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Ruthless Era

A local Compton-bred drug dealer and business entrepreneur Eric Wright was a regular face at Eve’s he became increasingly involved in the idea of starting a record label in which to sell recordings of his South Central-Compton rap scene. Wright discovered the souring relationship between Dre and Cube with Alonzo and separately whispered the idea in Dre and Cube’s head to form a South Central rap super-group. Wright had formed an alliance with them and paid Lonzo for the use of his studio in which Wright hired Dre to produce tracks for an east coast group – HBO, (Home Boys Only). Cube was to ghost write the lyrics. This was not to eventuate as the group refused to perform the lyrics written by Cube. A specific track turned down by HBO which was a vivid and street-cred South Central anthem called “Boyz N The Hood”. The lyrics were destined to be heard. As Cube had left LA in 1986 to forego his early rap career in favour of an architectural drafting degree in Phoenix, Dre insisted Eric should perform the hit. Eric was not a natural rapper, but was coached nicely into the hardened character of Eazy-E, reflecting the lifestyle of Wright’s hustle. The track was hot and played profusely on KDAY FM with Dre and Yella’s influence. By the close of 1987 it was the most requested on LA radio. During 1987 and ’88 Eazy and Dre worked through producing the music for the volume of lyrics left behind by Cube. With local Compton rapper, Lorenzo ‘MC Ren’ Patterson and producer Arabian Prince Ruthless Records created Niggaz With Attitude (NWA) and just before Ice Cube’s return to the forefront of the group, Macola Recordings released their debut EP NWA & The Posse which was a Dre-produced album originally marked for Houston, Texas group, Fila Fresh Crew‘D.O.C.’ Curry. This was not an official Ruthless endorsed NWA album but nevertheless it showcased Dre’s next progression in production.

He owned the new formula to west coast rap music. Shortly after Cube returned and the group worked together on their first NWA album, Straight Outta Compton produced by Dre along with establishing himself as a rapper through various tracks. Along with the controversy and explosive nature of a new genre, the album sold two million copies and took Dre from the club and radio circuits in LA to the world. Straight Outta Compton is today regarded as the first and one of the greatest Gangsta Rap albums in history. Here the doctor begins collecting platinum-produced records. Dre was soon commissioned to produce Eazy’s début solo album, Eazy-Duz-It which spawned the release of “Boyz N The Hood” and other tracks with lyrics written by Ice Cube and The DOC. The album dropped cashing in on E’s soaring bad-boy popularity going double platinum immediately. The group’s second album was released a year later without Cube who parted ways with Eazy’s Ruthless Records over pay. By 1989 The DOC’s album was the next Dre-produced Ruthless record, No-One Can Do It Better there showed a distinct trend in Dre’s production as it was being moulded tightly into his now famous G-Funk. The record’s biggest hit was It’s Funky Enough. The album went platinum selling in excess of one million copies in the US.

Ice Cube had left Ruthless Records after not agreeing to a long-term contract with Ruthless Records. One of the greatest west coast writers had left NWA. By 1990 Dre was pressured into turning out more NWA albums for Eazy. 100 Miles n Runnin’ hit the streets in 1990 along with Efil4zaggin in ’91 both going platinum proving to be the new bounce of the west coast, a true credit to Dre’s production. However due to disparaging remarks sent out to Eazy and Ruthless Records from Ice Cube on his follow-up solo album Dre had come to the realisation that Eazy was ripping Dre off due percentages from album royalties. He too went solo, along with The DOC, his girlfriend Michel’le who had followed Dre from Lonzo’s World Class Wreckin’ Cru days. Ruthless Records and NWA faded into insignificance without the starring contributions from Dr. Dre, Ice Cube and DOC. The next chapter in Dre’s career would burst open like flood gates, just in case you thought he reached the pinnacle of his career with the Gangsta Rap explosion of NWA on the market. This was Dre’s time to control the fortune of his inventiveness. Free for the doctor to work in the production lab and experiment with this distinct new genre, the Frankenstein’s monster he later called G-Funk.

Dre day

Dre let rip a dozen unpaid, starving amateurs spitting venomously in the microphone booths under the resonating bass and sweet hooks of bouncing Parliament-Funk and Leon Haywood signatures. The new Long Beach energy perfectly accentuated the G-Funk and since Snoop Dogg barked on Deep Cover alongside Dre, had grown a rep as a serious emcee in LA. His flow was apparent on an almost equal level to Dre’s on the album, stirring Long Beach and Compton flavoured verses together to make one the greatest hip-hop albums ever released, an exemplary G-Funk era timepiece that launched the careers of some of the greatest Gangsta-Rap artists the west coast has ever heard.

“Nuthin’ But a G-Thang” was the first toke of Chronic from Dre and his freshly-baked protégée, Snoop Dogg who inhaled… Exhaled and drawled out a loose delivery of rhymes in perfect flow, another signature ingredient for the G-Funk recipe. Leon Haywood’s “I Wanna Do Something Freaky To You” backed up with the high pitch hook in the chorus that precedes what many peers in the industry and fans alike regard as containing some of the dopest rhymes ever recorded by any artist. This performance gave Snoop the undeniable title as the west coast’s Dopest Rapper. “Nuthin But a G-Thang” entered Rock n Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock n Roll. It was down in Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Greatest Songs of All-Time (#419). The single was released January 19, 1993 and hit the Billboard charts at number two and on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks chart at number one.

“Fuck Wit’ Dre Day (and Everybody’s Celebratin’)” is today regarded as a classic diss-track adding to his peers in NWA against Eazy-E and Ruthless Records. The video depicted a character named Sleazy-E in comical fashion signing a contract with a fat, Jewish manager (depicting Ruthless manager, Jerry Heller) played by Interscope executive Steve Berman. The song and video continue aiming at New York’s Tim-Dog and Miami’s Luke Campbell from 2 Live Crew. Dre and Snoop add insult with their verses cruising LA in Dre’s own Black Chevrolet Impala lowrider. The track incorporates George Clinton’s 1979 hit ‘(Not Just) Knee-Deep’ with new Death Row stars Jewell and Snoop Dogg’s cousin RBX on the chorus. ‘Dre Day’ hit the streets going gold and instantly hit number eight on the Billboard singles chart.

“Let Me Ride” is the third hit from The Chronic and serves as a perfect example of the G-Funk blueprint of utilising George Clinton & Bootsy Collins’ P-Funk hit “Mothership Connection” and integrating samples from James Brown and Bill Wither’s 1971 “Kissin’ My Love” were also experimented with in this track with “Swing Down, Sweet Chariot” chiming on every chorus and cutting high pitched hooks behind the typical heavy baseline and well-executed rhyme performance from Dre alone. Additional background vocals supported by Jewell, Ruben and Snoop Dogg’s occasional input. The single was released October, 1993 and hit the Rap Singles chart at number three. Dre was awarded at the 1994 Grammys for Best Rap Solo Performance on “Let Me Ride.”

The Chronic is by far the most influential hip-hop album on the west coast, an archetypical exhibit of the new era in music. The definitive work of genius swayed the balance of power in hip-hop in the west coast’s favour for the duration of Dr. Dre’s finest hour of instituting a distinguishing west coast G-Funk genre of sound engineering and record production. The stage has launched the careers to some of hip-hop’s most gifted MC’s, Snoop Dogg, Kurupt, Daz, Lady of Rage, Nate Dogg and Warren G. These became previews to Dr. Dre and Death Row’s sweep in record sales over the following years releasing gold and platinum west coast heavy hitters for the artists stranded on Death Row. G-Funk was the hottest vibe in hip-hop and Death Row owned the rights, this certainly cemented Death Row’s place in hip-hop’s industry. Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg rode the path of success high and were rewarded along the way. The Billboard charts album lists, The Chronic hit number one on the R&B/Hip-Hop and number three on the Pop charts. It was included in Vibe’s 100 Essential Albums of the 20th Century Vibe and ranked 137 in Rolling Stone’s list of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time and Essential Recordings of the 90’s. The album was listed at number eight in Spin Magazine’s 90 Greatest Albums of the ’90s, and was even ranked sixth in Vibe’s Top 10 Rap Albums of all time. Sales from the album sent it three times platinum. Industry insiders and critics claim ‘The Chronic’ is clearly the best produced hip-hop album of all time. It went three-times platinum that year.

After riding high on Chronic, Dre headed back into Death Row’s studios to work on the début album of the west coast’s wickedest MC, Snoop Doggy Dogg. Much like Dre’s opener, Doggystyle reinforced the talent out of Long Beach’s finest performers, Tha Dogg Pound who set the tempo for the record with their untamed persistence on the mic. Dre executed the engineering without fault and every track was hot. The album opened with a take-off scene of Super Fly sampling Curtis Mayfield’s title track, followed by another Parliament-Funk track from ‘(Not Just) Knee Deep’ to set the ambiance of Dre’s continued ascension of G-Funk dominance. Snoop flowed in perfect parallel symmetry to the beat of some of the old school’s best kept melodies revived in Dr. Dre’s lab. The record produced singles, ‘Who Am I(What’s My Name)’ sampled George Clinton’s ‘Atomic Dog’ in the chorus and ‘Knee Deep’ again for the baseline. This was the biggest single of 1993 going straight to number one on Billboard’s Rap Single chart and stayed there for three weeks. ‘Gin n Juice’ was the second single off Doggystyle following the first in being another early classic G-Funk and Long Beach collaboration The production contains use of Slave’s ‘Watching You’ in the chorus and George McRae’s “I Get Lifted” in the baseline. The single was nominated for Grammy’s Best Rap Solo Performance of 1995. The album was released November 23, 1993 and exceeded the success of The Chronic selling an amazing 5.9 million copies in the US alone and stayed on the Billboard 200 album charts at number one for three weeks. It was at this stage the highest selling hip-hop album ever. The second half of the album was done in a few days. At a time where Dre was serving under house arrest he had no place else to be, so they drunk nine-fifths of Hennessy and polished it off. Dre has astounded the world of hip-hop again by dropping another platinum-selling G-Funk bomb to set the standards higher and reiterate his presence as the greatest hip-hop producer in the industry.

In between major recording productions Dre had fallen out with his wife, singer Michel’le who left to engage in relations with his CEO Suge Knight who was estranged from his own wife, Sharitha Knight. Dre and Michel’le had son, Marcel together. This was Dre’s fourth. Behind the scenes Dre and Knight’s business relations seethed.

Dre had been living the high-life lifestyle in Los Angeles since his employment with Ruthless Records. He owned a large mansion house in Calabasas with four-car garage complete with an array of automobiles. He lived down the road from Ruthless’ manager, Jerry Heller and continually held parties for the Death Row family who would turn the events into melees with the heavy gang presence of Suge’s entourage who would consume the neighbourhood with vehicles being driven dangerously and drunkenly, ever-present gangsta-rap with loud thumping bass-lines deafening neighbours, public group-sex orgies with groupies and turning Dre’s French Colonial living room into a boxing ring. Over the last four years of Dre’s life he had been caught in turmoil of the industry, he pleaded guilty to battery of a New Orleans police officer, escaped criminal assault charges by settling out-of-court with former ‘Pump it Up’ hostess Deniece Barnes and pleaded no-contest to breaking the jaw of rap producer Damon Thomas. He led several L.A.P.D. squad cars on a high-speed chase that ended horrifically when he drove off a cliff. Dre found himself under house arrest in 1992 to serve in his beautiful estate home. Unfortunately the house had burned down during a notorious Death Row party barbecue involving hardcore Blood gang members. Jerry Heller had driven past the house and witnessed a drunken Dre in the street laughing with friends as his house burnt to the ground. He had temporarily moved into an apartment on Venice Boulevard but was promptly evicted. By 1994 the twenty-nine year old most sought after record producer in hip-hop who was named by Newsweek ‘The Phil Spector of rap’ was back living with his mother.

California love

By late 1995 Dr. Dre had made Death Row the most powerful record company of the early ‘90s and everybody was showered in dead presidents and fame. The scene was hot and Dre controlled the balance of west coast’s rap direction. He worked on albums for Tha Dogg Pound and the Above the Rim soundtrack before Suge Knight recruited Bay Area rapper/actor Tupac Shakur onto the Row. Tupac had been released from prison upon Suge Knight’s $1.4million bail and a signed hand-written contract to record three albums for Death Row Records. At the time Dre was working on the early production to his follow-up album, namely a track earmarked to be his next hit single, “California Love”. Tupac spent every waking moment recording tracks in the Death Row studios, attempting to release his highly-anticipated album fresh out of jail. It would be hip-hop’s first ever double album. Tupac’s project took precedence over the studios and Dre was commissioned to produce his tracks. Dre’s polished piece “California Love” was sitting in wait for Dre’s concentration, but it was decided by Suge Knight the single should go out on Tupac’s upcoming record, ‘All Eyez On Me’. In order to fit Tupac’s verse in the song Dre edited out his second verse and gave up the track to Tupac’s new album. The single was a revived Roger Troutman hit “So Ruff, So Tuff”. Tupac and Dre were not close work colleagues by any stretch but had mutual respect for each other. Both stars received Grammy nominations for Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group (with Dr. Dre and Roger Troutman.) Dre had also contributed to ‘Can’t C Me’ on the second CD. The album was received better than expected as it was a rushed production by mainly Snoop’s cousin from Tha Dogg Pound, Dat Nigga Daz. The 27 track double album was finished in two weeks. It sold over nine million copies, it showed testament to Tupac’s high-fame in the music industry.

The change of environment in the Death Row studios was unseasoned and Dre found it hard to concentrate on his work surrounded by gang members and a volatile CEO, Suge Knight often resorting to violence and physical threats to rule his staff. Dre found it would be better for his work if he distanced himself from the controversy and gang culture threatening the creative atmosphere. Snoop Dogg was in the middle of a murder trial with body guard for the fatal shooting of Philip Waldermarian. Tupac publicly accused Dre of disloyalty to the Death Row family by not showing up in court to support his homeboy. Suge Knight was also disappointed in Dre’s non-appearances. Dre snapped back in The Source magazine by saying he doesn’t feel comfortable in the court room and Snoop never took it personally. However at this juncture in his career it was better for Dre to move away from the turmoil of this disruptive record label. In order to slip out of contract with Suge Knight safely, he left without the rights to his previous recordings and a large share of the company’s financial stake. This would leave Dre once again to rebuild his catalogue, however getting to this point was a dangerous obstacle.

Apart from Suge Knight, Tupac and other Blood associates assaulting Dre’s close friend and recording artist, Sam Sneed calling him Dre’s homosexual lover, Suge Knight continually tried to harass and threaten Dre and his credibility in the industry. Suge wanted the master tapes to his production catalogue from the start of his Death Row career. Suge phoned his house demanding he release them to him and eventually drove over to greet him at his house. According to Suge as stated in The Source Dre would not open his door leaving Suge to break in through a side gate to see people running and hiding. After the presence of a dozen or so LAPD squad cars were summoned he claimed he played pool, got the tapes and left. Dre however puts it into a different story, his door bell rang and somebody claimed to be Jimmy Iovine, when Dre opened, Suge and nine members of his entourage stormed through demanding the tapes. Dre told Suge they were being copied now, who waited and suggested Dre put the Death Row logo on his next project. Several days later the two met at Gladstone’s Restaurant in Malibu and had worked out their differences. With this Dre gave up the rights to his Death Row music catalogue and a sizeable share of the company’s financial stake in exchange for his freedom and release from the grips of Death Row Records. To Dre this was the most important factor to his livelihood.

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