The Biography: Dr. Dre

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By Ronin Ro (Thunder's Mouth Press, $25)

Before such a title would have been considered an insult, many observers had trumpeted rap producer Dr. Dre as "the Phil Spector of hip-hop." It was an apt enough comparison, as both men had reshaped the music industry, redefined youth culture, and made massive fortunes through their sheer creativity and sonic innovation in the recording studio. With The Biography, Ronin Ro - an award-winning nonfiction reporter and prolific author - attempts to examine the life and work of a gifted and frequently conflicted visionary. The book moves quickly through the early years of Compton-bred Andre Young, finding its feet in exploring the fascination that the newly christened Dr. Dre had with the still-fledgling early '80s rap game. As the creative force behind controversial group NWA, Dre achieved his first great triumph while peddling a hard-core thug image that would haunt him in later years. He was a millionaire by the time he was 24, but his success was blighted by the death of his younger brother in a street fight in 1989. Dre then branched off into a solo career, and the creation and impact of The Chronic, his 1992 zeitgeist-altering masterpiece, is explored in vivid detail. The juiciest parts of the story concern Dre's role in the meteoric rise of Death Row records, the label he built with notorious gangster figure Suge Knight. Ro, who explored the more lurid details of the Dre/Death Row relationship in Have Gun Will Travel, his study of the label, dissects the years of fear, feuding, and recrimination that followed their split in 1996. Though the book has a few narrative lulls as Dre quietly coasts through the late '90s, the story eventually picks up pace, exploring his more recent work with Eminem and 50 Cent - associations that have ushered in another, even more lucrative era of success. Impeccably researched, and written with an intuitive grasp of insider politics, the book is a welcome and necessary addition to the growing library of hip-hop scholarship, even if it doesn't quite feel like the definitive portrait its title suggests. - B.M.