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Boss Tycoon: The Enduring Legacy of Mac Dre 

Wednesday, Jun 22 2016

Ronald Dregan. Muhammed Al Boo Boo. Thizzle Washington. Andre Louis Hicks.

Mac Dre was a rapper of many monikers, a natural comedian with an incredible work ethic, and an artist who forever changed the course of Bay Area hip-hop. From recording verses through a phone while serving time for a robbery charge to bringing phrases like "thizz," "go dumb," and "ghost ride the whip" into the lexicon, Dre left an indelible mark on his community during his short but prolific lifetime.

Best known as a poster child of the hyphy movement that swept through the Bay Area in the early aughts, Dre's lasting presence is still felt every time a DJ spins "Thizzle Dance" or "Feelin' Myself," two of the many hit tracks from the 15 albums that Dre recorded before his death at the age of 34 in 2004.

In the 12 years since, Dre's legacy has grown. You can buy airbrushed shirts, bobblehead dolls, and pillar candles emblazoned with the rapper's face, and there's a mural of him on the side of a pupuseria on Foothill Boulevard in East Oakland that's become a popular place for artists to stage music videos.

"He's still very much relevant," says fellow hyphy pioneer and Oakland rapper, Mistah F.A.B., who was friends with the late MC. "There are several children of Dre who have been highly influenced by his music. There are those who had a chance to know him and those who were just raised off his music and the cultural aspect of it."

F.A.B. is one of several artists joining together to honor Dre on Tuesday, July 5, at The Regency Ballroom, for what would have been the rapper's 46th birthday. Organized by Dre's mother, Wanda Salvatto, the event features Kool John, Baby Bash, Mac Mall, and J Diggs, with music provided by KMEL's DJ Amen. Far from a solemn occasion, the evening is sure to include the pounding bass, screwy vernacular, and sweat-drenched reverie that encapsulates what hyphy and Dre are all about.

"It was always just great energy," F.A.B. says of his friend's performances. "You felt like when you left the show, you left Mardi Gras. That's just how dope he was."

Born in Oakland, Dre grew up in The Crest neighborhood of Vallejo, where he first picked up the name MC Dre, but later changed it because it sounded too East Coast-ish. In 1992, he was charged with conspiracy to commit robbery and spent four years in Fresno County Jail after refusing to cooperate with law enforcement and snitch on his partners.

"When he went into jail, he was like straight-up what you would think a successful Bay Area rapper was," Amen says of the artist who had released three albums and started the record label Romp Productions before being incarcerated. "Then he came out and he was like on a different hype. He was definitely ahead of his time."

When Dre emerged from prison in 1996, he had two goals in mind: Never go back and have as much fun as possible. Along with other Bay Area hip-hop heavyweights like E-40, Too $hort, and Andre Nickatina, he rejected the limitations placed on mainstream rap by embracing an underground mentality. Through rowdy parking lot shows, the creation of his second label, Thizz Entertainment, and a receptive crowd eager to hear the beats blast and cut loose, the hyphy movement began. Tragically, it wasn't until after Dre's death in 2004 from an as-yet-unresolved drive-by shooting in Kansas City, Mo., when things truly exploded.

"It was almost like Mac Dre passed away and everything just blew up," says Amen, who grew up listening to Dre's tracks in the '90s. "It was what everybody was doing. It was how everybody talked. It was how everybody danced. Everybody got it from him. The local economy exploded with new artists, new music, and new merchandise. It was like a hyphy gold rush."

Amen and F.A.B. recall fondly how funny Dre was, both behind the microphone and in person. His lyrics were endlessly quotable, full of silly intonations and sneakily clever rhyme schemes, like on Genie of the Lamp's "Grown Shit," where he spits, "I'm a rap-matic track addict / And I'm back at it / Play me a beat with this heat, I'm a blap at it / The cat scatted, when the mac spatted / You don't want to see me, punk get your hat flatted." Asked to recall a memory that truly speaks to who Dre was, F.A.B. remembers a time when he woke up early in the morning at Dre's house and saw the rapper frantically searching the room.

"I was like, 'Cuddy, what's wrong with you?' He said, 'Cuddy, I lost my grill! ' " F.A.B. says. "He was turning over boxes and flipping over the couch. I tried to calm him down but he said, 'Cuddy, I refuse to go outside without my diamonds in my mouth. I'm going to talk with my hand over my mouth all day.' He ended-up finding it — I don't know where it was — but we laughed about it all day."

But though Dre was certainly a comedian, his persona and many nicknames served a serious purpose beyond just entertainment.

"He was just a character man, but behind those characters, people have to realize the purpose of it," F.A.B. says. "He would always tell me, 'Cuddy, you have to constantly reinvent yourself. You have to constantly reshape yourself and give the fans something new.' That was the reason for all the different aliases — he never wanted to get put in a box."

In hindsight, it's clear that no box could ever hold the impact Dre has made on the Bay Area and the hip-hop landscape. Yes, the days of side shows and doing donuts until the Oakland Police came to break things up may be over, but the music, and the love it inspires, continues.

"My grandmother used to always tell me, 'Everybody dies, but not everybody lives,'" F.A.B. says. "Dre gave back by just motivating people. If you can put a smile on somebody's face, that can change the whole trajectory of a person's life. It's an exuberant feeling when you look around to your left and to your right and just see people dancing and partying. He captured the energy."


About The Author

Zack Ruskin

Zack Ruskin

Zack was born in San Francisco and never found a reason to leave. He has written for Consequence of Sound, The Believer, The Millions, and The Rumpus. He is still in search of a Bort license plate.


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