Born Andre Romelle Young, Dr. Dre is Hip Hop. Originally Dr. J, after basketball legend Julius "Dr. J" Erving, the Compton native eventually settled on Dr. Dre, a combination of both his government and stage names. Beginning as a DJ during the early '80s for the World Class Wreckin' Cru, it wasn't until meeting Ice Cube (real name O'Shea Jackson) in 1986 that his fame would begin its rise from local celebrity to international superstar.
Together writing songs for Ruthless Records, a label owned by local drug pusher Eric "Eazy E" Wright, Cube and Dre would pen the hit 'Boyz-N-The-Hood'. Inspiring Eazy to form the group N.W.A. (Niggaz With Attitude), the three would go on to change the soundscape of rap forever. After the largely ignored N.W.A. And The Posse album fell flat with listeners, Cube, Dre and Eazy, plus MC Ren and DJ Yella, would in 1988 go on to release the seminal Straight Outta Compton. An album so unapologetically violent, that while it wasn't gangsta rap's first appearance it was without question the first to find a popular audience.
With Dre cooking up hit after hit behind the boards for N.W.A. - think 'Express Yourself' and the highly controversial 'F**k The Police' - his production talent was unquestionable. With success aplenty, it took a member of the team jumping ship to stir things up not only with the group but in Dre's mind also. Lyrically chastising Ice Cube for leaving N.W.A. in 1989 on the track '100 Miles And Runnin'', Dre soon realised the error in his ways. "Cube was smart not to sign the contract," he said during an interview discussing the apparent shady business dealings behind the N.W.A. scenes. Citing conflicting egos and an unfair record deal, Dre, with the help of soon-to-be record industry mogul Suge Knight, left N.W.A. and Ruthless Records to start a new chapter in rap.
Forming Death Row Records with Suge Knight in 1992, it was Dre's noise collage of Bomb Squad beats and George Clinton funk that carried the label to the highest heights of rap. However, it wasn't just his beats that were taking flight. Dropping off his haunting first solo single 'Deep Cover' in the spring of 1992, alongside new protege Snoop Doggy Dogg, Dre's lyrical delivery took a step forward and helped usher in G-funk, the new sound of gangsta rap.
Discovering Snoop through his stepbrother, rapper Warren G, Dre immediately formed a bond with the laid back and funk-driven lyricist. Going on to produce his classic debut album Doggystyle (1993), the two were never too far away from one another when it came to the creative process. Contributing to Dr. Dre's own classic debut album, The Chronic (1992), Snoop's stylish wordplay and originality cemented 'Nuthin' But A 'G' Thang' as a certified worldwide smash. Still friends today, Dre and Snoop will forever be regarded as one of the best collaborative partnerships in Hip Hop history.
Keeping with the amoralistic and hedonistic subject matters heard on his work with N.W.A., Dr. Dre's The Chronic is often referred to as one of the finest moments in rap music. During an exciting time for the genre, Dre's magnum opus had it all. With discussions of gunplay, tales of youngsters embracing the ghetto life, and gratuitous comedic references to fellatio, it plays like the street edition of the lad bible. With samples galore - serving as a diss aimed at Eazy E and N.W.A. manager Jerry Heller, album standout 'Fuck Wit Dre Day (And Everybody's Celebratin')' sampled George Clinton's 'Atomic Dog' - it set the scene for the next generation of rappers.
At this point a dominant force in rap, Death Row Records had a roster of artists unrivaled by any other label at the time. Inmates included: Tha Dogg Pound (Daz & Kurupt), Nate Dogg, D.O.C., DJ Quik, Lady Of Rage, Michel'le - whom Dre had a longstanding romantic relationship with resulting in his third son being born - RBX, and Danny Boy. Acquiring the contract of imprisoned rapper Tupac "2Pac" Shakur, the label was about to hit controversy head on with 'Pac's turbulent lifestyle taking its toll. While Dre produced a few records for Death Row's new superstar, most notably 'California Love' - on which he also featured - and 'Can't C Me', it was no secret that the two didn't get on - 'Pac later released the slanderous 'Toss It Up' aimed at Dre.
Tired of Suge Knight's strong arm tactics, and in part because of his uneasy relationship with 2Pac, Dr. Dre left Death Row Records in the summer of 1996. Musically responsible for Death Row's dramatic rise, which saw the label go on to sell nearly 50 million records, Dre said goodbye to all of his hard work, but in all honesty he couldn't timed it any better. The Death Row ship was sinking. Snoop Dogg struggled to compose himself after his grueling murder trial. 2Pac was shot and killed in Las Vegas. Suge Knight was imprisoned for violating his parole. So while his former home lost its spark, he rebounded once again forming yet another label.
With everything this time on his own terms, the birth of Aftermath signaled a new day for Dre. Successfully adding his production talents [and a quick verse] to Blackstreet's 1996 humungous hit 'No Diggity', Dre then went on to become the household name he is today. Dropping off Dr. Dre Presents... The Aftermath in November of 1996, as the first album showcasing his new label talents - even if it didn't perform as well as his previous efforts - Dre's consistency would soon pay off. After contributing to the disappointing flop that was The Firm's (Nas, Nature, AZ and Foxy Brown) 1997 self-titled mafioso rap-themed debut album, it didn't matter that it only went gold, because with Eminem, Dre himself was about to go "white" gold... several times over.
Over the years mentoring his fair share of artists, Dr. Dre had an ear for talent. While occasionally missing the mark (remember Truth Hurts?), he hit the jackpot when he met the great white hope, Marshall Mathers. Releasing his hilariously disturbing major label debut The Slim Shady LP in 1999, Eminem, co-signed by Dre, executive produced by Dre, and mentored by Dre, became rap's first credible white rhymer - after the Beastie Boys of course. Going on to have the type of success that many rapper's could only dream of, Dr. Dre created a monster. Ahead of his time lyrically, Em's subject matters brought in a wider audience and were complimented extensively by Dre's ear and genre-defining beats. Since his debut, Eminem has gone on to sell over 100 million albums worldwide.
With the success of Eminem, Aftermath were fast becoming "the label". Releasing his sophomore solo project in November of 1999, Dre dropped 2001. Updating the G-funk sound that he had birthed, the format - weed, women and ruckus - was similar to that of his 1992 classic debut. This time taking inspiration from the growth in his own personal life, tracks like 'Forgot About Dre' was a reminder to the haters that he was still around and still making hits - "Now all I get is hate mail all day saying Dre fell off/ What, cause I been in the lab with a pen and a pad trying to get this damn label off". Selling over seven million albums in the United States alone, this was the nail in the haters' coffin. Continuing the relationship with his small circle of creative partners, Daz, Kurupt, Snoop and Nate Dogg stood front and centre with new additions such as Eminem, Mel-Man, Hittman, and Xzibit. There is no other album that truly defines the close of the '90s and beginning of the 2000s the way 2001 does. Epically gangsta, the addition of ominous strings and soulful vocals make for one hell of an album.
Between then and now, Dre has gone on to be recognised as one of the most important icons in Hip Hop. During the reognition process his rumored third album, Detox, has gone on to be arguably Hip Hop's most anticipated album of the past decade, and he even found time to make superstars out of both 50 Cent and Kendrick Lamar. Now the music fans number one supplier when it comes to headphones, his worldwide success as co-founder of Beats By Dr. Dre, with longtime friend and Interscope label head Jimmy Iovine, has seen him transfer studio quality sounds to the ear of the consumer. As a multi-million dollar company, this just further proves Dre might just have the most important ear in music.
Words: Will "ill Will" Lavin
This 1999 album was, as its title implied, years ahead of the game, driven by Dre’s now ubiquitous synth stabs and G-Funk Gangsta Rap rhythms. It’s no wonder 2001 continues to be namechecked nearly 15 years later by everyone from the Arctic Monkeys to Haim and Kendrick Lamar.
Words: Hattie Collins
This 1999 album was, as its title implied, years ahead of the game. Driven by Dre’s now ubiquitous synth stabs and G-Funk Gangsta Rap rhythms, lyrical duties were taken care of by Eminem, Snoop and Dre himself, who sneered the now immortal reminder,‘Who you think bought you the O.G’s/ The Eazy-E’s Ice Cubes, DOC’s and Snoop D O Double GG’s/ And the group that said muthafuck the police’. Far outselling its ‘Chronic’ predecessor (7.5m sales in the US alone), this taut, tense 22 track album didn’t let up for a second. The creeping tones of ‘The Watcher’ were followed by the smoky ode to California kush, ‘Lets Get High’ but it was the hard-hitting trifecta of ‘Forgot About Dre’, ‘Still D.R.E’ and ‘What’s The Difference’ with their total commitment to sonic excellence that proved why Dre is one of this generation’s greatest producers. It’s no wonder 2001 continues to be namechecked nearly 15 years later by everyone from the Arctic Monkeys to Haim and Kendrick Lamar.
Words: Hattie Collins
Straight Outta Compton is the debut studio album by American hip hop group N.W.A, released August 8, 1988 on group member Eazy-E's record label Ruthless Records. Its title refers to the group's native town, Compton, California. Production for the album was handled by Dr. Dre, with DJ Yella giving co-production. The album has been viewed as the pioneering record of gangsta rap; with its ever-present profanity and violent lyrics, it helped to give birth to this then-new sub-genre of hip hop. It has been considered groundbreaking by music writers and has had an enormous impact on the evolution of West Coast hip hop.
Straight Outta Compton redefined the direction of hip hop, which resulted in lyricism concerning the gangster lifestyle becoming the driving force in sales figures. It was later re-released on September 24, 2002, remastered and containing four bonus tracks. An extended version of the album was released on December 4, 2007, the 20th anniversary of the original album.
Niggaz4Life (also known as EFIL4ZAGGIN), is the second and final studio album by Gangsta rap group N.W.A, released in 1991. It was their final album, as the group disbanded later the same year after the departure of Dr. Dre and songwriter The D.O.C. for Death Row Records; the album features only four members of the original line-up, as Ice Cube had already left the group in 1989. Niggaz4Life debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200, but in its second week reached No. 1.
In 1992, several months after the release of the album, N.W.A released a video entitled Niggaz4Life: The Only Home Video, which chronicled the making of the album and its three music videos, "Alwayz into Somethin'", "Appetite for Destruction" and "Approach to Danger".
Thy Kingdom Come is the fifth studio album by West Coast hip hop artist King Tee. It was released in 2002 on Greedy Green Entertainment and Mo Beatz. The album was originally titled The Kingdom Come and was slated for a release on June 30, 1998, on Aftermath Entertainment. The 1998 version was to be King Tee's first release of new material in three years after allying with Dr. Dre and appearing on his compilation, Dr. Dre Presents the Aftermath.
King Tee's album was later put on hold. His shelved album had already been rated three and a half stars out of five by The Source, which was "not good enough" for Dr. Dre, but King Tee maintained a positive relationship with Dr. Dre. He even appeared on Dr. Dre's album, 2001, in 1999.
Eminem took a hiatus after the release of his first motion picture, 8 Mile, in late 2002, but it never seemed like he went away. Part of that is the nature of celebrity culture, where every star cycles through gossip columns regardless of whether they have a project in the stores or theaters, and part of it is that Marshall Mathers kept busy, producing records by his protégés D12, Obie Trice, and 50 Cent -- all hit albums -- with the latter turning into the biggest new Hip Hop star of 2003. All this activity tended to obscure the fact that Eminem hadn't released a full-length album of new material since The Eminem Show in early summer 2002, and that two and a half years separated that album and its highly anticipated sequel, Encore.
As the title suggests, Encore is a companion piece to The Eminem Show the way that The Marshall Mathers LP mirrored The Slim Shady LP, offering a different spin on familiar subjects. Where his first two records dealt primarily with personas and characters, his second two records deal with what those personas have wrought, which tends to be intrinsically less interesting than the characters themselves, since it's dissecting the aftermath instead of causing the drama. On The Eminem Show that kind of self-analysis was perfectly acceptable, since Eminem was on the top of his game as both a lyricist and rapper; his insights were vibrant and his music was urgent. Musically, Show didn't innovate, but it didn't need to: Eminem and his mentor, Dr. Dre, had achieved cruising altitude, and even if they weren't offering much that was new, the music sounded fresh and alive.
Here, the music is spartan, built on simple unadorned beats and keyboard loops. Some songs use this sound to its advantage and a few others break free -- "Yellow Brick Road" is a tense, cinematic production, yet it fits the subject matter. Eminem has decided to chronicle what's happened to him over the past two years and refute every charge that's made it into the papers. This is quite a bit different than his earlier albums, when he embellished and exaggerated his life, when his relationship with his estranged wife Kim turned into an outlaw ballad, when his frenetic insults, cheap shots, and celeb baiting had a surreal, hilarious impact. Here, Eminem is plain-spoken and literal, intent on refuting every critic from Benzino at The Source to Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, who gets an entire song ("Ass Like That") devoted to him. While the album is a little long, it's worth a listen to hear the moments that work really well, whether it's full songs or flights of phrase.
Maybe it was his time in prison, or maybe it was simply his signing with Suge Knight's Death Row label. Whatever the case, 2Pac re-emerged hardened and hungry with All Eyez on Me, the first double-disc album of original material in Hip Hop history. With all the controversy surrounding him, 2Pac seemingly wanted to throw down a monumental epic whose sheer scope would make it an achievement of itself. But more than that, it's also an unabashed embrace of the gangsta lifestyle, backing off the sober self-recognition of Me Against the World.
Sure, there are a few reflective numbers and dead-homiez tributes, but they're much more romanticized this time around. All Eyez on Me is 2Pac the thug icon in all his brazen excess, throwing off all self-control and letting it all hang out -- even if some of it would have been better kept to himself. In that sense, it's an accurate depiction of what made him such a volatile and compelling personality, despite some undeniable filler. On the plus side, this is easily the best production he's ever had on record, handled mostly by Johnny J (notably on the smash "How Do U Want It") and Dat Nigga Daz; Dr. Dre also contributes another surefire single in "California Love" (which, unfortunately, is present only as a remix, not the original hit version). Both hits are on the front-loaded first disc, which would be a gangsta classic in itself; other highlights include the anthemic Snoop Dogg duet "2 of Amerikaz Most Wanted," "All About U" (with the required Nate Dogg-sung hook), and "I Ain't Mad at Cha," a tribute to old friends who've gotten off the streets.
Despite some good moments, the second disc is slowed by filler and countless guest appearances, plus a few too many thug-lovin' divas crooning their loyalty. Erratic though it may be, All Eyez on Me is nonetheless carried off with the assurance of a legend in his own time, and it stands as 2Pac's magnum opus.
Words - Steve Huey
If Snoop Dogg's debut, Doggystyle, doesn't seem like a debut, it's because in many ways it's not. Snoop had already debuted as a featured rapper on Dr. Dre's 1992 album, The Chronic, rapping on half of the 16 tracks, including all the hit singles, so it wasn't like he was an unknown force when Doggystyle was released in late 1993. If anything, he was the biggest star in Hip Hop, with legions of fans anxiously awaiting new material, and they were the ones who snapped up the album, making it the first debut album to enter the Billboard charts at number one. It wasn't like they were buying an unknown quantity. They knew that the album would essentially be the de facto sequel to The Chronic, providing another round of P-Funk-inspired grooves and languid gangsta and ganja tales, just like Dre's album.
Which is exactly what Doggystyle is -- a continuation of The Chronic, with the same production, same aesthetic and themes, and same reliance on guest rappers. The miracle is, it's as good as that record. There are two keys to its success, one belonging to Dre, the other to Snoop. Dre realized that it wasn't time to push the limits of G-funk, and instead decided to deepen it musically, creating easy-rolling productions that have more layers than they appear. They're laid-back funky, continuing to resonate after many listens, but their greatest strength is that they never overshadow the laconic drawl of Snoop, who confirms that he's one of Hip Hop's greatest vocal stylists with this record.
Other gangsta rappers were all about aggression and anger -- even Dre, as a rapper, is as blunt as a thug -- but Snoop takes his time, playing with the flow of his words, giving his rhymes a nearly melodic eloquence. Compare his delivery to many guest rappers here: Nate Dogg, Kurupt, and Dat Nigga Daz are all good rappers, but they're good in a conventional sense, where Snoop is something special, with unpredictable turns of phrase, evocative imagery, and a distinctive, addictive flow. If Doggystyle doesn't surprise or offer anything that wasn't already on The Chronic, it nevertheless is the best showcase for Snoop's prodigious talents, not just because he's given the room to run wild, but because he knows what to do with that freedom and Dre presents it all with imagination and a narrative thrust.
If it doesn't have the shock of the new, the way that The Chronic did, so be it: Over the years, the pervasive influence of that record and its countless ripoffs has dulled its innovations, so it doesn't have the shock of the new either. Now, Doggystyle and The Chronic stand proudly together as the twin pinnacles of West Coast G-funk Hip Hop of the early '90s.
Probably the most hyped debut album by a rap artist in about a decade, most likely since Snoop's Doggystyle (1993) or perhaps Nas' Illmatic (1994), 50 Cent's Get Rich or Die Tryin' certainly arrived amid massive expectations. In fact, the expectations were so massive that they overshadowed the music itself -- 50 becoming more of a phenomenon than simply a rapper -- so massive that you had to be skeptical, particularly given the marketing-savvy nature of the rap world.
Even so, Get Rich is indeed an impressive debut, not quite on the level of such landmark debuts as the aforementioned ones by Snoop or Nas -- or those by Biggie, Wu-Tang, or DMX either -- but impressive nonetheless, definitely ushering in 50 as one of the truly eminent rappers of his era. The thing, though, is that 50 isn't exactly a rookie, and it's debatable as to whether or not Get Rich can be considered a true debut (see the unreleased Power of the Dollar and the Guess Who's Back? compilation ).
That debate aside, however, Get Rich plays like a blueprint rap debut should: there's a tense, suspenseful intro ("What Up Gangsta"), an ethos-establishing tag-team spar with Eminem ("Patiently Waiting"), a street-cred appeal ("Many Men "), a tailor-made mass-market good-time single ("In da Club"), a multifaceted tread through somber ghetto drama (from "High All the Time" to "Gotta Make It to Heaven"), and finally three bonus tracks that reprise 50's previously released hits ("Wanksta," "U Not Like Me," "Life's on the Line") -- in that precise order. In sum, Get Rich is an incredibly calculated album, albeit an amazing one.
After all, when co-executive producer Eminem raps, "Take some Big and some Pac/And you mix them up in a pot/Sprinkle a little Big L on top/What the f*ck do you got?" you know the answer. Give Em (who produces two tracks) and Dr. Dre (who does four) credit for laying out the red carpet here, and also give 50 credit for reveling brilliantly in his much-documented mystique -- from his gun fetish to his witty swagger, 50 has the makings of a street legend, and it's no secret.
It's hard to know what to make of Eminem, even if you know that half of what he says is sincere and half is a put-on; the trick is realizing that there's truth in the joke, and vice versa. Many dismissed his considerable skills as a rapper and social satirist because the vulgarity and gross-out humor on The Slim Shady LP were too detailed for some to believe that it was anything but real.
To Eminem's credit, he decided to exploit that confusion on his masterful second record, The Marshall Mathers LP. Eminem is all about blurring the distinction between reality and fiction, humor and horror, satire and documentary, so it makes perfect sense that The Marshall Mathers LP is no more or no less "real" than The Slim Shady LP. It is, however, a fairly brilliant expansion of his debut, turning his spare, menacing Hip Hop into a hyper-surreal, wittily disturbing thrill ride. It's both funnier and darker than his debut, and Eminem's writing is so sharp and clever that the jokes cut as deeply as the explorations of his ruptured psyche. The production is nearly as evocative as the raps, with liquid basslines, stuttering rhythms, slight sound effects, and spacious soundscapes.
There may not be overpowering hooks on every track, but the album works as a whole, always drawing the listener in. But, once you're in, Eminem doesn't care if you understand exactly where he's at, and he doesn't offer any apologies if you can't sort the fact from the fiction. As an artist, he's supposed to create his own world, and with this terrific second effort, he certainly has. It may be a world that is as infuriating as it is intriguing, but it is without question his own, which is far more than most of his peers are able to accomplish at the dawn of a new millennium.