On Allen Hughes’s The Defiant Ones, the four-part HBO series airing this week that traces the careers of Dr. Dre and Interscope boss Jimmy Iovine, hip-hop journalist Dee Barnes is positioned as an unimpeachable bearer of truth. Her authority is called upon several times during the second part of the series, which aired Monday—she explains how the success of J.J. Fad’s “Supersonic” paved the way for other Ruthless Records recordings by Dre and his crew (“A female group opened the door for N.W.A.”) and she discusses the attitudes of Dre, Ice Cube, and Eazy E IRL (she was hanging out with them back before they blew up) versus their on-record personas.
Most crucially, Barnes’s account of being assaulted by Dr. Dre in 1991 is presented as gospel in The Defiant Ones. There’s no counter-narrative from Dre, no attempt to “hear both sides”—there’s Barnes’s story and then there’s Dre’s admission of fault and “atonement,” as Hughes described it to The Undefeated. You can watch how that plays out above.
Barnes went into greater detail about the assault and the toll it has taken on her career and health in a Gawker essay that ran soon after the 2015 release of the N.W.A. biopic Straight Outta Compton, “Here’s What’s Missing From Straight Outta Compton: Me and the Other Women Dr. Dre Beat Up.” (She is currently writing her memoir.) Since working on that piece with Barnes, I have kept in touch with her and yesterday, we discussed her participation in The Defiant Ones. She told me that the D.O.C., rapper and N.W.A. member, initially put her in contact with Hughes, with whom she met last year—her interview was filmed around the start of 2017. “I wanted to be there to represent the women,” she said of her participation in the documentary. (She referred to Hughes’s finished product as “a masterpiece.”)
I wondered what she thought about the fact that her incident with Dr. Dre was the only one profiled in The Defiant Ones, despite other women like Dre’s former collaborator/girlfriend Michel’le and one-time Ruthless artist Tairrie B having made similar claims.
“I think the reason why I’m the poster child and I’m the only abuse story in the film is that I’m the only one that pressed charges,” said Barnes. “There’s no getting around that, it’s on record. Everything else is hearsay. He knows it happened, but he or lawyers can easily say, ‘Well, you never pressed charges.’ I have receipts!”
Days after Barnes’s essay was published, Dr. Dre issued a statement of apology “to the women I’ve hurt” to the New York Times. In The Defiant Ones, as seen in the clip above, Dre more rigorously details his faults, saying in part:
There’s absolutely no excuse for it. No woman should ever betreated that way. Any man who puts his hands on a female is a fucking idiot,he’s out of his fucking mind, and I was out of my fucking mind at the time. Ifucked up. I paid for it. I’m sorry for it. I apologize for it. I have thisdark cloud that follows me and it’s going to be attached to me forever. It’s amajor blemish on who I am as a man and every time it comes up, it just makes mefeel fucked up.
“I thought it was great,” said Barnes of Dre’s longer statement in the doc. “I thought the generic apology [in the New York Times] was great. These are signs of his attitude changing. For years not only did he not address it, he diminished it. He made fun of it and disrespected all of it. There’s lyrics in ‘Nuthin’ but a ‘G’ Thang’ that go: ‘If your woman want to trip / I have to put the smack down.’ And those are the edited lyrics! Maybe now there’s growth. The message before was, ‘Who cares? Smack up a bitch.’ Now the message is: If you put your hands on a woman, you’re an idiot.”
Still, Dre never mentions Barnes’s name in The Defiant Ones, nor the names of any of the other women who have accused him of abuse and assault. Barnes, though, doesn’t interpret that as a sign of his reluctance to face the full truth and be entirely accountable for his actions.
“Him not saying my name is because there’s more than one victim,” said Barnes. “I don’t have a problem with him not saying my name publicly. But on a personal level, he needs to look me in the eye.”
Despite Dre’s “atonement,” Barnes has yet to hear from him directly or meet with him in person. She’s interested in doing so for the sake of closure, but if it doesn’t work out, she’s fine.
“I don’t have any hate in my heart,” Barnes said. “That’s why my skin is clear.”