Dee Barnes, a journalist whom Dr. Dre attacked while still a member of N.W.A, is speaking out against the way the biopic Straight Outta Compton overlooked the assault. “Like many of the women that knew and worked with N.W.A, I found myself a casualty of Straight Outta Compton’s revisionist history,” she wrote in an article for Gawker. Although she contended that she did not feel the event should have been included in the movie (“The truth is too ugly for a general audience,” she wrote), she felt it should have been addressed.
The assault occurred on January 27th, 1991, at a Hollywood record-release party for the short-lived hip-hop group Bytches With Problems. Dre was reportedly upset with Barnes over a segment of her Fox hip-hop show Pump It Up! the previous year about N.W.A that included part of her interview with Ice Cube, with whom the group was feuding. She ultimately filed a civil suit against Dre, whom she claimed grabbed her hair, slammed her face and body into a wall and kicked her in the ribs at the nightclub.
In her Gawker article, Barnes likened the assault to the video of a California policeman assaulting a woman named Marlene Pinnock. “That must have been how it looked as Dr. Dre straddled me and beat me mercilessly on the floor of the women’s restroom at the Po Na Na Souk nightclub in 1991,” she wrote. Elsewhere in the article, she detailed the immediate distress she felt during the assault. “It was so caustic that when Dre was trying to choke me on the floor of the women’s room in Po Na Na Souk, a thought flashed through my head: ‘Oh, my God. He’s trying to kill me,'” she wrote. “He had me trapped in that bathroom; he held the door closed with his leg. It was surreal. ‘Is this happening?’ I thought.”
Barnes wrote that she still suffers physically from the attack, experiencing “horrific” migraines that only began in the wake of the assault. “I love Dre’s song ‘Keep Their Heads Ringin”—it has a particularly deep meaning to me. When I get migraines, my head does ring and it hurts, exactly in the same spot every time where he smashed my head against the wall. People have accused me of holding onto the past; I’m not holding onto the past. I have a souvenir that I never wanted.”
Although the lawsuit was not resolved until 1993, when Dre pleaded no contest to the charges, the rapper never wholly demurred from Barnes’ claims. “[If] somebody fucks with me, I’m gonna fuck with them,” Dre told Rolling Stone in 1991. I just did it…. It ain’t no big thing – I just threw her through a door.” The rapper later made a guest appearance on a song by Eminem, 1999’s “Guilty Conscience,” in which the younger rapper said, “You gonna take advice from somebody who slapped Dee Barnes?”
The lawsuit was initially for $10 million, but Barnes said she “didn’t even get a million” by the time it was done.
Barnes wrote that she had seen Dre since the lawsuit and that they were “cordial, but not friendly.” She also recalled a 2013 encounter with Ice Cube and described him as “very unfriendly” and “standoffish.” But while she condemned the rappers – both producers on Straight Outta Compton – for omitting the assault – as well as Dre’s alleged attacks on his former girlfriend, singer Michel’le, and erstwhile rapper Tairrie B. – she said she was also disappointed in the movie’s director, F. Gary Gray, whom, she said, was her cameraman for Pump It Up.
Barnes wrote that Gray subsequently refused to cast her in Set It Off, because he’d signed on Dr. Dre to play a character named Black Sam. “I think a huge reason that Gary doesn’t want to address it is because then he’d have to explain his part in history,” she wrote. “He’s obviously uncomfortable for a reason.”
When Ebony asked Gray about the omission, he said, “We had to make sure we served the narrative; the narrative was about N.W.A. It wasn’t about side stories.” There is a scene in the movie, though, where an actress playing Dre’s eventual wife said she was concerned about their relationship because she’d heard rumors of his assaults.
In Rolling Stone’s current cover story about Dr. Dre and Ice Cube, the rapper addressed the assault on Barnes, as well as Michel’le’s claims. “I made some fucking horrible mistakes in my life,” Dre said. “I was young, fucking stupid. I would say all the allegations aren’t true – some of them are. Those are some of the things that I would like to take back. It was really fucked up. But I paid for those mistakes, and there’s no way in hell that I will ever make another mistake like that again.”