Andre Young, known better as Dr Dre, changed hip-hop forever. One of the godfathers of gangsta rap—integral to N.W.A. and the birth of the sound that was to define the West Coast, G-funk—Dre's not only one of the single most important producers in hip-hop history but also a weighty kingmaker, instrumental in the careers of Snoop, Eminem and 50 Cent, and the rise of his Beats empire.Dre has not only weathered hip-hop's many transformations as a solo artist but boasts a formidable production discography that stretches from rap to R&B to expertly scoring films. Even the continued interest in infamously delayed album Detox is testament to the respect Dre is able to command from a career that spans over two decades.
The trio formed the core of Niggaz With Attitude and were later joined by Arabian Prince, DJ Yella, and MC Ren. The rough and ready Dre production of their debut studio album, Straight Outta Compton, enraged the authorities, shocked the music press, and enthralled hip-hop fans with its trifecta of profanity-filled anti-authority tracks "Straight Outta Compton", "Fuck Tha Police" and "Gangsta Gangsta". Despite its own notoriety keeping it out of mainstream media—boosted by the FBI sending them a warning letter challenging the lyrical content "Fuck Tha Police"— the album was an unprecedented success, selling over 500,000 copies in just under two months with no radio play or TV support.
Although N.W.A.'s album was simultaneously demonized for glamourising black-on-black crime and praised by fans and critics for portraying the West Coast's gang culture with unrelenting honesty, violence wasn't its only focus. Amongst the ferocious energy of the LP was "Express Yourself," on which Dre took the lead with both production and lyrics, sampling Charles Wright & the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band's song of the same name, and preached the importance of freedom of speech and, notably, contained zero expletives.
By 1990, Cube had-not-so-amicably left the group, and though N.W.A continued making music, the critical buzz had worn off. In 1991, N.W.A. made history again, steering second effort EFIL4ZAGGIN to number one despite being banned in a number of retail chains, but Dre's dwindling interest in N.W.A on top of a strained relationship with Eazy saw him part ways shortly after.
Here we chronicle just some of Dr Dre's landmark moments that contributed to his evolution.
Andre (far left, I know right!) was christened Dr Dre having earned his stripes DJing at LA club The Eve After Dark, where he labelled himself a "Master of Mixology". Inspired by the overarching influence of Grandmaster Flash, the World Class Wreckin' Cru fleetingly became stars of the early 80s electro-hop in the West Coast, the track "Surgery" acting almost as an ode to Dre on the decks, selling 50, 000 copies in his hometown Compton. Though the group experienced mild success, Dre saw an out from the constraints of DJing after meeting a rapper by the name of O'Shea "Ice Cube" Jackson.
WORLD CLASS WRECKIN' CRU
With no exaggeration N.W.A's Straight Outta Compton changed the landscape of hip-hop indelibly. In 1986, Dre had hooked up with Ice Cube, who was already fully immersed in the West Coast’s burgeoning rap scene. Together they began working with Eric "Eazy-E" Wright—a Compton drug dealer who’d once bailed Dre out of prison—at Eazy’s self set up label, Ruthless Records. Dre’s very first production effort was “Boyz in the Hood,” which, sold locally, swiftly garnered Dre notoriety in L.A.