Dr Dre: From LA gangsta rapper to Forbes top dog?

Dr. Dre arrives for the Clive Davis And The Recording Academy's 2012 Pre-Grammy Gala And Salute To Industry Icons in Beverly Hills, California on Feb 11, 2012. -- FILE PHOTO: AFP
Dr. Dre arrives for the Clive Davis And The Recording Academy's 2012 Pre-Grammy Gala And Salute To Industry Icons in Beverly Hills, California on Feb 11, 2012. -- FILE PHOTO: AFP

LOS ANGELES (AFP) - 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 likely 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 would top Forbes' hip hop rich list after striking a US$3.2 billion (S$3.9 billion) deal to sell Apple the company he co-founded eight years ago, Beats Electronics.

The agreement, which has not yet been finalized, would boost his net worth to some US$800 million, according to Forbes. Some reports suggest Dre could soon become the world's first hip-hop billionaire.

He would beat Sean "Diddy" Combs who was the previous top dog with US$700 million, as well as Jay Z, now in third place with US$520 million, followed by Bryan "Birdman" Williams on US$160 million.

"Hip hop is now central to American popular culture," Robert Thompson, professor of popular culture at Syracuse University in New York state, told AFP 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 also 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 while he was barely out of short trousers.

Compton was well known for gang violence but also for producing hip hop groups and rappers, including gangsta rap group N.W.A. formed by Young and Ice Cube, making their name with its debut album in 1988 Straight Outta Compton. The record by the band 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, triggering Dre to lay 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, as he increasingly moved towards producing and business - co-founding Beats Electronics in 2008 with partner Jimmy Iovine.

The firm makes audio equipment, including the ubiquitous 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 iconic computer giant's biggest acquisition yet.

The Financial Times said Apple would buy not only the headphone brand and other sound equipment but also the firm's recently launched music streaming service, known as 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 Apples headphones were inferior," he said.

Dre himself 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.