Dr. Dre

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About Dr. Dre

When Dr. Dre got his first Grammy in 1994 (Best Rap Solo Performance, “Let Me Ride”), the idea of mainstream audiences taking rap seriously was still pretty new. Not that rap wasn’t popular: A few years earlier, N.W.A.—of which Dre was a key part—had been the first hardcore rap group to have a No. 1 album on the Billboard charts (1991’s Efil4zaggin). But when it came to the kind of institutional respect that something like a Grammy confers, rap was still considered an insurrectionary fad: exciting, controversial, and above all the kind of thing that mainstream America seemed to hope would go away. Not only did Dre (born Andre Young in Compton in 1965) help legitimize hip-hop in the cultural imagination, he changed the vocabulary of the music itself. Where early rap was built on breaks—records excerpted and looped by a DJ in real time—Dre’s production on N.W.A.’s Straight Outta Compton (alongside other mid- and late-’80s work by Eric B., Rick Rubin, The Bomb Squad, and others) brought about the era of the sampler, leading to tracks that were denser, harder, and more reference-heavy. By 1992’s The Chronic (and Snoop Dogg’s Doggystyle), he’d moved on to replicating the funk he loved with live instrumentation, drawing a line from ’70s Black American music to a present where its messages of resilience and good times in the face of everything were especially resonant to a country shaken by race riots and sustained indifference toward its Black, urban populations. Listening to The Chronic could make you feel angrier, but it could make you feel tougher, too. By the time he was 30, Dre was already an elder statesman. Not only did he keep the music coming at his own pace (1999’s 2001, 2015’s Compton), he helped build careers for some of the most significant rappers of their generations, including 50 Cent, Eminem, and Kendrick Lamar. And with the launch of his Beats by Dr. Dre headphones in the late 2000s—and the subsequent sale of the Beats brand to Apple—Dre put himself in the rarified territory of JAY-Z and Kanye West: not just a hip-hop artist, but a businessperson, hustling, working, and taking his cut.

Los Angeles, CA, United States
February 18, 1965
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