School Without Walls Senior High School
First Place Winner, District of Columbia
Straight Outta Congress: The Entrepreneurship of George Washington and Dr. Dre
The Constitution versus high-quality headphones. Establishing the presidency versus releasing best-selling music. Although one side holds hefty historical weight, another side is a symbol for the success that can be reached even when born into a poor community with a multitude of racial and socioeconomic barriers to success. George Washington and Andre Young, known as Dr. Dre, are separated by class, race, and centuries, but both reached a level of recognition and respect that is rarely seen in our world of 7 billion. In such distinct environments, ascent to prosperity was unique to each individual, with time and place playing colossal roles in each man’s life as they rose as entrepreneurs. Which man was the greater entrepreneur, the true standout among all individuals representative of the undying American dream? It is not as simple as examining the details of their success, to unearth anything from groundbreaking legislation to hitting the billion-dollar mark. What makes a person profoundly an entrepreneur is how they climb, how they use their ingenuity and gift to make it to the highest of positions, no matter the condition in which they were placed at birth.
Delivered into the hands of a wealthy Virginian family, George Washington was raised in the privileged haven of a white male living a plantation lifestyle in the 18th century. His father, Augustine Washington, worked as a justice of the county court and a plantation owner, constantly expanding his business through building mills and acquiring slaves and land. A general mystery surrounds the details of George Washington’s youth, but it is well known that he had a comfortable upbringing with a sound education until the death of his father when George was 11 (“George Washington History”). The determination and character that Washington is so famous for first arose during this time, when he was the oldest child of a single mother on a plantation. After five years of tumultuous involvement with Virginian troops in the French and Indian War, resulting in his dejected retirement, Washington returned to his inherited property of Mount Vernon where he settled as a “gentleman’s farmer”, passing his time experimenting with various farming techniques (“George Washington Timeline”). The first Continental Congress formed fifteen years later, and- looking for a candidate to be commander in chief of the Continental Army- its members settled on Washington himself, who would continue to lead the army throughout the next eight years until the close of the American Revolution (“George Washington History”). Throughout the upheaval and bloodshed, George Washington lost more battles than he won, but his verve, ability to boost morale, and command instincts provided the vigor that allowed the Continental Army to outlast the considerably more experienced British forces. Washington’s most celebrated moment in the war, however, came when swords were put away and fighting ceased, and he surrendered his power as leader in a show of integrity infrequently exhibited among the military leaders of the time. Although he planned on retiring, Washington was unanimously elected the first president of the United States, with the entirety of Congress’s 69 members casting their ballots for him (“Biography of George Washington”). In such a role, there were no shoes to fill- he instead had the responsibility of establishing the foundation for the future leaders of the United States to build off of. Throughout the two terms he served as president, his slew of accomplishments included assisting in the establishment of a national bank, leading U.S. troops in the quashing of the Whiskey Rebellion, ushering in the Bill of Rights and Residence Acts, and establishing the two-term precedent.
One of Dr. Dre’s fellow rap group members once stated, “our art is our reality” (“Artist Biography: Dr. Dre”). Born in the gang-ridden neighborhood of Compton, California, Dre (born Andre Romelle Young), had a considerably less warm and contented childhood than George Washington. After stumbling through several schools, his decidedly poor grades prompted him to drop out of his local college as he turned focus more towards music, with his first crack in the strong facade of the music industry coming in the form of a small gig at the L.A. nightclub Eve After Dark. Dre’s first big breakthrough came in 1985 when he, along with rappers Eazy-E, Ice Cube, and four others formed the group N***** With Attitude (N.W.A) (“Dr. Dre Biography”). The albums the group produced featured songs that reflected the reality of life on the streets, especially as young black men. A prominent example is “F*** tha Police”, whose lyrics explored the strain between black youth and the police on the best-selling album Straight Outta Compton, a title which would serve as inspiration behind an award-winning movie about the rappers’ lives decades later. The album marked the creation of the new genre, “gangsta rap”, with Dre also creating the “G-Funk” genre with the first album he released through the label Death Row Records. Dr. Dre moved on to found his own record label, Aftermath Entertainment, through which he discovered and supported many celebrated artists such as Eminem and 50 Cent (“Who Is Dr. Dre?”). In 2008, his hip-hop empire expanded greatly through Beats Electronics, a company Dre debuted with the wildly successful Beats by Dr. Dre Studio headphones. When he sold Beats to Apple for 3 billion dollars in 2014, Dre became the world’s wealthiest rapper with a net worth valued at around $800 million, also joining Apple as an executive director (Suk).
It is undeniable that the accomplishments of George Washington have been invaluable to American history and the evolution of our country. As I read more and more about Dr. Dre’s life, however, his entrepreneurial successes appeared increasingly extraordinary, especially as compared to the starkly underprivileged background from which he came. Living in Compton, Dre could have easily joined a gang as many around him did when faced with limited educational and economic opportunities, but his passion and determination drove him to move beyond the cliff so frequently fallen over. George Washington is a distinguished example of the dedicated and visionary leader that is essential to a nascent country, but many of his actions primarily assisted the government in developing a more structured role for the President to play instead of creating true change. I had a solid conceptualization of the more monumental George Washington, carved out of marble and reaching out a commanding fist encircling the Constitution, and he indeed receives significant commendation for his position of the first President of the United States. I did not, however, know how few of his contributions within his two terms as President had a direct effect on the lives of the American people in a time when class division was strong and racial discrimination was fructifying. Through my eyes, being an entrepreneur is a relational concept, something that grows out of an individual’s determination, actions, and environment but that is ultimately about the impact and reach of the individual, the motivation that they can pass onto the others around them. While neither man had a concrete infrastructure on which to base their entrepreneurial hopes (with Washington living within the watery borders of a young country and Dre born in a harsh neighborhood), Dre had to shake off the oppression chained around his ankles before he could come remotely close to success. Washington, on the other hand, had the advantage of both class and race in a country looking for leaders like him, giving him the nourishment to blossom into an entrepreneur.
Rising from the ashes of a subjugated race and a city tossed aside, Dre’s achievements signify more than entrepreneurship, representing instead the ability of some of the most oppressed to become the most successful. Dr. Dre’s accomplishments worked to simultaneously innovate in the music industry and rebel against a society that systematically pushes many of its members down. His hit single “F*** tha Police”, while aggressive in its lyrical nature, has become an unceremonious anthem for those fighting against police brutality and racially-based discrimination. Through his record label, Dre supported many other hardworking rappers who, like he, were trying to escape their turbulent childhoods to pursue their passion for rap. In becoming the wealthiest rapper in the world because of his innovative electronics business, he demonstrated that even without a solid education and privileged background, desire for success can enable a person to reach the highest of peaks. In addition to a strong personal motivation and a vision for a future, the success of George Washington was closely tied to privileged circumstances and to the collective work of a group of men working towards the same goal, many of whom were much more vital to the process than he. Dr. Dre’s ascent, however, marks the achievement of an individual who overcame the social stigma weighing him down, and instead embraced it as part of his ever-growing brand. The accomplishments of Dr. Dre represent not only the garnering of wealth and recognition, but an example of the winning power of motivation in its battle against racial prejudice, something of central importance in a world where young African-Americans are still expected to be less successful than others.
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