Calling Dr. Dre to Surgery: The Roadium Swapmeet Mixtapes

A look back of six of the best of Dr. Dre's legendary Roadium Mixtapes.
By    August 12, 2015

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Before rocking Raiders hats and flashing semi-automatics with infrared scopes, Dre was the head of surgery at Compton’s Eve After Dark. As the teen prodigy of the World Class Wreckin’ Cru, his turntablism and impeccable ear already earned him fame everywhere south of Interstate 10. As I mention in my latest LA Weekly column, the sequin suit and stethoscope image was what he ran from for years.

It was partially compounded by Eazy’s savagery on the It’s On (Dr Dre) 187Um Killa EP. If you thought that Drake’s meme goons were the first with the fake obituaries, then you definitely don’t remember the Dexter Wiggle. But even while Dre was making his name in N.W.A., he earned extra pay by making mixtapes that they sold at the famous Roadium Swap Meet (because you know Jerry and Eazy weren’t giving them enough). The cassettes were the stuff of regional legend, an amoebic broth of what eventually consolidated as G-Funk and gangsta rap.

I’ve uploaded a half dozen to Soundcloud and I recommend you listen before the copyright Nazi’s suspend my account for uploading tapes that ought to be public domain and in the Slauson Smithsonian. This is LA rap in its infancy. Dre slices and dices with pure finesse. There are shout outs and raps from Eazy. Old funk jams from George Clinton and Parliament. Local electro-funk from Uncle Jamm and the Egyptian Lover. And the rawest and most uncut from the East Coast, including BDP, De La, MC Lyte, Stetsasonic, and Rob Base.

It’s a reminder that coastal differences were always overblown. The East influenced the West and Dre and Cube ultimately influenced the East. If you don’t believe it, I’ll force you to listen to “Nas is Coming” on loop until you beg for forgiveness. Dre’s funk was forever one of the first to be machine gun.

These tapes capture a fascinating tipping point — the last gasp before LA’s electro-rap turned gangsta. When silver suits got replaced with Locs and all black sweatshirts. There’s an alternate universe where it never happens and electro-funk becomes LA’s house music — the way that Chicago house and Detroit techno always peacefully co-existed with the nascent rap worlds. But in LA, we repudiated our past, only to rediscover it in the last decade.

Dre was part of the revisionist history, but one of the cool things about Compton is that he finally acknowledges it. Eve After Dark re-enters his own personal version of events. These tapes are artifacts but also eternal party starters. Forget the sanitized myth-making biopics, this is arguably the most honest version of early events — the closest you’ll ever come to actually being there.

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