Well, it’s been promised for, like, ever, but all signs point to a release early in 2011. Despite some “leaks” in 2010 being roundly panned by hip-hop heads, Dr. Dre (now occasionally calling himself “Andre 3001”) released the first single, “Kush,” in December 2010, and gave a cover story interview in November for XXL magazine’s January 2010 issue, in which he claimed he was putting the finishing touches on the record.
And how long has it been since his last record?
2001, was actually released in November 1999. That actually isn’t so long, considering that seven years passed between The Chronic and 2001—but Dr. Dre was a lot busier in the mid '90s than he was in the aughts.
But he started rapping with N.W.A?
Well, he made his name in 1988, producing N.W.A’s Straight Outta Compton, on which he mostly rapped brief introductions and outros, but didn’t become a full-fledged MC until their second record, 1991’s Niggaz4Life, largely filling the void left by Ice Cube’s departure from the group. His production on this record was also much closer to the “G-funk” that he would popularize with The Chronic than the Bomb Squad-esque aural attack of Straight Outta Compton.
What, exactly, is G-funk?
In brief: a more mellow take on gangsta rap, with fewer samples (first by aesthetic design and then by legal necessity), usually of 1970s funk breaks and usually slowed down, and with a lyrical focus more on smoking weed than on gangbanging and/or protesting police brutality.
Dr. Dre and Snoop are pretty harsh on the topic of Eazy-E on The Chronic. What happened?
Nobody is 100% certain, but there was a very serious financial dispute that resulted in Suge Knight strong-arming Eazy-E into releasing Dr. Dre from his Ruthless Records contract, at which point Dre and Suge Knight formed Death Row Records. The Chronic was the label’s first release; Snoop Dogg’s solo debut Doggystyle, also produced by Dr. Dre, soon followed.
But Dr. Dre ended up founding Aftermath Records. What happened with Death Row?
Despite the critical and commercial success of The Chronic and Doggystyle, (not to mention the soundtrack to Above the Rim and Snoop Dogg project Murder Was the Case,) Dr. Dre found himself in a financial dispute with Suge Knight. The label owner was more focused on the newly signed 2Pac’s career than with keeping Dr. Dre on board, so Dre formed Aftermath in 1996. (Both labels operated under the Interscope umbrella.)
Didn’t Dr. Dre release an album in 1996, between The Chronic and 2001?
Not exactly. Dr. Dre Presents the Aftermath was a compilation record of Aftermath artists, not a Dre solo record, but even as Dre’s concurrent productions for other artists, such as 2Pac’s “California Love” and Blackstreet’s “No Diggity,” became extraordinarily successful, the Aftermath album floundered. It’s largely forgotten today.
How did Dr. Dre (and Aftermath) survive?
One word: Eminem. Signed in 1998, Eminem was the new hope of Aftermath, and his debut The Slim Shady LP featured three Dre productions (including “My Name Is”) and two Dre verses. Furthermore, Eminem would appear on “Forgot About Dre” from the same year’s 2001.
Speaking of “Forgot About Dre,” why are all the 2001 singles plainly about re-inserting Dre into the larger rap culture/narrative?
The obvious reason is most rappers strive for, or at least pretend to, verisimilitude. Strangely, audiences expect this from rap over other genres, even though most coke rap, for example, is based on the lives of the drug kingpins from the heyday of crack (either directly, or more recently via HBO’s The Wire. But the other reason is that it’s a fertile topic if you are a ghostwriter providing rhymes for someone like Dr. Dre.
Dr. Dre employs ghostwriters?
Probably more than any other rapper/producer (except maybe Diddy)! Even in his N.W.A days, many of his rhymes were composed by D.O.C., who followed Dre to Death Row Records and is even credited as a contributor on the cover of The Chronic. As it’s become verboten to employ ghostwriters, Dre has been less up-front about his alleged use of rhymes provided by everyone from Jay-Z to Royce da 5’9”, who came up with D12 but was all but blacklisted when he claimed on the record that he and Eminem wrote a number of Dre’s 2001 rhymes.
So what has Dr. Dre even been doing since 1999, aside from working with Eminem?
Well, his collaborations with Eminem, 50 Cent, and Game carried him through 2004, but 50 and Game’s beefs basically torpedoed Aftermath’s critical, if not financial, successes. Since then his most high profile project has been the surprisingly successful Beats by Dr. Dre headphones, co-created with Jimmy Iovine and high-end (certainly in price; possibly in quality) audio company Monster Cable.
Okay, last question: Is that really Dr. Dre with the goofy knitted labcoat-dress and the stethoscope in that picture I saw online?
Indeed it is! Before joining up with N.W.A and Reckless, he was a member of Compton’s World Class Wreckin’ Cru, who put out two records of Uncle Jamm-style electro-hop in the mid 1980s.