If you ever question Dr. Dre’s clout in the audio production world, let the fact that he made a hundred million dollars off of headphones last year quell those doubts. Despite lingering suspicions that Dr. Dre leans on ghost producers the same way he uses ghost writers for his lyrics, there’s no denying his influence as a hip-hop producer.
Born in Compton, California, André Romelle Young began his music career as “Dr. J,” named after his favourite basketball player, Julius Erving. Inspired by Grandmaster Flash, Dre spent his early years DJing at a club in his neighborhood called The Eve After Dark, which would be a major hub for West Coast hip-hop in the ’80s. Adopting the moniker Dr. Dre, he joined the group World Class Wreckin’ Cru in 1984, who became well known in the Compton area. Through performing with the Wreckin’ Cru, Dr. Dre crossed paths with Eazy E and Ice Cube, who were then performing in a group called C.I.A. (Cru’ in Action!).
N.W.A. was formed by Eazy E in 1984, and alongside Dr. Dre, Arabian Prince, Ice Cube, DJ Yella, and later MC Ren, the group would be credited as one of the seminal “gangsta rap” acts, and perhaps as one of the most important hip-hop groups of all time. Dr. Dre is also attributed with popularizing the G-funk production style, a sub-genre under the banner of gangsta rap. Explicit lyrics dealing with controversial subject matter limited the group’s access to promotion and radio play, but they would still go on to sell over ten million records in the United States alone. Ice Cube left N.W.A. in 1989 over a financial dispute, and Dr. Dre parted ways with N.W.A. after a personal issue with Eazy E in 1991, inciting a bitter rivalry.
Dr. Dre started Death Row Records, with his then-body guard Suge Knight, and pursued a solo career. The first Death Row release would be The Chronic, an instant classic, with all songs being produced by Dr. Dre. The Chronic solidified Dr. Dre as a hip-hop superstar, it also provided a launching pad for his protege Snoop Doggy Dogg. Dr. would also produce Doggystyle, Snoop Doggy Dogg’s debut album. Just as Death Row was positioning Tupac as their next major artist, signs that Suge Knight was financially corrupt forced Dre to leave the label.
Dr. Dre started his own imprint on Interscope Records called Aftermath Entertainment, but struggled to find success with its initial releases. Based on a tip from Interscope label boss Jimmy Iovine, Dr. Dre signed a rapper named Eminem to Aftermath, and took on a mentorship role in the Detroit rapper’s career. Dre produced three songs on Eminem’s debut record The Slim Shady LP, and their creative partnership breathed new life into the Aftermath brand. 2001, The Marshall Mathers LP, and 50 Cent’s Get Rich Or Die Tryin’ were all huge hits for Aftermath, and in the following years, Dr. Dre settled into more of a producer role, making beats for artists like Gwen Stefani, Eve, and Mary J. Blige, putting rap on the backburner.
Dr. Dre has been prepping the release of The Detox since 2001 with no payoff, and at this point, it’s effectively the hip-hop equivalent of Chinese Democracy. For now, Kendrick Lamar flies the Aftermath flag, until Dre stops playing with headphones and gets his shit together.
Simply put, Dr. Dre is one of the most influential figures in hip-hop culture. Crank up your Beats By Dre cans, and let’s check out some of his best actual beats for this edition of the Friday Mixtape.