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CALLING DR. DRE TO SURGERY

The Story of a Visionary Producer/Entrepreneur and the Beats That Rocked the World
"Boom, boom go the beats that rock the nation," goes a line from "Surgery," the 1984 track from World Class Wreckin Cru that legendarily summoned Dr. Dre into the cut. In the ensuing 30 years, the man’s beats have never stopped booming—while his Beats (the company he co-founded with partner, friend and mentor Jimmy Iovine) now reportedly commands the highest price Apple has ever paid for anything.

Andre Romelle Young
grew up in So Cal’s (sing it with me) city of Compton; his middle name, a sort of musical benediction, comes from his dad’s doo-wop group, The Romells. Entranced by Grandmaster Flash’s turntable-powered first-generation hip-hop, he learned to rock the wheels and was still a teen when he adopted the "Doctor" sobriquet (a tribute to hoops giant Dr. J) in the aforementioned Cru, which scored with electro jams like "Turn Off the Lights."

But true fame—and genuine notoriety—came with his next project, N.W.A. Along with Ice Cube, Eazy E, MC Ren and DJ Yella, Dre helped invent the hard-charging, uncompromising subgenre that became known as gangsta rap (and put his home town on the map).

N.W.A. got the attention of veteran manager Jerry Heller, who helped the band set up its own Ruthless Records and landed them a distribution deal with Priority.1988’s Straight Outta Compton (notably featuring the explosive "Fuck Tha Police") was a lightning rod but also a crucial, raging dispatch on what Chuck D famously called "the black CNN." MTV refused to air the band’s videos—and the FBI wrote a threatening letter to Priority. All the controversy, of course, was great for business; Straight sold 2 million. The follow-up, Niggaz4Life, went straight to #1, a first for hardcore hip-hop.

Dre was unhappy with his equity in the band and Ruthless, and sought out of his contract. In 1991 Suge Knight came aboard to "get business handled," as Dre later phrased it. Allegations of brutality and intimidation followed, but Dre got out of his deal and joined Knight’s Death Row Records.

An escalating climate of excess and chaos surrounded his burgeoning career; he was arrested for battery and assault, subject to house arrest, sued and—at an L.A. party—shot in the legs. Later he was briefly imprisoned (after leading the cops in a high-speed chase in his new Ferrari), which turned out to be the wake-up call he needed.

In 1992 came Dre’s monumental album The Chronic, which found the hip-hop innovator once again redefining the genre. The shimmering "G-Funk" sound he crafted was built on the foundation of George Clinton’s synth-laden P-Funk, but with bone-rattling bottom end and a new mythology of gangsta wealth blinging up its rhymes.

The album also launched the first of many new hip-hop stars from the Dre stable, 20-year-old Snoop Doggy Dogg. The Chronic tracks moved hip-hop forward, but they were also undoubtedly pop masterpieces, as sales and Top 40 airplay (and even a Rolling Stone cover) amply demonstrated. "Nuthin’ but a G Thang" (a Grammy nominee) and "Let Me Ride" (Grammy winner, Best Rap Solo Performance) rocked speakers from the city to the burbs and around the world. Snoop’s Dre-produced solo bow-wow, 1993’s Doggystyle, made the laid-back rapper and megastar and launched hip-hop perennials like "Gin and Juice." His work with Tupac Shakur, meanwhile, yielded the monumental "California Love," among other influential cuts.

Dre left Suge’s gravitational pull in ’96 and formed his own Aftermath Entertainment, the Interscope-distributed label that would launch the Iovine-Dre discovery Eminem (60 million copies and counting), 50 Cent and an array of other acts. Dre’s production continued to dominate the nexus between pop and rhythm, thanks to work on hits by Mary J. Blige, Gwen Stefani and many others. His next solo album, 2001, featuring Em, Snoop, Kurupt and other guests, went six times platinum. "My greatest talent," the notorious perfectionist told TIME, "is knowing exactly what I want to hear."

He was named Producer of the Year at the 2001 Grammys, where he also shared Eminem’s Best Rap Album trophy and a Rap Performance win for "Forgot About Dre"; their fame having reached well outside the music world, Dre and Snoop co-starred in a movie, the 2001 caper comedy The Wash. The producer has subsequently been a pitchman for Coors Lite, Dr. Pepper and Chrysler.

2001 also saw him sell his portion of Aftermath to Interscope for $52m.

While his studio endeavors never ceased (see his 2010 Best Rap Album Grammy for Eminem’s Relapse, as well as work with The Game, Jay Z, Kendrick Lamar, Alicia Keys and on and on), Dre extended his partnership with Iovine to the consumer electronics field. Beats by Dre, launched in 2008, offered headphones and other accessories to music fans (notably hip-hop heads) who dug the convenience of iTunes, iPods and iPhones but not the dinky, tinny earbuds that came standard with Apple gear.

Powered by genius marketing that included a canny music-sports crossover, Beats by Dre quickly grew into a major lifestyle brand; the red "b" of its logo became a ubiquitous status symbol. Signature products branded with names like Diddy, Gaga and other artists expanded its reach, while the Beats Pill speaker started popping up in videos for Interscope acts. By 2012 Beats had 64% of the market for headphones priced over $100; that year saw it buy back the 25% stake owned by HTC for $150m. In 2013 the company was valued at $1 billion.

In January, Beats launched Beats Music, its on-demand streaming service, cutting a carrier deal with AT&T and delivering a sleek alternative to Spotify that focused on "curation" as a human-driven improvement on its competitors’ purely algorithm-based playlists.



That same year, Dre and Iovine bestowed $70 million to launch the USC Jimmy Iovine and Andre Young Academy for Arts, Technology and the Business of Innovation, where, according to the new institution’s slogan, "The Degree Is in Disruption." At USC’s 2013 graduation ceremony, Jimmy gave a valedictory address, followed by Dre, who enjoined the crowd, "Make some noise, Trojans." What would young Andre Young have made of the musical disruptor/benefactor beaming on the campus Jumbotron?

Just over a month ago, Forbes estimated Dre’s net worth at $550 million. With his slice of the Beats purchase he should indeed become (as was infamously touted in an exuberant, Heineken-fueled YouTube clip) the first hip-hop billionaire.

What’s more, Dre’s Beats—and his beats—will be hard-wired into the technology of the world. The Doctor’s next phase in the operating theater is about to begin.

TAGS: nograybox
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