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Dr. Dre, a Defiant One, Goes From Compton Streets to Receiving His Hollywood Walk of Fame Star

From the distinction of becoming hip-hop’s first billionaire to being honored with a Hollywood Walk of Fame star this week, the accomplishments and confidence of the man born Andre Young — aka legendary producer-rapper-entrepreneur Dr. Dre — could best be summed up with the lyrics from his debut solo hit, 1992’s “Nuthin’ but a ‘G’ Thang”:

“You never been on a ride like this before / With a producer who can rap and control the micstro / At the same time with the dope rhyme that I kick / You know and I know, I flow some old funky shit.”

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Using hip-hop as the basis of all he’s been and made, Dre’s epic adventure — one ripe with brash self-assurance and a continued need for invention (and re-invention) — is as filled with victory as it has been tumult. “I have had such a traumatic career, but such a fortunate career at the same time,” he told director Allen Hughes for 2017’s documentary series “The Defiant Ones.” Indeed, his vastly influential and lucrative career has also been beset by personal tragedy, including the loss of his beloved brother Tyree to street violence and a son to drug abuse.

But his determination has overcome trauma. Music has always entranced the 59-year-old Compton native, ever since his mother placed her son in front of her stereo’s speakers for the first time. Following high school, Young became “Dr. Dre” for the DJ-heavy rap ensemble World Class Wrecking Cru, and fashioned its biggest track, “Surgery.” Befriending Ruthless Records founder Eric “Eazy-E” Wright in 1986, then O’Shea “Ice Cube” Jackson and the rest of the men that made up N.W.A, was game-changing for the young Dre, who was the musical mastermind of the group’s success.

“Eazy-E is the godfather of gangster rap,” Ice Cube said in “The Defiant Ones,” “but you don’t have Eazy-E without Dr. Dre.”

As a collective, N.W.A painted the raging red colors of Black Los Angeles’ streets and social unrest with a palette of thick beats, menacing melodies and incendiary “gangster rap” language. Dre’s time as a producer and rapper in N.W.A helped position the group as revolutionaries and defined the sound of the West Coast. But like many good things, it simply couldn’t last.

“Money and business got involved and separated the friendship,” Dre told Kevin Hart for his “Hart to Heart” program. “I knew I had this talent and had been developing these skills.”

Dre peeled off from his N.W.A cohort and embarked on a solo venture, creating another musical masterpiece that reshaped the sound of California hip-hop. This time, the change came with the laid-back, George Clinton-inspired groove of G-funk and his debut solo album “The Chronic.” Along with introducing dozy rapper Snoop Dogg to the world (Dre also produced Snoop’s “Doggystyle” debut in 1993), “The Chronic” became a hip-hop cornerstone, ushering in an entirely new sound and era for the genre and serving as a massive breakthrough for the multi-hyphenate artist.

On “The Chronic,” Dre took the bassy, gunshot rhythms and dense musicality he invented for N.W.A albums and made them lower and slower. And though Dre co-founded the notorious and enormously successful Death Row Records with the now-incarcerated Suge Knight in 1991, he left it all behind — at considerable personal expense — in March 1996 due to internal squabbles and escalating violence: Death Row artist Tupac Shakur was shot and killed just months later while riding in a vehicle with Knight. Dre started all over with his Aftermath label: “I have no problem betting on myself,” Dre told Hart of founding the imprint. “And I’m gonna win.

Distributed through Interscope, Aftermath’s first major victory came before the end of the ’90s and signaled Dre’s next great collab as a producer and tastemaker, signing controversial rapper Eminem and overseeing his breakthrough album “The Slim Shady LP.” Four years later, he struck platinum again with 50 Cent. To say that Dre had the Midas touch would be an understatement.

Yet Dre’s next move — and his next collaboration with Interscope co-founder Jimmy Iovine — would both encompass and stretch beyond the music industry. The two co-founded Beats Electronics in 2006 and launched its Beats by Dre headphones two years later. Within a year of launch, they had sold nearly 2 million headsets, and after teaming with Apple for Beats Music’s streaming service in 2014, they sold the Beats brand to the tech giant for $3.2 billion. Around this time, the dynamic duo created a multimillion endowment to USC for the USC Iovine and Young Academy dedicated to nurturing their students’ talents in music and business. (On his own, Dre committed $10 million to a performing arts center for the new Compton High School in his old stomping grounds.)

“Iovine is the levitator and Dre is the innovator,” Eminem said in “The Defiant Ones.” “Dre and Jimmy produce each other.”

In addition to his Iovine partnership, Dre has seemingly always favored collaboration and mentorship, the latter of which has led him to working with an array of producers on his 2015 album “Compton” and opening a school with his name on it to serve as a music industry breeding ground for young minds. In his time, Dre has called Eminem and Snoop Dogg “angels” who came to him when he needed a voice and has been clear that he is “better and much more comfortable directing an artist than being an artist myself.”

Still, it is Dr. Dre who clearly started the deep beat revolution of West Coast hip-hop with N.W.A to accompany Los Angeles’ gangsta car culture (“I wanted to make sure those subwoofers were working,” he told Hughes), and continued that uprising with the low, slow drive of “The Chronic.”

However, his personal life has not been without controversy — several women have accused him of domestic violence and assault (television host Dee Barnes, ex-wife Nicole Young, two of the mothers of three of his children). He has apologized for these incidents several times, at length in a statement to the New York Times after the 2015 release of “Straight Outta Compton.”

“Twenty-five years ago, I was a young man drinking too much and in over my head with no real structure in my life. However, none of this is an excuse for what I did,” the statement read. “I’ve been married for 19 years and every day I’m working to be a better man for my family, seeking guidance along the way. I’m doing everything I can, so I never resemble that man again,” adding “I apologize to the women I’ve hurt. I deeply regret what I did and know that it has forever impacted all of our lives.” (The marriage he referenced in the statement, to Nicole Young, ended in divorce — and a $100 million settlement — in 2021.)

But just weeks after the divorce settlement, he was on music’s biggest stage at Los Angeles’ SoFi Stadium in 2022, orchestrating one of the greatest Super Bowl halftime shows in history: an all-star ensemble with Snoop, Eminem, 50 Cent, Mary J. Blige and Kendrick Lamar. It was clear that Dre was the focus of the big event — the one man with whom each of the performers had worked, and likely the only person who could bring them all to the same stage. Together, Dre and his collaborators represented the whole of hip-hop when it came to mainstream America and its viewership of the Super Bowl. “I would’ve never thought that this moment would be happening right now,” Dre told The Guardian, awed by the center stage that he and hip-hop would take within pop culture.

Call it a victory lap, or a culmination, but the performance summed up what makes Dre such an enduring figure. Even today in hip-hop and its vast, ever-growing subgenres, Dre’s influence is still felt, from Lamar’s string of boundary-pushing albums to the countless classics he helmed along the way. For a man whose influence has touched all aspects of music — what we listen to, how we listen to it, from dancefloors to sporting events — the Hollywood Walk of Fame star is yet another accolade for one of music’s most seminal icons.

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Dr. Dre’s Greatest Hits

While it’s easy to select dozens of innovative Dre productions for their banging beats and scintillating arrangements, it’s important to note how Dre, the rapper, tailored his deep voice to meet the dramatic nuance or opulent bombast of the music he produced. Never mind that he’s historically had assistance writing his lyrics; it’s how he’s translated those words and married them to forward-thinking instrumentation that’s etched him in the hip-hop history books. Each of Variety’s best-of selections includes Dre behind the wheel of the mixing board and behind the mic.

N.W.A “Express Yourself” (1988)

The gangster rap mob’s debut, “Straight Outta Compton,” was notorious for its full-frontal, socio-political attacks on cops and breathtaking ghetto travelogues such as “Fuck tha Police” and the album’s title track — both featuring the fierce vocals of Ice Cube, MC Ren and Eazy-E and Dre’s pioneering production. But “Express Yourself” is Dre’s big solo rap moment on “Straight Outta Compton.” It’s a winner as his cocksure voice rides the brassy contours of Charles Wright & the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band’s “Express Yourself” and lyrics such as “My technique is very necessary.”

N.W.A, “Niggaz 4 Life” (1991)

With Ice Cube out of N.W.A before its sophomore album, Dre became a stronger force as part of MC Ren and Eazy-E’s inner circle and fashioned a Moebius strip of historic samples to tell the title track’s tale of misogynistic, machismo-driven unity. To that end, Dre’s deep voice sticks out amidst the tapestry of clips of the Last Poets, Kool & the Gang, the Meters, Little Feet, Curtis Mayfield and Parliament’s rump-shaking classic “Flashlight.”

Dr. Dre featuring Snoop Dogg, “Nuthin’ but a ‘G’ Thang” (1992)

There are several “Chronic” classics and its West Coast-defining G-funk sound. Still, no track defines that sound more than Dre and Snoop Dogg joining forces for the syrupy smooth “Nuthin’.” Hearing the rumble of Dre’s flow — then-fresh to a solo career after leaving N.W.A — paired with Snoop’s new school slither for the first time was breathtaking.

Dr. Dre & Ice Cube, “Natural Born Killaz” (1994)

Listen to the instrumental tone of Dre’s dense, ominous intro — a mean growl. This is the not-so-laidback flipside of “The Chronic” and its mellow vibe. Cube’s pointed rap and Dre’s menacing rhymes showed that the chemistry hadn’t been lost on their first collaboration since their time in N.W.A.

2Pac featuring Dr. Dre and Roger Troutman, “California Love” (1995)

There were only two Dre-produced songs on Tupac Shakur’s 1996 set “All Eyez on Me,” but not only is “California Love” the best cut on the album, but it also may be Shakur’s shining moment … and possibly Dre’s, too. “California Love” sees a plinking piano laying down the rhythm while its ascending brass and Troutman’s signature talk box create a melodic counterpoint. Dre’s rap introduction to 2Pac sets a haunting mood at a time of continued unrest in L.A. “Let me welcome everybody to the wild, wild west, a state that’s untouchable like Eliot Ness / The track hits your eardrum like a slug in the chest.”

Dr. Dre, “Been There, Done That” (1996)

This rare Dre-only song appears on “Dr. Dre Presents: The Aftermath,” the first album for his Aftermath label. This compilation of Dre-related artists finds the Dr. himself taking a poke at his old gangster rap image, making light of hard-talking gun-toters at a time when rap was under fire for violent lyrics and influence on the youth. Initially criticized for walking away from his past street cred, “Been There,” in retrospect, is a handsome, even startling new approach to the next phase of Dre-dom.

Eminem featuring Dr. Dre, “Guilty Conscience” (1999)

On the cusp of the 2000s, Dre hitched his wagon to the comically violent Eminem and created another sonic revolution, similar to what he did with Snoop a decade earlier. Only this time, Dre’s production sensibilities (to say nothing of his raps) were more dramatic, theatrical and even humorous to align with Em’s nasal raps and cutting punctuation. In the extended video, Dre even plays Eminem’s “conscience,” rapping the part with gusto.

Dr. Dre featuring Eminem and Hittman, “Forgot About Dre” (2000)

A plinking guitar sampled from No Doubt and a puckering sequencer line borrowed from his heroes in Kraftwerk introduce this response to diss tracks that filled “Suge Knight Represents: Chronic 2000” compilation. Rarely has Dre sounded as aggressive as when he raps, “Who you think brought you the oldies, Eazy-E’s, Ice Cube’s, and DOC’s, the Snoop D.O. Double G’s, and the group that said ‘motherfuck the police?’” Dre is so pissed off, he sneers, “Y’all are gonna keep fucking around with me, and turn me back to the old me.”

Dr. Dre featuring Kendrick Lamar, Marsha Ambrosius and Candice Pillay, “Genocide” (2015)

Updating his West Coast vibe for the 21st century on his “Compton” solo album meant replacing its more laid-back elements with steely, industrial noise, some house music breaks, more caustic lyricism and the lilt of dancehall. Welcome South African singer-songwriter Pilay, Liverpool’s soulful Ambrosius (a songwriting collaborator with whom Dre recorded the still-unreleased “Casablanco” album) and Dre’s spiritual son and fellow Compton-ian, Lamar, for a bracing track that pushes the producer-rapper into the future.

Dr. Dre with Snoop Dogg, Busta Rhymes & Anderson.Paak, “ETA” (2022)

For the “GTA Online: The Contract” EP — that’s Grand Theft Auto Online — Dre not only appears as himself in the game, but recorded a handful of tracks with rapping friends old (Eminem) and new (Ty Dolla $ign) along with a handful of young producers he mentored. What’s most compelling about this track is that its wheezing organs and background vocals hark back to the first soul samples — Roy Ayers, Marvin Gaye, Isley Brothers — he used on “Straight Outta Compton.” The adage “what goes around comes around” works well here.

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