Dr. Dre’s birthday is coming up on Monday, and while you may be too inconsiderate to recognize the 48th birthday of gangsta rap’s godfather, Mike Davis and his extended network of Dr. Dre obsessives surely have not. Mike, along with a crew of DJs and promoters all across North America, throw “Dre Day” parties in a whole bunch of cities to celebrate the birth of Andre Young. I spoke to Mike about why he decided to organize a celebration that recognizes a dude who made some of the greatest music of all time, outside of that obvious detail.
Noisey: How did the Dre Day night all come about?
Mike Davis: Like a lot of our best ideas, it started with just some shit-talking and goofing off around the studio. Around late 2002, the crew from Life Sucks Die magazine was transitioning out of working on the magazine and into building a design studio known as Burlesque of North America. LSD alum Andrew Broder was in the office talking with Wes Winship and George Thompson about his upcoming single "What a Day Day" by his band Fog. The three were just randomly blurting out other “Day’s” and Andrew said something about "What a Dre Day." He left the office and a huge light bulb went off in his head, Wes ran downstairs, stopped him in the lobby and started brainstorming ideas for Dre Day. What and when would it be? How would we celebrate this icon of rap music and how could we turn his birthday into a national holiday?
The first party was February 18th (Dr. Dre's birthday), 2003 at 7th Street Entry in downtown Minneapolis. Local DJs spun Dre-related classics from World Class Wrecking Cru to The Chronic to "Straight Outta Compton" to Get Rich Or Die Tryin. Twin cities punk icons Dillinger Four performed, we played the $20 Sack Pyramid live on stage, there was cake, fake Dre memorabilia, and the first ever Dr. Dre sticker pack featuring lyrics from The Chronic and faces of Dre / Snoop / Steven Tyler / etc all served up in a dimebag.
It's grown quite a bit. Can you walk me through its expansion?
We knew we couldn't just do the party once. By this time, I had moved up to Minneapolis and helped organize the second party and work on design elements for it. We moved it to Triple Rock Social Club, had local live band Heiruspecs play a set of Dr. Dre covers with some of the Rhymesayers rappers (Brother Ali, Slug, Eyedea, and I Self Devine) doing verses on top. We started adding more merchandise each year (40 oz koozies, Dre Day magnetic refrigerator poetry, T-shirts, posters), getting really nuts with our set decorations (a fridge filled with 40s and a fog machine on stage, a giant lit-up weed leaf that drops from the ceiling at midnight, 40 oz bottle ring toss, and a full-sized hand-painted The Chronic album cover photo booth), and selling out the venue earlier each year.
What do you think it is about Dr. Dre that makes so many people excited?
We all grew up with Dr. Dre's music and have followed his career over the years - from N.W.A. to The Chronic to the Slim Shady era, he's always been there on the forefront of rap music. He's one of the few hip-hop artists who has not only been present and active since the 1980s, but has been hugely influential in introducing new sounds and new artists. From kicking off the G-Funk era to giving us Eazy-E, Snoop Dogg, Nate Dogg, Eminem, 50 Cent, and Kendrick Lamar, to keeping the entire world on the edges of our seats waiting for that goddamn Detox to drop, who else has had that kind of impact?
Well that leads to a big question! If Detox ever comes out, what do you want to see on it?
Songs where Dre doesn't talk about his headphones. We want more timeless party anthems that will still be huge songs in 20 years. Two Xzibit songs, one Lady of Rage song plus, like, a song with her doing a chorus. Three Snoop songs, two Kendrick Lamar songs, one Eminem song, one Jay-Z song, maybe a lost Nate Dogg chorus?
Sounds good to me. What's your favorite Dr. Dre beat, why?
That's tough. There are so many good ones from his different eras, from the Ultimate Breaks & Beats funk collages of the early '90s to the "Funky Worm" synth mayhem of the G-funk era to the sonically undefeatable newer beats that cut through over any other song on any sound system. Can I choose 5? I’m going to choose five: "Gin and Juice," "Straight Outta Compton," "In The Club," "California Love," and "Natural Born Killaz."
How about your favorite Dr. Dre verse?
Dre and Snoop's back and forth on "Nothin But a G-Thang" are the most timeless and memorable. I might have to go with that entire song.
You've heard it a million times, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't listen again right now.
Most serious rap fans, at this point, understand that Dr. Dre has ghostwriters, but that hasn't really done anything to tarnish his rep. Why do you think that is?
Hopefully everyone knows that most huge rappers have ghostwriters, so it should be no surprise. I think for the same reason that people are OK with the fact that Rick Ross used to be a C.O, Dre's fans are really just more interested in the final product and not how it was made. I'm still waiting for someone to release a demo version of Jay-Z doing his "Still D.R.E." lyrics.
Ah, man. Me too. Has Dr. Dre contacted you whatsoever? Has he ever been to one of the Dre Day parties?
We have never been directly in touch with Dre, but we have confirmed that he knows about the event. In 2009, we had Arabian Prince come DJ at our biggest Dre Day ever. A former member of N.W.A and still a close friend of the doctor, he gave Dre a call on some, "You'll never guess where I'm going tomorrow" shit, then showed him our photos of the $20 Sack Pyramid, the photo booth, etc. Dre thought it was funny. Also, we know Snoop has seen our sticker packs when he popped into our buddy Rhek's store Sharks & Hammers in Vancouver.
Cool. What cities have embraced Dre Day the most, would you say? Why do you think that is?
The first person to contact us about doing a Dre Day in another city was Project Matt, a Twin Cities native living in New York. He knew all about Dre Day and figured it could pop off in NY. The next folks were the crew from Chicago. Having the sticker packs get out into the world has been a great way to spread the word about the party. I think for the reasons I was talking about earlier, everyone loves Dr. Dre and wants to celebrate. We add on new parties every year, from Vancouver to Seattle to Philadelphia to Miami to Tampa to Kansas City to Indianapolis to Atlanta to Charlotte all the way to Paris, France! We love seeing everyone come up with their own ways to celebrate, their own stage decorations, etc. Every year is another step closer to national holiday status! Come on government employees, don't you want an extra day off each year to smoke weed and listen to rap music?
Sounds great to me. What do you think rap would be like without Dr. Dre? Would it even exist?
If it weren't for N.W.A, rap very easily might have faded out in the 1980s as a fad. I think they were hugely important for taking the music in a new direction, expanding the audience exponentially, and opening some new doors.
Dre Day parties are coming up in Minneapolis, New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Charlotte, Tampa, Miami, Toronto, Vancouver, and Kansas City. Check out all of the event posters for more info right over here.