Dr. Dre's influence on rap music is almost incalculable. As a member of N.W.A. in the late '80s and as a solo artist in the early '90s, Dre helped pave the way for the rise of gangsta rap, and his work as a mentor and producer for stars like Snoop Dogg, Eminem and 50 Cent has kept him relevant deep into his third decade in the music industry.
In the new "Dr. Dre: The Biography," veteran hip-hop writer Ronin Ro tells the story of Dre's rise from a teen who got his start making music on a cheap mixing board in his Compton, Calif., bedroom to his current status as one of the most powerful men in rap. Ro spoke with Salon from New York:
What drew you to Dr. Dre?
I originally wanted to write about his friendships with the other members of N.W.A. and show how rap music today and its culture are antithetical to what they used to be. Times are changing for rap music -- some of the changes are for the better, some are for the worse. The industry has always been dollar driven, but it's even more so now than it ever was. When [current rap fads] go the way of disco and the Hula-Hoop, Dre's still going to have his money and be able to look at himself in the mirror and say, "Fuck it, I tried to make good music." You can either be the leaves that blow any which way or you can be the tree. Dre's the tree.
What did you learn about him that surprised you the most?
A lot surprised me -- the specifics of his childhood, how he was raised. The thing that got me about Dre was that he was a man. He didn't sit around and hold his mother's hand and bitch and whine. He got off his ass and he made his own way. He faced hate from white people; he faced hate from black people; he faced hate from every single direction and he said, "Fuck you all." That's what got me. He had his setbacks and his limitations -- some of them self-imposed -- but he found something he was good at and he did it his way and he brought something new to rap music. He brought something new two or three times.
What will Dr. Dre's legacy be?
Dre will be regarded as a successful artist who created a record label [Aftermath] that produced great music and big profits. Having success with their own label has been a dream for a lot of musicians, and almost all of them have fallen by the wayside. Madonna was maybe the only other one to do it [with Maverick Records]. Dre's not the first black musician to try what he did -- look at [Prince's defunct label] Paisley Park; George Clinton had a bunch of labels. Everybody tries to start a label and 10 years down the line they're not hot anymore. But Dre subordinated his own ego and said, "Hey, I'm going to try something different," and he wasn't afraid to fail. Let's be real: Eminem could've easily been a failure. A lot of people could have said he's a whiny little bitch whose sentences are too crowded. Dre took a chance. 50 Cent -- the guy's no Shakespeare -- but Dre said, "I'll get involved." He's not afraid to fail in public and that has made him a success.
-- David Marchese