LOS ANGELES – It is a long way from the rough streets of South Los Angeles to becoming the world’s richest hip-hop star. But that is the path set to be taken by Andre Young, better known as Dr. Dre, helped by some very cool headphones.
The 49-year-old rapper-turned-producer and entrepreneur likely will top Forbes’ hip-hop rich list after striking a $3.2 billion deal to sell Apple the company he cofounded eight years ago, Beats Electronics.
The agreement, which has not yet been finalized, will boost his net worth to some $800 million, according to Forbes. Some reports suggest Dre could become the world’s first hip-hop billionaire.
He will pip Sean “Diddy” Combs, who was the previous top dog with $700 million, as well as Jay Z, now in third place with $520 million, followed by Bryan “Birdman” Williams with $160 million.
“Hip-hop is now central to American popular culture,” said Robert Thompson, professor of popular culture at Syracuse University in New York state, after the deal was reported Friday. “If you get a hip-hop artist who can establish a name and a basis of fame and wealth, and then they’re smart enough to … make sorties into other parts of the culture … that seems a typical American story.”
Along the way, Dre has discovered and worked with some of the biggest acts in music, including Eminem, Snoop Dogg, Combs and others and pioneered gangsta rap as well as West Coast G-Funk.
He has won six Grammy awards, including becoming the first hip-hop producer to win producer of the year in 2001.
But it all started in the tough south LA neighborhood of Compton, where he was born Andre Romell Young in February 1965 to parents who divorced in 1972.
Compton was well known for gang violence but also for producing hip-hop groups and rappers, including gangsta rap group N.W.A., which was formed by Young and Ice Cube and made its name in 1988 with its debut album, “Straight Outta Compton.” The record was criticized for violent language and triggered a warning from the FBI.
In 1990, he left the group to form Death Row Records, releasing his solo debut, “The Chronic,” in 1992 to huge commercial success. In 1996, he again left to form Aftermath Entertainment.
Shortly after that, rappers Tupak Shakur and Notorious B.I.G. were murdered, events that forced Dre to lie low for a few years.
His comeback came after releasing his second studio album in 1999, when he was credited with discovering white rapper Eminem.
His 2001 Grammy success propelled him up the financial rankings. He increasingly moved toward producing and business, cofounding Beats Electronics in 2008 with partner Jimmy Iovine. The firm makes audio equipment, including headphones taken up by celebrities and sports stars. In 2012, many were seen at the London Olympic Games.
On Friday, news reports emerged that Apple is preparing a $3.2 billion buyout of Beats Electronics, in what would be the computer giant’s biggest acquisition yet.
The Financial Times said Apple will buy not only the headphone brand and other sound equipment but also the firm’s recently launched music streaming service, Beats Music.
“If this goes through and Dr. Dre moves up the (Forbes) list … it’s not going to be so much for his hip-hop artistry,” said pop professor Thompson. “It’s going to be for branching out into … the whole Beats thing because he thought Apple’s headphones were inferior.”
Dre appears confident the deal will go through. In a video posted on YouTube, he brags about the deal with actor Tyrese Gibson, who says Forbes needs to update its hip-hop rich list, released only a few weeks ago. “The first billionaire in hip-hop, right here from the … West Coast,” he tells the camera.