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Rapper and producer Dr. Dre has been in the hip-hop game for over three decades. Throughout that time, several emcees have come and gone, while Dre’s legacy continues into the 2020s with a highly-anticipated Super Bowl halftime show. But before the world knew him as Dr. Dre, he was a rising rapper on the streets of Compton who went by a completely different name.

Dr. Dre
Dr. Dre | Mike Coppola/FilmMagic

Dr. Dre started out as a DJ

In the 1980s, hip-hop was slowly transforming from niche genre of music to dominating force in pop culture. In 1981, Grandmaster Flash — regarded by many as an elder statesman of hip-hop — released the smash single “The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel.” The song itself was a seven-minute live DJ mix that included hits from the time such as “Good Times” by Chic and “Another One Bites the Dust” by Queen.

Andre Young was just a teenager at the time, and he was inspired by Grandmaster Flash’s takeover of a DJ setup. He started going to a club called Eve’s After Dark to watch the DJs and rappers performing live at the venue.

Soon, Dre became a DJ himself.

Dr. Dre got his name Dr. J from a basketball player

When he first started DJing in the club, he went under the name “Dr. J” instead of “Dr. Dre.” He got the name from Julius Erving, his favorite basketball player, who also went by the same name.

Coincidentally, Dre met aspiring rapper Antoine Carraby at the club, who went on to become DJ Yella in N.W.A. He soon took on the stage name of Dr. Dre, which combined his Dr. J moniker and his first name. He began referring to himself as the “Master of Mixology.”


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Dr. Dre is a music icon today

Dre and DJ Yella recorded studios in the back of Eve’s After Dark, and throughout the 1980s, Dre began focusing his career on rapping as opposed to DJing. In 1986, he met O’Shea Jackson, who would go on to found N.W.A. alongside Dre, Yella, and Eazy-E.

As N.W.A. parted ways in the early 1990s, members including Dr. Dre and Ice Cube embarked on their own solo careers. Dre released his debut solo album The Chronic in 1992, written and produced himself and executive produced by Death Row co-founder Suge Knight.

Dre continued to make his mark as a rapper and producer throughout the 1990s and early 2000s. Eventually, he branched out from music and turned his focus to other business ventures, such as his wildly successful Beats by Dre brand of audio electronics. In 2014, Dre sold the Beats brand to Apple for a whopping $3 billion.

Today, Dre’s status as a hip-hop icon earned him a spot in the Super Bowl LVI halftime show. Dre will be performing alongside Mary J. Blige, Snoop Dogg, Eminem, and Kendrick Lamar in a show that rap fans won’t soon forget.