For those who already know of my obsession with wanting to report on Dr. Dre’s children, I promise this is the last post (unless someone pays me handsomely to do a follow-up, or either Hood Surgeon or Manaj become newsworthy).
When I was on the trail of Hood Surgeon some 4 years ago, I also came to know Manaj (pronounced Mi-NAJ), a woman from Southern California’s San Fernando Valley who also rode the “I come from Dre,” wagon. She was pushing a documentary called Daddy’s Shadow at the time. She even had a little online marketing action going that included a description of the flick:
Daddy’s Shadow is a feature-length documentary centered on my quest to break into the music industry despite my legendary multi-millionaire father’s objections and lack of support.
I got to meet Hood Surgeon, who confirmed that Manaj was his sister. I attempted on several occasions to meet up with her, but each time the plans fell through. I found her a bit more intriguing that the young Curtis McLemore, mainly because of the mess Manaj seemed to be in. She was coming out and saying that Dr. Dre stood in her way and didn’t want her in the industry. Okay. To make matters all the more interesting, she was planning to put out this documentary under a company called Wigga Wreckords, which was run by a guy calling himself Judge M.
I spoke to Judge M who told me his name was Matt and that he was a computer programmer. He seemed pleasant enough. I could tell he was just trying to ride Manaj’s affiliation to see how far he could go in the industry. Amazon show’s he had a .99 offering entitled “What a Wigga Iz.” He later got really defensive on the phone when I started to ask him about why he was working with Dre’s daughter, and asked him to respond to her allegations he was somehow manipulating her. Later I saw the cover of his album. This is wrong on so many levels. So many levels.
I wish I was making all of this up. But it’s true.
Just to prove it to you, after the jump is my unedited working draft from this story. Several drafts of it were sent to colleagues and editors whose interest level was something like -10 on a scale of 1 to 10.
It’s important to note that I used Myspace (remember that site?) to track down Dre’s kids. I also used some street connects (okay, it was just a girl I was dating whose friend’s baby-daddy was Hood Surgeon’s producer).
Some interesting outtakes from Manaj’s Myspace:
- THEY TOOK YA GIRL OUT OF THE “XXL” MAG. FOR WHATEVER REASON. IM STILL GON STAY GROUNDED AND ON MY HUSTLE. GET AT ME !!
- LOOKING FOR ALL THE HOT PRODUCERS OUT THERE THAT REALLY HAVE TALENT NOT NO MADE UP ” MY MOMMY TOLD ME I WAS HOT ” SHIT SO IF YOUR TRULY HOT HOLLA. MANAJ**
I think in this 2006ish draft I was calling Curtis McLemore by his stage name, Curtis Young.
“You can see it in his eyes, I believe his dream.”
¶ And once you meet him, it’s undeniable whose son he is.
Aside from the smell of primer that wafts up the stairs from time to time, it’s the perfect place for a rap studio. Inside, the walls are lined in black soundproofing material, the entire area the size of a decent-sized living room, a couch sits near a wall, and above it, autographed photos of 50 Cent, Eminem and a large N.W.A poster, all musical powerhouses connected to one man, Dr Dre.
And it looks like the Dr’s son decided to become a surgeon. If looks are everything, then he’s got a tremendous advantage over other rappers trying to claw their way out of the underground rap scene. A near dead-ringer at certain angles for his father, Dr Dre, Curtis Young, is preparing his foundation to support another generation in a legacy that has transformed Southern California sound in way as ingenius as Brian Wilson did with the Beach Boys in the 50s and 60s.
Inside the tiny recording booth, a young man, at least 6’2, in his 20s, raps into a microphone, his back to the plexiglass partion. He rhymes fiercly into the microphone. His hefty rhymes His recoring engineer intermittently interrupts him.
But living in the shadow of a performer dubbed great, or genius, leaves little room for mistakes in an environment where fans will compare and contrast. Especially in the fickle arena of rap music. And so it goes that another generation of rappers emerges and the Dr’s son has decided to become a surgeon, a Hood Surgeon to be exact.
Nestled in an innocuous Inland Empire strip mall, the studio occupies the converted office-area of an automobile customization shop. “My father built this from scratch, says Jose Herrera,” 26, referring to his 56-year old father. Both came here from El Salvador 15 years ago.
“I wanted to be an EMT, but then I saw how much they make,” says Hood Surgeon, referring to his interest in classes offered at Riverside Community College, which he attended before pursuing his rap career fulltime. He says that’s actually what inspired him to use the Hood Surgeon moniker.
Crossing his fingers
A prominent underground DJ and blogger, Nick Catchdubs says, “The only reason anyone has heard of Hood Surgeon is because he’s Dr Dre’s son. No one is playing his music,” the Brooklyn N.Y.-based musician contends.
“I have no idea who that is,” says Angela Yee, host of Sirius 45 morning radio show, the home of Interscope lablemate Eminem.
Dr Dre. would have been 21 by the time he released his first N.W.A album. He would go on to make several more albums with the group, whose most famous members included Ice-Cube and the late Eazy-E, his own son signed to Virgin records. A fan of 90’s rap music, Young says he always was a fan of N.W.A’s music, but he also held admiration for East Coast rap. “I ain’t gonna lie, I grew up on Wu-Tang. I used to like how they put their lyrics together.”
“I thought the East Coast was the ones. Then when I found out,” he says referring to when his mother told him who his famous father was, “I was like, ‘the West,’ this is where it is.” He said as he delved into the music characterized by the G-Funk sound made so famous by his father.
It was a zeitgeist for him, finding out he was Dr Dre’s first-born, “It pushed me harder.”
He says he didn’t grow up a child of extreme priviledge as many might think. “My mom took good care of me,” he says about his mother, a nurse at Kaiser Permamnente. “I ain’t gonna lie and say that I was the grimiest.
My mom did her thing, she struggled. She was a single parent, you know what I mean.”
He mentions two other brothers living with his mother. “It’s still hard, ” he says about the task of having to raise two boys, who are 17 and 10.
Meeting the doctor
“I got nervous meeting him,” he says of the first time he actually got to hang with Dre, after taking a paternity test he says. They met at Sky Bar in Hollywood.
They both remarked at their likeness, sitting at a table, “just looking at each other, for like 20 minuntes…we look just alike, man.” He said they ended the night with a visit to Encore studios in Burbank. “We was just chillen out, man. I think 50 Cent was there.”
On the drive to the studio, Young, feeling the liquor he says he drank to calm his nerves, rapped a few bars for the elder Young. “I was just faded, just feeling him out…he was like, ‘reminds me of me in N.W.A days.’ ”
“He kept saying, ‘We going to get him in the booth.’
But that didn’t become a reality. “He made me wait, man. I didn’t never get to spit.”
“He’s a busy man, he’s real busy…It’s crazy,” he says, almost apologizing for his father’s absence, but also paying just due to his father’s mystique as a svengali super producer.
Dr. Dre’s consistent hitmaking is widly respected in the music industry. And he’s famous for his genius level of attention to detail when making a record.
Not many hip hop stars can claim to have fashioned beats for the likes of Burt Bacharach and Gwen Stefani.
“I gotta have that brain in me somewhere,” he says. “It ain’t just like I’m going to let that bypass me,” says Young who insists he takes his name from his father, but his sister and some associates have said his name at birth was McLemore.
“The Autopsy,” which has been circulating the internet vie eBay and several independent CD stores, including cdbaby.com, features several rappers from Young’s So Hood Records label. Made up of underground rappers from the L.A.-area including contributions from across the map: Alabama native, Disappear, and Last Chantz from Florida.
Buc Adam, who hails from Pomona, appears on two tracks on the album. “I’ve been doing this since I was 12,” says Adam, born Caleb Brown. The 22-year-old rapper says his arrival at So Hood records, through Young’s sound engineer and fellow group member, Kazy Rik, was part of his evolution.
“I went through the dictionary phase when I first started rapping. I was a backpacker,” he says. “I’ve evolved a lot since then.” Adam performs on the CDs opening track “Autopsy in the Flesh.” Filled with medical references and images of death and violence, it’s among the stronger efforts on the disc and sets the stage for the “Hood Surgeon.” He sprinkles in references to his hiphop lineage throughout.
Jose Herrera, a large container of pills in his brief case, feels the pressure. I get migraines. At 26, he looks at least 5 years older. The detail shop isn’t his only business venture involving cars. He rents limousines. He describes Young as family and has taken a personal investment in his success. Literally.
“I’m co-CEO of So Hood records,” he says.
Herrera met Young through a mutual acquaintance. “I could see the determination in his eyes,” he says. Herrera, who also does the graphical artwork on the Autopsy cover, a skill he says he picked up in high school, tries to help with his career as much as he can.
Bloodline and lineage do not guarantee success in the music industry. Just ask the question, “How many successful children of performers do you know?” Of course there are the Julian Lennons, Carney Wilsons, and Damien Marleys of the world. Jakob Dylan, probably the most recent example of the son of a music legend who’s done good for himself.
To compare Hood Surgeon with former protégé’s of Dre is to read a list of who’s who in rap music for the last 15 years. Snoop Dog, Eminem, Xzibit, Game.
“Usually when you got a rapper and he’s got a legacy behind him, he rides on the legacy’s name more than his actual talents, and this kid doesn’t. He’s a hustler,” says Oscar Sanchez who signed Hood Surgeon to his label.
Sanchez, who recently started his lable, was artist and repertoire for Def Jam and Violator in the 90’s. A 16-year music veteran, he sees Hood Surgeon’s prospects for success as very high.
“We’re trying to create a brand for So Hood Records.” As to Hood Surgeons style, “He comes in on the street level. [The way] Dre came up, how Game came in… the Cali’lifestyle, the things he’s done.”
“ That ambition and that drive is what’s going to make him a great artist, not the fact that Dre. is his dad.” “That’s like 50% of it…he gotta prove it to the world.”
“Especially when we’ve all been waiting so long to hear Detox from Dre. This kid brings you the whole package you’re waiting for to hear from Dre.”
“Virgin records has Lil-Eazy-E, for over a year now, but you haven’t heard nothing on that. You guys are going to hear more from us than from them,” he says.
He says his Affluent Records is strategizing the release. “It’s really a carefully calculated move that we have to do. When you have a situation like Hood Surgeon, you want to make sure that it comes out right.”
Sanchez says his company will remix the album, but leave the Dr Dre beats. Sanchez has his eyes set on Hood Surgeon being the next big undiscovered rapper. He knows the Dre-connection has added potential.
“If I had to break an artist, it would make the difference with an artist that had a legacy.”
Coming with his own personae and his close relationship to the California G-Funk gangster sound, makes marketing Hood Surgeon much easier.
“Rather than take an artists where you have to make something up…At least with this kid, it’s real. And now he can build on it, ” Sanchez explains. He doesn’t see the importance of street credibility to a rap career performance.
“Does getting shot make you a better rapper? Does selling drugs?”
“People live their life…it’s art imitating life.”
Sanchez, looking to start up his label says he’s looked at ‘thousands’ of young artists, many from the New York area, to work with. “To take an artist like Hood Surgeon and put him on my label means a lot to me.”
Beef with the Dr’s Advocate
He claims the area around Castlegate and Alondra in Compton (otr:Kelly Park). He refuses to name any specific gang affiliations saying that people who know that area know where I’m coming from.
“I’m affiliated with everyone,” he says in regards to gangs.
“I don’t want to get into that,” he says when asked about his father’s most famous protégé, the Game. In an interview at allhiphop.com, Young claimed a dislike for the platinum selling rapper, stemming he says from a concert appearance in Rosarito, Mexico, for a spring break event.
He says an altercation began between Game’s security and the So Hood crew, who was part of Game’s entourage at the Spring Break performance. He says once the Game (born Jaceyon Taylor), heard that he was the son of Dr Dre, he kissed his hand in a scene out of the God Father, as a sign of utmost respect.
If this is a gimmick, then he puts his own spin on it. And his commitment to this ‘rap game’ as so many refer to it as, is indelible like his tattoos.
Down his right arm, pass the elbow and stopping at the wrist are the letters “S-U-R-G-E-O-N,” surrounded by flames. On the other arm, in less ornate fashion is the simply inscribed, “HOOD.”
Latoya Young who goes by the stage name Manaj (pronounced Mana-jay),21, found out she had a brother about a year and a half ago, she says. Her name relates to the most often referred to sexual fantasy. She’s not happy with her treatment from Dre, or his people. “Dre’s wife, Nicole, called my sister a bitch. Security treat us like we’re groupies”.
Manaj says she spoke with Dre. the night he got snuffed at the Vibe awards. “Last time I talked to him was after the awards, where he got hit.”
She estimates that Dre’s brewd consist over around 12 children.
“My mother had to go to court to get him to pay support,” she says.
She says that her uncle, Warren G (and Dre’s half-brother), would lend his support, but wouldn’t want to come into conflict with Dre over disobeying a desire to have her choose another line of work. “I’m just trying to get paid right.”
“I’d love to work with my dad.” She feels her father’s attitude could change given her hard work “as he sees I’m putting my heart into it.” But she’s resolute in her endeavors, or she’s resolved to make a point, “If I’m doing bad, I’ll leave this whole thing alone.”
“I don’t think he wants to get put out there like that, ” she says about her father’s distance from her rap efforts. “It’s in my blood line,” she says. She had been involved with the DVD magazine “Heat from the Street.” She says Dre contacted her mother to ask “what is ‘Toya doing?” Her mother is named Lisa Johnson..
Manaj says she grew up in the San Fernando Valley. She says she was hurt that Dre wasn’t there for her growing up.
“I love the attention, she says.” “I just want to show him that I can do it on my own”, she says.
But, she adds, “I’m sick of not being able to see my dad.”