Long Road Outta Compton: Dr. Dre’s Mom on Family, Fame, and Terrible Tragedy
As far as hip-hop moms go, Verna Griffin, the mother of famed super-producer Dr. Dre, is relatively low key. She’s rarely on the party scene, say like Diddy’s mom, Janice Combs. You won’t find her campaigning for hip-hop unity like Biggie’s mother, Voletta Wallace. And her one semi-scandal, if you want to call it that, was a minor domestic abuse scuffle involving a gun that landed her temporarily in jail in 2003. It garnered little national news or attention.
So it’s no surprise then that her memoir, Long Road Outta Compton: Dr. Dre’s Mom on Family, Fame, and Terrible Tragedy, is just ho-hum.
It’s not that Griffin’s life itself was uneventful. Pregnant at 15, she recounts suddenly having to confront the harsh realities of adulthood in the wake of the 1965 Watts riots. As she bounced from home to home, job to job, and from one abusive relationship to the next, her tumultuous personal life was a reflection of the social unrest that surrounded her in the projects of Los Angeles. In all she had five kids, two of which died as infants, and one who died at age 21 as a result of gang violence.
However, any Dr. Dre fans hoping to discover more about the rapper’s childhood may want to skip the first half of the book; he doesn’t factor into the story in any major way until its final chapters.
Griffin offers small nuggets of information about her famous son: detailing how he got his start deejaying at her house parties, his excitement at receiving the sound mixer she bought him for Christmas in 1984, and how she witnessed the formation of his now-historic friendship with Eric “Eazy-E” Wright. She also briefly discusses her stepson, rapper Warren “Warren G” Griffin III.
But mom spends too much time laundry-listing the events that happened in her life and doesn’t go into enough detail about her relationships and the world around her. The lack of depth and absence of imagery makes her story less than engaging. The coming-of-age tale of growing up fast in the ‘hood—and the sex, drugs, and violence that comes along with it—can often still be intriguing, enlightening, and even entertaining when told by the right wordsmith. Griffen’s son and his rapper compatriots, for one, have shown us this. She, however, is neither blessed with the gift of words, nor the art of mastering story arc like her son, and as a result, her story ventures too far off from the reason anyone was interested in reading it in the first place.—Shayla Byrd