Doctor Dre and The Wild Times At Yo! MTV Raps

We reminisce with Doctor Dre of Yo! MTV Raps fame on the iconic hip hop show.

From 1988 to 1995, Yo! MTV Raps was one of the network’s flagship programs. It showcased a new, diverse selection of musical talent and was crucial in bringing hip hop to the mainstream. It’s runaway popularity led to network execs move the show to daily format.  While the show’s original host, Fab 5 Freddy, stayed on to work the weekend shows, the network found a new dynamic with Andre “Doctor Dre” Brown and Ed Lover taking over the hosting duties. The duo had a comedic rapport from the get-go and brought the program to new heights, with the help of T-Money’s wacky characters.

With Yo! MTV Raps coming back for a revival and the 30th anniversary concert experience being held at Barclays Center in Brooklyn on June 1st, we spoke with Doctor Dre about his time as host, today’s hip hop trends, and his current projects.

DEN OF GEEK: So you helped bring this reunion show together. It must be thrilling for you after so long to see everybody come back together to celebrate this important show.

Oh, it’s a wonderful thing. The YO! MTV Raps: 30th Anniversary Experience is happening on June 1st at the Barclays Center, in the world’s greatest borough, Brooklyn, of course, New York. And there will be a cavalcade of stars, along with myself, Ed Lover, Fab 5 Freddy, T Money. I’m telling you, it’s going to be a night to remember.

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What do you get most nostalgic about when people start to talk about the 30th Anniversary?

I’m not a nostalgic type of person. I just sit there and say, “This was a great time for us to be a part of it,” because the beauty of it was we didn’t have any guarantees. Everything we did was based on the fact that next week, you could not be there. It was a strange and wonderful opportunity, and I use the word strange because who’d have thought a Long Island cat from Westbury, Long Island … I would say a big, fat, black guy and a tall, skinny black guy … would go on MTV and change the world with Fab 5 Freddy? And those blessings came from [series creators] Peter Dougherty and Ted Demme. Who would have thought that? We were very blessed to be in that position.

Was there a key moment when you thought, “Okay, we’ve really got something here”?

No, never. Never. And from day one to the last day we see everybody doing the rhyme stunts at the last show, we still kept saying, “Well, maybe they’ll call us back for another week.” No, we never felt always that comfortable in our seats because when you’re groundbreaking and when you’re doing it and when you’re the first one out there knocking down the trees to build the city, you never get to enjoy the fruit of your labor at the time because you’re doing all the work. You’re doing the heavy lifting. The beauty of it was that we always tried to remain ourselves because we were not only a part of it, but we were also great fans of it.

So having come from a group called Original Concept that was signed to Def Jam, having brought a group called Public Enemy to Def Jam and signing them, and being the Beastie Boys’ DJ, and writing songs for Run-DMC on their Raising Hell album and touring the world doing that first, then coming back and doing this, it felt like fantasy for a long time because there’s just no way this thing could last.

But when we started doing those Spring Breaks down in Daytona, we starting to feel like, “Wait a minute, this thing may kick off.” Because when YO! MTV Raps first started in New York in the boroughs, all the boroughs didn’t have cable. But where I grew up, in Westbury Long Island, we had cable.

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Fab was out going everywhere, whether it be in New York or across the country, and we felt a little way about that for a minute, but not negatively. It was more like, “Man, I wish we got a shot to go see what people think about the show.” And then we started going out and doing outside shows and being a part of different parts of the country and see impact of what YO! MTV Raps today was.

Our show was a daily show, Monday through Friday, and Fab did the weekend on Saturday. So we were just astonished, like, how this thing caught on. We always knew the impact of the music, but remember, at this time, the radio stations around the country were not playing rap music or hip hop on the air like that. It was always segmented to the weekend. So here you have this show called YO! MTV Raps, and when you’d see a video, it would play across the country from the east coast to the west coast, and it wasn’t labeled “West Coast Artist,” “East Coast Artist,” “Dirty South Artist,” or “North” or “Midwestern.” They were just labeled “YO! MTV Raps Today,” and people loved it.

What’s the vibe going to be like when all the guys get back together for the reunion?

Well, for Fab and T and myself, we were always staying together because we also did a 20th Anniversary Special for MTV about YO! MTV Raps, and we were always staying in touch. But we were all grown, everybody got a little older, got families, and we do other things that we need to do. The blessing is going to this at the Barclays Center on June 1st in Brooklyn, NY. Better get the tickets while the tickets are hot, because right now, from what I hear, they’re running out. But it’s gonna be a show, and it’s just an exciting moment. I equate it to the 25th Anniversary of Motown, when Michael Jackson went out there and performed “Billie Jean” after he got down with his brother. It was the same kind of effect.

Do you think that YO! MTV Raps would’ve worked today like it did back then?

No. You gotta understand something. YO! MTV Raps, when that was born, there was no social media. There was no Internet the way we have today. There was no paparazzi the way it is today. So YO! MTV Raps embodied all of those things. We were the TMZ’s of that moment. We were the Internet and the social media. We were the trendsetters. We were the people everybody pointed a finger at. Remember, we did it under a shoestring budget, because most people didn’t realize we had very little money to pull of what we did. Most people, they thought, “Oh man, they got really lotta money.” No, we didn’t have a lot of money. We had very little.

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And because of Peter Dougherty and because of Ted Demme, and then the many people who came to work on the show afterward, these people who helped us put this thing on the air every day. And that’s how we got to pull it off. We always have that family hearing together, but again, this is almost like we’re doing it all over again on a shoestring budget at the Barclays Center, June 1st, in Brooklyn. But it’s gonna be a lot of fun, trust me. It’s gonna be a lot of fun.

A lot of the incredible hip hop came out in the ’80s and ‘90s … I think sometimes people look back to those times and think, “Where are we at now?” Do you feel positive about where hip hop’s at now?

My son is 18, and he’s a musician and an artist, and he loves the music. He always looks at me with a side eye and he goes, “Yeah, Dad, yeah, yeah, I know, I know, but we doing it like this.” And I have to say, “You’re right, you’re doing it like that, and you should do it that way,” because we didn’t want anybody telling us what we did, and that’s how come YO! MTV Raps was so successful. Not because we went to go fight the power at MTV. We wanted to say, “No, this is who we are, and this is what we do, and we want you to understand and respect that.” And in doing that, it gave us an opportunity to actually be successful with the show and actually bring forth our culture, bring forth our music, bring forth everything that we worked on from the streets up.

Because I came from being a street DJ, and it’s a whole different world today. Now, you can buy a laptop and get a library and call yourself a DJ. And I go, “Really? That’s it? What about carrying milk crates and going to record stores and digging for beats and digging for songs to play at the club or play at the park jams?” See, that’s where my experience comes from. So to me, going out on a stage and seeing 100,000 people and doing my thing … to quote Bon Jovi, “I’ve seen a million faces, and I rocked them all,” too. Yeah. And to quote Flavor Flav, “We ride limos, too.” Yeah, that’s the whole thing. So we have that … today’s hip hop … I don’t criticize it. I can say, “I hear it, I understand it.” I don’t understand it, but then it makes me smile, because I say, “I remember when my parents used to say that about what we were doing.” “What is all of this? Why are you guys doing this? This doesn’t make any sense at all.”

So it’s a generational thing. But I’m here to build bridges across those generations, because I love music. Period. I just love music, and that’s what I still do to this day. I still produce. I rented a broadcast station room called Doctor Dre’s FLESHWOUND. Like I said, I have my own podcast. I have another one called Doctor to Doctor With Health and Wellness From Our Friend Dr. Ulysses Jackson, Ph.D. Yeah, so we branch out and we find other things. I am doing films. I am doing television programs, also, now. When you look back at that time, we smile so broadly about it, and we all feel so close to it, because we all grew up together with it. So you being the audience and saying, “Wow, you taught me something” … I was learning from you, too, because when we got out to meet you and shake your hand, we were very happy because … these are the guys who actually did a 25th Anniversary movie called “Who’s The Man?” while shooting YO! MTV Raps.

On a personal level for you, I know that you’ve been dealing with some health challenges in the last few years. Can you tell us a little bit about some of the advocacy and outreach you do to tell your story?

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Oh, certainly. I’m a type 2 diabetic who’s going blind. They call it visually impaired, yes. But that’s the whole essence of what my podcast is about. It’s called 2BlindMics. My partner Thomas Reid and I, we are both blind. We produce and actually do the show together, and we don’t live in the same state. We live a state away. He lives in the Poconos in Pennsylvania, and I live in Westbury, NY, where I was born and raised. Thomas and I met when he was interviewing me about what I felt about being blind and how that affected me, and I said, “You know, it kind of did, but then what I did is I took it and said, ‘Let me turn it around and make it work for me. Let me show the world that there’s nothing wrong when something like this happens to you. It’s what you do afterward.'”

It’s easy to sit and go, “Oh, woe is me,” and, “The world’s coming to an end,” and, “Oh, what am I gonna do?” But instead, I just turned it around and I turned it into something good. And right now, my advocacy for the visually impaired and for diabetes is above and beyond. And one thing I do wanna bring out when we do have this YO! MTV Raps 30th Anniversary is a big shout out to everybody who’s visually impaired who’s gonna be watching it or listening to it on streaming networks and people who have diabetes, which is a lot of artists out there from our generation who are affected by it. And as they come out, we’re gonna start putting a little coalition of those folks together so we can go out there and actually try to help fight and do the best we can to reverse the effects of this disease.

And that’s why I do a podcast. The next one coming out, called Doctor to Doctor, with the great Dr. Ulysses Jackson, Ph.D., who has helped me come together to get certain herbs to help fight the effects of this thing. And it really is working for me because … you’ll see on the 30th Anniversary. I’m gonna be up and doing and loving what’s going on. That’s what it’s about.