Dr. Dre is one of the most influential figures in hip-hop history. While he’s not only one of the finest rappers and producers of the last 30 years, Dre also has an eye for talent like nobody else. His willingness to collaborate with artists of all statures has opened doors for relative unknowns in the world of hip-hop, an opportunity to achieve their first big break and then go on to greatness.
The West Coast rapper began his career as a member of the World Class Wreckin’ Cru in 1985, but it wasn’t until he founded N.W.A that he would eventually find fame. The group were pioneers and totally unique to the contemporaries that had achieved high levels of mainstream success before them. Together, they painted a picture of what life was like in Compton on the streets, and, following the group’s split in 1991, Dre would be credited as a visionary once again. He popularised the famous West Coast sound that would go on to dominate the rest of the decade.
Dre released his debut solo studio album, The Chronic, in 1992, through Death Row Records, and the record immediately saw him break out as a star in his own right. Following the triumphant debut, Dre landed a Grammy Award for Best Rap Solo Performance for his single, ‘Let Me Ride’. 1993 welcomed even more of a success than the year before as he produced Death Row labelmate Snoop Dogg’s seminal debut album Doggystyle.
Snoop isn’t the only figure that Dre has been a mentor figure to over his career, the rapper offering his helping hand to forge some of the finest artists in hip-hop history. This feature celebrates the people who may not have had the prominent careers they’ve gone on to enjoy if it wasn’t for the mentorship of Dre and him taking a risk on unknown quantities and helping establish them as rising stars.
Let’s get into it.
6 rappers that Dr. Dre helped establish:
In the documentary The Defiant Ones, Snoop Dogg revealed that he initially thought it was a prank call in 1992 when he received the call from Dre asking them to work together. Snoop even hung up on the NWA man but, after Dre called back, he accepted that this was a reality and he had been picked from obscurity to work under the stewardship of Dre. The two remain close today and headlined Coachella Festival together back in 2012.
Snoop previously said about his former mentor: “[Dre] showed me how to find me so that way when I stepped away from him I was able to grow and continue to be me and always keep that love for him to where we always got that open, close relationship where there’s never an argument between me and him.”
The love-in is reciprocal with Dre also on record as saying: “Snoop is always there for me, ready to work, and constantly motivating and pushing me and making me believe I could do it. I mean, I could always hear his voice in my head. “I cannot imagine where I’d be in my life if I had not collaborated with Snoop.”
The late, great Nate Dogg is another figure embedded in hip-hop royalty who owed a chunk of his breakthrough to Dre. Nate Dogg was previously in the rap group 213, with Snoop and Dre’s stepbrother, Warren G, put in a good word for his bandmates with Dre and led to them both putting show-stealing performances in on The Chronic.
Nate was the voice of West Coast hip-hop in the 1990s and was the go-to hook man known for his trademark singing that juxtaposed perfectly with the G-funk sound that Death Row Records had perfected. His signature to the label came following his impressive performance on The Chronic. Whilst Nate would only release three-solo albums, he injected his infectious hooks into work by the biggest hip-hop names.
Eminem was a rap-battling obscure talent before he met Dre despite the bags of talent that he had at his arsenal. Fortune would have it that an intern from Interscope Records would be in attendance at the 1997 Rap Olympics, and Marshall Mathers’ life would never be the same. The intern passed on the tape to Jimmy Iovine, who played it to Dre and he was taken aback. Dre recalled, “In my entire career in the music industry, I have never found anything from a demo tape or a CD. When Jimmy played this, I said, ‘Find him. Now.’”
From that moment on, Eminem worked under his mentorship, and he then became recognised as one of the greatest rappers in the world. His association with Dre helped stop people from writing Shady off because he is a white rapper, as Snoop Dogg once explained: “Eminem, ‘The Great White Hope’,” Snoop joked. “White rappers had zero respect in rap… [Dre] has probably put Eminem in the position where he would be labelled one of the top 10 rappers ever.”
While this one is mainly down to Eminem, the first man that Shady turned to was Dre after he heard 50’s Guess Who’s Back? that had been put into his direction by an attorney working with Eminem’s manager Paul Rosenberg and 50 Cent. Eminem was greatly impressed with the CD and he immediately flew him out to Los Angeles to meet Dre and sign his first record deal.
Dre worked as an executive producer on 50’s debut, Get Rich Or Die Tryin’, after the rapper signed to Eminem’s Interscope imprint, Shady and Dre’s imprint, Aftermath. Dre oversaw his protege, taking on his own protege and acting as father figures to Eminem and 50 Cent.
After stumbling across Lamar’s track ‘Ignorance Is Bliss’ on YouTube, Dre contacted the Compton rapper and asked him to appear on his now-shelved Detox album. This discovery was back when Kendrick had only one mixtape under his name, but, Dre signed him up to Aftermath after being impressed with his effort. Lamar is now the biggest rapper on the planet, and Dre was the first to give him an opportunity over a decade ago. The pair’s relationship has never wavered since.
“It came to a point where I had to really snap out of fan mode and become a professional because after we were introduced, he said he liked my music and I said that I’m a fan of his work,” Lamar told BBC Radio 1 in 2015 about his first experience with Dre. “Then he said, ‘Okay, now write to this, write a full song to this’. Right after I said ‘Man, Dr. Dre, you’re the greatest’ and he was like, ‘Yeah man, you’re good too, you could be something… alright now write to this beat’. And that beat ended up being the first song I did with him and ended up on my album called ‘Compton’.”
Following the release of debut studio album Venice in 2014, .Paak’s work caught the ear of Dre despite the album failing to muster up a great deal of hype. The NWA rapper recruited him to sing on six tracks on his 2015 album, Compton. In 2016, .Paak then signed to Aftermath and Dre then produced his 2018 effort, Oxnard.
Speaking to The Guardian in 2016, .Paak said: “If he’d called five years ago, I don’t think I’d have been ready,” and then described their first encounter, “When I finally met him, for some reason I didn’t have any super-fanboy jitter thing, where I couldn’t be myself,” he says. “I was so confident by that point I just said: ‘Let me get on the mic and try something.’ And I remember closing my eyes and going off the top, and then opening them and it was like, ‘Whooaaaahhh!!’”