Dr. Dre in sparkly gear with a stethoscope before joining NWA. (Image Source)
The film starts in the years before N.W.A. Eazy-E is a drug dealer. Ice Cube is in high school (dealing with perhaps the scariest school bus commute this side of the Middle East.). And Dr. Dre is spinning records as a DJ… decked out in shiny and/ or sparkly jackets.
But… they were all singers, and none of them went on to be a part of the first and most influential gangsta rap groups of all time.
So I, admittedly, laughed at the sight of the Dre-character in a jacket so shiny I’m sure a late 90’s Sean Combs would’ve been jealous. Then I really laughed when K did a quick Google search and pulled up a picture of an actual Dr. Dre wearing a bedazzled doctor’s coat and stethoscope, and absolutely beaming.
Image and caption from “Original Gangstas”
Fascinated, I turned to the excellent book, “Original Gangstas: The Untold Story of Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, Ice Cube, Tupac Shakur, and the Birth of West Coast Rap” by Ben Westhoff to learn more:
A tall, broad-shouldered high school student in the early eighties, Andre Young was already a ladies’ man, making the girls laugh and wowing them with his hip-hop prowess. His DJ group Freak Patrol pumped out jams at parties, and his pop-locking routine during halftime at Fremont High School football games drew cheers. Performed to a breathy, electro beat, the robotic dance featured stutter steps and abrupt stops and starts—“popping” out one’s limbs before “locking” them in place. His outfit included rubber-soled, Bruce Lee–style shoes, and a customized, Batman-style black jacket, with a little cape in the back and his nickname “Sir Romeo” ironed on—a play on his middle name, Romell.
It was like Eden before the snake. No alcohol was served, just sodas. Club owner Alonzo Williams didn’t allow gang attire, preferring his male clientele adhere to the sartorial stylings of Morris Day: slacks, hard-bottom shoes, and a skinny tie.
Andre Young started coming to Eve After Dark on the weekends, and the club gave him his first break one night in 1982. Somehow maneuvering himself up on stage, he worked two turntables, proceeding to blow the crowd’s minds by mixing 1961 doo-wop classic “Please Mr. Postman” by the Marvelettes with Afrika Bambaataa’s “Planet Rock.” This was long before computer software made this kind of thing easy. “One record is twice as fast as the other. So all of the beats won’t match. But it worked,” Lonzo said. “That was a masterpiece to pull off.”
Andre would manually record songs straight off the radio, and layer them together with a four-track recorder. The crude technique let him bring to life mash-ups he’d imagined. “You might hear ‘Oh Sheila’ by Ready for the World, but the vocals would be a Prince song and the harmony might be a whole other artist,” said KDAY programmer Greg Mack.
“[W]here normally you go to a club and the DJs nplay all the hit records back to back, I used to put on a serious show,” Andre said. He began calling himself Dr. Dre, after basketball star Julius “Dr. J” Erving, sometimes tacking on to his handle, “The Master of Mixology.” Lonzo paid him fifty dollars per night to perform, and invited him to join the World Class Wreckin’ Cru.
Image and caption from “Original Gangstas“.
It was in World Class Wreckin’ Cru where the outfits got really funky.
“Surgery,” … was his star turn. With breathy vocals, serious scratching, and a synth line beeping like a heart monitor, it features Andre in lothario mode: The nurses say I’m cute, they say I’m fine / So you better beware because I’ll blow your mind. He was gradually coming out of his shell, growing comfortable on the mic.
Lonzo had big plans for the group, beginning with the release of their 1985 debut World Class on his own label, called Kru-Cut. He also crafted their image. They shot the album’s cover in a makeshift studio at the Hollywood offices of Macola Records, which pressed up the work. Andre’s mother Verna and one of Lonzo’s buddies, a tailor, helped create their custom duds. For the shoot Lonzo donned a black sequined jacket and earrings shaped like stars, while Cli-N-Tel wore a purple satin tuxedo jacket with black sequined lapels, and a white dress shirt unbuttoned nearly to his navel. Yella had a similar purple jacket with shoulder pads, as well as white gloves. Dr. Dre’s white, form-flattering, sequined surgical-themed outfit was fashioned from a medical supply store smock. A stethoscope hung around his neck.
Makeup was a must for any self-respecting song-and-dance group of the era (to say nothing of the hair metal bands up on the Sunset Strip). World Class Wreckin’ Cru had no professional makeup artist, so those duties fell to the act’s manager, Shirley Dixon. She powdered their faces to cut the glare and greased their lips to make them shiny. Dre was painted with blush, and finally, for an extra touch, he and DJ Yella got a smidge of eyeliner. This was the Prince influence again. The Purple One had drastically changed the idea of masculinity in pop music. Besides, even acts like Dre’s idols Parliament-Funkadelic wore colorful duds and engaged in wild theatrics. “This was the eighties!” defended Lonzo. “You wore a little bit of makeup.” The Cru looked in the mirror, got the OK from Shirley, and were ready to go. They posed for photos, bathed in purple light, the smoke machine working double time. Some shots were smoldering, some weren’t; Dr. Dre, feeling goofy, clowned around in silly positions. He had no idea these pictures would come back to haunt him. “I’ll tell you what. I never had no [expletive] lace on—that was Yella,” Dr. Dre later grumbled.
World Class Wreckin’ Cru (Image Source)
The Doctor was in. (Image Source)