To call Dr. Dre an icon would be an understatement.
The rapper turned business mogul is both synonymous with West Coast hip-hop, helping create the sound of an entire region in the 1990s, and the billion-dollar business Beats Electronics, whose signature headphones bare his name.
Now, with the help of a local black entrepreneurship advocacy group, HBO is bringing an advance screening of a documentary about his life to the Bull City before its national release next month.
The film – called “The Defiant Ones” – traces the rise of Dr. Dre, and his longtime music and business partner Jimmy Iovine, from his time in the influential – and controversial – group N.W.A. to creating a company that Apple purchased for $3 billion in 2014.
The influence Dr. Dre, born Andre Young, has wielded over pop culture for the past four decades is undeniable, said Phonte Coleman, a Durham-based rapper who will speak at the screening.
“Any successful black person in America, particularly a black man who has succeeded, has defied the odds to get where they got to – that’s a story that is worth telling in and of itself,” Coleman said. “But (Dre) has always been at the forefront of emerging sounds and technology. He’s an entity unto himself; he is West Coast hip-hop. Dre’s tentacles are damn near everywhere.”
The private screening of the documentary series is an invitation-only event Thursday at the Carolina Theatre. It’s being hosted by the nonprofit Black Wall Street, a two-year-old organization that promotes black entrepreneurship, hosting summits and networking events for budding black business owners in Durham and in other large cities.
After the screening, the nonprofit is hosting a panel featuring Coleman, Cicely Mitchell, co-founder of the Art of Cool music festival and Gil Perkins founder of the education organization Words Liive. An after party at The Durham Hotel is also planned.
Tobias Rose, a co-founder of Black Wall Street, said HBO chose Durham for the screening because it believes the story of Dr. Dre resonates with the history of black entrepreneurship in the city. It is also being screened in Los Angeles and New York.
“Durham is kind of a defiant city with the history of Black Wall Street,” Rose said, noting Dr. Dre’s numerous clashes with the establishment during his time with N.W.A.
“With Dr. Dre becoming the first ‘quote-unquote’ hip-hop billionaire that's like John Merrick or James E. Shepard (the founders of NC Mutual and North Carolina Central University), and I think that is where you see that alignment.”
Leveraging a global brand
Founded in 2015, Black Wall Street has already worked alongside global brands such as Google and the music festival South By Southwest. Discussions with HBO about hosting Thursday’s screening grew out of a conversation at South By Southwest earlier this year.
Black Wall Street sees the event as a chance to draw attention to its mission of promoting black entrepreneurs. Partnerships have been instrumental in growing the nonprofit, said Jesica Averhart, a co-founder of Black Wall Street and executive director at Leadership Triangle.
Its connections with American Underground have especially been helpful. Last year, Black Wall Street hosted a summit in Durham to connect local black entrepreneurs with national investors in coordination with Google-hosted exchange program for promising African-American-led startups.
Averhart worked at American Underground while founding Black Wall Street and was part of the team that pushed diversity efforts at the Durham startup hub.
“To know that HBO says, ‘Right on and we hear you,’ that’s some nice validation – but it’s bigger than even that,” she said. “It shows me that it is way bigger than a tech space on the corner of Main Street and Corcoran Street; this is a national conversation and one that people care about.
The four-part “The Defiant Ones” debuts July 9 on HBO.
Bridging a gap
Black Wall Street was founded in 2015 after a conversation on the rooftop of The Durham Hotel about how to make the local startup scene in Durham more diverse, when several of its cofounders were still working at American Underground. The group has the goal of bridging the gap between African-American-led startups and venture capital investment firms.
Its founders are Tobias Rose of the Durham-based Kompleks Creative, Jes Averhart, executive director of Leadership Triangle, Talib Graves-Manns, executive director of the Innovation & Entrepreneurship Center at Shaw University and Dee McDougal, vice president of communication at Square 1 Bank.
The nonprofit hosts the annual Black Wall Street Homecoming in Durham, which brings together national investment firms and black tech entrepreneurs from the area. It has also hosted events in Washington, D.C., as well as the music festival South By Southwest.