Dee Barnes’ Role in Hip-Hop is Much Bigger Than an Incident with Dr. Dre (Video)
For past generations of Heads, the story of reporter Dee Barnes and her reported physical altercations with Dr. Dre 25 years ago remains one of the most well-documented scandals in Hip-Hop history. Today, new generations are growing up in a time when an incident from a quarter of a century ago can seem like old, irrelevant news, but extenuating circumstances have brought this particular story back into the spotlight. The monumental success of Straight Outta Compton has led to the ravenous interest in N.W.A. and its history from younger Heads, many of whom may not have known about Dee Barnes at all, save perhaps for her name being mentioned by Eminem in his 1999 Dr. Dre-assisted single, “Guilty Conscience” (“That’s what I did, be smart, don’t be a retard/You gonna take advice from somebody who slapped Dee Barnes?”).
Earlier this week, in a rare videotaped interview, Ms. Barnes sat down with the Huffington Post‘s Kevin Powell and shared her perspective on the assault, its aftermath, and her enduring legacy outside of the shadow of what has become, regrettably, the defining moment of her professional and personal lives. This conversation is particularly noteworthy in that it marks her first such public acknowledgment of her past since 1991, when the metaphorical and literal wounds were still healing. Many have criticized Straight Outta Compton‘s creators, including director F. Gary Gray, for glossing over (or, as some might argue, completely ignoring) N.W.A.’s misogynistic history, both inside and outside of the recording studio and the revisionist application of history over the film’s creation has prompted many women to re-ignite the sometimes volatile conversation. With this interview, Ms. Barnes has stepped forward as perhaps the most vocal proponent of female empowerment, thanks to her triumph in celebrating her life and contributions to the world above and beyond one singular experience in a way that extends her personal struggles to apply to women and Hip-Hop in powerful ways.
As shared in the exclusive interview, Ms. Barnes is working on a memoir, one that follows her travels inside and outside of entertainment journalism. Her early days as a reporter for outlets like BET and MTV made her, according to Powell, “a pioneer in terms of covering this culture on national television.” Powell begins the interview by saying “I don’t think it’s fair that people reduce your life to that incident,” immediately giving the conversation a life as something more than salacious reporting. Soon thereafter, the tone shifts slightly as Powell asks Ms. Barnes to discuss women in Hip-Hop in the late ’80s and into the ’90s, to which she offers up some insightful anecdotes. “Women have always been there,” she replies. “I find it interesting that for some reason, they’re not seen, but they’ve been there since the beginning. If you go back to the Funky 4+1, you know what I mean? And then when we moved into the late ’80s…it was just one female in a crew of men.” She goes on to share her own personal experiences in MC battles, where she says she was always forced to “destroy” the one other female MC, giving such events a “Gladiator mentality,” which she explains was one of her earliest experiences with the sexism prevalent in Hip-Hop culture.
For several minutes, the two discuss her rise to fame as the host of Fox’s Hip-Hop show, the nationally syndicated Pump It Up! When asked what her reaction was upon finding out the good news about her new gig, Ms. Barnes shares what her concerns and goals were with the show. “I felt a great responsibility and I took it very seriously,” she shares. “My focus was presenting myself in a way that was positive…I’m not gonna be wearing certain things, I’m not gonna be doing certain things. It was all about the music and the artists.” Powell’s next question is to ask if she was aware, at the time, of her influence on young women, particularly those of color, to which she swiftly replies “Absolutely. Being a woman in the industry, you’re going to get judged, regardless. Whether it’s our looks, how articulate we are, and who we’ve been involved with.”
The nearly 30-minute deeply personal interview also covers her first meetings with N.W.A., her favorite moments of her early career (including raiding Ice Cube’s fridge), her now-infamous altercation with Dr. Dre, her own music career, and much, much more. Watch it in its entirety here.