Friday, November 18, 2011

Dr. Dre -- "Nuthin' But a G Thang" (1992)

Now it’s time for me to make my impression felt
So sit back, relax, and strap on your seatbelt
You never been on a ride like this befo’
With a producer who can rap and control the maestro

Andre Romelle Young -- better known as "Dr. Dre" -- was born in 1965 in Compton, the Los Angeles County city whose name is as closely associated with West Coast gangsta rap as Nashville is associated with country music.

Dre grew up on some very mean streets, but unlike some other rappers who we're learning about in "Hip Hop 101," he was not a drug dealer or gangbanger.  You wouldn't know that from his lyrics, which certainly talk the gangsta talk:
Now soon as I said it
Seems I got sweated
By some nigga with a TEC-9 
Tryin' to take mine
Ya wanna make noise, make noise
I make a phone call
My niggaz comin' like the Gotti boys
Bodies bein' found on Greenleaf
With their f*ckin' heads cut off
(From his 1993 single, "Let Me Ride."  A TEC-9 is an inexpensive automatic weapon that was a favorite of the bad guys on Miami Vice.  When a thug tries to use one to "sweat" -- or assault -- him, he summons his fellow gangstas for some payback.  Pretty soon, decapitated bodies are being found along Greenleaf Boulevard, which is a main east-west street in Compton.)

Dr. Dre made his name as a member of the granddaddy of all gangsta rap groups, N.W.A. ("Niggaz With Attitude"), whose debut album was titled Straight Outta Compton.  

After Dre quarreled with fellow N.W.A. member Eazy-E and left the group, he became the first rapper signed to Death Row Records, which was run by Suge Knight, his former bodyguard and probably the scariest guy in the rap world (which is saying something). 

Dre's debut album with Death Row, The Chronic, went multi-platinum.  Snoop Dogg was featured on several tracks on the album, and Dre returned the favor by producing Snoop Dogg's Doggystyle album, which was the first album ever to debut at number one on the Billboard album charts.  Dre also collaborated with another rising superstar, Tupac Shakur.

Dre left Death Row in 1995, partly because he was concerned that Suge Knight was corrupt and out of control.  Shakur's murder the next year was another serious blow to Death Row's business.  Knight was in prison from 1997 to 2001, again in 2003, and eventually filed for bankruptcy.

Dre has continued to release albums, but is better known for his work as a producer.  He's worked with a "Who's Who" of hip-hop stars, most notably Eminem and 50 Cent.

The lyrics quoted above make reference to the fact that Dr. Dre has worn two hats during his career in rap -- he's a rapper, and he's the producer who pulls the strings for other rap maestros.

Dre's favorite musicians are 1970s funk guys like George Clinton and Isaac Hayes, but he doesn't use many samples -- he prefers to have live musicians recreate snippets of old records that have inspired him.  

Dre is known as a perfectionist in the recording studio.  He has refused to release albums by a number of the artists who have signed to his Aftermath label because they didn't meet his very high standards.  (Eminem is also a perfectionist, and that may explain why he and Dre have been such a successful team.)

Here's the music video for "Nuthin' But a G Thang" (i.e., "gangsta thing"), featuring Snoop Dogg and a 1964 Chevy Impala, Dre's favorite car:

Click here if you'd like to buy The Chronic from Amazon:

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