Considering his financial stake in the project — not to mention its likely impact on his enduring cultural legacy — Dr. Dre has remained surprisingly silent about Straight Outta Compton. The hip-hop biopic, due in theaters on Aug. 14, chronicles the rise of N.W.A., the incendiary late ‘80s/early ‘90s rap quintet of “F–k tha Police” fame that Dre (né Andre Young) co-founded with Ice Cube and Eric “Eazy-E” Wright — which basically created a Rosetta Stone for gangsta rap.
In addition to being portrayed by Corey Hawkins in the film, the multi-platinum-selling producer — whose post-N.W.A. pursuits included launching the careers of Snoop Dogg, Eminem, 50 Cent, and Kendrick Lamar, as well as selling Beats Electronics and Beats Music to Apple for $3 billion — also served as a producer on Compton.
But with just weeks before its release, and outside of a rumored Rolling Stone cover story with co-producer Ice Cube, the Doctor has kept his profile confoundingly low, shying away from the kind of press duties that usually accompany a summertime popcorn release.
Instead, he’s left director F. Gary Gray (Friday) to explain how Dre was intricately involved with everything from script development to making his physical presence — as Compton’s conquering hero — felt during production in his hardscrabble hometown last year.
“Dre was on set a lot. More than half of the time he made it to the set,” Gray tells EW. “It’s kind of a trip when you’re in Compton and Dr. Dre is there. People are freakin’ out. Like, ‘Is that really Dr. Dre?!’ They’d crowd around. He’s got a lot of love. The appreciation of people, like, ‘You’ve come home!’ To be able to see, feel, and touch the guy is life changing for people. He made it a point to be there.”
The film covers N.W.A.’s mid-‘80s formation with co-founding members Lorenzo “MC Ren” Patterson and Antoine “DJ Yalla” Carraby through Wright’s death from complications of the AIDS virus in 1995. Asked if Dre ever pressured Gray to gloss over uncomfortable controversies or smooth some of his rougher edges for the sake of posterity, the director demurred. He insisted he solicited Dre’s input wherever possible while maintaining creative control.
“If he had a suggestion, it’s something you consider,” Gray says. “But I’ve been doing this [directing] for 20-odd years. There’s a healthy respect on both sides. It’s his life. So I’d be crazy not to listen to some of the details. There’s nothing better than the truth straight from the horse’s mouth.”
In April, Dr. Dre unexpectedly turned up at Las Vegas’ CinemaCon to stump for the film. “If you know anything about me and my history, you know I’m very particular about my projects,” he said from the Caesars Palace Coliseum stage. “I’m super excited about this sh-t and super proud of it!”
Beyond that, his most expansive comments regarding Straight Outta Compton came, perhaps unsurprisingly, on the music and movie producer’s Apple Music Beats 1 radio show, The Pharmacy, earlier this month. “I don’t want anything to pour water on my legacy, so I was against [the movie] at the beginning,” Dr. Dre said.
“I read a few scripts that were just, like, kinda corny. But Ice Cube, he actually grabbed the bull by the horns. He went in and got the script done and I read this new script that he brung in. And it was like, ‘Oh, Okay, I like that.’ Then when Gary Gray decided he wanted to come on board and direct, I’m like, ‘Okay, we might have something here. Let’s roll up our sleeves, black out, and really give these people not only what they want.”
He continued: “Just display everything that it took. Not only what it took to put that record together, but the friendship, the love that we have for each other, the betrayal, and ultimately, trying to get back together and do a new N.W.A. record before Eazy passed away.”
According to Gray, who started out behind the camera directing hip-hop videos in the early ‘90s for the likes of Dre, Cube, Cypress Hill, and OutKast, the G-Funk kingpin’s creative endeavors — musical, cinematic, entrepreneurial — are all dictated by a single, overriding concern.
“With Dre, he gives you a completely different perspective on creating,” the director says. “His approach is the same as doing music: Does he feel it? He’s not trying to intellectualize why things work. You either feel it or you don’t. That’s why he’s had such a great success with every company he’s started. You feel it in the music and you even feel it in the electronics he’s created. It’s there. It makes my job so much easier.”