Dr. Dre is the avatar of counterculture. To utter his name is to equate it with notoriety, hedonism and a blatant disrespect for authority. Dr. Dre, also known as André Romelle Young, is a timeless rap icon, and the pioneer at the centre of a culture whose humble roots stemmed from the daring slogan “F*ck tha police.” The 45-year-old American musician, record producer, actor and CEO has not only made a name for himself, but has overseen other musicians like Eminem, 50 Cent and Snoop Dogg rise to international superstardom and critical acclaim. It would be careless to neglect that Dre embodies the American dream—still reflective of his days of hustling in the streets of Compton—to owning and operating a major entertainment company at the very top of a cutthroat industry. At the same time, the legend’s reputation is firmly attached to the idea of motherhood and how he ushered the art of an oppressed community and planted it firmly into mainstream culture. With no shortage of success, the anticipation of his third and final album, Detox, has been garnering momentum of Chinese Democracy proportion. Slated to be released this year by his homegrown Aftermath Entertainment, perhaps Dre’s prophesy in 1999 to “give me one more platinum plaque and f*ck rap/ You can have it back” will be realized.
N.W.A and The Chronic (1986-1995)
Dre started a collaboration project with rapper Ice Cube, whom he met in 1986. The duo went on to produce an album through Ruthless Records, which was owned and managed by local artist Eazy-E. Their debut album Straight Outta Compton immediately sparked controversy with their politically charged lyrics, confessions of a crime-ridden lifestyle, and anti-establishment tendencies. Despite the US Federal Bureau of Investigation issued a warning letter to Ruthless, concerning their lyrics and depictions of a gangster-run streets, Dr. Dre continued to elaborate on the dark social issues that plagued himself and those around him.
Dre’s life was further complicated on the family front. At the age of 17 he had fathered his first child with Cassandra Greene. In 1990, he sued by his ex-girlfriend, Jenita Porter, the mother of his second son, Andre Young Jr. Porter was demanding $5,000 a month for child care.
After a dispute with Eazy-E, Dr. Dre left N.W.A. to start a solo career. In 1992 he released his debut, The Chronic, by Death Row Records. The album was an instant success, popularizing the G-funk genre and establishing it as the definitive sound of the early ’90s. The following year, Dre won a Grammy Award for Best Rap Solo Performance, and was ranked as the eight best-selling artist by Billboard.
Aftermath, 2001 and the turning point (1996-2001)
After abandoning Death Row Records halfway through a record contract, Dre formed Aftermath Entertainment in 1996. Not only was it a good move on account of having more autonomy, but Death Row suffered greatly the death of 2Pac and poor sales the following year. Dre was at a turning point in his career, caught between dealing with corruption from other record labels, and taking a stand about what kind of business he wanted to be a part of.
Jim Iovine, the head of Interscope Records, insisted that Dre sign a young rapper from Detroit who was showing great promise. In 1999, Dre signed Eminem to Aftermath and produced The Slim Shady LP, which sold more than a quarter million copies in its first week.
With a big success behind Aftermath, Dre released his second solo album, 2001, which lead to a West Coast hip-hop tour in 2000 featuring artists Ice Cube, Eminem, Proof, Snoop Dogg, Nate Dogg, Kurupt, Westside Connection, Angels, Devin The Dude, Truth Hurts and Xzibit, to name a few.
Detox, and the future (2002-present)
Dre went on to star in some films and become more involved on the entrepreneurial front, particularly with his high-end headphones (which I’m afraid to say, aren’t as good as they look). His third and final album was originally slated to be released in 2005, yet, as Josiah Hughes very eloquently explained, “Dre has been leading us down a rabbit hole of empty promises and promotional vanity items like headphones and cognac without actually delivering the goods.” At the same time though, Dre’s life hasn’t exactly been perfect lately. In August 2008, his second youngest son, Andre Young Jr., died of a heroine and morphine overdose. He was 20 years old.
For the last 25 years, Dre’s influence in the spheres of art and business have gathered more momentum than a freight train. It would be difficult to find an iPod or iTunes library these days that didn’t have Dre’s 2001 on it, a travesty if it didn’t have The Chronic. The world is waiting to see if Detox is going to change the course of hip-hop again.