Dr. Dre The Pioneer
Published May 29, 2011It's hard to imagine what hip-hop might sound without Dr. Dre. The 46-year-old producer wields a formidable influence that extends deep into popular music; he's been involved in countless classic records in his more than 25-year career. As one of the original members of N.W.A., he helped to put West coast hip-hop on the map and, through his involvement in labels Death Row and Aftermath, has been at the vanguard of several sea changes in hip-hop, introducing the world to iconic artists like Snoop Dogg and Eminem. With his oft-delayed Detox release, an album 11 years in the making slowly inching its way into the public eye, the Doctor still garners excitement and curiosity, a testament to his ongoing relevance.
1965 to 1981
Andre Romelle Young is born on February 18 to two aspiring teenage singers, 16-year-old Theodore Young and 15-year-old Verna. A younger brother Jerome dies of pneumonia a year later. Soon, his mother splits with Young and has another son, Tyree. At age four, Andre plays vinyl singles at his mother's house parties, studiously picking his favourites. Andre grows up in Wilmington Arms in L.A.'s Compton district and shares a bedroom with Tyree. Dre steers clear of local gangs, wearing black to avoid any associations. Verna often moves the children around if they are being picked on or appear to be in danger. Later, she divorces Tyree's father and marries Warren Griffin; Dre becomes close to Griffin's son, Warren III, known as Little Warren. Dre becomes interested in popping and locking dance moves, entering competitions with friends wearing his mother's handmade outfits. As a teenager, Dre hears "The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel" by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five and is determined to become a DJ. His mother and Griffin buy him a mixer for Christmas and he often falls asleep with his headphones on. He forms a crew called the Freak Patrol and begins to show less interest in school and more in girls; his first son is born.
1982 to 1986
Dre begins hanging around Lonzo Williams' group the World Class Wreckin' Cru. When one member fails to show up for a gig, Dre gets an impromptu audition to fill in. After battling DJ Yella and impressing the crowd with his mixing style, Dre is added full-time and becomes good friends with Yella. He decides to call himself Dr. Dre, a play on basketball superstar Julius Erving's moniker Dr. J; he dons a stethoscope and a doctor's coat while spinning. Tyree is often in the crowd and because of his brother's Crip affiliations, Dre is secure he won't be ridiculed. Dre makes mix tapes with Yella and sells them at local markets. KDAY music director Greg Mack hears some and asks Dre to create mixes for the afternoon rush hour. Dre's mixes spark a ratings boost for the station. Dre now feels confident enough to embark on a own career as an artist. Meanwhile he has a daughter with a high school girlfriend and is receiving bad grades and often absent from school. He does attempt to go to broadcasting school but soon drops out. The World Class Wreckin' Cru begins to record, pressing singles at a local plant and selling vinyl out of the back of car trunks. Their more electronic style begins to gain popularity locally. Dre meets and befriends O'Shea Jackson, whose nickname is Ice Cube. More singles are released with the World Class Wreckin' Cru including "Surgery" a song dedicated to Dre, yet he feels constrained by the group's musical style.
1987 to 1988
After running up a number of unpaid parking tickets, Dre is arrested and lands in jail. Calls to Lonzo Williams, who had bailed him out before, prove unsuccessful. Dre turns to local drug dealer Eric Wright, who bails him out on the condition Dre make music for a label Wright wants to start. Dre agrees and a New York duo is recruited to rap Ice Cube-penned lyrics. The duo balk at the West coast-oriented lyrics and leave. Dre, anxious to get something out of the studio session, urges the reluctant Wright to rap the lyrics to the song; Ice Cube gives him the MC name Eazy-E. The resulting song "Boyz-n-the-Hood" is pressed and sells well locally. Dre is gaining a lot of notoriety and is increasingly tempted by other projects. Despite recording a single "Turn Off the Lights" with the World Class Wreckin' Cru, featuring his girlfriend, singer Michel'le, his issues with being paid and the group's musical direction lead him to leave the group. Eazy-E decides to focus on music and, based on the success of the "Boyz-n-the-Hood" single, wants to do a group project featuring Dre, Yella, Ice Cube, Arabian Prince and his friend MC Ren, to be called N.W.A. (Niggaz With Attitude). E starts Ruthless Records with record industry veteran Jerry Heller. Dre is already working on a solo Eazy-E album and enjoying the musical freedom he lacked with the World Class Wreckin' Cru. Dre soon finds a new artist named the D.O.C. from Texas, who begins to help creatively with the Eazy-E record, writing many of the rhymes. The record plant that Dre uses presses up an unofficial N.W.A. and the Posse album to cash in on the group's growing notoriety; N.W.A. soon sign a deal with local label Priority. As the N.W.A. album is beginning to take shape, the group go on a few tour dates with Salt-n-Pepa and Heavy D. The songs they record for their debut emphasize their aim to be uncompromising and to fervently represent where they come from. N.W.A.'s debut Straight Outta Compton is released and sells over 500,000 copies in about six weeks with no radio play and no MTV support since the video for the title track is banned. Eazy-E's solo debut Eazy-Duz-It comes out soon after and sells well.
In the middle of touring Straight Outta Compton, Dre learns his brother Tyree has died after being attacked and left with a broken neck. Meanwhile, opposition to N.W.A. is growing. The FBI sends a letter to Priority Records expressing concern over the lyrical content of "Fuck Tha Police." Before performing in Detroit, the mayor requests a face-to-face meeting with the group to request that they not perform the song. When the group defies this request, local police rush the stage as the song starts and search for the group backstage. The group are later located at their hotel room and are handed citations. Meanwhile, Ice Cube is becoming increasingly disgruntled about the revenue share he is receiving from the tour and album, on which he was a principal writer. Dre continues to work on records, producing albums for Michel'le and the D.O.C. among others for Ruthless. Shortly after the D.O.C.'s acclaimed No One Can Do It Better is released, he is in a car crash that leaves him with shattered vocal chords.
Frustrated with money issues, Ice Cube leaves N.W.A. and goes to New York to start a solo career. He soon releases critically acclaimed solo debut Amerikkka's Most Wanted. N.W.A. continue without Ice Cube; Dre works on producing the 100 Miles and Runnin' EP and his girlfriend Michel'le gives birth to a son named Marcel. N.W.A. do an interview to promote the release with Fox TV's Pump it Up, but when the segment airs, an Ice Cube interview is added at the end, incensing Dre. When he sees the show's host Dee Barnes at an industry party soon after, he attacks her, kicking and punching her into the ladies' room. A lawsuit is filed against him and he is charged with assault; Dre's attack is criticized by many in the hip-hop community on songs like Tim Dog's vitriolic "Fuck Compton."
Dre continues working on an N.W.A, sophomore album, trying to incorporate live instrumentation, but progress is slow and he becomes increasingly disenchanted with Ruthless. The D.O.C., still eager to be involved with the music industry, has formed a new label with Suge Knight, a bodyguard friend who remained close to him after the accident. Knight urges the D.O.C. to look into his contract with Ruthless, and after seeing some problems, Dre is urged to do the same. Convinced he could be doing better financially, Dre joins Knight and the D.O.C.'s new label venture. Suge Knight begins to visit Ruthless demanding money for Dr. Dre produced projects. Eventually Eazy-E agrees to meet with Dre about the situation, but only Knight appears at the meeting, allegedly with two men brandishing lead pipes. Eazy-E reportedly signs release papers to allow Dr. Dre along with other artists to leave the label. Efile4Ziggan, the sophomore N.W.A. album, is released and debuts at #2 on the newly reconfigured Soundscan charts. Stepbrother Little Warren, now going by the name Warren G, has a group called 213 featuring two friends he is constantly asking Dre to listen to. When Dre hears it at a party, he immediately sets up a meeting and recruits one of the other members, Snoop Doggy Dogg, to record a song called "Deep Cover" for the soundtrack to the movie of the same name. He soon begins to work with the other artist, Nate Dogg, on upcoming projects and signs both to the new label partnership he has forged with Knight and the D.O.C. Dre even looks into working with Ice Cube, despite the fact there have been public disses on record, but Dre backs away when he hears about "No Vaseline" a song on which Cube disses all the N.W.A. members.
Dr Dre finally gets a distributor for the label with Interscope in a deal arranged with music executive Jimmy Iovine. The process took some time after word spread in the industry of how Dre's departure from Ruthless was handled. Meanwhile, many stories about his personal life begin to surface, including a Rolling Stone report that said he was shot four times in the leg, a claim Dre denies. A fire that occurs at his house during a barbecue leads Dre to move back to his mother's house. Dre is also charged with assault after the jaw of a female acquaintance's boyfriend is broken ― Dre maintains it was the female acquaintance who actually hit the man. In the studio, he continues to work on a solo album project using live musicians, recreating and reinterpreting '70s funk songs as the starting point, with Dre often ad-libbing or humming how he wants the music to sound. The songs feature Snoop Doggy Dogg and a number of new artists. Several Blood gang members associated with Suge Knight are hanging around, adding tension to the surroundings. Eazy-E sues Dre for the way artists were released from their Ruthless contracts. Jimmy Iovine settles things by giving Eazy-E a deal where he receives a percentage of money on future Dr. Dre productions. Dr. Dre's solo album The Chronic is released on the new label, Death Row Records, in December.
The Chronic is a commercial and critical smash, and marks a sonic change in Dr. Dre's production that becomes known as g-funk, while Snoop Doggy Dogg is a breakout star. Work begins on Doggystyle, Snoop's debut; Dre has session musicians jam and improvise for hours, which he then splices together. With the album set to be released, tension rears its head on the set of the video for Doggystyle's lead single "Who Am I (What's My Name)." The location shoot of Snoop rapping on top of a record store draws a crowd that includes Crips members not enamoured with Suge Knight's connections to Bloods gang members. On one of the scheduled video shoot days, Snoop is involved in a standoff with his own bodyguard and a gang member, Philip Woldemariam, who is shot dead. After an MTV awards show Snoop turns himself in and is charged with murder along with his bodyguard. Eazy-E releases the It's On 187um Killa EP, dissing Dr. Dre and Snoop. Doggystyle is eventually released in November 1993, selling over 800,000 copies in one week. Meanwhile, Knight begins to recruit Tupac Shakur to the label against Dre's wishes as the gap between the two began to widen. In the Dee Barnes case, Dre pleads no contest, receives a fine and probation and is ordered to do community service. Barnes and Dre settle a civil suit initially filed for $22.75 million out of court for an undisclosed amount.
Dr Dre wins a Grammy for "Let Me Ride" from The Chronic as the album continues to be a strong seller. He gets caught driving drunk and is sentenced to eight months in jail but is able to negotiate reporting to a halfway house. While he had fallen out with the D.O.C. ― who is frustrated about his derailed rap career ― Dre has reconnected with Ice Cube, recording a song called "Natural Born Killaz" together and were discussing doing a joint album called Helter Skelter. Dre also begins communicating with Eazy-E again and the trio had tentatively agreed to work on an N.W.A. reunion project without the involvement of Jerry Heller. Meanwhile Dre does not contribute much to Snoop Dogg's Murder Was the Case EP.
Eazy-E is diagnosed with AIDS after he reports extreme difficulty breathing. He soon marries his long-time girlfriend and Dre, Ice Cube and the remaining N.W.A. members visit him in hospital and reconcile. Eazy-E dies two weeks after his diagnosis becomes public. At The Source Awards in New York, Death Row Records brings simmering bi-coastal tension to a boil when Suge Knight gets on stage and launches a thinly-veiled attack on Puffy Combs. Dre himself remains above the fray. Tupac Shakur is bailed out of jail by Knight and immediately his new project becomes the focal point at Death Row, causing chaos and unease at the label for Dre. When Knight hears one of Dre's solo creations, he has Dre's second verse removed, added Shakur to what will become 2Pac's comeback single "California Love."
2Pac's All Eyez on Me is released to widespread success, but tension is running high in the Death Row camp. With Suge Knight now recruiting MC Hammer to the label, Dr. Dre's frustrations with the situation means he is ready to leave. Snoop Doggy Dogg is acquitted in the trial over the death of Philip Woldemariam, but Dre is distancing himself from the label and does not show up for any post-trial celebrations. Dre negotiates to leave the label as Shakur and Knight continue to publicly diss Dre in interviews; Shakur insinuates Dre takes production credits from others. He sells many of his cars, leading many to speculate about Dre's financial status but he insists he is in good financial shape. He is in a reflective mood, recording new songs like "Been There, Done That" and ― having broken up with Michel'le, who is now in a relationship with Suge Knight ― he gets married to his new partner Nicole. His new label is called Aftermath and he starts to recruit a number of new artists, showing his desire to branch out into R&B and other different sounds. He recruits Mel-Man who will be a vital production partner, along with a female rapper named Eve of Destruction. He also works with New York MC Nas on a song called "Nas Is Coming," which, issued at the height of the East/West hip-hop tension, underlines Dre's lack of interest in fuelling that particular fire. Dre will work with Nas to bring his supergroup project the Firm to Aftermath. Suge Knight arrives unexpectedly at Dre's house with several Blood gang members in an effort to secure master tapes Dre possesses. At one point Knight requests that the Death Row logo be present on Aftermath releases. Shakur and Knight are in a car after a Mike Tyson boxing match when Tupac Shakur is shot several times and eventually dies of his wounds. Soon after, Aftermath's first release, a compilation album entitled Dr Dre Presents...The Aftermath receives an underwhelming response.
Dr. Dre begins to focus on the Firm project, featuring Nas and Foxy Brown, as a way to regain his momentum; he also adds former En Vogue singer Dawn Robinson to the Aftermath fold. The Firm: The Album is released but this record too falls short of expectations despite a positive response to the Dre-produced "Phone Tap." Suge Knight is sent to jail for violating his probation on the night of Shakur's death; he is caught by surveillance cameras stomping on a man. The new material that Dre is presenting to executives is being received coolly, but Iovine does pass on the tape of a young MC from Detroit. Dre likes it and wants to work with the MC; he is shocked to he find out that Eminem is white. They begin work together almost immediately and in their first session they record four songs, many of which will appear on Em's major label debut. Eminem and Dre's chemistry means that other projects on the label are constantly put on hold and some artists begin to get restless.
Dre reunites with Snoop who has recently left Death Row Records to join Master P's No Limit Records, teaming up to produce hit songs featuring Xzibit ("Bitch Please") and other Death Row collaborators like Nate Dogg. A number of artists featured on the first Aftermath compilation begin to leave the label including Eve of Destruction (later simply Eve), or are let go.
Eminem's single "My Name Is" is an immediate success and when The Slim Shady LP is released, its sales make it Aftermath's first big success. Talk of an N.W.A. reunion resurfaces and the newly reconfigured group (minus Eazy-E and DJ Yella but with Snoop Dogg as an honorary member) records a song called "Chin Check" for the Next Friday soundtrack. But conflicting schedules mean that little progress is made on a reunion. Along with Mel-Man and bassist Mike Elizondo, Dre works on his own solo album with former Roots keyboardist Scott Storch, creating the musical basis for what would become "Still D.R.E." Dr. Dre recruits Jay-Z to write the song's lyrics. With Dre planning to call the album Chronic 2000, Death Row counters, promoting an upcoming compilation with the same name. Dre re-titles his album 2001 and it is released in November , selling over half a million copies in the U.S. the first week.
2000 to 2002
Eminem's sophomore record The Marshall Mathers LP is one of the fastest selling rap records in history and the Aftermath crew, along with Ice Cube, Snoop Dogg and other guests, perform successfully on the Up in Smoke Tour. Dre begins to recruit one of his favourite rappers Rakim to Aftermath. He also executive produces Xzibit's Restless album. Dre is sued by George Lucas for the THX surround sound used at the beginning of 2001. Ironically, Dre is trying to get into the movie industry himself; he works on a film called The Wash starring himself and Snoop Dogg, and he makes a gun-toting appearance in the Oscar-winning film Training Day. Dre wins a Grammy for Producer of the Year the same year that Eminem performs with Elton John, as controversy over his lyrical content provokes protest from groups against homophobia. Dre soon reconnects with the now firmly established Eve to produce "Let Me Blow Your Mind," her duet with Gwen Stefani, as well as helming Mary J. Blige's "Family Affair" single. He's also working with Rakim on an album tentatively titled Oh My God, but creative differences are arising in the studio. Dr. Dre brings back one of the artists he reluctantly let go in the Aftermath purge named Truth Hurts and oversees her Truthfully Speaking CD. However, the hit club single "Addictive," produced by DJ Quik features an uncleared sample and the label is sued for $500 million. As Eminem prepares his third album The Eminem Show, Dre's involvement is decreased. Eminem has evolved into a producer himself and is starring in his own movie 8 Mile. Eminem is enthused about a mix tape from Queens MC 50 Cent and he is eventually signed to Aftermath. Around the same time Dre becomes familiar with an MC from Compton named Game and signs him. Dre gets into the studio with the 50 Cent and the Dre-produced "In Da Club" is released at the end of 2002, boosting 50 Cent's profile as a highly anticipated rap artist.
50 Cent's Get Rich or Die Tryin' continues Aftermath's winning streak, selling over 800,000 copies in the first week. Meanwhile work on Rakim's Oh My God continues but is faltering. DJ Premier is pulled into the sessions, but the parties involved do not come up with anything that the label is interested in. Eventually Rakim leaves Aftermath. Meanwhile Dre continues to work on a new solo project to be entitled Detox.
Dre recruits Busta Rhymes to Aftermath. Dre also works with legendary composer Burt Bacharach on several tracks and the results appear later on Bacharach's solo album At This Time. Dre is about to presented with the Vibe Legend Award in Los Angeles by Quincy Jones and Snoop Dogg when he is punched by a man who approached him asking for an autograph. In the ensuing melee Young Buck (an associate of 50 Cent's G-Unit crew) stabs Dre's attacker. Work continues on Game's album, but tension between him and 50 begins, especially when Game refuses to diss other artists who are some of 50 Cent's lyrical targets.
Game's The Documentary album is released and does well due to high profile involvement of 50 Cent and Dre. 50 Cent and Game's beef becomes public on radio interviews. 50 Cent claims credit for song concepts on Game's album, much to Game's chagrin. Game shows up at the radio station while 50 is on the air, a gun battle breaks out and one of Game's friends is shot. The beef between the two is publicly stopped a few weeks later when the two commit to giving money to charity. Game eventually leaves Aftermath while staying under the Interscope umbrella. Dre stays silent throughout the whole affair. The man who attacked Dr. Dre at the Vibe Awards is sentenced to one year in jail.
Raekwon of Wu-Tang Clan fame announces he will be working on an album with Dr. Dre to be entitled Only Built for Cuban Linx 2. Meanwhile Busta Rhymes' Aftermath album The Big Bang is released and Dre not only produces, but also makes an appearance on the mic, a rarity at this point. Game releases Doctor's Advocate. Dr. Dre, is not involved in the record at all despite Game's incessant pleas.
Dr Dre sets up a film production deal to actualize some of his film project ideas and to build on the directing he has done in music videos. Lil' Wayne reveals he is writing lyrics for Detox. Dr. Dre's oldest son Curtis Young Jr. releases an album under the moniker Hood Surgeon.
Dr. Dre comes out with a line of Beats by Dr. Dre headphones. Dr. Dre's 20-year-old son Andre Young Jr. dies of a drug overdose. Dr. Dre hears Toronto MC Kardinal Offishall's "Set it Off" and puts out his own unofficial remix, rhyming on the track and leaking it online. Dre contacts the song's producer, Toronto producer Boi-1da and recruits him to submit work on the Detox project. "Crack a Bottle" a Dre production featuring Dre, 50 and Eminem leaks. The song is actually for Eminem's album Relapse.
Toronto based WIDEawake Entertainment purchases bankrupt Death Row's assets in for $18 million in an auction and plan to release music from the label's vaults. Reference tracks for Detox leak featuring Ludacris and T.I. rhyming in the persona of Dr. Dre, revealing their ghostwriting efforts. Beats By Dr. Dre headphones generate $50 million in the fourth quarter of 2009. Raekwon announces his break from Aftermath to release his Cuban Linx sequel elsewhere.
Dre creates buzz during a promotional interview for his Beats by Dr. Dre headphones that a new single for Detox would be dropping soon. A track with Jay-Z called "Under Pressure" eventually leaks a couple of months later but reaction to the song is mixed at best. In subsequent interviews, Dre claims the song leaked in an unfinished form. Dre spends months in Detroit working on Detox with Eminem, in the studio five or six days a week doing 18-hour sessions. He declares that this will be the last album where he will be rapping and that he has thought about quitting the project several times, but it will still come out. He also revealed he was upset over the 50 Cent/Game beef and tells magazine XXL that it was "bad for business." Dre discloses that he would like to work on an instrumental album with a planetary theme. An official first single for Detox, "Kush" featuring singer Akon is released.
Rumours circulating that Detox will be released on April 20 prove unfounded. A video for the song "I Need A Doctor," the second Detox single appears, produced by British producer Alex da Kid. Dr. Dre performs the song with Eminem at the Grammys. Nate Dogg dies after previously suffering at least two strokes and Dr Dre attends his funeral. Dr. Dre wins a lawsuit over The Chronic that he had not been paid any sales royalties since 1996. Dr. Dre sues WIDEawake/Death Row Records, claiming it was improperly selling The Chronic digitally. As a result of the ruling, the label does not have the right to put Dr. Dre's music on compilations or any other albums. Meanwhile Dre has been working with emerging Compton MC Kendrick Lamar and is reportedly contributing to Game's upcoming The RED Album. A new song entitled "Die Hard" featuring Eminem premiered on a TV show in May. At press time, after a decade of work, there is still no official release date for Detox.
ESSENTIAL DR. DRE
N.W.A. Straight Outta Compton (Ruthless, 1988)
It's not an exaggeration to say this record changed hip-hop forever. It made sure West coast hip-hop could not be ignored, broadened hip-hop's demographic reach and single-handedly increased the amount of cursing. Dre's spare and jagged production style critically assisted by DJ Yella and sourced from California's swap meet crates serve as a fitting backdrop to some of the most jarring lyrics ever laid to wax, almost 25 years after they were first uttered.
The Chronic (Death Row, 1992)
The definitive G-funk statement. This record proved that Dr. Dre had mastered a cavernous sonic range and sophistication that he was hinting at on releases like the D.O.C's criminally underrated No One Can Do It Better and Efil4Ziggan. Meshing live instrumentation, reconfigured classic Clintonian funk, and an unapologetic "gangsta rap" mentality, it captures the Death Row mystique at its peak, featuring "Nuthin' But A 'G' Thang," one of the most enduring singles in any genre of the last 20 years.
2001 (Aftermath, 1999)
Arguably a refinement of the hedonistic themes on The Chronic, its significance lies in Dre's ability to retain and refine the formula he had perfected. Pulling in talented session musicians and producers such as Scott Storch, Mel-Man and Mike Elizondo and sonic touches that deploy use of strings and eschew overt sampling. This is a compelling reason why Detox is highly anticipated.