Did Dr. Dre’s apology go far enough?
On August 21, hip-hop legend and now Apple consultant Dr. Dre issued a statement to The New York Times addressing longstanding reports about his history of violence against women, including a 1991 incident in which he attacked journalist Denise “Dee” Barnes in a nightclub (for which he later pleaded no contest on a misdemeanor battery charge). In the statement, Dre wrote, “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.” The apology came days after Barnes, along with R&B singer (and Dre’s former girlfriend) Michel’le and former label mate Tairrie B, spoke publicly of being assaulted by Dre when he was a rising hip-hop star as part of the hip-hop group NWA. Barnes openly criticized the recently released movie Straight Outta Compton for ignoring Dre’s violence against women. On August 21, Dre responded — as did Apple, which issued a statement saying that Apple believes Dre has cleaned up his act. But although Dre’s apology was a start, he still has work to do.
Reports about Dre’s violent behavior during his NWA days have circulated for years, only to be dismissed by the successful rapper, producer, and business impresario, who became an Apple consultant in 2014 when Apple bought Beats Music and Beats Electronics, which he cofounded. Those stories never seemed to create any serious PR problems for Dre until Straight Outta Compton was released on August 14, along with Compton, the soundtrack Dre recorded and distributed through Apple Music and iTunes. This time, reports about his past would not go away, prompting Dre to issue the following statement to The New York Times:
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.
Apple chimed in with a statement of its own:
Dre has apologized for the mistakes he’s made in the past and he’s said that he’s not the same person that he was 25 years ago. We believe his sincerity and after working with him for a year and a half, we have every reason to believe that he has changed.
Why the apology now? And why did Apple issue its own statement? Three reasons stand out:
- The movie created a story by leaving out a story. As reported in The Los Angeles Times, an early script of Straight Outta Compton included the incident in which Dre assaulted Barnes. But in a press conference available on YouTube, Straight Outta Compton Director Gary Gray said the scene and many others were removed from the script in order to hone a three-and-a-half hour movie to a more commercially acceptable length. But by failing to acknowledge a less savory side of Dre, Straight Outta Compton helped ignite a firestorm.
- Social media gave the three women a voice and elevated the story for good. As reported in The New York Times, Tairrie B, who said Dre assaulted her in 1990, connected with Barnes via Facebook. The two formed a bond. Barnes, with the encouragement of Tairrie B, wrote about Dre’s behavior and took the movie to task on the highly social site Gawker. Meanwhile, a months-old blog post by Byron Crawford, “Beatings by Dre: A List of Girls Dr. Dre Beat Up,” became widely re-circulated on social media. Suddenly, Dr. Dre had a problem on his hands.
- He has something to lose. Dr. Dre’s Compton album is but a small element of his personal brand. Making music is something Dre does only occasionally. The days when his reputation was built on the menacing sounds of gangsta rap are long gone. Back in 1991, when Dre laughed off the Barnes incident (“it ain’t no big thing – I just threw her through a door”), his callous attitude fed a gangsta narrative. But in 2015, he’s an Apple executive with a billion-dollar business to protect and a personal fortune worth $700 million. That Apple felt compelled to issue its own statement shows how important he is to the company — and how intertwined Dre and Apple are as brands. Put another way, Dre has gone corporate.
Would Dre have ever apologized had he been known only as Dr. Dre, hip-hop artist and producer, instead of Dre the business tycoon? After all, hip-hop is an art form steeped in misogyny. Did he issue the statement only because the social media firestorm backed him into a corner? Only Dr. Dre knows for sure. I doubt the story is over, though. Judging from some of the cynical public responses on Twitter, he has work to do.
Additional steps he may take include:
- Going beyond a statement and appearing in a real conversation about his life and how he has changed, even with the women involved.
- Making a major donation to a women’s shelter, and then being involved in the administration of his donation. He recently said he will donate all his royalties from Compton to start a new performing arts center in the titular city where he grew up. He understands the value of making a financial statement.
Do you think Dr. Dre’s apology went far enough? If not, what else should he do?