While known to many as Dr. Dre, the entrepreneur and mastermind behind Beats by Dr. Dre electronic products, the famous record producer had a long history of innovating the influential sounds of Californian Hip Hop as a rapper, record producer, audio engineer, and record executive. Dr. Dre’s massive Grammy Award-winning music career began when he became a member of the World Class Wreckin’ Cru, and later founding the controversial Rap group, N.W.A. Dre would go on to be a founding part of Death Row Records and Aftermath Entertainment.
Whether he was crafting and popularizing the West Coast G-funk sound, introducing audiences to rapper Eminem, or being inducted in the Rock ‘N Roll Hall of Fame for his contribution to the history of Rap music and Hip Hop culture, Dre has been an incredible force in American popular culture. But what inspired and informed the musical genius who we now know as a leading figure in crafting the quintessential sounds that make up Hip Hop history?
Born in Compton
Dr. Dre was born Andre Romelle Young in Compton, California, on February 18, 1965. Andre Young was born to his mother, Verna Young, and father Theodore, who were married in 1964, and later separated four years later – the couple would eventually divorce in 1972. Dre’s middle name, Romelle, came from his father’s amateur R&B group – evidence that Dre definitely inherited the music gene. Like Dre’s father, his mother was also a singer – however, Verna had to eventually quit her artistic career with the Four Aces shortly before Dre was born.
After Dre’s parents divorced, his mother would later remarry to Curtis Crayon with whom she shared three children – Dre’s step-siblings Jerome, Tyree, and Shameka. As a young boy, Dre’s family frequently moved as a result of gang violence. A young Dr. Dre lived in a number of apartments and homes situated in various tough parts of California, such as in Compton, Carson, Long Beach, and the Watts and South Central neighborhoods of Los Angeles. Years later, Dre’s mother remarried for the third time – this time to Warren Griffin.
Through marriage, Verna gained four step-children – one of whom would also come to popularity as famed Hip Hop artist Warren G. As a young person, it was clear early on that Dre’s interest did not lie in school, having left a number of schools and suffering from low grades which made him ineligible in drafting apprenticeship programs he attempted to enroll in.
Instead, Dre wanted to pursue music as his parents had. The beginning of this journey happened in 1984 when he received a music mixer for Christmas. Receiving this gift led to a new level of work ethic – Dre spent endless hours taking samples of different songs and sounds to innovate his own sound.
World Class Wreckin’ Cru
By the mid-1980s, Dre began hanging out at L.A. nightclub Eve After Dark to watch the live performances by both DJs and rappers. After frequenting the club for a while, he was eventually invited to work the turntables as “Dr. J”– a moniker that was in part inspired by his favorite basketball player Julius “Dr. J.” Erving. While working at the club, he would meet aspiring rapper Antoine Carraby, who would come to be known to N.W.A fans as DJ Yella. Soon after, Dre began developing his rap persona of “ Dr. Dre, the Master of Mixology and working in the club’s backroom where the owners hosted a small four-track studio.
Dre would often work with Yella in these sessions and would later join the World Class Wreckin’ Cru in 1984. The group would eventually become the local 1980s electro-hop scene and prominently feature Dre on the turntables. Dre began spending so much time with music that his school absences compromised his position as a diver on his school’s swim team. His mother was so upset by the absences that she demanded he gets a permanent job if he didn’t plan on continuing on with education.
This tension with his mother eventually led Dre to leave his mother’s residence – first to relocate to his father’s home, and later to live with his grandmother before eventually returning to live with his mom. After all of the turmoil with his family, Dre would inevitably decide to drop out of school so that he could exclusively focus on music and performing at Eve’s After Dark nightclub.
The N.W.A Years
By 1986, Dre would meet O’Shea Jackson, better known to Rap music fans as Ice Cube. This serendipitous meeting would set the stage for his most important collaboration – the creation of N.W.A which was made up of Eazy-E, Ice Cube, Yella, MC Ren, the Arabian Prince, and The D.O.C. Ice Cube would eventually collaborate with Dre on a few recordings for Ruthless Records, a record label run by local rapper Eazy-E. As N.W.A began establishing themselves as a collective, they, like fellow West Coast rapper Ice-T, would be a formidable force in creating what would eventually be known as the Gangsta Rap sound and aesthetic.
The group was responsible for creating lyricism that showcased the gritty underbelly of urban living, while also creating interesting critiques of powerful institutions like the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD). Among the most controversial recordings that the group released “F**k Tha Police” off of their debut mainstream album Straight Outta Compton which sold more than 2 million copies. While the album became a major mainstream success, many in the radio industry refused to rotate the record and give it airplay, and the group was also frequently refused the opportunity to tour their material.
The group was so controversial that they were also a target of The Federal Bureau of Investigation – especially following their critique of the LAPD. The song, which explored tensions between black youth and the police, was framed by the media and policing organizations as an attempt to incite violence. The FBI even went so far as to send a warning letter to Ruthless Records and its parent company about the song.
And yet, despite the group’s success, trouble was brewing. By the end of the 1980s, Ice Cube decided to leave N.W.A. in 1989 as a result of financial disputes and disagreements over the group’s contractual obligations. Despite Ice Cube’s departure, Dre continued to produce for N.W.A and perform with the other members of the group. The group’s then completed their second album Efil4zaggin, and Dre also worked on Eazy-E’s 1988 solo debut Eazy-Duz-It, Above the Law’s 1990 debut Livin’ Like Hustlers, Michel’le’s 1989 self-titled debut, The D.O.C.’s 1989 debut No One Can Do It Better, and J.J. Fad’s 1988 debut Supersonic among other records.
Like Ice Cube, Dre would eventually leave N.W.A. as well after a dispute with Eazy-E on the advice of his friend and fellow N.W.A lyricist, The D.O.C., and his bodyguard at the time, Suge Knight. Knight, who has since been portrayed as Hip Hop culture’s intimidator, negotiated Dre’s release from his contract with Eazy-E. Once that legal matter was handled, Knight used Dre as his flagship artist in order to establish his company Death Row Records. By 1992, Dre would release his first single on Death Row Records with rapper Snoop Dogg, and soon after his debut solo album, The Chronic with the hit song “Nuthin But a G Thang.”
Not only was Dre being responsible for introducing a new musical style to the mainstream, but also a hailstorm of new talent: Kurupt, Daz Dillinger, RBX, The Lady of Rage, and Nate Dogg among others. Among some of the more prominent artists that Dre worked with were Snoop Dogg and Tupac Shakur.
And yet, in spite of his commercial success with Death Row Records, Dre would eventually leave the label in 1996. Industry insiders alleged that Dre left as a result of a contract dispute and concerns that Suge Knight was corrupt, financially dishonest, and out of control in terms of the ways he was dolling out violence on those who did not do as he asked. Less than a year later, Dre would form his own label, Aftermath Entertainment, which was distributed by Interscope Records.
The Aftermath Was Aftermath Records
In his years after Death Row Records, Dre would release his own material and becoming a powerful producer for other musicians such as Nas, LL Cool, and Jay-Z. Perhaps his most famous collaboration was with rapper, and mainstream popstar Eminem. In 1998, Jimmy Iovine, the head of Aftermath’s parent label Interscope Records, suggested that Dre sign Eminem, who was well-known to many as the super talented white rapper from Detroit.
Dre was instrumental in jump-starting Eminem’s career and helping to launch his successful and controversial 1999 debut album The Slim Shady LP. Not only did the album and its leading single, “My Name Is,” bring Eminem to the broadest audience possible, but it charted in the number two position on the Billboard 200 and received wide acclaim from a number of popular culture critics. Through his work with artists like Eminem in “Forgot About Dre,” and later 50 Cent, The Game, and by the twenty-first century Kendrick Lamar, Dre has quickly become considered one of Hip Hop culture’s leading moguls.
Along with music, Dre has amassed a significant amount of his wealth through the development of Beats Electronics with record producer Jimmy Iovine. Beats Electronics, a company that specializes in providing clientele with personal listening devices such as studio-style headphones or small speaker systems, became wildly popular – especially with the consistent endorsements from leading Hip Hop artists. Along with the electronic company, in 2014, Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine launched the online music streaming service Beats Music. In that same year, Apple Music, in the largest acquisition in their company’s history, announced that they would be purchasing Beats Electronics for a whopping $3 billion.
The deal reportedly increased Dre’s net worth to approximately $800 million. That year, Forbes announced that Dre was officially the richest rap star in popular culture. In addition to selling Beats, Dre and Iovine also negotiated their inclusion as executives at Apple. That same year Dre and Iovine acquired a tremendous amount of wealth in their deal with Apple and ended up donating $70 million to USC to found a school of “Arts, Technology, and Business Innovation.”
Also, in 2014, Steven Lamar, a former hedge-fund manager, sued Dre and Iovine. Lamar claimed that the man who introduced and developed the idea of celebrity-endorsed headphones for Beats Electronics was being short-changed on his royalties. In the case, the defense claimed that while Lamar had contributed these ideas, he would only end up being entitled to royalties from the first headphone model. Ultimately, the judge rejected Lamar’s claims. Lamar kept at it, and the case was later revived in an appeals court in 2016. By 2018, a Los Angeles Superior Court jury ruled that Beats owed Lamar an additional $25.2 million in royalties as a result of his contributions.
The Trouble With Love Is
Dre’s trouble with the law didn’t only play out in relation to his professional career. He also experienced trouble in matters of the heart. Throughout his career, Dre has also been criticized for his treatment of women. In 1991 when Dre reportedly hit TV host Denise Barnes. Through Barnes’ personal testimony and a number of reports, the press learned that Dre had attempted to push Barnes down a flight of stairs. The attack followed a television segment that Barnes had conducted where she asked Ice Cube about his departure from N.W.A.
Despite being charged with assault and threatened with a civil suit, Dre and Barnes eventually decided to settle the incident out of court. Barnes, however, would not be the last woman to accuse Dre of violent behavior towards women – especially in the 1990s. Along with Barnes, Dre was also known to have treated singer Michel’le, with whom he had a relationship and a son, quite badly. When interviewed by the New York Times in August 2015 about his treatment of women, Dre admitted:
“Twenty-five years ago, I was a young man drinking too much and in over my head with no real structure in my life. However, none of this is an excuse for what I did. I’ve been married for 19 years, and every day I’m working to be a better man for my family, seeking guidance along the way. I’m doing everything I can, so I never resemble that man again. I apologize to the women I’ve hurt. I deeply regret what I did and know that it has forever impacted all of our lives.”
Since then, however, TMZ reported that Dr. Dre’s wife Nicole Young filed for divorce citing irreconcilable differences after almost 25 years of marriage. Despite the fact that Young is seeking spousal support, Dr. Dre is claiming that they have a prenuptial agreement. Their divorce is just getting started and the final result will be up to the judges and lawyers involved.
Dr. Dre has gone through many transformations, from DJ to producer, to record label owner, to ultra-wealthy entrepreneur. What could possibly be next on his to-do list?