"Women survivors of violence are expected neither to be seen nor heard, and the pressure increases when it involves celebrities. No one wants to see their heroes criticized. And if they are African American, the community at large becomes suspicious of an underlying motive to tear down a successful black man. Excusing pop culture icons from scrutiny over their history of violence against women because they are elevated to “hero” status is wrong on so many levels. Creating notable, brilliant art does not absolve you of your faults" - Dee Barnes
The Chronic was released the year after my birth, 1991. By the time I was old enough to be aware of his existence, Dr. Dre was considered the innovative genius who trailblazed the curation of an entire coast. He gave the west a sound, a bounce, and an identity. I knew of his albums, his labels, the artist he led to hip-hop’s highest peaks and later, his headphones.
What I didn't know about, though, was his brutal beating of music journalist Dee Barnes. Or the domestic abuse he committed against former girlfriend Michel’le and former N.W.A.-affiliate Tairrie B. At no point did my teachers―radio, MTV, or B.E.T.―reveal his dark past as a domestic abuser. I was only ever taught about his greatness.
Underneath the illusion of blissful ignorance, Dre was more musician than man. Nothing encourages a search for bodies in a backyard when there’s no indication that any were secretly buried. I knew what was on the surface, what I was told―the legend that was larger than the laws and women being broken. Then everything changed upon the release of the F. Gary Gray-directed biographical film, Straight Outta Compton.
Gray's genesis tale of N.W.A. doesn’t feature any domestic abuse despite it occurring within the timeframe that the film covers and fails to highlight any of the group's misogynistic music. One of hip-hop's most notorious and legendary groups—they were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2016—was given an origin story fit for superheroes, without ever once acknowledging their brutal and moral shortcomings toward women.
In a 2015 story for the now-defunct Gawker, “Remember When Dr. Dre Bashed a Female Journalist’s Face Against a Wall?” writer Rich Juzwiak refused to allow the group's cherry picked image to erase a stained past.
In explicit detail, Juzwiak fills in all of the blanks scrubbed from the film's final draft, including statements made by Dre following the attack that downplay the severity (“I just threw her through a door”) and the abuse (“They blew it all out of proportion...It’s not like I broke her arm.”), and attempt to complete dismiss the allegations as false (“I didn’t do shit, I didn’t touch her ass.”)
Despite being covered closely and extensively in the ‘90s, Dre's abusive past didn’t haunt him. He continued making music, breaking records, and building a legacy. Three different women, three different stories of domestic abuse. While many in the hip-hop community have long since forgotten these details—or, like me, didn't know about them for most of his career—the same cannot be said for Dre's female victims, the movie's critics, and the journalists who covered these stories in real time and then again 25 years later. Without them, there’s a chance that I would’ve never known.
Over 20 years would go by before Dr. Dre acknowledged the wrongs he committed against his three victims. First, there was a general apology in the New York Times, and then a far more transparent apology in the HBO documentary, The Defiant Ones., which chronicled his career from a DJ to a producer to an artist to a record executive to a billionaire. Finally, Dre faced the music instead of once again glossing over history. He labeled his assaults against the women as a “dark cloud” that always follows him—and it should—but at least he’s no longer attempting to hide or dismiss the truth. Apologizing and acknowledging his disgusting behavior doesn’t absolve him of wrongdoing, but it does show some resolve and the hope for redemption.
“In the past, great art was enough to exalt men of their bad behavior, but in 2015 it’s no longer the case. Survivors have a right and an obligation to speak up (#NoSilenceOnDomesticViolence). We are too loud, too correct, too numerous to be ignored.” - This Is Bigger Than Me and Bigger Than Hip-Hop": Dee Barnes Responds to Dr. Dre’s Public Apology
Would I view Dr. Dre differently if my initial introduction to him was a news report of violent domestic abuse instead of a classic rap song? A picture of Dee Barnes beaten body instead of a classic album? My perception of the man was solely based on his creations as an artist but what happens when that perception changes? When he’s a chronic abuser and not just the mastermind behind G-Funk? It’s impossible to know everything but what do you do with the information once you receive the grimiest, ugliest details about a person?
In 2017, I can't allow myself to separate Dre the artist from Dre's actions against women. He is a genius but also an abuser.
I've always enjoyed his music, but Dr. Dre was never my favorite rapper. My relationship with his music was nothing like my relationship with R. Kelly. I grew up on Robert, his music was in my life from an early age. He made “I Believe I Can Fly,” the song synonymous with Space Jam, which is basically the basketball equivalent of Lion King. I knew him for music, a genius who dominated radio, skating rinks, and clubs with hit after hit. He was someone I believed would make music for my children’s children, but ever since I read former DJBooth editor Nathan Slavik's story, “It Is Not Okay to Listen to Accused Serial Rapist R. Kelly,” I haven’t pressed play on a single record.
Reading that story, learning about what he allegedly put those girls through, I knew too much. Even if he acknowledged his actions and apologized―which he hasn’t―my conscious would never allow me peace if I simply overlooked the dark, serial deeds trapped in his closet. I still have Dr. Dre on my iPhone because I respect the way he has finally accepted his shortcomings and I believe he’s a better man today, but you won't find a single song by or featuring R. Kelly.
There are countless names in hip-hop who have done despicable deeds or who have said and rapped despicable thoughts. Some of them I know, some of them I don't. Some of them I play, and others I can not stomach. As DJBooth editor-in-chief Z wrote earlier this week and I completely agree with, "Not all transgressions, accusations, and crimes are created equal. Also, we're not perfect." But we always want to be honest, with ourselves and with our readers.
When it comes to art, especially in rap and hip-hop, there is a connection made with the music. We live our lives to these songs, and we find a voice that we trust within these artists. Without ever knowing them, we believe in them. The music creates that belief. My love for Pac began with a song, so it was hard to read fellow DJBooth scribe Austin Williams recount Pac's issues with misogyny. I had to face the ugliness of someone I hold rather high in various regards. I love Pac, but he wasn’t perfect, and that ugliness can not be erased no matter how much his music means to me. The initial reaction to Austin's piece was that of shock—"How dare you attack Tupac!"—but we can learn from a hero’s shortcomings. We can’t change the man Tupac was but we can encourage others to be better. That isn't possible, though, if we look away.
I understand the cult of kids who follow XXXTentacion, even though I despise their disgusting hero-worship and vulgar bullying of those who aren’t drinking the Kool-Aid. They’re defending the man, but their connection is with the music. He speaks to them and it resonates. In my world, the blissful ignorance of connecting with the music wasn’t my introduction. Before any music was played, I saw Geneva, his then-girlfriend with two black eyes and the accusation that he was the one who assaulted her. Gruesome details were available in the form of a police report, but it was the picture that carried the most weight.
While XXX has done a laundry list of things I find disturbing, disgusting, and inexcusable, her face is what I see when I read his name. He’s still awaiting his day in court, but the way he has carried himself in a cycle of obscene comments and violent beef hasn’t hinted at the slightest whiff of innocence. Even if there’s a 1% chance he’s guilty of domestic battery, if he truly brought those wounds to her body, no amount of talent or genius will ever erase that image. Ever. After issuing a rather dismissive and now-deleted tweet, stating, “All I ever abused was that pussy,” there’s no room to trust such an inconsiderate and revolting man in the name of music.
What bothered me most about Kendrick’s tweet, promoting XXXTentacion’s new album, 17, was the thought of thousands of unknowing fans (the tweet has nearly 30k retweets) being introduced to the music before the man. The artist always has a louder voice than the victims. They always have the chance to move beyond transgressions by delivering more music or by remaining silent. This is an artist who once said, “If you’re gonna be a fan, that’s different than being someone that supports me. If you’re a fan that means you abide by everything that I believe in, and that you support what I do to the fullest extent.”
We are in the age of on-demand information and constant discourse. I couldn’t tweet about the recent Mayweather fight without someone asking if I was cheering for him despite his own sickening history of domestic abuse. That was yet another case of partial ignorance, but mostly just not doing the research to know enough about the ugliness of Mayweather. But that’s his dark cloud, and he’ll never escape it. Even if it’s swept under the rug, voices will continue to be heard.
I think hip-hop owes it to women, especially Black women, to be loud and to hold our artists accountable for their actions. Morally, we all have to decide for ourselves when an artist crosses the line. But we cannot allow ourselves the bliss of ignorance. We can not ignore what is wrong for our own guilty pleasure. People, real people, are worth more than music and hip-hop needs to be a space where all voices are heard and all bodies feel like their safety matters. DJBooth aims to be a space where our readers feel like their bodies and the bodies of those like them matter.
There are bodies buried in our backyard. Do what you will with that information, but don’t pretend like they don't exist.
By Yoh, aka Defiant Yoh, aka @Yoh31