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With The Chronic in the Top Ten and Snoop Doggy Dogg's Doggystyle on the way, Dr. Dre's gangsta rap was the biggest thing in music in the summer of 1993. Rolling Stone caught up with Dre and his weed-puffing protégé at home and in the studio.
Leimert park is the intellectual center of African-American life in Los Angeles — jazz clubs, coffeehouses, bookstores, art galleries, a theater in a fine old movie palace, the restaurants that draw people from all over town. Neatly suited Muslims stand on the street corners, offering newsletters and bean pies for sale. Reggae blasts from the record shops. Hip-hop blasts from the cars.
Here, in an Ozzie and Harriet–like Leimert Park neighborhood, rap star Dr. Dre, wearing a black Ben Davis shirt, baggy pants and a marijuana-leaf baseball cap that advertises his 1992 album The Chronic, shrugs himself into the driver's seat of a black '64 Chevrolet Impala convertible and reaches under the dash. Suddenly, the parked car leans sharply to one side, the right body panel striking the asphalt with a violent thunk. Just as abruptly, it rights itself, and the front end of the car begins to hop up and down, just as you've seen it do a thousand times on MTV.
Dr. Dre — the ex-N.W.A member whose Chronic LP has spent eight months in the Top Ten — is directing, producing and starring in the video for "Let Me Ride," the album's third single. A full-on film crew follows his every move with a giant crane and a phalanx of lights. Dre finishes the take, springs out of the car and wanders over to the truck for a playback of the scene. He peers in the direction of Interscope Records co-head Jimmy Iovine, who smiles and waves. "There aren't three people like him in the music business," Iovine says, stabbing the air with his forefinger. "He can rap, he can produce . . . and he can direct a video with humor. Do you know how hard that is? Famous movie directors can't do that."
The Dre sound is clean but edgy and deeply funky, featuring slow, big-bottomed beats and powered by guitar and bass work that is not sampled but created in the studio. It is Dre's production work — on Eazy-E, on N.W.A, on Snoop Doggy Dogg, on himself — that made gangsta rap among the most vital pop genres to come along in the last few years . . . and, not incidentally, set hundreds of thousands of twelve-year-old white kids to talking about niggaz, bitches and ho's.
Check out the junior high school around the corner, where the shoot continues — lights, screens, music, people and dozens of hopping lowrider cars, chugging, smoke-spewing old relics burnished to a high shine, bounding and rebounding higher and higher, tossing their passengers about like so many extremely urban cowboys.
Dre stands on the front seat of his convertible, glorying in the noise, and he crosses his arms in smug satisfaction.
An assistant director hands him a megaphone. Apparently Dre is now obliged to direct. "I don't know," Dre says. "I guess everybody should do their own thing and shit."
The beat starts up, Dre mimes rapping along with the tape, cars jiggle, Snoop Doggy Dogg sleepily bobs his head, and all around are men and women, Mexicans and blacks, and even a few white guys, dancing, holding car-club insignia aloft, throwing gang signs, passing around piss-yellow bottles of malt liquor that seem to bob like zeppelins above the crowd.
"See that kid over there?" Iovine asks nobody in particular, gesturing toward a boy scampering on the basketball court. "That's my twelve-year-old nephew from Staten Island. You couldn't get more white and suburban than him. But Dre's record is all the kid listens to. When you sell this many albums, they are not all going to the South Bronx."
"It's my business to know these things," Interscope's promotion director Marc Benesch says later, "and there's no difference between the people that are going out and buying the Dre album and the people that are buying Guns n' Roses."
To get to Dr. Dre's house, you speed west from Hollywood, out over the hills at the west end of the San Fernando Valley into a dusty scrubland where the old Tom Mix films used to be shot. Dre's oversize French colonial is located behind the gate of an exclusive residential community. He lives among doctors and attorneys and prosperous Valley businessmen on a street of million-dollar homes. Like any West Valley homeowner, when Dre gets home, he parks his car, hangs up his jacket and settles back with a glass of nicely chilled white zinfandel, lounging in a patio chair by the pool. Dre has been playing hooky today, installing an aquarium in his house and tooling around nearby mountain roads in his Ferrari. The video for "Let Me Ride" is far from finished, and Interscope is whining for the half-finished album by Snoop Dogg, and there's a lot to be done for the Chronic tour, which is now less than a month away from starting.
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