Dr. Dre (originally, Young, Andre)

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Dr. Dre (originally, Young, Andre)

Dr. Dre (originally, Young, Andre), one of the architects of gangsta rap, and the producer who brought a sense of melody back to rap—not to be confused with radio DJ, MTV personality, and film star Doctor Dre.; b. South Central, Los Angeles, Calif., Feb. 18, 1965.

Called Dr. Dre as a parody of/homage to basketball star Julius “Dr. J.” Irving, the 6’ 4” Andre Young was pretty good at hoops, but was bestknown for his excellent musical taste. By his teens, Young was spinning records at Eve after Dark in L.A. In addition to the turntables that he used in the club to spin everything from Martha and the Vandellas to P-Funk, the club had a small four-track studio in the back room. There, with friends like Lonzo Williams and Antoine Carraby (aka McRen and DJ Yella), he started cutting demos. The trio became the heart of the World Class Wreckin’ Cru, which Dre formed at 17. They had minor hits with “Turn off the Lights” and “Lay Your Body Down.”

The trio hooked up with O’Shea Jackson and Eric Wright, better known as Ice Cube and Eazy-E. The latter ran Ruthless records, and the quintet started recording as NWA (Niggaz with Attitude). NWA’s second album, Straight Outta Compton, went double platinum and rose to #37 on the album charts with virtually no airplay. The controversy over the song “F tha Police” helped promote the album, although it made the group less than a favorite among law enforcement agents. Main lyricist Ice Cube went solo after that album. The rest continued, releasing the broader 100 Miles and Running, which sold platinum and hit #27. With their 1991 album Efil4zaggin, they achieved the unprecedented for a “hard core” rap band, topping the album charts.

Dre and Eazy-E fought over money, so Dre formed a label with Vanilla Ice’s former music publicist, Marion “Suge” Knight. With Knight taking care of the business and Dre taking care of the music, their label, Death Row Records, was soon earning $100 million a year. One of their first major hits was Dre’s solo debut, The Chronic. The album generated three hit singles. “Nuthin’ but a ’G’ Thang” which hit #2 on the pop charts, topped the R&B charts, and sold platinum. “Dre Day” went gold and hit #8 on the pop charts. Part of the charm of the first two singles was the laconic rapping of Dre’s new sidekick, a rapper named Calvin Broadus, though he became better known as Snoop Doggy Dogg (later Shoop Dogg). “Let Me Ride” only hit #34, but was notable for including George Clinton from P-Funk; Dre frequently sampled Clinton’s band. The album sold triple platinum, hitting #3 on the charts.

Although Dre was successful as an artist, with the track “Keep Their Heads Ringing” off of the soundtrack from the film Friday hitting #10 and going gold he was even more triumphant as a producer. He produced Doggystyle, the debut album by Snoop Doggy Dog, as well as hit albums by Warren G and Black Street. He also orchestrated soundtracks for the film Above the Rim. Ice Cube and Dre reunited for the tune “Natural Born Killaz.” While his own albums, after the successful The Chronic, were not especially great sellers, by 1996 Dre had produced records that had generated a quarter of a billion dollars in sales.

Also by 1996, Dre saw the end coming for both gangsta rap and Death Row records. Two years earlier, Warner Bros, dropped their distribution deal with Death Row after stockholders complained about the violent and sexist nature of most of the label’s material. Dre left the label in the summer of 1996; before the summer was over, the label’s star rap artist Tupac Shakur had been murdered and label kingpin Suge Knight was fighting off racketeering charges that would send him to prison a year later.

Dre formed Aftermath records, releasing Dr. Dre Presents the Aftermath. The hit from the album was his own “Been There, Done That,” a farewell to the G Thang. In the late 1990s, Dre expanded his horizons into writing orchestral music and directing films. He has also mentored the successful white rap artist Eminem, whit whom Dre and Snoop Dogg toured in 2000.


The Chronic (1992); Concrete Roots (1994); First Round Knockout (1996); Back ’n the Day (1996); Da Chronic 2000 (1999).

—Brock Helander