Dr. Dre and Ed Lover
Dr. Dre and Ed Lover
Television and radio personalities, rap singers, actors
Though they first achieved national recognition as hosts of Yo! MTV Raps, the popular television network’s hip-hop program, Ed Lover and Dr. Dre have since proved themselves a surprisingly versatile show business team. They demolished the New York City morning-radio competition with their show on WQHT/Hot 97, starred in a comedy film, and released a rap album, all within the space of a few years. And they have shown no indication of slowing down.
Dre and Lover have also distinguished themselves by maintaining their credibility in the rap world—and pointedly defending the music against its detractors—without sacrificing their uproarious sense of humor. “Whatever we want to do, we wanna do it well,” Ed Lover told Karen Harris of Dance Music Authority (DMA) magazine. “We want to come at [show business] from all angles, and become all around entertainers. Making people laugh is serious business, but it’s our business and we love it.”
The beefy Dre—who is often confused with the West Coast rapper-producer of the same name—and his tall, somewhat trimmer partner were no novices to the rap scene when they arrived at MTV. Dre was born Andre Brown in Long Island, New York, and became interested in hip-hop early on; in 1977, at West-bury High School, he co-founded a collective called Original Concept that dedicated itself to the emerging music. He went on to attend Adelphi University, hosting The Operating Room, one of the nation’s earliest rap-only programs, at the school’s radio station, WBAU. There he met Chuck D—later known to the world as the booming voice of the trailblazing group Public Enemy—among many other fledgling MCs and DJs.
By 1986 Dre was writing songs for rap superstars Run-DMC; the following year he served as DJ to hip-hop’s young terrors The Beastie Boys on their Licensed to III tour. Original Concept released its own album shortly thereafter, entitled Straight From the Basement of Cooley High. His respect for his contemporaries notwithstanding, Dre has always emphasized the humor beneath rap’s tough exterior. “People take these images too seriously; they try so hard to be hard,” he insisted to David Sprague of New York Newsday, “but they
At a Glance…
Dr. Dre co-founded hip-hop group Original Concept, 1977; started rap radio show The Operating Room, WBAU-FM, 1983; wrote songs for group Run-DMC, c 1986; worked as DJ for the group Beastie Boys on their Licensed to HI tour, 1987; worked on Original Concept album Straight From the Basement of Cooley High, 1988. Ed Lover joined group Funktion Freaks, which became No Face and released single “Wake Your Daughter Up,” 1990.
Hosted Yo! MTV Raps, 1989-; hosted HOT 97 Morning Show, WQHT-FM, New York, 1993—; starred in 1993 film Who’s the Man?; released album Back Up Off Me on Relativity label, 1994; co-hosted HOT 97 Phat Comedy Series at Caroline’s, New York.
Addresses: Recording company— Relativity, 79 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10003; 3420 Ocean Park Blvd., Ste. 3050, Santa Monica, CA 90405.
forget this music started out for fun, not to attack or preach. Not everyone lived in a deep, dark ghetto, and even for those that did, there was always a house party goin’ on.”
Ed Lover—also known as James Roberts—hails from Hollis, a neighborhood in the borough of Queens that also gave the world Run-DMC. He, too, saw the appeal of rap before it became an established musical genre; like many other youngsters around the country, he began dropping his rhymes on street corners and in parks. He later joined Funktion Freaks, which turned into the group No Face; they released a single, “Wake Your Daughter Up,” in 1990. He also worked as a promoter and executive producer for other acts.
The pair had not met before their audition for MTV in the late 1980s. And yet, as Lover noted in a Relativity Records press release, they “had instant rapport. In business and in friendship we’re just a team.” This teamwork stood them in good stead as they held up the rap standard at the music network, which often tried to back away from hip-hop. Yo! MTV Raps gave the station an automatic street credibility, and Lover and Dre managed to balance a respect for the music’s seriousness with the “house party” spirit. For a while, the show was marginalized in the MTV lineup, but returned to prominence—airing five nights a week—as rap started to dominate the charts. The program, in turn, helped introduce mainstream viewers to artists who had already enjoyed underground popularity.
“It was stupidity on the part of [MTV], but to some extent it was the music itself,” Lover told New York Newsday’s Sprague. “After [mainstream rapper] Vanilla Ice almost ruined hip-hop singlehandedly and [chart-topping MC] Hammer took it to the level it never needed to go—to Vegas, that is—everything became very R&B oriented. When it came back around full circle, they decided they needed the show again.” With the advent of successful, independent-minded rappers like Snoop Doggy Dogg and the other Dr. Dre, Wu-Tang Clan, and The Notorious B.I.G., he declared to Harris of DMA, “The music is taking on that whole new life, and it’s all good again.” He added that he had “always felt [MTV] should keep a broad scope of all music. I still don’t understand it. I’m just glad they put [Yo! MTV Raps] back where it belongs.”
Though they have repeatedly expressed the hope that the mid-1990s dominance of “gangsta” rap—with its emphasis on violence and criminality—will give way to something more eclectic and life-affirming, both Dre and Lover have defended the music against critics they view as potential censors. “During the seventies, when the situation was more hopeful for black folks,” opined Lover in a Relativity press release, “the music was more hopeful. These days, at a time when there are no jobs and a brother can go to college and still wind up having to sell drugs to pay the damn rent, the music can get pretty harsh. The point is that anyone who wants to ’elevate’ rap music had better concentrate on improving reality first.”
These angry but focused sentiments appear, appropriately enough, in a rap song—namely “Recognize,” on Lover and Dre’s 1994 album Back Up Off Me. Perhaps the most unusual aspect of the song is its willingness to criticize respected black figures; often, the pretense of solidarity overrides even strong differences of opinion. Yet in the song they name-check eminent civil rights activists C. Delores Tucker and the Reverend Calvin Butts, taking them to task for blaming the music for social problems. “Calvin Butts is a very intelligent man who gets the utmost respect from me in every way except when it comes to his censorship,” Lover declared to Sprague, adding that if “you squashed every ’negative’ hip-hop record, crime would still exist, kids would still be killing kids, people would still be slingin’ [selling] dope.”
For the most part, though, Lover and Dre have boosted rap with humor and high spirits. “No matter how hard [rappers] come across, all these people laugh,” Dre remarked. “Chuck D is a great snap [personal insult] artist, but with this image as savior of the black race, he can’t do it in public.” Their rapport with such luminaries in the field—not to mention their MTV track record—easily landed them the coveted Hot 97 Morning Show on the New York radio station WQHT-FM. The pair were hired in December of 1993 and teamed up with Lisa G., who had been at the station for some time; Billboard reported less than a year later that Lover and Dre’s daily dose of rap and raillery had become “the top-ranked music morning show in the city and the sixth-ranked overall.”
The program featured gimmicks like the “youknowwhatl’msayin”’ bell, which would ring loudly every time guests employed that shopworn phrase. “Roll Call,” meanwhile, afforded listeners a chance to try their hand at rhyming; rap superstars like KRS-One, MC Lyte, and Flavor Flav contributed bits to the show, which Vibe’s Michael A. Gonzales called “a circus of chaos, humor, and hip hop.” The chaos was as calculated as any other element. “When we first started, people around the station thought our show was a little brash,” Ed told Gonzales. “But that’s the wildness people want to hear in the morning. Who wants a show that’s going to make you go back to sleep?”
The duo took a detour into film, starring in the 1993 comedy Who’s the Man? The feature was directed by Ted Demme of Yo! MTV Raps and cast Lover and Dre as misfit cops who stumble into a crooked development scheme. The film failed to impress critics—Entertainment Weekly called it a “hip-hop mishmash”—but even reviewers underwhelmed by Who’s the Man? had kind words for its leads. “Lover and Dre are a promising screen partnership but need to develop a more distinct screen persona,” opined Leonard Klady of Daily Variety, while Los Angeles Times critic Kevin Thomas praised them as “lively entertainers” who “can be as funny as they are goofy.”
Who’s the Man? boasts cameo appearances from “basically everyone who’s ever cut a rap record,” reported Rolling Stone, including Ice-T, Yo-Yo, Queen Latifah, Public Enemy’s Flavor Flav, and Kris Kross. Initially, Dre recalled to the magazine, “we envisioned five or ten cameos. But due to as many favors as we’ve done, they decided to give us a hand.” The feature “was the highest-grossing comedy the week it opened,” said Charles Settler, Lover and Dre’s manager, in the New York Newsday profile.
Unfortunately, the fallout surrounding the acquittal of four white Los Angeles police officers who had been videotaped beating black motorist Rodney King—which turned into a conflagration described as everything from a riot to a rebellion—made a cop-rap comedy a poor bet. The post-verdict eruption happened a week after the film’s release, and according to Settler, “No one picked it up. Everyone was so scared, all they said was, ’Here comes a rap movie, get your bullet-proof vests ready.’” The film fared so well after being released on video, however, that Lover and Dre were soon discussing their next film project.
It would have to wait, however, until they had finished promoting their 1995 album, Back Up Off Me. Released on Relativity, the album covers a wide spectrum of styles, from old-school, discofied party rap of the title track (produced by the artists, like several other cuts on the album) to harder tracks produced by Erick Sermon (formerly of the smash duo EPMD) and Marley Marl. It was not their first recording together—in 1991 they had done “Down ’Wit MTV,” a parody of Naughty By Nature’s hit “O.P.P.” But it was their first full-length musical collaboration.
Some critics were less than impressed; Jeremy Helligar of Entertainment Weekly dismissed the music as “the same old thing” and derided Lover and Dre’s “attempts at tough rhyming,” which he said “couldn’t ruffle the feathers on Mother Goose.” Indeed, Relativity worried that Lover and Dre’s comedy background could stigmatize Back Up as a novelty disc: “Their image is so tongue-in-cheek, we have to do things that emphasize the credibility of the record,” the label’s vice-president of marketing Alan Grunblatt told Billboard. There was also concern that the pair’s rivals on New York radio would refuse to play the album, on the grounds that it would effectively be an advertisement for the competition.
Lover and Dre had little to time to worry about such matters. Waking up every morning at four to prepare for their morning show, working on the script for another comedy (Masters of Disguise, a tale of bumbling FBI agents), hosting their MTV show and the bi-weekly HOT 97 Phat Comedy Series at Caroline’s nightclub, and promoting their album kept them sufficiently occupied. Nonetheless, they worked hard to keep a down-to-earth profile in their community. “It’s important for kids to see us on the street, goin ‘to the drugstore, as it is to see us at a podium telling’ em to stay in school,” Dre insisted to Sprague.
Settler added that he saw few limits for Lover and Dre. “Whenever an African American actor or musician becomes tremendously successful, the street community writes them off as having sold out,” he remarked. “But I think these guys have an unprecedented chance to have three, four, five careers going on at once.” Of course, such careers are the product of relentless hustling; Lover reminded DMA that “there’s many years that you work to get to the successful point, and people only see that. They don’t see the time and effort spent struggling. It’s all work constantly from day one—each and every day.”
Billboard, September 3, 1994, p. 107; October 15, 1994, pp. 14, 27.
Daily Variety, April 26, 1993, p. 69.
Dance Music Authority (DMA), January 1995.
Entertainment Weekly, November 5, 1993, p. 77; November 18, 1994, p. 106.
Los Angeles Times, April 23, 1993.
New York Newsday, November 3, 1994, pp. B4–5.
Rolling Stone, April 1, 1993, p. 13.
Vibe, March 1995, p. 89.
Additional information for this profile was provided by Relativity Records promotional material, 1994.
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