Dr Dre and Dr. Pepper

July 23, 2009 at 1:09 am (Uncategorized)

 I don’t always enjoy, or even understand Lynn Crosbie’s column, but this one is spot on.

Globe and Mail Monday, Jul. 20, 2009

This week on gossip website TMZ’s ‘Memba Them?, The legendary Melle Mel (as in Grandmaster Flash &), 48 and still surfing 1983’s White Lines , is presented as a hip-hop fossil. Meanwhile, the once-searing MC Lyte is slowly surfacing from the same decade, if only in random duets and shout-outs, while her sisters in crime, Queen Latifah and Monie Love have faded or moved on to brand new bags.

It is still difficult to absorb that NWA’s once arch-criminal mastermind, Ice Cube, starred in the 2005 family film Are We There Yet? and its sequel, Are We Done Yet? .

And that Ice-T, excoriated for his and his heavy-metal band Body Count’s song Cop Killer (released on the spectacular self-titled album) now plays a cop on Law and Order: SVU and recently appeared on an MTV show about stars long gone.

But while most old-school rappers seem to have become quaint objects of curiosity, others are slowly but surely returning: Promoting his album Relapse , Eminem paid lavish tribute, in Vibe magazine, to influences both old and newer, singling out André 3000, who peaked in 2003, as the world’s greatest MC, an opinion shared by many right now.

How do such rappers stay strong?

“I’m much more than 6-4’s/ Gun talk, weed smoke and sick hos/ That’s why most of them have come and went/ I just recoup, recreate and reinvent.” This is the great producer/rapper Dr. Dre (through his stand-in and co-lyricist Ludacris) explaining in OG’s Theme his own, unusual persistence in hip hop, a medium that few succeed in for an extended period of time – think of Big Daddy Kane, Nas or Public Enemy – all great, all, more or less, gone, baby gone.

 

And then there is Dre’s new Dr Pepper ad. “No”, one is tempted to scream, watching the following drama unfold. An older, hot-looking Dre walks into the frame and snags a Dr Pepper from a young vixen. “Scientific tests prove,” he intones, “when drunk slow, the 23 flavours taste even better.” Like Kentucky Fried Chicken’s arcane 11 herbs and spices, these flavours are unknown, but thought to include cane sugar, cherry and squirrels – the latter is just a guess, of course.

“For me,” Dre continues, “slow always produces a hit.” The crowd noise dims, and a beat from his new album Detox emerges, being spun by a lunatic white boy DJ wearing, of course, a backwards ball cap.

Dre smacks the can on the record, the beat slows and, voilà The crowd really starts bumping “Slow is better,” he says, before coughing up the hairball tag line: “Trust me, I’m a doctor,” also used in Dr Pepper spots by rock super-whore Gene Simmons, the soi-disant “Doctor Love” and Kelsey Grammer (Dr. Frasier Crane).

Why is he doing this?

Even if he did an ad for the Tanqueray gin he loves, or for Zig-Zag rolling papers, he still would have crossed a line: The rules of cool are loose and mysterious, but never being a shill is one of them.

Is the ad a bold move for the ingenious artist, a huge pop way of leaking his highly anticipated record? Possibly: If you watch it on YouTube, fans are assembled there, commenting, without exception, about their heady anticipation of Detox and praising Dre. Here is one typical remark: “Dr. Dre is going to completely own the world when Detox drops. Everyone is going to buy that album. I don’t even care if you hate rap, you will hear Detox , and it will be grand. Dre knows what’s up.”

Dre Dre knows what’s up and will own a great deal when this fall Detox is co-released, without irony, with Dre’s own vodka and cognac brands, a gauche marketing strategy that none of his fans mentions.

Then again, only 152 people have written comments on the ad since it was posted on YouTube last month, and as is so often the case on YouTube, many of them are using the space to call each other rednecks, clowns and crackheads (the Web has become a site for furious cowards to unite and rage at each other).

The mastermind behind NWA, Snoop Dogg and his protégé Eminem (to name a few), behind The Chronic , his 1992 solo record that is yet to be matched by any hip-hop artist, is a grander-scale “comeback king” than Eminem, whose similarly titled new CD, Relapse , released after a long, dormant period, is going gangbusters.

In 1996, he released Dr. Dre presents the Aftermath (a compilation) and with it, a light, romantic video of Been There, Done That that made his hardest-core fans squirm. The next year he produced The Firm , which “flopped,” as he states himself in lyrics on his incredible return in 2001 , The Chronic ‘s sequel.

In this tightly orchestrated assault on his detractors, he posed a number of frightening rhetorical questions, including one about his arsenal of guns: “What, do you think I sold them all?”

With Snoop Dogg and Eminem at his side, he successfully terminated all criticism as “a bunch of gibberish.” He asserted that if you all don’t like him, you could – well, there is very little I can repeat of his lyrics.

Will Detox bring him back, front and centre?

Yes, but where? Right back to where he started – the always-shifting hip-hop landscape, whose fluid sensibilities and styles have begun to revert back to the 1980s, in both the fashion and the music, which is good news for a number of “’Memba Thems” whom purists remember all too well.

Dre has always re-invented himself, as he observes: It is no wonder Madonna once begged him to produce one of her records (he flatly refused). And, in selling out now in such a flagrant way, he is putting the focus on hip hop’s most essential program, that is making money and getting over poverty, oppression and marginalization. There aren’t many geniuses at large. That he is still here, Still D.R.E, is a thrilling means of detoxing from Lady Gaga, the Black Eyed Peas and Hannah Montana, all poised on Billboard’s Top 10 at the moment and ripe for getting smacked down.

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