The in-studio video posted Thursday on actor Tyrese Gibson’s Facebook page is raucous and choppy, a party scene with a mix of explicit language, big laughs and nimble dance moves.
But its message is unmistakable, delivered by Dr. Dre himself: “The first billionaire in hip-hop, right here from the (expletive deleted) West Coast.”
With that line, spoken just over camera-wielding Gibson’s right shoulder, Dr. Dre appeared to both confirm rumors of Apple’s imminent acquisition of Beats Electronics and announce a landmark moment in hip-hop history.
Will Dre, who rose to prominence in the 1980s as a fierce Los Angeles-based rapper with the controversial group N.W.A, indeed become the street-bred genre’s first billionaire? Odds are yes.
Although his stake in the company that bears his name has never been made public, “most feel he’s got between 20 percent and 25 percent of it,” says Chuck Creekmur, CEO AllHipHop.com. “That would mean he’d get there first, before Diddy and Jay-Z.”
Dre ranked second in Forbes magazine’s most recent list of top-earning rappers, at $550 million. P. Diddy was first with $700 million and Jay-Z third at $520 million. If the Apple purchase price of $3.2 billion for Beats’ suite of headphones and electronics goods as well as its recently launched streaming music service proves accurate, that could put Dre’s stake of Beats at around $800 million.
Dre breaking that billion-dollar barrier will have a huge impact on the hip-hop community, says Creekmur.
“Hip-hop is a very aspirational culture, and many of the people in it certainly aspire to become as affluent as the American dream says you can be, even though it’s eluded most of us,” he says. “Most of the people in hip-hop are first-generation business people, so to see a guy many of us grew up with make it this big is really going to inspire others to push to do the same.”
Making the moment even more powerful is the fact that, when compared with Diddy and Jay-Z, Dre has long preferred to stay in the background, cultivating not so much a celebrity vibe as a reputation for being among one of the best producers in the music business, with a set of ears second to none.
In fact, Creekmur says the video with Gibson, which was soon pulled off the actor’s Facebook page, represents “a real exception to his normal reclusive M.O.,” perhaps attributable, per Gibson’s crack on the 80-second clip, to the group having consumed a few beers.
For many in the hip-hop community, Dre will first and foremost be synonymous with crushing beats and not business deals.
“Regardless of the success of this deal, the legacy Dre has built as a musician and producer will never be undercut,” says Jermaine Hall, editor of Vibe magazine. “It’s like Magic Johnson. He may have gone on to be a great businessman, but he’ll always be the face of the Lakers franchise.”
Hall says Dre’s magic lies in having “ears that tell him exactly where the bass and treble should be at” for a given song, ears that have also been used to tune the Beats line of headphones with a decidedly bass-heavy bent.
“You combine that with the savvy and marketing of (Beats’ other founding force, producer) Jimmy Iovine and you were bound to get a winner,” says Hall, who adds that Apple would be making a mistake if it rebranded its Beats purchase. Beats accounts for about two-thirds of the premium headphone market, where products sell for anywhere from $200 to $400 a pair.
In the end, the deal may have cultural repercussions that equal its fiscal ones.
“When you step back, for someone from the hip-hop culture to reach the billion-dollar mark is pretty incredible,” says Hall. “And in many ways, Dre getting there first before those other two guys is the better story. He’s the common man behind the scenes, and he won.”