Dr. Dre Isn’t the Only Terrible Person in Music: A Hard Truth

The name Dr. Dre is synonymous with hip hop and production. If you made a list of the most seminal artists of the genre it would not be complete without the ex-N.W.A. luminary. In recent times he has monopolised the oversized headphone game with his brand Beats by Dre, teamed up with Apple to launch Apple Music and Beats 1, and just this month released the hugely acclaimed album Compton. He was even ranked #56 on Rolling Stones “100 Best Artists of All Time.” No doubt there is plenty to celebrate in the career that is Dre; but this week the darker side of his past has been front and centre.

Yes, Dr. Dre has beaten women. In 1990 he very publicly attacked music journalist Dee Barnes in a nightclub, and ex-wife Michel’le has been very vocal about her continual abuse over the course of their relationship. Dre himself was the first to admit to Rolling Stone that many of the accusations against him are true. The matter was brought back into the spotlight this week when the N.W.A. biopic Straight Outta Compton was released and strikingly omitted these events. Is it revisionist history? Yes, but aren’t all movies in a way? Would inclusion have sparked a wider conversation about violence in rap music? Probably, but without being cynical, talk is pretty cheap. In a time when rappers are being banned from countries for fictitiously writing about violence against women, and blatant wife beaters are being given deals with major skateboard brands, the waters are more than a little murky.

If history has taught us anything, being a piece of shit won’t affect your chances of going down in the hall of fame, or selling out shows – and we’re not just talking about hip hop. We’d forgotten all about the Barnes attack for over twenty-five years. It’s not the first time selective amnesia has allowed us to enjoy the music we have come to love. Let’s take a look.

John Lennon

The Beatles. Remember those guys? Front man John Lennon was a known wife beater, and the lyrics from Getting Better are on par with the nastiest rap lyrics. They are may be even more disturbing when mirrored by the saccharine melody.

“I used to be cruel to my woman I beat her and kept her apart from the things that she loved…Man I was mean but I’m changing my scene and I’m doing the best that I can.”
~ John Lennon

Bob Marley:

The chillest guy in music was apparently not so chill when it came to the other sex. With at least six children to different women resulting from extra-marital affairs, his wife Rita Marley posthumously raised claims of rape against the reggae superstar, dating back to the height of his career in her memoir.

Eric Clapton:

Many may not know that Eric Clapton might just be the biggest racist the music world has ever seen. In 1976 he spouted one a seemingly unbelievable derogatory rant and a British concert, declaring:

I think we should send them all back. Stop Britain from becoming a black colony. Get the foreigners out. Get the wogs out. Get the coons out. Keep Britain white. I used to be into dope, now I’m into racism. It’s much heavier, man. Fucking wogs, man. Fucking Saudis taking over London. Bastard wogs. Britain is becoming overcrowded and Enoch will stop it and send them all back. The black wogs and coons and Arabs and fucking Jamaicans and fucking (indecipherable) don’t belong here, we don’t want them here. This is England, this is a white country, we don’t want any black wogs and coons living here. We need to make clear to them they are not welcome. England is for white people, man. We are a white country. I don’t want fucking wogs living next to me with their standards. This is Great Britain, a white country, what is happening to us, for fuck’s sake? We need to vote for Enoch Powell, he’s a great man, speaking truth. Vote for Enoch, he’s our man, he’s on our side, he’ll look after us. I want all of you here to vote for Enoch, support him, he’s on our side. Enoch for Prime Minister! Throw the wogs out! Keep Britain white!

Oh, and turns out he abused his wife too.

Jimmy Page:

Led Zeppelin are the gateway to awesome music for pretty much anyone who has gone on to have good taste. Lesser known, is the fact that guitarist Jimmy Page once kidnapped a 14-year-old girl. A roadie is quoted to have approached Lori Maddox with the line “Jimmy told me he is going to have you whether you like it or not,” before shoving her in the back of a limo. Page and Maddox went on to have a long relationship where he mostly kept her hidden behind closed doors. Because, you know, even in the swinging seventies that sort of thing was frowned upon.

Michael Jackson

Do we even need to go here? How could we forget the countless claims against the pixie-voiced pop idol? With claims that he spent millions dollars in hush money silencing child victims of sexual abuse, he continues to generate millions in royalties posthumously. Whether he did or didn’t there are certainly some unsettling undertones to these stories, namely inviting children to sleep in his bed at his ranch that can only be described as a kiddie wonderland.

And these are just the iconic names. It wouldn’t even justify the time to go into the appalling acts of Chris Brown, R. Kelly or more recently, the unspeakable allegations against Lostprophets singer Ian Watkins. When it comes to music, it seems we are willing to allow brilliance to overshadow just about any miserable act. We accept that artists can represent all the beauty in the world on paper, and all of its ugliness behind closed doors. It’s a harsh juxtaposition but one that doesn’t start or end with Dr. Dre.

In a statement to the New York Times Dre has publicly declared his regret over the events:

Twenty-five years ago, I was a young man drinking too much and in over my head with no real structure in my life. However, none of this is an excuse for what I did. I’ve been married for 19 years and every day I’m working to be a better man for my family, seeking guidance along the way. I’m doing everything I can so I never resemble that man again.

I apologize to the women I’ve hurt. I deeply regret what I did and know that it has forever impacted all of our lives.

Chances are the next time we hear Fuck the Police or Hey Jude or Stairway To Heaven we will tap our toes and sing along. Is it the responsibility of the listener to judge music according to the sound, or the artist behind it? Should we stop listening to music created by someone with questionable morals like abuse and violence allegations? Or should we separate those ideas from the purely aural experience? Can those two experiences be separated, or should we always associate music or art with the personality and controversies of the creator?