FARAI CHIDEYA, host:
I'm Farai Chideya, and this is News & Notes. You may not know who Verna Griffin is, but you probably know her son, rapper and music producer Andre Young, also known as Dr. Dre. He's the founding member of the rap group NWA, who made it big with a controversial album, "Straight Outta Compton."
(Soundbite of song "Straight Outta Compton")
NWA: (Rapping) City of Compton, City of Compton Eazy is his name and the boy is comin... Straight outta Compton Is a brotha that'll smother yo' mother And make ya sister think I love her Dangerous young brotha raises hell And if I ever get caught I make bail See, I don't really care, that's the problem...
CHIDEYA: Before Dr. Dre's success, Verna survived an abusive childhood, dealt with domestic abuse, and married and divorced several times. Now she's given plenty of details about those struggles in a new memoir, called "Long Road Outta Compton." Verna, it is so good to have you in the studio with us. Thank you so much.
Ms. VERNA GRIFFIN (Dr. Dre's Mother): Thank you for having me.
CHIDEYA: Give me a moment from your childhood that you think really shaped you.
Ms. GRIFFIN: From the age of 2 to 9, I lived with a baby sitter. And unfortunately, it was an abusive baby sitter that beat me and - my mom one day, she came by to visit and she happened to see a scar; I used to hide them. And she asked what was it, and I was reluctant to say, and then she asked me, well, who did that? And I, you know, told her that Miss Marley (ph), my baby sitter. And she and my baby sitter had a little heated discussion that I went out on the porch because I didn't want to hear. The thing was is that through my life, I've learned to make all my negatives into positives. So I turn back and I look at - most people say that, boy, I would have hated her. But I went back to see her. I went back to visit her, you know, and I forgave her for what she did and think if it had not been for you, maybe I wouldn't have, you know - maybe, I don't know where I would have been.
CHIDEYA: And you were going ahead with your schooling and started dating. And by the time you had Dre, who is your first child, you were just 15. Is that right?
Ms. GRIFFIN: I actually had just turned 16.
CHIDEYA: So you were 15 when you got pregnant, 16 when you had him.
Ms. GRIFFIN: Sixteen. My birthday was February 4th. He was born two weeks later exactly, February 18th. And so he was sort of like a birthday present and a little doll, you know. Something you could undress and re-dress. And I just, you know, I learned, I read books, child psychology books. Because I wanted to be a good mother and prove all these people wrong that in the neighborhood you hear the little whispers, oh, she - look at her, she's not going to be nothing, and her child's not going to be nothing either. That's another negative that made me try harder and do - make it into a positive.
CHIDEYA: You have had several important men in your life who have been verbally or physically abusive to you, or both. What did it do to you to not just once or twice, but several times have these relationships that you cared about go in a direction where you weren't even feeling physically safe?
Ms. GRIFFIN: I think that it did make me stronger. Getting beat up by the first one, you know, it was like if I'd - if he raised his hand to scratch his head, I was ducking because I'm thinking, you know, that here it comes, you know. I spent a lot of my time in the bedroom, and I just didn't want my child to be around that. And I would always keep my eye out the window and looking at strange cars and stuff parked across the street or down the street, thinking, you know, what happens if the police come and take everybody to jail and they take my child away?
CHIDEYA: It's not easy trying to hold it down financially while you've got kids. Your life now must be a little bit more comfortable that it was before.
Ms. GRIFFIN: A lot.
CHIDEYA: A lot more comfortable. What do you enjoy about some of the comforts you have now?
Ms. GRIFFIN: Oh my God, it was at one time I used to say, if I didn't have all these bills, maybe I could do something. It was just seemingly that every little piece of money that I would get - and now I don't have a bill, I don't see a bill. I live in a wonderful - my son has put me in a beautiful home, in a beautiful community. Who could ask for anything more?
CHIDEYA: Did you ever worry about his safety? I mean, is...
Ms. GRIFFIN: Oh, my God.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. GRIFFIN: There were times that it was like Fred Sanford, you know, the big one. Oh my God, you know. What is going - Andre, are you going to be OK? Especially when he was in Death Row. That's when I did all my worrying.
You're hearing, I didn't see things happening, but I - all these things you're hearing, and one morning I woke up, and I had my radio on, and I wake up to, Dr. Dre is being sought for stabbing a 17-year-old kid. And I was like, Oh my God! And first thing I thought, I don't know what, was to call Andre, and he's at home in his bed. And I said, well, Andre! I was like going, they're talking about - you were on the - you were involved in this thing, you know, and he says, wasn't me.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. GRIFFIN: He says, Mom, you can't believe everything the media says. And I thought - I said, OK. I'm going to keep that thought, but how do I know when I should really be worrying? So it was a little scary.
CHIDEYA: You definitely have - you have spirit, you have so much spirit, and I want to ask you about two things that must be among the hardest things that happened to you. And those are the deaths of your children. Tell us about those, and how you dealt with that.
Ms. GRIFFIN: I have five children. I have my oldest, Andre, and my youngest, Shameka, who is 30. Now, I lost three boys. One died at 2 months old, we don't know what - they just labeled it something. He was healthy, and I woke up one morning and he was dead. That took a toll on me, oh my God, I could hear a baby crying in the distance.
I started drinking, you know, trying to drown - you know, it was a lot of things that - wow, that really took a toll. And I had one that died, he was only a day old. I delivered him prematurely. And the one that hurt, I think the most, was my son that got killed in '89. He was 21 years old when he got killed by a gang member.
CHIDEYA: Yeah, your son Tyree.
Ms. GRIFFIN: Yeah, it was devastating, I thought I was a walking zombie half the time. And that's another thing, I thought that no one can tell me, you know, going to - people were telling me, go to therapy, and I'm thinking, no strange person can tell me anything. You know, they probably got their problems themselves. But when things get too heavy, you do need to go and get some help. And it did help me, it did help.
He'll never be forgotten, they will never be forgotten. Tyree was one that - he was my funny person that would have me laughing when I felt down and out. He would come over and just say something that would just have me cracking up. And I think that my daughter kind of started filling those shoes, knowing that he used to make me laugh, now it's her that makes me laugh all the time.
And when her and Andre get together - she and Andre get together, it's hilarious. So we really bonded together through that time, and we were each other's rock, I think, trying to be strong for one another.
CHIDEYA: Well, Verna, it was so good talking to you. Thank you so much.
Ms. GRIFFIN: Thank you.
CHIDEYA: Verna Griffin is the mother of rapper and producer Dr. Dre. She's got a new memoir, and it's called "Long Road Outa Compton." You can watch video of this interview on our blog; just go to nprnewsandviews.org.
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