Before his untimely death in 2004, Mac Dre had been a pillar of Bay Area hip-hop for over a decade. Whereas most rappers in the gangsta rap arena bank upon humorless braggadocio and empty threats, Mac Dre took a looser, more humorous approach to the genre. By exposing his lighter side, Mac Dre presented a more realistic and three-dimensional persona that endeared him to at least two generations of Bay Area hip-hop fans. Born Andre Hicks in 1970, the Vallejo-based emcee began recording in the late 1980s. His first few albums, beginning with his 1989 debut, the Young Black Brotha EP, were competent, if generic gangsta rap. He ran into a roadblock, both literally and figuratively, when he was arrested in 1991 for conspiracy to commit bank robbery. Dre continued to record while in prison and much of his work during that time dealt with various figures in the law enforcement community. He became somewhat of a martyr to the Bay Area community, and upon his release in 1996 he was one of the area's most celebrated rappers. Dre quickly capitalized on this notoriety, releasing multiple albums a year -- in 2001 alone, he released four albums -- and starting his own label, Thizz Entertainment. He was also evolving as a rapper. Whereas his earlier material was comprised of monotone flows that borrowed Too $hort's ghetto narratives and unapologetic misogyny, his later work found the emcee blending Shock G's nasally sonic smirk with E-40's love of language and odd vocal inflections. And while his rhymes were still filled with gangsta tropes, he was increasingly playful, making him more mischievous than menacing. This new approach was perhaps a side effect of his obsession with MDMA (the word "thizz" has its origins in Ecstasy usage). His 2001 track, "Thizzelle Dance," perhaps best exemplified this new approach. Taking a cue from the awkwardly ecstatic dances of E users, Dre introduced a new dance step that equally mocked and celebrated its participants. It caught on, and the word "thizz" instantly entered hip-hop lexicon, spawning an entire subgenre of imitators. When Dre was gunned down in Kansas in 2004, he was at the forefront of a suddenly resurgent Bay movement. And though he will be missed, his presence remains and is ubiquitous. Like most rappers who are gunned down, his murder remains unsolved.