the significance of dr dre

Following the release of his new – and apparently final – album, we consider the sheer sonic importance of Andre Young…

by Hattie Collins and i-D Staff
11 August 2015, 11:38pm

In 1979, Michael Jackson and Quincy Jones created Off The Wall. It featured songs that still slay at weddings today - Rock With You, Don't Stop Till You Get Enough and ultimate tearjerker She's Out Of My Life. It successfully divorced Jackson from his teenybopper Jackson 5 days and earned him his first Grammy. In 1982, the pair returned to LA's Westlake studio with a budget of $750,000. They made Thriller, which has sold over 120 million copies to date and retains the title of the most successful album of all time. Its impact on music and popular culture cannot be overstated. In 1988, they went back to Westlake one last time and created Bad. Bad featured Man In The Mirror. That was the last time the two worked together, with MJ going on to release Quincy-less albums Dangerous, History and Invincible. So, yeah.

Outside of his work with Michael Jackson, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis and Frank Sinatra, film scores including The Italian Job and The Colour Purple, his discovery of Will Smith and subsequent creation of seminal TV series The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, lets not ever forgot that it was the very loins of Quincy Jones that bore the awesome Rashida.

What we're saying here, in short, is that Quincy Jones is a motherfucking badman. And it is not lightly that we dare draw comparison to a badman of such epic motherfucking proportions. But here it goes...

In 1988, Andre Romelle Young was the musical mastermind behind N.W.A.'s Straight Outta Compton, an album so seminal, so groundbreaking, so wrought with rebellion and such a provocatively pronounced point of view that its importance can never be overstated. It offended, it disgusted, it awoke and it predicted the racial tensions that would soon spill over onto the streets of LA in the wake of Rodney King's senseless beating by LAPD officers. It is an album that is perhaps more relevant today than ever before. Its impact on music and popular culture cannot be overstated.

In 1992, following a fall out with Eazy E and Ice Cube, Dre left N.W.A, created The Chronic and invented G-Funk. A young Calvin Broadus Jr. - whom Dre discovered freestyling on a tape over En Vogue's Hold On - featured on the record, and in 1993, Dre and Snoop created Doggystyle. In 1995, he produced California Love for fellow Death Row records rapper Tupac Shakur. In 1998, after being introduced to Marshall Mathers III by then Interscope CEO Jimmy Iovine, Dre signed Eminem to his own label, Aftermath. The Slim Shady LP dropped in 1999, the same year that Dre followed up The Chronic with 2001. Highlights of Dre's end of the millennium music include What's The Difference, Forgot About Dre. Still D.R.E and My Name Is. In 2003, Em and Dre got behind a cocky MC from Queens called 50 Cent. Get Rich Or Die Tryin boasted In Da Club, a song still played at ratchet birthday parties the world over. Though his workrate may have slowed in recent years, Dre found time to sign The Game and Kendrick Lamar (undoubtedly one of the most important voices in hip hop today), and became hip hop's first billionaire thanks to his headphone line Beats By Dre and his rumoured financial interest in Burning Man. Not to mention his new Beats1 show, The Pharmacy, which presumably makes him money while he's making money. Other highlights of the Good Doctor's canon include Boyz-In-Da-Hood, Keep Their Heads Ringing, Family Affair, Let Me Blow Ya Mind, Minority Report and No Diggity. Over the years while making his piles of cash, he's shown unwavering dedication to the art - Dre's never been afraid to walk away from millions of dollars, whether from Eazy and Ruthless or Suge Knight and Death Row. Oh and he has a daughter called Truly.

It would be remiss to point out the doc hasn't been all good; there's been convictions for violence towards women, including a police officer, a journalist and his former partner Michel'le. Unjustifiable, deeply disappointing and which should never be overlooked or dismissed.

But to separate the man from the music as we must on such occasions - and to return to the Quincy Jones hypothesis - Dr. Dre, like Quincy Jones is a motherfucking badman. Sure, Pharrell, Kanye and Timbaland are hugely important and have probably had far more hits. Granted, he's rarely stepped outside of the world of rap or scored a film a la QJ (although as this New York Times piece so eloquently points out, Dre's mixing and mastering has more in common with composers like John Williams than contemporaries like Kanye). His solo albums don't always shoot straight to Number one nor do they clock up sales in the multi-multi-multi millions. He's won a mere 5 Grammy awards compared to Quincy's staggering 27.

But his latest, and potentially final, release is proof of that. We've all wasted years waiting on Detox, an album that he binned off ages ago by all accounts. Instead, he just went and made a whole new album and put it out, Beyoncé style.

Before even pressing play on Compton, it's telling in itself to be listening to the record on Beats by Dre headphones streaming on Apple Music, on whose Beats1 Dre now has his own radio show. Inspired by the forthcoming NWA biopic, Compton is far more imaginative and forward thinking than you might otherwise expect from a producer just turned 50. It retains the anger of Dre's early N.W.A days, the swagger of Chronic and the drums - oh God Dre's drums - of 2001. Snoop turns in his best verse in years sounding almost unrecognisable on the opening bars of One Shot One Kill. Kendrick fires shots at Drake, both on Deep Water ("Motherfucker I started from the bottom") and Darkside/Gone, with its very deliberate reference to 'energy'. Dre talks about Suge and Eazy liberally throughout. The Game is finally welcomed back into Dre's markedly massive guns on Just Another Day. 50 Cent is notable by his absence. The album is wrought with political overtones; not least by the close of Deep Water which features a recurring 'I can't breathe' refrain, a direct reference to Eric Garner. The beats bump, the snares crack, a recurring trumpet delights and the soul is really, really soulful, thanks especially to Jill Scott and former Floetry singer Marsha Ambrosius

This isn't an immediately obvious album; it's a record to soak up, to live with, to let breathe. Compton…isn't full of any discernable singles. There's no obvious bangerz. You get the sense that it was a record he needed to release in order to move on. While Dre says this will be his last release, you can bet there's more to come. Like Quincy Dre can't stop till he gets enough.

He told us before but we just didn't listen - we can't, nor should we ever - forget about Dre…

Compton is available on Apple Music now.


Image via Flickr Creative Commons

Dr. Dre