) and, for the most part, things went well.
That said, if you expected a flawless performance, you need to check yourself. Even though Apple has weathered dozens of product launches and software updates without calamity, trying to stream a brand-new, highly anticipated album like this without a hiccup would've been nothing short of a miracle. After all, the UFC scene in Silicon Valley has to happen in reality sometimes too, right?
So what brought down the house? Join me on the rollercoaster of highs and lows from Dre's night in the Apple-light.
Lowlight: Bad timing
If Apple wanted to capture the cultural Zeitgeist and get everyone talking about the album at the same time, the company didn't do a good job of it with the stream.
For one thing, the 6pm PST start time competed directly with the first US Republican Presidential Debate leading up to country's 2016 Presidential elections. With so many people discussing (and dissing) the Republican candidates on Twitter, I failed to notice that Apple Music actually began the album stream hours earlier than planned (and discussion about the leak wasn't all that widespread).
When I loaded up Apple Music at 5:50pm, I thought I'd be met with pre-show hype. I thought I'd hear Dre and some host talking about the album and its inspiration. But nope, the album started up 10 minutes earlier than advertised (and I would soon learn that the album had been made available a few hours earlier on Apple Music). Thus, there was no real concurrent stream to listen to with the rest of the world.
Though, in all fairness, things could've been worse. It could've been low-resolution audio.
Highlight: Seamless streaming
I streamed Compton on both an iPhone 4S and a 3rd-generation iPad, switching between the devices and also between Wi-Fi and 4G as I moved through my apartment and neighborhood.
Even with an ancient phone like the 4S, I never experienced any hiccups or stream dropping (though I did have to contend with the severe battery drain due to the data-intensive Apple Music crossing paths with the 4S' tired power supply).
Since I didn't sign up for Apple Music's family plan, I couldn't listen to simultaneous streams which was a bit disappointing, but the simplicity of picking back up on another device (done simply by pressing play on the other) made my platform-switching stratagem a snap.
It's just too bad I didn't have any control of what I was listening to...
Lowlight: One long loop
I was already disappointed to discover that I really wasn't listening to Compton with the rest of the world. For one thing, most of the folks I follow on Twitter were firmly entrenched in the Republican debate, and anyone who loaded up Apple Music at 6PM PST was a track or two behind me anyway. It also didn't take long for me to discover that I was actually just listening to a three-hour file that looped the album three times over.
It was like Apple invited me to a concert and then played a CD instead of having a live band.
After listening to the 61-minute album all the way through once, I scrubbed around hoping to find new audio, but nope – it was just the album repeating itself. No commentary, no quick plugs for Dre's appearance on Beats 1 or the premiere of Straight Outta Compton. It was like Apple invited me to a concert and then played a CD instead of having a live band.
Additionally, it would have been nice to have the stream note where particular songs changed so that I could have spent the rest of the three hours flipping back to my favorite tracks, instead of forcing me to play DJ and scrub backwards and forwards randomly. In that way, it felt like rewinding and fast-forwarding a mixtape, so kudos for the retro charm, I guess?
Highlight: Dre on Beats 1
After the conclusion of the three-hour loop at 9PM PST, Apple finally decided to have some actual content that wasn't a CD stream. Namely, Beats 1 had a special where one of its on-air personalities interviewed Dre about the making of this long-anticipated album.
It was interesting to hear about Dre's inspiration for Compton's many anthemic tunes, the producing process for the rap mogul, and even a few jokes about the exhaustive process of putting together a new album 16 years after his last release.
While it was nice to listen to the album at first at my own pace, I wouldn't have minded if the initial stream itself had more of a listening party vibe where the artist explained his process.
The only problem? This amazing interview was a one-night-only performance.
Lowlight: No going back
Compton has been archived on Apple Music, so it's nice to be able to go back and listen to the album again. However, Beats 1's' plethora of exclusive expert interviews are not.
Apple Music prides itself on having a live station, but in its determination to keep things fresh and new, it forgot the value of storing audio for fans who can't necessarily listen every second of every day. You can't go back and find Dre's interview on-demand like you would any of the 25 million songs on its store. And that's a shame.
Maybe there'll be re-runs. Maybe not. All we can do is check the schedule and hope that Apple sees enough value to run the interview a few more times for nascent fans.
Highlight: The album itself
While I'll be the first to admit that I'm far from a rap aficionado, I can't deny that Compton is a stellar album. It doesn't quite have the grittiness of Dre's NWA beginnings, but it's a nice mixture of high-concept anthem-style work that Kanye West often delivers coupled with the impeccable production that Dre brings to any album he's associated with.
In the same track Dre, can break a new star like Candice Pillay and feature Eminem in a brief-yet-impactful cameo. Acts like Xzibit and Snoop Dogg, who have long been accused of "going soft" due to acting roles and less-than-stellar records, sound as gritty and focused as they have since they landed on the music scene. Instead of putting comedic bits in-between tracks like Dre did with his two previous Chronic albums, the story is a minimal but hard-hitting tale of violence that has plagued the Los Angeles city. Moreover, since it's so intrinsically tied to the upcoming NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton, I'm excited to see that film's mix of real-life drama and a great hip-hop score when it debuts next week.
Does that mean the stream was a success?