Emma Reese
School Without Walls Senior High School
Washington, DC
10th Grade
Second Place Winner, District of Columbia
 

Our Founding Fathers: Entrepreneurship, Politics, and Gangsta Rap in America

An entrepreneur organizes and manages any enterprise, especially a business, usually with considerable initiative and risk.[1]  George Washington and Andre Young, also known as Dr. Dre, personify the American entrepreneurial spirit because both have left their fingerprints on the social fabric of America.

Washington was a warfighter, our first president, and a consummate businessman.  Dr. Dre is a rapper and music producer, co-founder of the hip-hop musical sub-genre “reality rap,”[2] and a businessman. Though it appears that their careers are starkly different, a close look reveals that Dr. Dre’s success, both socially and financially, is a logical extension of the life and success of President Washington—because Washington’s guiding principle was that economic prosperity is achievable for Americans through hard work and industriousness.

Dr. Dre’s musical enterprise—creating music—started while he was in high school as a disk jockey in night clubs.  Later, at age twenty-four, Dr. Dre joined other rappers to form Niggaz with Attitude (N.W.A), whose second album went double platinum.  In 1991, Dr. Dre left N.W.A and continued successfully managing his musical enterprise by co-founding Death Row Records where he created “beats”—the background music in songs—for much of the music produced by the record label.  Death Row’s first album, The Chronic, went triple platinum and earned Dr. Dre a Grammy.  In addition to creating beats, Dr. Dre grew his business at Death Row by signing contracts with new musical talent like Eminem and 50 Cent.  Later, in 2008, Dr. Dre entered the audio playback business when he co-founded Beats Electronics, a multi-billion-dollar company dedicated to the “improvement of sound.”[3]  

            Washington’s major enterprise was the “idea” of the United States.  From the start, Washington, taught by his mother that a moral man is an industrious man, revealed himself to be a great entrepreneur.[4]  Bythe age of seventeen, Washington was the Culpeper County Surveyor; by twenty-two, Commander-in-Chief of Virginia’s military forces; and by twenty-seven, a scientific farmer.[5]  As an adult at Mount Vernon, his slaves made bricks, milled flour at his flour mill, and produced whiskey.[6]  In 1785, he organized the Potomac River Canal Company—the first development company in America.[7]  As a founding father of America, Washington’s business acumen served as a compass for his politics and the execution of his duties in building our nation. 

Washington viewed the Revolutionary War as the road to the nation’s economic prosperity.[8]  As an advocate for independence from Britain, Washington specifically took issue with the British system of mercantilism—a system where American colonies supplied Britain with raw goods such as tobacco, rice and indigo, and served as the market for the finished products—believing the only thing preventing the colonies from a great economic future were the restrictions levied upon them by the Staples Act and the Navigation Acts, both of which limited colonial trade.[9]  Economic growth continued as a theme once Washington was elected president—where he is quoted as saying “[b]uilding the national prosperity is my first and my only aim.”[10]  Washington’s prosperity goals resulted in the formation of the federal taxation system (whose funds were used to pay off war debt),  a federal banking system, and the establishment of one currency.[11] Without these systems, it is hard to imagine our nation’s current economy where our government subsidizes, among other things, student and housing loans, small business loans, and sets the standard for valuation of currency around the globe.

George Washington and Dr. Dre were similar because both positively and negatively affected the political climate of America.  From the positive perspective: Washington’s role in the Revolutionary war, although bolstered by his economic prosperity leanings, helped end the British monarchy’s rule in America and ushered in our present day democratic system.  The democratic system established with the help of Washington has influenced nation building in places like Malaysia (where their constitution and separation of governmental powers are based on the U.S. system of government), and France (where the U.S. Constitution inspired the establishment of a constitutional government and national assembly).  Similarly, Dr. Dre’s musical genius—especially the sub-genre of reality rap—provided a voice to those suffering under a law enforcement system unwilling to treat minorities equitably.  His music—especially the song Fuck the Police—was the theme song for oppressed people in Serbia protesting the genocidal regime of Milosevic in 1996.  Further, nearly 20 years after N.W.A popularized reality rap, this musical genre can be seen and heard by local performers from the United Kingdom and Ghana, and on to Germany, Brazil and China.  Dr. Dre’s musical influence is worldwide and shows no signs of being extinguished. 

From a negative perspective: Washington’s unwillingness to free his slaves, despite his espoused belief that slavery would be the downfall of our nation, proves him to be at best, conflicted on the topic, and at worst, a hypocrite.  His unwillingness to stand for the moral rights of the enslaved can reasonably be linked to the social unrest this country has suffered from throughout its history—and such unrest undoubtedly led to the penning of songs like “Fuck the Police.”  Similarly, there have been several critics (e.g., the FBI, politicians, and various police departments) of the music created by Dr. Dre.  Specifically, some have argued that his music has led to violence in poor neighborhoods. 

While there are similarities between the men, there are stark contrasts too.  First, only one man—Dr. Dre—can call himself a “self-made man.”  Both men came from modest means but only Dr. Dre created and invested his own earnings into his enterprise.  Further, those that work with and for Dr. Dre were paid for their work thereby limiting Dr. Dre’s financial windfall.  In contrast, Washington married well and benefited from his wife’s financial means—which he used to bolster his entrepreneurial success (thereby limiting his personal risk in his enterprises).  In all, Dr. Dre, while still paying his share for the work of others, has managed to garner a net worth of approximately $700 Million at age 51; whereas Washington, while not paying his enslaved property, had a net worth of $525 Million at the time of his death. 

Lastly, and most importantly, there is a significant contrast in the lasting influence of both men. Washington’s influence on our lives is like the air we breathe.  He established economic prosperity as a goal for our citizenry and our nation, and since his inauguration, there are few times where America’s economic prospects have not been front and center for politicians entering an elected office.[12] Alternatively, Dr. Dre’s enterprise is his music and Beats Electronics.  While his enterprise has made money, his influence is limited by the fact that people must choose to be influenced by his work either by listening to, or purchasing his products.  Washington’s enterprise was the idea of an economically prosperous and democratic America—and his enterprise is stronger today than ever before.  Because of Washington’s lasting pervasive fingerprint on the social fabric of America, Washington, rather than Dr. Dre, is the better entrepreneur.  That said, because Dr. Dre has continued to innovate and create new enterprises it may be that this essay’s prompt is not ripe for response now.  It could be that teenagers responding to a similar essay prompt two hundred years from now may determine that Dr. Dre, not Washington, has come to earn the distinction of the “better” entrepreneur.  Only time will tell.

 

[1] “Entrepreneur.” En.oxforddictionaries.com. Oxford University Press, n.d. Web. 28 Jan. 2017.

[2] Reality Rap—or gangsta rap—is a subgenre of hiphop music with themes and lyrics that generally emphasize the “gangsta” lifestyle. While Reality Rap has taken criticism from both the right and left wing political parties, the rappers themselves state that this type of music reflects deep changes in society not being addressed anywhere else in the public forum.

[3] Guzmán, Isaac. “Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovino Talk Beats Music.” Time. 17 Jan. 2014. Web. 28 Jan. 2017.

[4] “George Washington: America’s First Entrepreneur.” George Washington as the First Entrepreneur. 19 Apr. 2016. Knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu. Web. 28 Jan. 2017.

[5] “George Washington Timeline.” The Washington Papers. University of Virginia, n.d. Web. 29 Jan. 2017.

[6] “Washington’s Fleet at Mount Vernon.” George Washington’s Mount Vernon. Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, n.d. Web. 29 Jan. 2017.

[7] “The Potomac Company.” George Washington’s Mount Vernon. Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, n.d. Web. 29 Jan. 2017.

[8]Meredith-brag. “Was George Washington a Model Entrepreneur?” Reason.com. Reason Foundation, 13 Feb. 2016. Web. 28 Jan. 2017.

[9] Gutenberg, Project. “Staple Act 1663.” Staple Act 1663. World Heritage Encyclopedia, n.d. Web. 29 Jan. 2017.

[10] “George Washington: America’s First Entrepreneur.” George Washington as the First Entrepreneur. 19 Apr. 2016. Knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu. Web. 28 Jan. 2017.

[11] Martinez, Rafael. George Washington’s Economic Legacy. N.p.: n.p., n.d. PDF

[12] Most recently, of note, some argue that Donald Trump won the recent Presidential election by promising an improved economy and increased access to good paying jobs.