Today marks the 51st birthday of Andre Young, who is better known throughout the world as Dr. Dre. The rap icon’s influential career spans parts of four decades. Along the way, he’s sold millions of albums, influenced innumerable rappers, helped introduce hip-hop heavy-hitters like Eminem and Kendrick Lamar to the world, and found time along the way to attach the Dre name to a wildly popular brand of headphones. While the billionaire rapper, producer, and Beats By Dre mogul has little (if any) affiliation with our city, that isn’t stopping Milwaukee (and about 15 other cities in the U.S. and Canada) from celebrating the birth of the music legend by declaring a late February day each year Dre Day.
After a successful inaugural event at Hotel Foster on a frigid Thursday night, Milwaukee DJs Jordan “Madhatter” Lee and Tyrone Bizzon will throw the second annual Dre Day MKE at Company Brewing this Saturday. With a new venue and a year of experience beneath their belts, the duo has added new features that look to make year two even better and set Milwaukee’s celebration apart form the rest. Before Dre Day takes over the Riverwest brew pub this weekend, Milwaukee Record spoke to Lee about the holiday’s Milwaukee debut, what to expect at this year’s festivities, and Dr. Dre’s lasting significance in Milwaukee’s hip-hop scene.
Milwaukee Record: This is the second year of Dre Day in Milwaukee. The first one was at Hotel Foster. How did that one go, and what are some of the differences between this year and last?
Jordan Lee: The first one went very good. Tarik [Moody] had talked about it and put it on my radar when I first met him. It started in Minneapolis and he said “Why don’t we do it in Milwaukee?” I said, “I don’t know. I don’t know anybody who’d produce it.” He kind of bugged me about it. It was kind of an experimental idea, but I was just like, “Fuck it. Let’s just do it.” I was very pleased with how well received all the different ideas we were trying to do were. The original one has always done the $20 Sack Pyramid game show, so we do that too. They’ve always done an all-Dr. Dre musical experience, and we do that too. And they’ve always done something with creatives or artists in some way, and we do that too. I felt like we hit all the original points, then added some other layers.
Since that worked so well, I feel like we can add more layers to it. Now, for me, I got over the inaugural one and it went well—and it was cold and on a Thursday—and attendance was good. I think we added a better date. I think we made it super Milwaukee by going to Company Brewing where they make beer, which is the most Milwaukee thing you can do. I think we made the party more birthday party-like. We have more space, so we’re going to add more games and go over the top with the concept of it being Dr. Dre’s birthday. Dwellephant is going to draw on balloons and we’re going to have party favors everywhere, so it’ll feel like you’re at a childrens birthday party surrounded by gangsta rap.
I wonder if he even knows about this. I mean, do you think a billionaire owner of one of the biggest brand names in America could give a fuck that this happens? But he has to know because it happens in like 15 cities in America and in Toronto too, so it’s an international celebration.
MR: When you’re not working at 88Nine, you’re involved in and around the local rap scene. Are you aware of any influence Dr. Dre has locally, and in what ways has he influenced you?
JL: With the longevity of time Dr. Dre has been putting out hip-hop music, for so many of the first performers of hip-hop music in our city, that was a direct influence because there just wasn’t a lot of stuff. In some way, shape or form, he was on the radar of the very first rappers in Milwaukee’s hip-hop history. From the start of that to now—just days after the Grammys, where Kendrick Lamar won a handful of Grammys and Dr. Dre works with him—everybody from your Mike Regal and Reggie Bonds, all the way back to Old Man Malcolm and Strick, they all have a Dr. Dre connection. There almost aren’t any other figures in hip-hop who truly span every era of rap music. His influence is probably wider than any other artist in the genre, I think.
MR: Beyond his own music over decades, maybe the gateway for some people was his involvement with artists like Eminem. He had a major hand in his exposure. He’s stayed active in so many ways for so long.
JL: If you’re 19 and you started listening to Kendrick’s Good Kid M.A.A.D City in high school, that’s all Dr. Dre.
MR: And they’re listening to it on headphones that bear Dre’s name.
JL: Right! He’s the first billionaire in hip-hop music. That’s crazy.
MR: So beyond the nationwide tradition of DJs playing Dre, the $20 Sack Pyramid, and the availability of forties, what are some ways you’re putting the Milwaukee stamp on this international event? I know you’re having art from Dwellephant and the beer is brewed at Company, but how are you trying to further localize it?
JL: We have Tyrone’s hip-hop karaoke, which is something he built on his own, which has its own fanbase. So we incorporated two ways to get visual and musical elements involved. Some of the rappers we have are members of The Rusty P’s, Yo-DOT, Mike Regal, then we have people who are not rappers at all. The whole idea of karaoke is it’s supposed to be a little bit amateur and shitty with a lot of forties in you. Tyrone’s rules are you don’t get any lyrics. You got to go up and know them, which makes it a fun challenge. Other local creatives are involved in the $20 Sack Pyramid show. Then we created a bunch of circus-like games, like a 40-ounce ring toss, pin the tail on the Doggy—we’re going to blindfold people with blue or red bandannas and have them stick a ponytail on a Snoop Dogg album cover—and photo booths where people can stick their heads through the hole to take pictures with Dre and Snoop. We’re going to do fun birthday party-type things to make it more than just a concert or DJ night.
Celebrate Dre Day MKE 2016 at Company Brewing on Saturday, February 18. The (21+) party begins at 10:30 p.m. and costs $5.