This is an installment in The Posse Project, a 12-day series in which www.PHXmusic.com catches up with all 12 guys pictured on the cover of N.W.A's first album, N.W.A. and the Posse. Today, we continue with Dr. Dre the superstar rapper/producer who has had the most success since this photo was taken.
Also Known As: Andre Romelle Young, Dr. J
Before the Photo: Dr. Dre was already a notable musician, at least in Los Angeles, prior to his N.W.A days. As "Dr. J," the house DJ at Eve's After Dark (Compton's answer to the Cavern Club) and a member of World Class Wreckin' Cru, Dre had already established himself, landing a regular radio gig and selling an estimated 50,000 copies of the Cru's records through unofficial channels.
Dre's longtime publicist did not return a phone call or e-mail for The Posse Project, but Ronin Ro's excellent biography on Dr. Dre makes an important point about the cover: Macola, the group's first label, likely knew the group was shopping for another label at the time it commissioned the picture.
As Arabian Prince noted in Ro's book, when a band got a deal with a new label, Macola's M.O. was to quickly release every song the group had done. Dre, ever the savvy businessman, may have wanted to play ball with Macola as long as he needed to until N.W.A's deal with Priority was done, without laying all the group's cards on the table by stylizing the cover. Dre didn't talk to us, so we don't know for sure, but it seems possible.
After the Photo: The early days of N.W.A are filled with great ironies: One original member of Niggaz With Attitude was a Latino, and pop-rapper Candyman is on the cover of Posse. Another hilarious coincidence concerns the group's label, Priority Records.
When N.W.A signed with Priority the group became only the label's second signed act. The other was The California Raisins.
That's right: The first non-compilation album released by Priority was The California Raisins Sing the Hit Songs. The second was Straight Outta Compton.
As Ro writes, the label's bosses made a mint on the Raisins and wanted to re-invest the cash in something edgy. N.W.A certainly fit the bill. So not only did Eazy E put in the old tape, Marvin Gaye's Greatest Hits, Eazy and Dre got a leg up in the music business because of a cartoon band's cover of Gaye's "Heard It Through the Grapevine."
From there, Dr. Dre's career has had only the most minor of setbacks. His work with N.W.A was stellar, his solo debut, The Chronic, is regarded as one of the best rap albums of all time, and nearly everyone he's produced (Eminem, 50 Cent, The Game) has had success.
Now: Nary a week goes by when Dre is not either rumored or confirmed to be doing something big and important. The latest? He's selling computers for H-P, possibly planning to record a new joint album with Snoop Dogg and working on a new record called Detox, a long-term project that is fast becoming the new Chinese Democracy.
People Don't Know: Despite being the most important musician of the past quarter-century, Dr. Dre is not a musician, says N.W.A's former manager Jerry Heller.
"Something more significant than the fact that Dre wasn't a real gangster was the fact that he wasn't a real musician," Heller tells me. "Dre, only recently, has learned how to fool around on the piano. None of the guys in the group was a musician. I mean, Yella played a little drums, but none of them were musicians, which is part of the whole genre with gangster rap. Rather than being a creator of music, Dre was an assembler of music. It's a very interesting genre, unlike anything that came before. We've never had really successful musicians before that weren't real musicians."
People Don't Know: Dr. Dre's departure from N.W.A hurt Eazy E emotionally, says MC Ren.
"[Eazy] was hurt by all that shit," Ren tells me. "He was hurt because him and Dre started out back in the day, back in Compton. Before all the record company shit, they were a DJ crew, High-Powered Productions, doing house parties and shit like that. Dre was the tightest producer ever, putting out hits on him, and he was hurting like a motherfucker. Especially when them [dis] records came out — [hurt Eazy] like a motherfucker."
People Don't Know: Dr. Dre's departure spelled the end of N.W.A in a way Ice Cube's didn't, says Jerry Heller.
"The significant thing about the end of N.W.A was really when Dre left. After Cube left, there was still an N.W.A, but when Dre left, there was no N.W.A," Heller says. "He was certainly the most integral part of the group, and the most valuable asset Ruthless Records had."
People Don't Know: Dre's first effort for his own label, Aftermath Entertainment, suffered because Dre was too busy with the business side of things to do the production work he normally excelled at, says Jerry Heller.
"That's why the first Aftermath record was so bad. He did become distracted, and that Aftermath record is really the only bad thing Dre ever did in his life," Heller says. "When you look at Dre, he did World Class Wreckin' Crue, Turn Out The Lights . . . This guy has been at the very top of his game since 1986. He certainly is the most important producer of the entire rap period."
Check out the other installments in the Posse Project Here: