Black Music Month: Dr. Dre


Initially known to the world as an MC for gangsta godfathers N.W.A., Dr. Dre went on to become the single most influential producer in hip-hop history. With 1993's The Chronic, he married breezy funk samples to hardcore imagery, creating the G-Funk style and inspiring a host of imitators. He would later discover and nurture some of the best rappers ever, including Snoop Dogg, Eminem, and 50 Cent.

Born to a 16-year-old mother, Andre Young was frequently moved from school to school to avoid the gang violence endemic to his native South Central L.A. Young showed little interest in school, but rather than turning to gangs—as many of his peers did—the tall, lanky teen turned to music, frequently local hip-hop clubs, performing as a DJ, and eventually forming the electro-hop World Class Wrecking Cru in 1984 at the age of 19.

In 1986, Young met O'Shea "Ice Cube" Jackson, a passionate devotee of early L.A. rap and aspiring rhyme-writer. The pair began writing lyrics for Eric "Eazy-E" Wright, a former drug dealer who started Ruthless Records with his profits. The trio eventually formed the nucleus of N.W.A. (Niggaz With Attitude), which brought harrowing, often exaggerated, tales of street violence to mainstream America, selling millions of records and transforming the hip-hop genre forever.

N.W.A's second album, 1989's Straight Outta Compton sold 750,000 copies, and launched a media storm over the controversial "Fuck tha Police," resulting in a "warning letter" from the FBI to the group's distributor, Priority Records.

Cube left the group and N.W.A continued recording and selling records but fell out of critical favor. In June 1991, the group made history again when, despite strong criticism from politicians and being banned from some retail chains, EFIL4ZAGGIN ("Niggaz 4 Life" backward) reached Number One two weeks after its release.

Like other N.W.A. members, Dre faced a series of tangles with the law. In 1991, he was charged with attacking the female host of a television rap show. He pleaded no contest and paid an out-of-court settlement to the host. In 1992, Dre was arrested for assaulting record producer Damon Thomas and later plead guilty to assault on a police officer, eventually serving house arrest and wearing a police-monitoring ankle bracelet.

Dre left N.W.A and Ruthless Records in 1992 to co-found Death Row Records with Marion "Suge" Knight. Eazy-E later claimed in a lawsuit that Knight had negotiated Dre's exit from Ruthless with the help of baseball bats and pipes. In 1992, Death Row released it's first single, "Deep Cover," the theme of a movie of the same name, starring Laurence Fishburne. Also called "187," the single featuring the debut of the rapper then called Snoop Doggy Dogg.

Snoop would play a big part in the first album from Dr. Dre and Death Row, 1993's The Chronic. Snoop, who appeared on nine of the album's 16 cuts, had a lackadaisical style that meshed perfectly with Dre's funk samples, drawn largely from Parliament-Funkadelic. Snoop figured prominently in the breakout single, "Nuthin' But a 'G' Thang," which hit Number Two and was a fixture on MTV, along with subsequent singles "Fuck wit Dre Day (and Everybody's Celebratin')" and "Let Me Ride."

The Chronic went triple platinum, appeared on many critics' year-end Top-10 lists, and earned Dre a Grammy for Best Rap Solo Performance on "Let Me Ride." Later in the year, Snoop released his solo debut, DoggyStyle, produced by Dre, which would land at Number One, sell 4 million copies and spawn Top-10 hits "Who Am I? (What's My Name)," featuring Dre and Jewell and "Gin and Juice," featuring Daz Dillinger.

Dre would serve as house producer at Death Row for a few years, producing soundtracks for Above the Rim and Murder Was the Case, releasing "Keep Their Heads Ringing" (Number 10, 1995) for the Friday soundtrack, and collaborating with Ice Cube on "Natural Born Killaz" (Number 95, 1994), and with new Death Row signee Tupac Shakur on "California Love" (Number One, 1995).

But as details of Suge Knight's corrupt dealings came to like and Dre became embroiled in a contract dispute, he left Death Row to form Interscope imprint Aftermath. The first single on the debut Aftermath LP, Dr. Dre Presents the Aftermath, was "Been There, Done That," a repudiation of the highly publicized West Coast–East Coast hip-hop feud.

Aftermath drifted for a couple years until 1998, when Interscope CEO Jimmy Iovine suggested Dre sign a Detroit rapper named Eminem. Dre did, and produced three songs on the white rapper's debut, The Slim Shady LP, including advance single "My Name Is," which reached Number 36 and helped the album debut at Number Two, behind TLC's Fanmail, and went on to sell four million copies in the U.S.

A year later, Dre released his second solo album, 2001, which featured many of the MCs he produced, including MC Ren, Snoop Dogg, Xzibit, and Eminem, and landed at Number Two on the chart. Using fewer samples than The Chronic, the album broadened Dre's sound to include string arrangements and reggae beats. The album included single "Still D.R.E., featuring Snoop Dogg" (Number 93) and "Forgot About Dre," featuring Eminem (Number 25) and helped Dre win Producer of the Year at the 2000 Grammys.

Throughout the new decade, Dre has focused mostly on production, producing much of Eminem's subsequent albums, The Marshall Mathers LP and The Eminem Show, as well as Get Rich or Die Tryin'and The Massacre, for 50 Cent, who Eminem signed to his own Shady Records. Dre also produced tracks for Jay-Z, Gwen Stefani, Game, and Raekwon.

Dre has talked about another solo album, called Detox, since 2002, when he told MTV it would be a concept album. Although the project has come to be though of as hip-hop's Chinese Democracy, Eminem and 50 Cent claimed in a 2009 interview that the album would be out in 2010.

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