There’s Beats By Dre, and then there are beatings by Dre. The former is a reference to the music streaming platform founded by Dr. Dre, in partnership with Jimmy Iovine and later acquired by Apple. The latter is a reference to the three women who have come out publicly to decry the whitewashed narrative presented in the recent film adaptation of L.A. rap group NWA’s rise to prominence in the 1980s.
[New Line Cinema & co./2015]
The movie has been “whitewashed” insofar as it excludes the violence against women that was part and parcel of Dre’s early days as a pioneer of gangster rap.
The names of the three women are Dee Barnes, Michel’Le, and Tairrie B.
Dee Barnes, a journalist working on a show called Pump It Up!, was attacked after a segment in which she interviewed Ice Cube about his resignation from NWA — a matter of intense controversy in the matrix of internecine conflicts that undergird the gangster rap genre. You can watch Barnes interview Ice Cube below.
[Pump It Up! Fox TV, 1989]
In a 1991 interview with the Los Angeles Times, Dee Barnes recalled Dre’s assault on her person at a pre-release celebration after this segment aired.
“He picked me up by my hair and my ear and smashed my face and body into the wall… Next thing I know, I’m down on the ground and he’s kicking me in the ribs and stamping on my fingers. I ran into the women’s bathroom to hide, but he burst through the door and started bashing me in the back of the head.”
Michel’Le was both a fellow artist and lover to Dre during the late 80’s and early 90’s. Her self-titled debut — which Dre produced — sold a half-million copies. They had a child together in 1991.
Michel’Le recently went on record to describe Dre’s history of domestic abuse in their relationship, recalling the multiple black eyes, a broken nose, and broken ribs that she suffered while she was in a relationship with the west coast rap superstar.
NWA collaborator and pioneering female rapper Tairrie B provided the LA Weekly with a concise description of Dre’s assault on her after the 1990 Grammy Awards Show.
“He punched me in the eye. And when I didn’t go down, he punched me in the mouth.”
This widely publicized revisitation of Dre’s checkered past comes on the heels of Straight Outta Compton‘s theatrical release, but it also coincides with another major revisitation of past violence against women: the assault allegations against Bill Cosby. At a certain level, Dr. Dre and Bill Cosby’s criminal histories should not be compared to one another. There is no neat equivalence between assault and rape. But it’s worth noting that while Cosby continues to deny allegations of his past crimes, Dre has acknowledged his mistakes and the lasting damage that he caused these women in a sincere apology printed in the New York Times.
For older millenials whose earliest recollections of television and pop culture include memories of the “wholesome” Cosby Show, and the huge Parental Advisory stickers slapped onto NWA’s albums, it is strange to contemplate a future in which Dr. Dre will be considered a better role model than Bill Cosby.