Happy birthday Dr. Dre, but I'm sorry I still don't get it... Somehow he remains widely regarded as a hip-hop legend, perfectionist and all round genius, but frankly, anyone of this opinion; for whatever reason, is lying to themselves. Here’s why…
Forbes have just named him the richest hip-hop artist in the world (the word artist used loosely I’m guessing) with fans being made to wait well over a decade for the near mythical Detox album. Regardless, Dr. Dre somehow remains widely regarded as a hip-hop legend, perfectionist and all round genius but frankly, anyone of this opinion; for whatever reason, is lying to themselves. Here’s why…
Let’s just get this clear, Dr Dre is a rich and successful businessman and exec, his inability to release music can’t and shouldn’t be able to take anything away from that. I myself owned a pair of Beats by Dre headphones, up until the audio wire broke off (I know, not really Dre’s fault but it kinda is) and I came to the realisation that a rapper that hasn’t delivered an album in over a decade has managed to get 10x the amount I’d have dropped on Detox anyway for a pair of polished, over-advertised, shamelessly plugged in every rap vid, plastic headphones, that ultimately broke after two months. This isn’t the sole reason I’m writing this I promise, but I must admit when a friend of mine suggested I still ‘wear’ them around my neck despite them being of no practical use to me, that was when I snapped.
My main issue with Dr Dre is as simple as this, he doesn’t write his own lyrics. He never has. Ice Cube and MC Ren wrote his verses in NWA and for his solo career he’s relied on the assist from everyone from Eminem (‘Guilty Conscience’) to The D.O.C (‘The Next Episode’) to Jay-Z (‘Still D.R.E’). This might be acceptable for a pretty R&B songstress that’s expected to “ooh” and “ahh” for four and a half minutes about a love she’s never experienced, but hip-hop, as not just music but as a culture on the whole, has always meant more.
Chuck Creekmur once said, “With hip-hop we want to have that personal connection. We want them to tell us how they feel.” Dre simply doesn’t provide this and it’s never been probed into whether he’s incapable, just doesn’t want to or doesn’t know how to put together a good 16 bar verse. It’s just never been probed full stop. This high scale collusion is what I find most surprising. It’s become something everyone’s learned to accept, like the star player being allowed to swear nonstop at the referee without a booking, it’s just “one of those things”.
My main issue with Dr Dre is that he doesn’t write his own lyrics. He never has. Ice Cube and MC Ren wrote his verses in NWA and for his solo career he’s relied on the assist from everyone.
Back in August, the Dream Hampton/Nas accusation saga served as a key reminder that the viewpoint on the usage of ghost-writers in the hip-hop community hasn’t changed. The practice of employing ghost writers has always carried a certain stigma and is still looked at as a deduction of authenticity. So why I ask, for more than two decades has Dre been allowed to get away with this glorified game of hip-hop karaoke he’s been playing? The most recent Dre verse is on the Rick Ross single ‘3 Kings’ alongside Jay-Z and it’s probably the sloppiest attempt at masking a ghost writing job I’ve heard since… Dre’s feature on Kendrick Lamar’s ‘The Recipe’ a month prior. Both penned for him by the track artist, it’s almost embarrassing to hear a veteran and supposed ‘legend’ struggle to take on the delivery, flow and rhyme scheme of newer rappers, rappers that are supposed to be in awe of hip-hop royalty, a man that is currently frantically copying their words like the kid that didn’t revise for the exam sat next to you looking over your elbow. I guess the overarching point here is Dre’s getting sloppy. He’s no longer even trying to make what he should be embarrassed about even sound genuine. Why? Not enough people care and an even smaller amount of people are wiling to call him out for it.
I already know the counter; “Dre’s a producer first, artist second”. Except, this isn’t and never has been the case – Dre has always been seen as a rapper firstly. Snoop and Dre or Em and Dre has never been viewed as a producer-rapper combo, rather a rapping Batman and Robin situation with the more talented rappers unfairly placed in the red, green and yellow. Even on the basis of Dre’s untouchable production credits, how are we to know the level of ‘help’ he’s had in production. It’s no secret Mel Man had production credits on near enough every song on the 2001 album, I’m of the belief this reliance points towards dependence. Mike Elizondo played a big part in crafting many tracks with limited credits and the rumours of Scott Storch producing some of Dre’s biggest hits are too loud to be just rumours. To me, a person so adept at using the penmanship of someone else wouldn’t balk at attaching their name on the credits of instrumentation of others either.
At this point Dre’s become the factory boss that sits high in his office and views the product roll off the assembly line, the boss that hasn’t got a clue how to assemble the products he swears by, every now and again he descends to the floor to boost morale of those that believe in him and just as fast he’s back up while his myth spreads amongst a new generation of workers. Even his failings as a label boss are covered in the sense that when it’s good, it’s good and when it’s bad, it’s forgotten. The shots made in the successes of Eminem, 50 Cent and Kendrick Lamar all cover up for the glaring misses with the list of several gold and platinum selling artists failing to work on Aftermath including Joell Ortiz, Raekwon, Rakim, Busta Rhymes and Marsha Ambrosius.
I already know the counter; “Dre’s a producer first, artist second”. Except, this isn’t and never has been the case
But you know what? I’ve got a feeling everything here will be ignored. Why? Because you all don’t care. He’s already a legend. Forget the fact he’s actually not in anyone’s top 10 lists, somehow, he’s a legend. You’re all still waiting for Detox and can’t wait to buy the special edition headphones that get released with it. Rappers have come in the game, written for the Detox album, lost their buzz and faded out while those tracks are still piled up on Dre’s hard drive, but you’ll wait. He has the privilege of picking and choosing between verses submitted by any rapper that’s charted on Billboard this century but would rather sit on them and release nothing, why? Because he’s a legend and can’t be questioned, just wait for Detox.
Follow Tobi on Twitter – @TeflonTobz
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