Dr. Dre - Biography
N.W.A. member, solo rapper, and producer Dr. Dre (born Andre Young) elevated underground gangsta rap to the rank of worldwide mainstream culture in the early 1990s with music both funky and brutal. Ranked alongside super-producers Phil Spector and Quincy Jones, Dr. Dre has sold tens of millions of records, making over $60 million. Arguably, he has had more impact on the lives of young people of the 20th century than artists like a Picasso or a Hemingway.
Los Angeles (specifically South Central and Compton) provided the surreal background to Dre’s G-Funk sound, which glorified violence as much as reinterpreted George Clinton-era funk and soul. Plain spoken, street-level raps about very real inner city problems during the height of a crack epidemic, recession, and a historic spike in crime earned Dre and company massive fame as well as boycotts and letters from the FBI. TimeWarner was asked to halt distribution of Dre’s label, Death Row Records, which had nine multi-platinum albums by 1997. Dre’s personal projects such as 1992’s The Chronic (1992 Death Row) and 1999’s 2001 (1999 Aftermath) rank among the most essential albums of the 20th century, let alone the 1990s. The singles “Nothin’ But a “G” Thang,” “The Next Episode (feat Snoop D),” “Bitches Ain’t Shit,” and “Let Me Ride” were made to entertain inner city peers, but white America devoured the sagas like post-modern pulp. Dre launched the careers of Snoop Doggy Dog, Eminem, 50 Cent, and The Game. In 2001, he won a Grammy Award for Best Rap Album for Emminem’s The Marshall Mathers LP (2000 Interscope) as well as the Grammy Award for Producer of the Year. Dre’s known collaborators included drug-dealer/rapper Eazy-E, as well as multiple felon, henchman, and drug kingpin Suge Knight. Dre’s bodyguard-turned-label-strongman Knight has been implicated in the iconic murders of fellow arch rappers Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G., who were gunned down in horrific cases of life-imitating-art-imitating-life. Dre continues to produce tracks, most recently for The Game and Jay-Z, and the world awaits the third and allegedly final Dre album, Detox.
Andre Young was born on February 18, 1965 in Compton. His parents divorced before he was born and his mother re-married. His half-brother, rapper Warren G, would later introduce him to Snoop Dogg. Music played from dawn till dusk and at loud volume in the Young household. His parents were avid fans of James Brown, The Supremes, and The Temptations. Dre has stated that he started DJing in for living room parties by age ten, teaching himself the relationship between music and mood while critiquing the artists he played. In the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, Young was coming of age with George Clinton’s Parliament and Funkadelic. Dre’s G-Funk sound would be a variation of P-Funk’s use of guitar, synth, drum machine, and samples. Sly and the Family Stone added a psychedelic and prog rock sensibility to his ears.
In 1980, West Coast rap was rather nonexistent, but after watching a fateful Run DMC show, Young knew he could compete in the arena. In 1982, Young joined the World Class Wreckin’ Cru and took the name Dr. Dre — a variation on Dr. J, the nickname of the famous basketball player. Dre became a premier party DJ in Los Angeles to pay the bills, but the experience exposed him to the world of new wave. WCWC’s 1985 single “Surgery” sold 50,000 copies, a testament to its electronic funk, fast drum machine, scratching, and goofy lyrics. Their next single, “Juice,” helped build WCWC’s rep, but despite a CBS call offering a $100,000 advance, Dre has said he left due to the lack of money.
In 1986, Dre formed N.W.A. (Niggaz with Attitude) with local rapper and drug dealer Eazy-E (Eric Lynn Wright), Ice Cube, and MC Ren. Eazy-E bailed Dre out of jail in trade for his production help on Eazy’s projects. Tracy Lynn Curry, known as The D.O.C., was also a creative force behind N.W.A. Their debut LP N.W.A. and the Posse (1987 Macola), released in 1987, featured N.W.A. in its infancy. The iconic singles “Dopeman” and “Boyz-n-the Hood” would appear on Eazy E’s 1990 debut, LP Eazy-Duz-It (1990 Ruthless), as well as N.W.A.’s 1989 follow-up, Straight Outta Compton (1989 Priority). Straight Outta Compton went gold with no help from the media machine, who balked at radio or television play for such “explicit” content. The album sold at least three million copies and earned Ice Cube and Eazy-E warning letters from the FBI. The majority of the album features live instrumentation and Dre has stated that they were just trying to make music their friends would like, yet the material was oddly prescient. It posited a world where the civil rights movement had stalled and traditional avenues to success were closed off to inner-city blacks. Desperate for the American dream, the characters in N.W.A. stories find life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness down the only open road — criminal enterprise. Three years later, that artistic discontent would find its real-world corollary as Los Angeles rioted and burned.
After the release of Straight Outta Compton, The D.O.C.’s vocal cords were severed in a car accident. He became a ghost writer for Dre and Snoop Dogg on their respective solo debut albums. Dre wanted to crossover to radio and found such success with the third N.W.A. album, Efil4Zaggin (1991 Priority). Released in 1991 and reading “Niggaz4life” in the mirror, Efil4Zaggin became one of the most unlikely Billboard 200 number one’s of all time, as evinced by its producer’s behavior. Dre assaulted a female television host at a Hollywood party that year and was fined $2,500, given two years’ probation, and 240 hours of community service.
In 1992, Los Angles rioted after a local jury acquitted white Los Angeles police officers in the videotaped beating of Rodney King. It was mass media-fueled proof of America’s institutional racism. The economy was in a recession, costing George H.W. Bush the presidency. Crime was up nationwide as a result, generating a crack epidemic that was ripping apart urban cores nationwide. Dre and Eazy-E had a falling out, and Dre released his first single on his new label, Death Row Records, that year. The single, “Deep Cover,” featured Snoop Dogg and was the title track to the film Deep Cover. “Nothin’ But a “G” Thang,” on vinyl 12-inch, soon followed. It was an instant classic that paid homage to Dre’s roots with its sample of “I Wanna Do Something Freaky to You” by Leon Haywood. Along with business partner and former Dre bodyguard Suge Knight, Dre released The Chronic (1992 Death Row), later that year.
The iconic album peaked at number three on the Billboard 200 and is one of most influential albums of the ‘90s. Dre slowed down the beats, adding swampy synth bass and enticing high register notes. Spare rhythm guitar and keyboard chords in the middle register made it much more palatable to the suburbs. The album went triple platinum and won Dre the Grammy Award for Best Rap Solo Performance for “Let Me Ride.” Billboard magazine ranked Dre the eighth best-selling musical artist of the year, The Chronic as the sixth best-selling album, and “Nothin’ But a “G” Thang” as the 11th best-selling single.
A typical Dre production involved him making beats on his primary instrument, an Akai MPC3000 drum machine and sampler, while his writers like The D.O.C. and Snoop wrote the words. Dr. Dre is a known perfectionist who pressures artists to give flawless performances. Session musicians would improvise until Dre asked them to repeat what they were doing, or Dre would have them play a specific sample live with custom flourishes. Juvenile talk of testicles and samples of riot news footage on “The Day The Niggaz Took Over” evoked street life, while Dre sampled Parliament’s “Mothership Connection (Star Child)” by Leon Haywood, “Atomic Dog” by George Clinton, “Funky Drummer” by James Brown, and even “Do it Again” by Steely Dan. Snoop Doggy Dogg, rapped on twelve of the sixteen tracks on The Chronic, setting the stage for his own Doggystyle (1993 Death Row), recorded in early 1993 at Death Row Studios. G-Funk ruled on Doggystyle with the iconic singles “Gin and Juice,” “Murder Was the Case,” and “Who Am I? (What’s My Name?),” which sampled George McCrae, James Brown, Parliament, Funkadelic, and George Clinton’s “Atomic Dog.” Doggystyle debuted at number one on the Billboard 200, won a 1994 Grammy for Best Rap Solo, and cemented Death Row’s commercial credibility. Further validating his gangsta pose, police arrested Snoop Dogg during this time in connection with the death of a rival gang member. Snoop Dogg was fingered as the getaway driver and the case went to trial in late 1995. He was acquitted and began work on his second album, Tha Doggfather (1996 Death Row), released in 1996.
In 1994, Dr. Dre also produced the soundtracks to the films Above the Rim and Murder Was the Case. He soon left Death Row due to contract disputes and reported concerns that Suge Knight was corrupt and dangerous. Dr. Dre’s early recordings appeared on the 1994 compilation Concrete Roots (1994 Triple X). In 1995, Dre collaborated with Ice Cube on the song “Natural Born Killaz” amid racketeering charges brought against Knight. Dre spent 180 days in halfway house after an arrest following a police chase. The arrest violated his probation for an earlier assault charge.
Knight went to jail in 1996 on assault charges while Dre and Tupac Shakur released “California Love,” a number one single and among Dre’s last Death Row recordings. Soon, Dre founded his own label, Aftermath, and released Dr. Dre Presents ... The Aftermath (1996 Aftermath), but lackluster sales and negative reviews marred the release. First Round Knock Out (1996 Triple X), a compilation of various tracks produced and performed by Dr. Dre ranging from World Class Wreckin’ Cru to N.W.A to Death Row recordings, was also released in 1996.
In 1998, Dre won a Grammy for BLACKstreet’s “No Diggity” and signed the white Detroit rapper Marshall Mathers, better known as Eminem, after record tycoon Jimmy Iovine suggested it. Dre crafted three tracks and offered some vocal endorsement on Eminem’s controversial debut, The Slim Shady LP (1999 Aftermath). Dre produced the singles “My Name Is,” “Guilty Conscience,” and “Role Model,” which helped put him back in the spotlight.
With all eyes back on Dre, his second solo LP, 2001 (1999 Aftermath), would go on to sell more than seven million copies in the United States and go Platinum six times. In 2001, Dre won the Grammy for Best Rap Performance By A Duo Or Group for “Forgot About Dre” with Eminem. Again, Dre used an ensemble to craft a masterpiece. 2001 features Snoop Dogg, Xzibit, Nate Dogg, Eminem, and MC Ren, with Jay-Z ghostwriting. Studio musician legends like Scott Storch added rhythm and bass to Dre’s beats. Unfortunately, 2001 became a lawsuit target. Lucasfilm Ltd. sued him over the use of the THX-trademarked “Deep Note,” as did the Fatback Band for infringement regarding their song “Backstrokin’,” which Dre used for his song “Let's Get High.” Meanwhile, Dre sued online music company Napster in the summer of 2001 to block access to pirated files indexed on their servers.
In 2000, The Marshall Mathers LP (2000 Aftermath) garnered Dre yet another Grammy nomination for Producer of the Year and the album became a Billboard number one across the world. Notable track “Stan” samples Dido’s “Thank You.” In 2001, Suge Knight was released from prison and Dre filed a restraining order that prevented the notorious bully from being in the same room with him.
Dre starred in the 2001 film The Wash with Snoop Dogg and produced the “Bad Intentions” single for the soundtrack. He produced the single “Family Affair” by R&B singer Mary J. Blige for her album No More Drama (2001 MCA) and was also producing rapper Eve and rocker Gwen Stefani for their duet single, “Let Me Blow Ya Mind.” Around this time, he also reportedly sold a share of his label Aftermath to Interscope for $52 million. In 2002, the Dre-produced The Eminem Show (2002 Aftermath) went platinum eight times.
In 2003, Dre and Mathers produced 50 Cent’s Get Rich or Die Tryin' (2003 Aftermath). The single “In da Club” helped the release became number one for the year. In 2004, Dre signed The Game to his label, which now included Eve, Busta Rhymes, and Stat Quo. The following year, Dre released The Game’s The Documentary (2005 Aftermath), 50 Cent’s The Massacre (2005 Aftermath), and Eminem’s greatest hits collection Curtain Call: The Hits (2005 Aftermath). In 2006, Dre produced “Hustlers” on Nas’s album Hip Hop Is Dead (2006 Def Jam), as well as pieces of Jay-Z’s Kingdom Come (2006 Roc-A-Fella). In yet more proof of Dre’s perfectionism, Snoop Dogg told the website Dubcnn.com that Dr. Dre had made new Aftermath artist Bishop Lamont re-record a single bar of vocals 107 times.
Dr. Dre’s final album is allegedly titled Detox. According to a June 2008 report by Rolling Stone magazine, Detox is scheduled for a future release. After many singles had been released throughout 2010-2011, there has yet- in 2012- to be an official release for Detox, as well as a planned instrumental record entitled The Planets.