Thursday, September 2, 2010
After almost a decade of false starts,
super-producer Dr. Dre
is finally in the lab bringing Detox to life.
But does the Good Doctor have the prescription
Hip Hop has been waiting for?
Jerry L. Barrow II
Photos: Scott Council
JIMMY IOVINE’S GOT his game face on.
The Interscope Records co-founder
has had a long and prosperous relationship with
Andre Young, better known as Dr. Dre,
Hip Hop’s foremost sonic architect.
From Ruthless and Death Row to the Aftermath,
Shady and G Unit imprints,
Jimmy and Dre have left an indelible mark
on the last two decades of popular music,
moving more than 50 million albums together.
But time is running short, and it’s clear in Iovine’s expression.
He has been waiting for more than a decade for
Dr. Dre to turn in his near-mythical album
Detox—the follow-up to Chronic 2001,
which dropped in late 1999.
Andre Young —a founding member of N.W.A
and the sonic mastermind who introduced the world to
-Ice Cube,MC Ren and Eazy-E aka N.W.A
-Above The Law
-Snoop Doggy Dogg
has never done things the usual way.
Between rumors, missed release dates and side projects
(Beats By Dr. Dre headphones
are reportedly up to a million units sold,
with estimated revenues of $50 million
in the fourth quarter of 2009 alone),
his fans have had their loyalty tested time and again.
“You can’t rush Dre,” says fellow N.W.A alum Ice Cube.
“He’s changed music twice already.”
But that is small consolation for folks
who haven’t had a new Dr. Dre album
since President Clinton was in office.
Relief may finally be on the way.
Several days after being honored at
the 2010 ASCAP Rhythm & Soul Music Awards
by his artist and friend Eminem,
a smile is etched across Dr. Dre’s
chiseled 45-year-old face.
On an unseasonably cold June day in Santa Monica,
he’s dressed in a long-sleeved white T-shirt and jeans,
and his 215 pounds of muscle have him looking
more like a superhero than a record producer.
A mini-vacation with his wife of 14 years,
Nicole, and the news that Eminem’s Recovery
has debuted with more than 700,000 copies sold
have the Aftermath CEO “feeling better than most days.”
It’s quiet in the sanctuary of his
studio/nightclub across the street from the Interscope offices.
This is where Dre tests out new music
during private parties for friends.
But today it’s all business.
An unfinished leak of the Jay-Z collab
“Under Pressure” has lived up to its namesake,
and the man who once rhymed “fuck rap, you can have it back”
knows that it’s time to make his impression felt again.
Sit back, relax and strap on your seatbelt.
You were dismantling component systems as a kid.
What’s it like having your own brand of headphones?
It felt so organic.
It’s not something I just put my name on.
We designed this thing from the ground up.
It took like two years to put this together.
We were tweaking it the entire time ‘til
we got the sound exactly the way we want it.
I got to do a side-by-side comparison
between the Beats and Bose . . .
I feel like hands down we got ’em beat
as far as style and fashion goes and as far as the sound.
We got ‘em beat because guys that actually
make music get the sound on these.
Nobody’s gonna be able to compete with us as far as headphones.
Diddy has Diddybeats and Lady Gaga has
Heartbeats—both of which you helped set up—then
Jay-Z’s Roc Nation has a headphone deal with Skull Candy,
which also did a line with Snoop.
How do you feel about the competition?
It’ a compliment on the one hand but on
the other hand it’s like
“Yo, this is my thing here.
What’s going on?”
It’s all good.
I’m not trying to knock anybody’s hustle.
But like I said, nobody is going to be able to beat us at this game.
You also have a laptop complement to the headphones, correct?
The HP Envy.
We’re trying to improve the sound in computers and laptops.
These guys aren’t thinking about sound
when they build these computers and the majority
of people are listening to music on computers.
So you might as well hear it the right way.
Why headphones as opposed to, say, a beat-making program?
That’s something I want to get into and the headphones were a good start.
I want to get into putting out my own drum sounds and maybe a beat machine.
We’re talking about iPod docks, car stereos and an entire line.
We’re also doing a headphone with LeBron James called PowerBeats.
They’re earbuds but they wrap around the ear.
Each bud has two drivers so it sounds a little louder.
You can hear the 808 in these.
I’ve been wearing the prototype every day to work out.
So will Detox be streamed wirelessly into the Beats headphones?
In a perfect word, yes.
Me and Jimmy talk about this all the time.
It was supposed to be my album promoting the headphones,
but it’s gonna be the other way around now.
It’s gonna be a two-for-one thing.
As soon as we finish this interview
I’m going into the studio and get it on.
I know it’s taking a long time but
it’s not 100 percent work on my album that I’m doing every day.
That’s why it’s taking so long.
It’s been almost ten years since my last album
[It’s actually been more than 10 years. —Ed.]
but I haven’t been sitting on my hands.
Keeping it real with you,
I just started really getting involved in it
and really feeling it this year.
Around January or February.
Before now I was kind of doing it more out of obligation,
but now I really feel it inside and it’s pouring out right now.
Music comes out much better when you’re in that frame of mind.
Eight years passed between Chronic and Chronic 2001, so you’re not that late yet.
And I’ve got a few classic albums
in between that with Em and 50.
When you first announced Detox
did you think it would take this long?
I thought it would take at worst case a couple of years.
For example, actual work time on
The Chronic was nine months and
actual work time on my last album,
Chronic 2001, was about 10 months.
The actual work time on this album
is about half of that,
where I’m seriously focusing on it.
There is always something coming up.
Like signing talent, old and new.
Looking at your signings of artists like
are you just a hard boss or did it just not work out?
I’d say it’s a little bit of both.
I’m a perfectionist on one hand.
I always say talent gets you in
the building but whether our personalities mesh,
that’s an entire different thing.
I have fun when I’m working.
It’s not a job for me.
And I’m in a position where
I really don’t have to do it if I don’t want to.
So it has to feel right.
When you get in the studio with an artist,
the personalities have to mesh.
I’m not saying there’s anything wrong
with my personality or theirs, it’s just:
Do they work together or not?
That seems to be a factor.
All of the artists that I started working with
and we didn’t finish, we’re still cool.
It’s just a matter of this thing doesn’t work together.
The ones that do work together, ka-boom.
You see the results.
What did you think of the final product of
Only Built 4 Cuban Linx . . . Pt. II?
I loved that “House of Flying Daggers.”
[Laughs.] It came out good.
I thought it could have been promoted
a little better and I think there may have been too many songs.
But that’s my opinion.
Raekwon is one of the greatest.
J Dilla produced “House of Flying Daggers.”
Did you get to meet him before he died?
Yeah, I met him at a studio out here
and we chopped it up for about half an hour.
Coolest dude. Talented.
I just wish I’d had a chance to work with him.
Is there anyone else out there you
haven’t worked with yet that you’d like to?
Of course, the next new artist
I can get in the studio with and make something great.
I don’t necessarily have an urge to work
with established artists.
Like working with Mary J. Blige,
that was returning a favor.
Other than that,
I only want to work with new talent, new producers.
People that want to learn and I can learn from.
Speaking of new talent,
a young lady saying she was your daughter
went on YouTube with a song called “Daddy’s Shadow”
saying that you won’t help her with her recording career.
I’m not gonna get into that.
Not gonna talk about the family.
Talk about the relationship you have with
50 Cent and some of your other artists.
Everything is cool.
I haven’t spoken to 50 in a long time.
He’s doing his own thing right now.
Hopefully we’ll get to work together
again in the future but I think he’s working on movies.
As far as everybody else goes, I’m here.
Everybody knows I’m working on my own thing.
Once that’s done, holla at me.
At the ASCAP Awards did you have any idea
Eminem was going to be presenting?
They told me it was going to be a surprise guest
to present me with the award but
I didn’t even waste any brain power trying to figure it out.
That was incredible and the thing that
he said was incredible.
Being around guys like Em,
I know how they feel about about me and
they know how I feel about them,
but hearing it in that forum feels incredible.
It’s inspiring and it lets me know
that everything that I’ve done is appreciated.
It looked kind of like a reunion on stage.
Do you guys see each other much?
We’d actually just saw each other an
hour before for the VIBE photo shoot.
Before that it had been a few months or so.
We don’t get to talk that often,
but when we do see each other
it’s just like we saw each other yesterday.
How do you feel about winning
VIBE’s Greatest Hip Hop Producer of All Time tournament?
It was crazy because I just happened
to be in New York promoting the Diddy beats
and they approached me at Best Buy and
I didn’t know anything about the contest or that
I’d won and I was like, “Really?”
I went home and saw who I was up against.
I was like “whoa.”
These are some of my favorite producers.
I never looked at it like my shit
don’t stink or I’m the best at what I do.
I just go in and do my thing.
I have my favorites out there also,
but don’t get me wrong—I’m glad it went to me.
It’s always an incredible feeling,
especially to be considered No. 1.
The best that ever did it?
What the fuck!
You were up against
DJ Premier in the finals.
Preemo is definitely one of my favorites.
I got a chance to chill with
him and Guru out here one time.
We sat and talked for like an hour
and they were cool as hell.
I’m a fan.
Do you think the
helped to elevate the stature of the producer?
The producer definitely needs
to get a lot more credit than we do.
No producer—no artist.
Not many artists can go in the studio
and make their own records.
But a lot of producers can.
In the photos for this cover
you have music notes in the syringes.
Is there a science to Hip Hop?
That’s a good question.
You know what?
I don’t know.
Anybody that says that they know is crazy.
You just come in and do what you feel.
The way Hip Hop is going and
the way it sounds can change tomorrow.
I think everybody has their own method and approach
so there is no direct science for it.
You can do a Hip Hop record with no rapping.
Hip Hop is so dope because
it’s the only music that you can
mix with other forms of music.
You can mix rock, Hip Hop, jazz—it’s spread out.
So there is no Dr. Dre formula?
There is no direct formula because
I like collaborating and whoever
I’m collaborating with,
I’m absorbing their energy and
they’re absorbing mine and that’s
how the record is going to sound.
To me there is no Dre sound.
But if you listen to
50 Cent’s “In da Club”
Mary J. Blige’s “Family Affair,”
there are similarities.
Okay, but that’s not what
I’m thinking when I go in to make it.
I don’t go in saying it has to sound like “this.”
Each record has its own personality.
“Is this record wearing Timberlands
or is it wearing earrings?”
If it comes out sounding similar
to the last record, then so be it.
When did you first put your hands on a pair of turntables?
Damn, that’s a good one.
Probably when I was 14 years old.
“[The Adventures of] Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel,”
and that made me want to DJ.
It made me want to know what Hip Hop was.
That was the song that did it.
I immediately went home and called
some friends and we were taking apart
one of my friend’s mother’s stereo sets.
They called them component systems back then.
We figured out how to make a mixer from
the balance button and got it cracking—started making tapes.
Not too long after that, my mom got me
a Numark mixer for Christmas
and I was off and running from there.
I still had the raggedy turntables,
but it made it a lot easier.
What happened with those piano lessons with Burt Bacharach?
I’m still going.
I have a different piano teacher now
and I’m learning a lot about theory
and hopefully I can get my Quincy Jones on later,
score some movies.
What’s your relationship like with Quincy Jones?
He’s one of my mentors and people
I’ve looked up to in this business.
I hung out with Quincy on his 70th birthday.
Has he bestowed any musical gems on you?
You know what?
All we’ve ever talked about is life and personal shit.
We’ve never talked technical or about music.
I’m just talking about whatever
Quincy wants to talk about.
The door is open for me to go to his house
and talk to him anytime I want.
He gave me that invitation.
I just want to absorb it,
because everything he talks about is useful to me.
It doesn’t matter when I get it, as long as I get it.
You know, I’m sitting there and I want to ask him about
, but I’ll get to that.
I’m actually supposed to be going to his house next week.
You mentioned a Hip Hop album without rapping.
Will we ever hear a Dr. Dre instrumental album?
Oh yeah, that’s in the works.
An instrumental album is something
I’ve been wanting to do for a long time.
I have the ideas for it.
I want to call it The Planets.
I don’t even know if I should be saying this, but fuck it.
It’s just my interpretation of
what each planet sounds like.
I’m gonna go off on that.
Just all instrumental.
I’ve been studying the planets
and learning the personalities of each planet.
I’ve been doing this for about two years
now just in my spare time so to speak.
I wanna do it in surround sound.
It’ll have to be in surround sound for Saturn to work.
Because Saturn has the rings and
you’ll have to hear the sound going around
you the entire time the instrumental is playing.
You make Jupiter big.
Earth of course has to [sound] wet.
You really get into the actual
personality of each planet and you go with that.
That’s an exciting concept.
That’s why leaked music kind of cheats you.
Because it’s not in the package it was meant to be in.
Without a concept it’s just another song . . .
Because it’s out of sequence.
That’s big! Absolutely.
That can make or break a record,
the way you sequence it.
That is 100 percent a job in itself
and that happens throughout the entire process
of recording an album with me.
I might take a CD home and listen
to a few songs back to back and say,
“Okay, those two songs have to play together on a record.”
Then you wait for that to happen again and
then you have a partial sequence.
That’s an art in itself.
Knowing how passionate you are
about sequencing an album,
how does it feel when a song leaks,
like “Crack a Bottle”?
It’s like a stab in the stomach.
First of all we weren’t even going
to release the song.
We won a Grammy for it,
but I’m not even considering putting the Grammy up.
My wife has a problem with that because
she wants all of my achievements to be up in the house.
But the way it came, it doesn’t mean the same to me.
We didn’t get a chance to do
the song with our heart in it because
we had to go in and rush it out.
We went in one day and finished
it at least so people could hear a
proper version but we didn’t
get to put our heart and soul in it . . .
So “Under Pressure” leaking was a killer.
It was a little bit more frustrating
because at least “Crack a Bottle” had a hook on it.
I wouldn’t be as mad at a leak if the song was done.
Can you blame the fans for wanting to hear something after all this time?
I’m not mad at the fans.
I’m mad at the person that leaked the shit.
I have no idea how it got out.
It’s not even worth looking to see who did it.
The most painful part about it is that
I’m passionate about what I do,
so people should hear it in the right form.
There were some other reference tracks
that leaked with T.I. and Ludacris lyrics.
Were those legit?
Two (1 & 2) of them were.
Somebody actually hacked into our emails,
so that made our red flags go up.
We’re in a new age and that’s a sign:
Wake up motherfucker.
You have to be more careful with your shit.
That’s all there is to it.
I know what’s up now.
Was “In Da Club” for Detox?
That track was done for D12.
We were in the studio and D12 was in the studio.
Em was there.
It didn’t happen with D12
and Em took the track with him,
and he is the one that handed the track to 50.
Knowing the personal nature of your music,
will there be a part two of
“The Message” for your late son, Andre Young, Jr.?
I’m actually back and forth about that.
I’m leaning towards no because
I don’t know if I want to put myself
or my family through that.
I kind of want the record to stay fun.
Right now as we speak I’m leaning towards a no.
Though I do have a couple of
things that I’ve done [for him].
I don’t think so.
Have you heard a beat in the last five years that you thought was hot?
Damn, that’s a good question.
When was “The Benjamins” made?
[Diddy’s “It’s All About] the Benjamins”
was one of my favorite beats.
I just want to hear something
that makes me make the ugly face.
There’s nothing else since
“Benjamins” that did that for you?
I know there is,
but nothing is hitting me off the top
As soon as you leave I bet I’ll think of one.
I’ve been listening to a lot of old shit.
Most of the time when I’m listening to Hip Hop,
it’s old-school Wu-Tang or Mobb Deep.
What is it about the old shit that keeps you going back?
It was an exciting period of Hip Hop.
Hip Hop isn’t as exciting anymore
and it motivates me to do what I do.
You’ve seen so much in your time—good and bad.
You had a chance to reconcile with
Eazy-E before he died.
With everything that has been going on with
Suge Knight in the last year,
is there any side of you that feels that one day you might . . .?
I haven’t even thought about him.
This is my first time hearing his name in
. . . a long time.
So nobody told you when he got knocked out at a party?
Oh, of course I heard that.
But it doesn’t even cross my mind.
I’m not gonna get anything out of that,
so I don’t even think about it.
That’s not going to help me.
It was reported that you were trying
to tie up some loose ends with the people
who bought the Death Row catalog.
Was basically trying to go back and get
what I was owed if possible.
This was more my attorneys than me.
I’m more like eh, whatever.
But if you can make it happen, it’s all good.
You’ve had so much fun doing Chronic and Chronic 2001.
So why would you want to detox?
What is there to “detox” from?
You have to see it.
It’s not really detoxing.
What I’m doing is gonna say “Detox”
but it’s gonna have that red circle with that line through it.
Hearing it and seeing it are two different things.
Once you see it, it’s like “Oh.”
So the idea is not detoxing?
Years ago you recorded a song called
“Forgot About Dre,”
but in 2010 it seems impossible to forget about Dre.
I hope not, at least not until this record is out.
I’m definitely in a different place now.
I’m a lot smarter and hopefully
getting smarter in years to come.
I’m just cool right now, chilling and doing my work.
Before it was ripping and running
and I’m in a really calm place in my life,
using my time wisely.
That’s the most valuable thing we own.
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