|Dig USC President Max Nikias trying to get down with Dre.|
And so it was with great interest that I came across a WSJ article discussing the $70 million "Jimmy Iovine and and Andre Young Academy for Arts, Technology and the Business of Innovation," funded by the sale of the Dr. Dre Beats headphone brand to Apple. How gangsta rap culture has moved into the mainstream is an interesting phenomenon. Together with legendary pop producer Jimmy Iovine, they claim to reinvent innovation studies:
Iovine and Dre know about changing the game. For two and a half decades, Iovine, 61, was the head of Interscope Records (later Interscope Geffen A&M), where he helped oversee the careers of U2, Lady Gaga, Gwen Stefani and the Black Eyed Peas. Dr. Dre, 49, is a legendary producer with six Grammys and hundreds of millions in sales to his name, who has helped guide proteges such as Snoop Dogg, 50 Cent and Eminem. Together, they launched their company, Beats Electronics, in 2008, building it from a start-up headphone manufacturer with cool celebrity endorsements into a technology brand so lucrative that Apple recently paid $3 billion for it. Now Dre and Iovine are using $70 million to fund their school.I. In a celebrity-obsessed age, I doubt that being a gangsta rap star is a useful credential for teaching "innovation." After all, what is so innovative about being misanthropic and misogynistic? Such attitudes have been around since the time of the cavemen. Then there are Dr. Dre Beats headphones themselves. While their bottom-heavy sound is popular with the rap crowd, they are strictly speaking not "high fidelity" electronics that advance the state of consumer electronics but marketing-heavy gimmicks. They are exactly like those boomy subwoofers on annoying cars that go to 120 dB. They are certainly L-O-U-D but quite inaccurate. If Dr. Dre is "innovative" because of something you and I can easily do by turning the "bass" knob all the way, what's next, Justin Bieber teaching marriage and family therapy at USC? He has even better credentials since he has more Twitter followers and has pics with Floyd Mayweather Jr. in them, right?
As Iovine explains it, the school is as much an investment in their own future as it is philanthropy. “We wanted to build a school that we feel is what the entertainment industry needs right now,” he says. “There’s a new kid in town, and he’s brought up on an iPad from one and a half years old. But the problem with some of the companies up north [in Silicon Valley] is that they really are culturally inept. I’ve been shocked at the different species in Northern and Southern California—we don’t even speak the same language. The kid who’s going to have an advantage in the entertainment industry today is the kid who speaks both languages: technology and liberal arts. That’s what this school is about.
“The problem with the school system is that a lot of it’s cookie-cutter,” he adds, “so what we’re trying to do is disrupt it a bit.” In other words: They’ve revolutionized hip-hop. They’ve revolutionized headphones. Now can they revolutionize college?
II. There is also the thorny matter of the host institution itself, the University of Southern California. The neighborhood of USC is a rough-and-tumble sort which has gained recent attention for the fatal beating of a Chinese student. (Compton is also nearby.) In response, the USC campus is being highly securitized to guard against precisely the sorts of downtrodden gangstas Dre used to rap about before "going legit." It's one thing to act white, but it's another thing to give millions to those who represent an establishment more interested in isolating USC from gangstas instead of promoting community outreach. After all, Dre's bio proudly proclaims on this school's website:
Born Andre Young in Compton, Calif., artist, producer and entrepreneur Dr. Dre began his career as a member of the World Class Wreckin’ Cru. In 1986, he co-founded N.W.A. [Niggaz Wit Attitude] and won critical and commercial acclaim with the group’s 1988 landmark rap album Straight Outta Compton. In 1992, Dre released his solo debut, the G-Funk masterpiece The Chronic, which Rolling Stone hailed as one of the greatest albums ever made. In 1993, Dre produced the solo debut of rapper Snoop Dogg, which spawned the worldwide hip-hop hit, “Gin and Juice.”How things change when the guy who co-penned "F--k the Police" about shooting cops is now helping fund the same cops who do their best to keep brothers from the 'hood away from the USC campus. If rapping about killing law enforcers is a laudable item on the CV, why is he showering money on USC of all places which symbolizes racial divides in Los Angeles?
The questions become even more poignant in light of complaints from USC students about racial profiling occurring on campus. During a recent campus party, the LAPD sent nearly 80 police officers in riot gear with a helicopter to break up an event that was full of African Americans. The police were responding to noise complaints and are not known to have ever responded with this much force to a white party on campus. Even the white students at a similar party across the street were stunned to see their fellow students in handcuffs.The African-American community did not receive this news so well, either. What sort of precedent Dr. Dre sets is unclear. Despite his faults, Barack Obama set a positive role model in staying away from drugs and crime while working and studying hard to reach the pinnacle of American society. Dr. Dre, on the other hand, glorifies black-on-black crime, the murder of police, physical abuse of women, drug use and so forth. By taking so much of Dre's money, does USC condone the actions Dre raps about? Conversely, has Dr. Dre "sold out" to the white establishment? Having come from an academic institution that has had its name sullied by money taken from dubious sources, all I can say is that they've both been warned. As one of the rapper's most popular numbers went:
A young nigga on the warpath
And when I'm finished, it's gonna be a bloodbath
Of cops dying in LA
Yo Dre I got something to say
BTW: those interested in accurate-sounding music playback do not take Dr. Dre Beats with their boompa-boompa sound any more seriously than gangsta rap lyrics.