We’ve been talking for the last couple of weeks about the murder of 2Pac and the impact that that event and it’s subsequent investigation had on the west coast rap culture. I think that it’s fair to say that today’s topic, the establishment of Aftermath Entertainment by Dr. Dre, was indirectly related to those events. I think that Dre foresaw trouble shortly after 2Pac was signed to Death Row Records. By all accounts, the atmosphere around Death Row had become increasingly hostile, with attacks on label employees becoming a regular occurrence. Added to that already dangerous situation, we have the brewing rivalry between the east and west coasts that would eventually lead to 2Pac’s murder. It’s no surprise that Dre chose to distance himself from the label he’d help found, nor is it surprising that his first release on his new label was infused with a different attitude from that which had appeared in his music previously.
The first release on the new Aftermath Entertainment label was a compilation titled Dr. Dre Presents the Aftermath. Although most of the album’s content is forgettable R&B, and the collection was not as acclaimed as some of Dre’s previous works, there are two tracks on this record which are worthy of our attention. The first was a collaborative effort titled “East Coast/West Coast Killas”, credited to “Group Therapy”, which was, in reality, RBX, a former label-mate of Dre’s from Death Row, west coast rapper B-Real (from Cypress Hill) and two stalwarts from the east coast rap scene; KRS-One, and Nas. Coming just two months after 2Pac’s death, this was an obvious effort by Dre, as the elder statesman of west coast rap, to call a “cease-fire” in the now fatal cross country rap battle. Lyrically, the song proclaims that those who “battle over coastal fronts” were “childish”, and gives equal time and praise to rappers from both coasts. Equally important was Dre’s solo song “Been There, Done That”, in which the good doctor took the stance that violence and other gang-related activity (which he had previously espoused) was now passe, and that the time had come to move on to other, less dangerous topics.
I think it’s sad that the public reacted so negatively to these two attempts at peacefully ending the violence. Been There, Done That especially was maligned, with pundits calling Dre a sell-out and questioning his street credibility, much as Eazy E had done just a few short years before. My personal opinion is that, much like many of his fans, Dre was attracted to the dramatization of the “gangsta” lifestyle despite never being a participant. When people started dying, though, Dre attempted to use his clout to put an end to out of control monster he’d helped to create. I admire him for trying to do something positive, and I think it’s a real shame that this project was such a failure that Dre’s reputation would suffer for several years following the release of this record. Next week, we’ll talk about some of the other west coast artists activities during this period.