Do you remember?

Pub date October 28, 2009
SectionMusicSectionMusic Features


hot vocals

everywhere I go

I get love from the locals — Mac Dre, "The Genie of the Lamp"

MUSIC "A mack is different from a pimp," Mac Mall tells me. "A pimp would starve without a woman. But a mack is a master of creativity. He can manipulate any situation."

As a "third-generation mack" from Vallejo’s notorious Crestside hood, Mac Mall knows whereof he speaks. "Mack" is an age-old term in the Bay, lending itself to the region’s premier blaxploitation film, The Mack (1973). Yet, Mall reveals, "There ain’t gonna be anymore rappers named ‘Mac’ out of the Crest" because the title has accrued too much tragedy. The very first rapper — in both the Crest and Vallejo itself — was the Mac, Michael Robinson, who was murdered in a case of mistaken identity in 1990. But the immediate catalyst for the name’s retirement was the murder of André Hicks, a.k.a. Mac Dre, who was gunned down Nov. 1, 2004 in Kansas City.

Five years later, Dre is more popular than ever, receiving the kind of universal love in the Bay generally reserved for 2pac. Images of Dre are so ubiquitous the lead single from Mall’s just-released Mac to the Future (Thizzlamic) is "Mac Dre T-Shirt."

"It’s the flag of the whole Bay," Mall says. "Even if you’s old, you know that face because you seen it everywhere. Dre’s part of our culture, like the Grateful Dead."

Yet Mall admits he and others among Dre’s Thizz Entertainment empire feel occasional ambivalence about Dre’s iconographic status. "I know we share him with the world," he says. "It be hard sometimes because he’s so us. He’s ours. But I opened my mind: even if they’ll never get it, there’s something like us they relate to in there, something everyone can grab onto."

Some of Dre’s appeal is, of course, obvious. Unlike many rappers, he had a gangsta authenticity, partly stemming from almost five years in prison for conspiracy to rob a bank (although he and his actual bank-robber friends — like rapper J-Diggs — insisted he was innocent). But far more important is his humor, expressed in unexpected metaphors ("get on a nigga’s head like some headphones"), goofy characters (Ronald Dregan, Thizzelle Washington), and a life-of-the-party attitude, even concocting his own dances (the Furley, the Thizzelle Dance). What other thug could rock cardigans and Burberry? With his lean, lanky frame and outrageous hairstyles, Dre was like a combination Snoop Dogg and Humpty Hump.

According to Mistah F.A.B., whose breakthrough disc Son of a Pimp (2005) came out on Thizz, Snoop himself is fan.

"Snoop was watching [Dre’s DVD] Treal TV (2003)," F.A.B. reports, "and was like, ‘That nigga’s a fool!’ When someone big as Snoop gives Dre the respect and love, that lets you know the ability he had."

"He wasn’t the average of what we produce," says Dre’s close friend and fellow Cutthroat Committee-member Dubai. "He excelled in the game like, left-wing, not how you’re used to someone doing it. The average motherfucker who do it like this is a weirdo, and this dude is cool as fuck. So it opened up motherfuckers. You can come through and be yourself."

All of Dre’s friends I spoke to brought up this same point. As Mac Mall put it, "He let people feel free. He went to the pen and could’ve been rappin about the hardest stuff, but he was more about having fun. Everyone gives you a façade, but Dre was a whole."

Mistah F.A.B. even links Dre’s wholeness to his penchant for characters. "They were all aspects of his personality," he says. "When you deal with truth, you have nothing to hide. You can keep moving forward by being yourself."

For the Jacka — who, as a member of the Mob Figaz, released the group’s Best of (2005) on Thizz — Dre’s integrity accounts for both his broad appeal and his positive influence. "He wasn’t ashamed to be who he was," Jacka recalls. "He was one way with everybody. But he knew how to talk to people of any race and showed us how to be around whites and Mexicans and be like, these dudes are cool too."

"He was like a Martin Luther King," Jacka says. "People might not understand what I mean by that, but if you were in the streets, you understand."

Whether or not Jacka’s claim seems excessive, it’s striking to see the actions taken in the name of Mac Dre. Among the labyrinthine divisions of Thizz Entertainment — such as Mall’s new Thizzlamic imprint — is Thizz Latin, an unprecedented alliance between black and Latino rappers, which, for a seemingly insular hood like Crestside, is most impressive. "I’m proud of what Thizz Latin is doing," Mac Mall says. "In L.A., the blacks and the Latins don’t get along. But in the Bay, we together."

Between that and the 2pac-like way in which his death brought a much needed fellow-feeling within the notoriously internecine environment of Bay rap, Dre has had a profound influence over the past five years. "I want the positive about Dre to be remembered," Jacka concludes. "For people to look past the hard part. He created ‘going dumb,’ but that’s not all he wanted to leave behind."