And now, a devoted fan and local artist is arranging a more traditional artistic tribute: an Oakland art show, 'Dre Area,' featuring a selection of works in several mediums celebrating the rapper’s life, whose journey from Vallejo’s rough Crest neighborhood to local stardom helped shape the hyphy movement of the early- to mid-2000s.
But the artist curating the show wasn’t always a Mac Dre fan. The first time Alameda artist Maxwell Sage heard Dre’s music, he wasn’t impressed. Dre’s bouncy anthems celebrating drugs, partying and the occasional crime rubbed Sage these wrong way. (“I was going through my backpack hip-hop phase,” he notes.)
Yet after friends pressured him to give Dre’s music another chance, he eventually became a huge fan, not only of his music, but of the man himself. It was the early 2000s, and Dre was an omnipresent figure in the Bay Area rap community, out of prison and eager to build a unified local rap scene. Like so many others, Sage got swept up in the new, positive energy trickling around the Bay Area. “I made hyphy music, I thizzed, wore the stunna shades and everything,” he said. “The hyphy movement, from my perspective, was a whole generation of Bay Area youth trying to emulate Mac Dre.”
More than a decade after he was fatally shot in Kansas City, Mac Dre is still an influence. Recently, Sage started posting Photoshop art featuring the rapper on Instagram, where it was reposted by Thizz Entertainment, the label Dre founded that helped launch the careers of Mistah F.A.B and Keak da Sneak.
Sage quickly noticed that he wasn’t the only one creating Mac Dre-inspired art. Thizz’s Instagram is filled with depictions of Dre: his thizz face adorning a snowboard, drawn as “Macio Andretti” and the subject of countless tattoos. Sage realized that there was a ton of material, enough to warrant an art show.
With Thizz’s blessing, he started talking to artists and gathering pieces for the April 25 show in downtown Oakland, where a portion of the show’s $5 entrance fee will go to Dre’s family. Pieces include several canvas portraits, electrical art, and a barber who will shave a portrait of Dre into someone's head. With Thizz’s promotion and Dre’s enduring popularity, the show quickly filled up.
“Mac Dre was there for me,” said Alameda artist Rebel Stilskin, who’s working on a large piece depicting Dre in space, incorporating imagery of the Hindu deity Ganesha. “I’d look to his songs, and he’s been through a lot of different things and he was just talking to me like a father. I really looked up to him.”
For Sage, that kind of formative impact Dre had on Bay Area youth is why he remains such an important figure, one that still looms large in the Bay Area musical landscape, deserving of an art show more than 10 years after his death.
“I have two heroes, Mac Dre [and] Nikola Tesla. Tesla is my hero because he tuned out everything else and changed the world with his drive to do the thing he wanted to do, which was create technology that bettered the world,” Sage said. “Mac Dre is my hero because just by Mac Dre being himself, having the personality he had, doing the thing that he liked to do, he transformed a whole generation. He created a whole era of Bay Area youth culture, just around his personality.”