Then & Now: Dr. Dre’s Path to Ubiquity

Andre Romell Young, better known as Dr. Dre, is undoubtedly one of the most influential artists in the 50-year history of hip-hop. On top of his contributions as an MC, producer, and member of N.W.A, he has also been able to carve out an impressive career as a business mogul, founding his own record label and the world-renowned Beats headphone brand.

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But, just like many rappers who rise to acclaim, Dre’s beginnings are humble and his success is unquestionably a product of his hard work and ingenuity. Here’s a look at how it all came to be for Dre.


Dre first took a serious interest in music in the early 1980s when he began DJing at a Los Angeles club called Eve’s After Dark under the name Dr. J. While doing gigs there, he developed a friendship with an MC by the name of DJ Yella. This duo started recording songs together with Dre producing and Yella on vocals, which inspired them to join the World Class Wreckin’ Cru, an electronic-rap-R&B group consisting of up to eight members.

In 1986, after a short stint with World Class Wreckin’ Cru, Dre and Yella finally connected with fellow L.A. native Ice Cube. Cube and Dre then spent tons of time with each other crafting music, eventually signing to Ruthless Records, run by fellow aspiring MC Eazy-E. Produced by Dre and written by Cube, Eazy-E’s 1987 debut single “Boyz-n-the-Hood” would peak at No. 50 on the Billboard Hot 100, inspiring the creation of N.W.A.

Consisting of Dre, Cube, Eazy, Yella, and another vocalist named MC Ren, N.W.A became the face of gangsta rap in the late 1980s. With projects like Straight Outta Compton (1988) and hits like “Fuck Tha Police” and “Express Yourself,” the group dominated charts while polarizing audiences.


Eventually, due to a dispute with Eazy and the group’s manager Jerry Heller, Dre would depart from N.W.A after the group’s 1991 sophomore album N****z4Life. This would spawn a blossoming solo career for Dr. Dre, as he would sign with Suge Knight’s Death Row Records once he left Ruthless. Whether it be his 1992 debut album The Chronic, or his multiple production and vocal collaborations with fellow prominent MCs like Tupac and Snoop Dogg, Dre was one of hip-hop’s most ubiquitous names in the 90s.

Here are some of the legendary songs he contributed to: “Nuthin’ but a ‘G’ Thang” by himself featuring Snoop Dogg, “Gin and Juice” by Snoop Dogg, “California Love” by Tupac, “Still D.R.E” by himself featuring Snoop Dogg, “The Next Episode” by himself featuring Nate Dogg and Snoop Dogg, “Forgot bout Dre” by himself featuring Eminem, and “My Name Is” by Eminem.

[RELATED: Why Did Dr. Dre Almost Quit Rap Before ‘The Chronic’]


After the turn of the century, Dre mostly stuck to producing, aiding the ascents of both Eminem and 50 Cent, working closely on now-iconic albums like Eminem’s Marshall Mathers LP (2000) and 50’s Get Rich or Die Tryin’ (2003). Crafting instrumental hits such as “The Real Slim Shady,” “Stan,” “In Da Clun” and more, Dre left no room for debate regarding his all-time great status in hip-hop.

The rest of Dre’s time in this decade was devoted to his business ventures. Alongside close friend and record label executive Jimmy Iovine, Dre launched Beats by Dre in 2006 and would debut their first model of headphones in 2008.

2010s – 2020s

While Beats continued to elevate in the market, becoming one of the most popular headphone suppliers in the world, Dre found a new rising star rapper to work with in the 2010s: Kendrick Lamar. Producing for Lamar on songs like “Swimming Pools” and “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe,” Dre helped the Compton, California native become a marquee name.

In 2015, Dre put out his first full-length project in over 15 years titled Compton, serving as the quasi-soundtrack for the N.W.A biopic Straight Outta Compton, which came out the same year and saw Dre contribute as a producer. For the LP, Dre recruited Lamar, Eminem, Snoop Dogg, Ice Cube, and more to feature on the track list.

Seven years later (2022), Dre recruited all of his industry pals for the Super Bowl Halftime Show in Inglewood California. Containing performances by Dre, Snoop, Cube, Eminem, and Lamar, the 15-minute concert was beloved by many in the hip-hop community.

Most recently, Dre became the first-ever recipient of the ASCAP Hip-Hop Icon Award, which was created this year to celebrate the genre’s 50-year anniversary.

Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

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