“I don’t ever go out looking for trouble, it just seems to follow me,” says Andre Young, a young man who knows the inside of a courthouse.
He once hit a New Orleans policeman during a hotel lobby brawl there. On another occasion he roughed up a TV talk-show host, slamming her into a wall of a Hollywood nightclub. A former associate charges that Young once hired thugs to threaten him, and a local record producer claims Young busted his jaw.
There is little in Young’s rap sheet to distinguish him from hundreds of young Los Angeles street toughs.
Except one thing--Young is much better known as Dr. Dre, the 27-year-old producing genius behind the pioneer gangsta rap group N.W.A., and widely regarded as the best rap producer in the business. And today, even as he is preparing to yet again appear before a judge on assault charges, Dre’s debut solo album, “The Chronic,” will be hitting record stores across the country.
It’s the first record in a five-year, multimillion-dollar contract with Time Warner-affiliated Interscope Records.
“The people who criticize me because of my music don’t know anything about who I am,” says 6-foot-2 Dre. “I’m a very easygoing guy. A simple person really. I’m not necessarily a violent person, but I don’t take no (expletive). . . . Like anybody else, if someone (expletive) with me, I’m going to get pissed off.”
Dre, who grew up on the streets of Compton and Inglewood, represents a remarkable confluence of violent art and violent reality. Records that he has produced, including N.W.A.'s landmark “Straight Outta Compton,” chronicle the frustration and rage of inner-city life. After last spring’s riots, “Compton,” which was released in 1988, was recognized as a prophetic warning of deep-rooted tensions between urban youths and police.
N.W.A.'s 1991 album, “Efil4zaggin,” was attacked for its portrayal of violence against women, but his work with singer Michel’le and rappers J.J. Fad have shown a flair for hitmaking sounds without the controversial street images.
“Dre’s work is stunning,” says Interscope co-owner Jimmy Iovine, who has produced records for U2 and Tom Petty. “We fought very hard to close the deal with him because we believe he is a brilliant innovator. If this was a white artist, I believe that these court cases would be a footnote in the story.”
Dre is due in court in Van Nuys this afternoon. He has pleaded not guilty to assaulting Woodland Hills rap record producer Damon Thomas, who claims Dre broke his jaw with a single punch last May.
“1992 was not my year,” Dre quips.
* Next month in New Orleans, Dre could receive up to 18 months in jail stemming from an October case in which he pleaded guilty to battery of a police officer and was convicted on two additional battery counts stemming from a brawl in the lobby of the New Orleans hotel last May.
* In February in Los Angeles, he faces trial as a defendant in a $20-million lawsuit filed 18 months ago by Denise Barnes, a former Fox TV rap talk-show host who claims Young assaulted her Jan. 27, 1991.
After pleading no contest last August to criminal battery charges in that case, Young was fined $2,500 and sentenced to 240 hours of community service and 24 months’ probation. The judge also required him to produce an anti-violence public service TV announcement.
* Next summer in Los Angeles, Dre is expected to be called to court as a defendant in a racketeering lawsuit filed in federal court Oct. 14 by Ruthless Records President Eric (Eazy-E) Wright. The suit alleges that Dre hired thugs to physically intimidate Wright with “baseball bats” to force him to cancel the contracts of Dre and other Ruthless artists.
“Dre is a celebrity in rap circles perceived to have deep pockets,” says Dre’s attorney David Kenner. “People are always trying to push him into a fight so that they can file a lawsuit against him. In each case where Dre has been criminally charged, the alleged victim has retained a civil lawyer to set up a lawsuit before any criminal case even arises.”
Thomas, Wright and Barnes refused to be interviewed for this, story and Dre’s friends and associates in the record industry declined to speculate on any link between his angry music and his violent public outbursts.
“I think some people in the hip-hop community may be a little wary of him,” said James Bernard, editor of the Source, the nation’s leading rap trade journal. “We’ve all heard stories about his troubles, but I don’t think anybody in the hip-hop world holds that against him.
“Like Prince and Phil Spector, he has serious credentials and artistic integrity. And really, in the final analysis, this guy is not asking us to accept who he is as a person, but to listen to the music he makes.”
Dre first gained pop attention when he masterminded N.W.A.'s “Straight Outta Compton.” “Efil4zaggin” was the first hard--core rap collection to capture the No. 1 position on the nation’s pop chart. His record productions account for more than 6 million units in sales.
What does he say about the violent component in much of his work--work that has sometimes been attacked for glorifying violence, drug abuse and sexual degradation of women?
“We live in a violent world,” said Dre, who hires others to write the lyrics he raps. “It’s not like the things we rap about don’t happen. They go on every day in the street. I just put what I see and hear around me in my music.”
While most of his friends were out running the streets in gangs, Dre spent his teen-age years learning the rudiments of record engineering as a deejay in Compton clubs during the mid-'80s. After a brief stint in a Prince clone group called the World Class Wreckin’ Kru, he formed N.W.A. with Eazy-E.
A self-taught producer with no musical training, Dre’s talents are highly regarded by a long list of hip-hop, R&B;, rock and pop executives.
“As far as I’m concerned, Dr. Dre is the leading producer in the business,” said Russell Simmons, chairman of Rush Communications and the nation’s top rap entrepreneur. “Hands down, he’s the man.”
Neither Dre nor representatives for Interscope--which is partially owned by Time Warner--would comment on specific details of Interscope’s deal with Dre’s Death Row record label.
However, sources speculated that Interscope will give Dre about $1 million a year to cover overhead and recording costs associated with albums released on the Death Row label.
Although Dre is not required to deliver any specific number of albums a year, Death Row has already signed eight rap and R&B; acts and is expected to release at least three new records in 1993.
Despite the uncertainty of the legal threats, Dre expressed optimism about Interscope’s commitment to his future and vowed to continue producing controversial records.
“I don’t know why people want to keep from hearing the truth,” Dre said. “It would be different if we were just making this violent stuff up. If nobody in the world had ever stolen a car and we recorded a song about stealing cars and then all of a sudden people started stealing cars after the song came out, then I could understand it. But that’s just not the case, now is it?”