Dr. Dre

the chronic

Andre Romelle Young (b. 1965), primarily known by his stage name Dr. Dre, is an American record producer, rapper, and record executive. He is the founder and current CEO of Aftermath Entertainment and a former co-owner and artist of Death Row Records, also having produced albums for and overseeing the careers of many rappers signed to those record labels, such as Snoop Dogg, Eminem and 50 Cent. As a producer he is credited as a key figure in the popularization of West Coast G-funk, a style of rap music characterized as synthesizer-based with slow, heavy beats.

Dr. Dre began his career in music as a member of the World Class Wreckin’ Cru and he later found fame with the influential gangsta rap group N.W.A with Eazy-E, Ice Cube, Mc Ren, and DJ Yella which popularized the use of explicit lyrics in rap to detail the violence of street life. His 1992 solo debut, ‘The Chronic,’ released under Death Row Records, led him to become one of the best-selling American performing artists of 1993. In 1996, he left Death Row to establish his own label, Aftermath Entertainment. Under that label he produced and released a solo album titled ‘2001’ in 1999.

During the 2000s, he focused his career on production for other artists, while occasionally contributing vocals to other artists’ songs. Dr. Dre signed Eminem and 50 Cent to his record label in 1996 and 2003 respectively while contributing production on their albums. Dr. Dre has also had acting roles in movies such as ‘Set It Off,’ and the 2001 films ‘The Wash’ and ‘Training Day.’

While in high school, he often attended a club called ‘The Eve After Dark’ to watch many DJs and rappers performing live. Thus, he became a DJ in the club, initially under the name ‘Dr. J,’ based on the nickname of Julius Erving, his favorite basketball player. At the club, he met aspiring rapper Antoine Carraby, later to become member DJ Yella of N.W.A. Soon afterwards he adopted the moniker Dr. Dre, a mix of previous alias Dr. J and his first name, referring to himself as the ‘Master of Mixology.’

He later joined the musical group World Class Wreckin’ Cru under the independent Kru-Cut Records in 1984. The group would become stars of the electro-hop scene that dominated early 1980s West Coast hip hop, and their first hit ‘Surgery’ would prominently feature Dr. Dre on the turntables and sell 50,000 copies within the Compton area.

In 1986, Dr. Dre met rapper Ice Cube, and collaborated with him to record songs for Ruthless Records, a label run by local rapper Eazy-E. N.W.A and fellow West Coast rapper Ice-T are widely credited as seminal artists of the gangsta rap genre, a profanity-heavy subgenre of hip hop, replete with gritty depictions of urban crime and gang lifestyle. Not feeling constricted to racially charged political issues pioneered by rap artists such as Public Enemy or Boogie Down Productions, N.W.A favored themes and uncompromising lyrics, offering stark descriptions of violent, inner-city streets.

Propelled by the hit ‘Fuck tha Police,’ the group’s first full album ‘Straight Outta Compton’ became a major success, despite an almost complete absence of radio airplay or major concert tours. The Federal Bureau of Investigation sent Ruthless Records a warning letter in response to the song’s content.

After Ice Cube left N.W.A in 1989 over financial disputes, Dr. Dre produced and performed for much of the group’s second album. In 1991, at a music industry party in Hollywood, he assaulted television host Dee Barnes of the Fox television program ‘Pump it Up,’ feeling dissatisfied with a news report of hers regarding the feud between the remaining N.W.A members and Ice Cube.

After a dispute with Eazy-E, Dre left the group at the peak of its popularity in 1991 under the advice of friend, and N.W.A lyricist, The D.O.C. and his bodyguard at the time, Suge Knight. Knight, a notorious strongman and intimidator, persuaded Eazy-E to release Dr. Dre from his contract. Knight featured Dr. Dre as his flagship artist, founded Death Row Records.

With Dr. Dre’s debut solo album ‘The Chronic,’ released under Death Row Records in 1992, he ushered in a new style of rap, both in terms of musical style and lyrical content. On the strength of singles such as ‘Nuthin’ but a ‘G’ Thang,’ ‘Let Me Ride,’ and ‘Fuck wit Dre Day,’ all of which featured Snoop Dogg as guest vocalist, The Chronic became a cultural phenomenon, its G-funk sound dominating much of hip hop music for the early 1990s.

Besides working on his own material, Dr. Dre produced Snoop Dogg’s debut album ‘Doggystyle,’ which became the first debut album for an artist to debut at number one on the Billboard 200 album charts.

In 1995, just as Death Row Records was signing rapper 2Pac and positioning him as their major star, Dr. Dre left the label amidst a contract dispute and growing concerns that label boss Suge Knight was corrupt, financially dishonest and out of control. Thus, in 1996, he formed his own label, Aftermath Entertainment. Death Row Records experienced declining sales with the loss of its flagship artist, the death of 2Pac, and the racketeering charges brought against Knight.

Aftermath had a shaky start, but the turning point came in 1998, when Jimmy Iovine, the head of Aftermath’s parent label Interscope, suggested that Dr. Dre sign Eminem, a rapper from Detroit. Dre produced three songs and provided vocals for two on Eminem’s successful and controversial debut album ‘The Slim Shady LP,’ released in 1999.

Dr. Dre’s second solo album, ‘2001,’ was also released that year. It was considered an ostentatious return to his gangsta rap roots and was  praised by critics and fans alike.

Another successful album on the Aftermath label was Get Rich or Die Tryin’, the 2003 major-label debut album by Queens, New York-based rapper 50 Cent. Dr. Dre produced or co-produced four tracks on the album, including the hit single ‘In da Club,’ a joint production between Aftermath, Eminem’s boutique label Shady Records and Interscope.

‘Detox’ is to be Dr. Dre’s final album. Work for the album dates back to early 2004, and had initially been set for a fall 2005 release but has been delayed many times. Hi-Tek, RZA, Jay-Z,  and Dr. Dre’s step-brother Warren G.

Dr. Dre has said that his primary instrument in the studio is the Akai MPC3000, a drum machine and sampler, and that he often uses as many as four or five to produce a single recording. He cites 1970s funk musicians such as George Clinton, Isaac Hayes and Curtis Mayfield as his primary musical influences. Unlike most rap producers, he tries to avoid samples as much as possible, preferring to have studio musicians re-play pieces of music he wants to use, because it allows him more flexibility to change the pieces in rhythm and tempo. Other equipment he uses include the E-mu SP-1200 drum machine and other keyboards from such manufacturers as Korg, Rhodes, Wurlitzer, Moog, and Roland.

In 1999 Dr. Dre started working with Mike Elizondo, a bassist, guitarist, and keyboardist who has also produced, written and played on records for female singers such as Poe, Fiona Apple and Alanis Morissette, In the past few years Elizondo has since worked for many of Dr. Dre’s productions. Dr. Dre also told Scratch magazine in a 2004 interview that he has been studying piano and music theory formally, and that a major goal is to accumulate enough musical theory to score movies. In the same interview he stated that he has collaborated with famed 1960s songwriter Burt Bacharach by sending him hip hop beats to play over, and hopes to have an in-person collaboration with him in the future.

Over the years word of other collaborators has surfaced. During his tenure at Death Row Records, it was alleged that Warren G and Tha Dogg Pound member Daz made many uncredited contributions to songs on his solo album ‘The Chronic’ and Snoop Doggy Dogg’s album ‘Doggystyle.’

It is known that Scott Storch, who has since gone on to become a successful producer in his own right, contributed to Dr. Dre’s second album ‘2001’; Storch is credited as a songwriter on several songs and played keyboards on several tracks. ‘At the time, I saw Dr. Dre desperately needed something,’ Storch says. ‘He needed a fuel injection, and Dr. Dre utilized me as the nitrous oxide. He threw me into the mix, and I sort of tapped on a new flavor with my whole piano sound and the strings and orchestration. So I’d be on the keyboards, and Mike [Elizondo] was on the bass guitar, and Dr. Dre was on the drum machine.’

Current collaborator Mike Elizondo, when speaking about his work with Dre, describes their recording process as a collaborative effort involving several musicians. In 2004 he claimed that he had written the foundations of the hit Eminem song ‘The Real Slim Shady,’ stating, ‘I initially played a bass line on the song, and Dr. Dre, Tommy Coster Jr. and I built the track from there. Eminem then heard the track, and he wrote the rap to it.’ This account is essentially confirmed by Eminem in his book ‘Angry Blonde,’ stating that the tune for the song was composed by a studio bassist and keyboardist while Dr. Dre was out of the studio but Dre later programmed the song’s beat after returning.

Although Dre studies piano and musical theory, he serves as more of a conductor than a musician himself. ‘Every Dre track begins the same way, with Dre behind a drum machine in a room full of trusted musicians. (They carry beepers. When he wants to work, they work.) He’ll program a beat, then ask the musicians to play along; when Dre hears something he likes, he isolates the player and tells him how to refine the sound.’ ‘My greatest talent,’ Dre says, ‘is knowing exactly what I want to hear.’

It is acknowledged that most of Dr. Dre’s raps are written for him by others, though he retains ultimate control over his lyrics and the themes of his songs. ‘It’s like a class room in [the booth]. He’ll have three writers in there. They’ll bring in something, he’ll recite it, then he’ll say. ‘Change this line, change this word,’ like he’s grading papers.’ As seen in the credits for tracks Dr. Dre has appeared on, there are often multiple people who contribute to his songs (although often in hip hop many people are officially credited as a writer for a song, even the producer).

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