Hip-Hop, while still youth-driven, is no longer the adolescent art form it once was. Rap artists are getting inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (an artist becomes eligible 25 years after their first record). In 2019, there was an article on Billboard.com that argued that ‘Old School Rap’ should be replaced with ‘Classic Hip-Hip’ because now, “Hip-Hop’s ‘classic’ period is just as extended and diverse as classic rock’s or classic soul’s.” And with the recent deaths of John “Ecstasy” Fletcher and Mark “Prince Markie Dee” Morales, it is a reminder that Hip-Hop has people in it who are too old to die young.
In addition to being one of rap’s elder statesman and a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee as part of N.W.A, Andre Romelle Young, better known to the world as Dr. Dre, suffered a brain aneurysm at the beginning of the year. So, for a brief moment, it was uncertain if he’d be around to celebrate his 56th birthday this past month. Therefore, it is essential, now more than ever, to give people their flowers while they can still smell them. (Shout out to DJ EFN and the Drink Champs podcast for letting me use that phrase in this article.)
However, Dr. Dre is such an accomplished force in Hip-Hop, reiterating his hits, accolades, stature, and the cultural impact of his work is merely a lengthy process stating the obvious, a good problem to have if there ever was one. Therefore, as a way of paying homage to the greatest rap producer of all-time, a couple of his collaborators over the years have taken a few moments to speak on their memories of time spent with the D-R-E and, while the fact that they made memorable music is a given, this is about the man behind the music and how he helped shape the lives of the people around him and not just pieces of the soundtracks to them.
99% Isn’t Good Enough:
“The most memorable thing I have learned from Dre is that when you think you’ve given your very, very best, there’s always better. So when you think something is just perfect, and you’re like, “I did it.” If you do it one more time, it could even be better. So not to be satisfied with mediocre, but always strive for perfection. I [also] have the best memories of being in the studio with him and with the rest of N.W.A because we had a blast in the studio. Dre’s sense of humor is absolutely hilarious. He is so funny, and a lot of people don’t realize how funny he is. So when we were in the studio together, it was always non-stop laughter. Me and the girls would be laughing so hard. And sometimes, we couldn’t even do our parts in the studio because we were cracking up so hard. So that’s the coolest thing, he made being in the studio fun. We worked hard, but we also had fun.” – M.C. J.B. (member of J.J. Fad, a female rap group formerly signed to Ruthless Records)
“Dr. Dre is a perfectionist. I remember going in the studio at Record One , and recording “Some L.A. Niggaz” hook , for the 2001 album. Dre was very impressed with my vocals on the track , because it only took me one take. Dre stopped the track, started chuckling, and then said , ‘Kokane you are genius, Nigga.’ I replied back and said , ‘You brought it out of me.’ – Kokane (most featured artist in history)
Uncharted Waters & An Unrivaled Ear:
“I think for me personally, working with Dre early on in his career, when we were in that exploration of sound was the most exciting time for me, it was like landing on the moon every time we walked into the studio. This was at a time when there was a continued influx of new gear, drum machines, keyboards, samplers, we were like the first explorers stepping onto a new landscape, forging new sounds in music.” – Arabian Prince (founding member of N.W.A)
“So I’m in the lab one day with Dre and Mel-Man. Dre is in the midst of mixing “Fast Lane” by Bilal. Mel and I are bobbin` and singing along geeked up by how the song is turning out. Seemingly, Dre is not convinced. So he asks me, ‘Hitt, do you hear anything?’ I shoot back, ‘Yep, another classic.’ Mel gives me a pound and we continue vibing to the song. Dre asks us both this time, turning up the master volume to a chest ravaging level, ‘Y’all don’t hear that?’ We listen more attentively this time because now it feels like we’re being quizzed. At this point, I’m confused. Mel answers, “It sounds dead right to me.” Dre sits back in his chair and continues to listen for another minute, then he moves back towards the mix board. He then solos Bilal`s lead vocals, now we hear it. Bilal`s headphones were blaring into the microphone as he sang his lead. I`m telling you, no untrained ear would`ve heard this discrepancy. I was like, ‘Ok, this dude has alien radar ears or something,’ DREdars even (laughs)!” – Hittman (former Aftermath artist)
Master Your Craft:
“He was telling me a long time ago, ‘Always keep your music sharp. And even if you’re not totally serious about the song, make sure you execute it correctly so that when you listen to it a few days later, you’ll know what you’re dealing with as opposed to just going in there and half-assing anything.’ When you go in the mic booth with him, know what you’re doing. If it’s not ready, then you sit in the room and keep rapping out loud to yourself in rehearsal mode until you know. But when you hit the mic booth, execute.” – RBX (former Death Row artist)
“Dre is my mentor so his music and execution taught me the importance of paying attention to EVERY detail. Dre taught me that space is an instrument too. Meaning, every instrument and part has it’s own place to exist. Creating space for all parts to exist is an art and aids in creating the ultimate dynamic in our soundscape.” – Focus… (current Aftermath producer)
Origins of Greatness:
“While we were working on The Chronic album, Dre accidentally left [a] 2-inch tape in the car. We stayed in the valley at that time, so during the summer it could be somewhere in the upper 90’s and pushing 100 degrees in the car. So the tape melted that had “G Thang“ on it…(laughs). Of course we had to re-record it, and that was the second time we had to re-record that song. The first time it got erased.” – Colin Wolfe (multi-instrumentalist)
“He [Eazy-E] wanted to let me hear it (N.W.A) right then and there. I said, ‘I don’t listen to songs in front of people. Y’all gonna want me to do that little neck bullshit, bob your neck, and tell you it’s dope. What I do is I listen to it in my truck. When I’m going home, I’ll listen to it. If it’s dope, I’m gonna promote it. He paid me that day which was awkward. [I said,]’If I don’t like it, I’ll come to give you your money back.’ So at that time, I’m now really starting to blow up, and I’m all over. So when I left that meeting, I just stayed in town. Long story short, I met with Capitol; they were interested in putting together a rap department and wanted me to help them start it. So I went to a meeting there. Now, it’s time to go home. Traffic had died. I’m in Capitol’s parking lot; I do what I usually do. I fire up me some weed. Hopped on the 10 Freeway and popped that motherfuckin’ tape in. It was ‘8 Ball Junkie.’ The woofers were woofin’. The bass was boomin’. The tweeters were tweetin’. I was like, “What the fuck?!” And these niggas are cursing like sailors. I couldn’t believe how fuckin’ dope that shit was. Eazy had given me his home number, cell number, his beeper number. And he told me to call him and tell him exactly what I want. I called his cell, and he said, “Are you gonna do it?” I said, ‘Hell motherfuckin’ yeah, I’m gonna do it! Who did the beats?’ He said,’ Dre.’ ‘Dre is with the Wrecking Cru’ [I stated]. ‘Not no fucking more,’ [Eazy replied]. – Doug Young (legendary Hip-Hop promoter)
Eyes on the Prize:
“Dre lived on my street as a kid, so I use to go watch [him] practice DJing daily; he’s 100% the reason I became a DJ.” – DJ Speed (former Ruthless Records DJ)
“The most memorable thing I learned from Dr. Dre is that it’s better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.” – Chris ‘The Glove’ Taylor (DJ and frequent production collaborator)
In addition to these quotes and anecdotes, it is also imperative to mention Dr. Dre’s pivotal role in his proteges’ successes, Snoop Dogg, Eminem, 50 Cent, Game, and Kendrick Lamar. “I used to be a starving artist, so I would never starve an artist / This is my passion; it’s where my heart is,” Dre rapped on the closing cut to his 2015 album, Compton, and the results more than speak for themselves. Not only did he turn these individuals into household names, but their victories ultimately created opportunities and employment for countless others. He himself has made a note of this too. In a 2000 interview, Dre said, while discussing criticism aimed at hardcore Hip-Hop from the African-American community, “Yeah, that bothered me when prominent black people were protesting the music because we employ I don’t know how many black people that would probably be out doing dirt if they didn’t have these jobs. I don’t think they were getting the big picture.” Sadly, some people still don’t. Hip-Hop has done a lot of good for a lot of people. Dre has played a major role in that; it’s undeniable. So no matter the number of “Parental Advisory” stickers, senate hearings, boycotts, protests, or bans, those will always be outweighed by how a genre of music rooted in oppression and struggle changed the trajectory of many lives for the better by connecting with the masses and proving that we all share more similarities than differences.
While Dr. Dre rarely makes songs of his own with a deeply personal or social message (some exceptions being “Lil’ Ghetto Boy,” Bang Bang,” The Message,” and the aforementioned “Talking to My Diary”), he has provided instrumentals for some of Hip-Hop’s elite to get down on and craft some absolute gems with while speaking on something real. A criticism of socially-conscious rap is the beats that sometimes accompany them (they’re boring). Dre, however, one more than one occasion, has provided damn near a cinematic backdrop to emphasize, yet still not overshadow, serious song content. Take, for instance, “Mosh” by Eminem. The beat itself sounds like the score to a doomsday film. That perfectly allowed Em to protest then president, George W. Bush, and encourage people to vote him out of office in the original cut of its accompanying video. And when Jay-Z did “Minority Report” to criticize the government’s response to Hurricane Katrina, Dre’s piano keys added another sorrowful element to an already somber song. “Wouldn’t you loot if you didn’t have the loot? / Baby needed food, and you stuck on the roof / Helicopter swooped down just to get a scoop / Through his telescopic lens, but he didn’t scoop you.” Damn! Additionally, these are two of many examples of how Dr. Dre is truly a producer instead of a beat-maker. So while he is most famous for that gangsta shit he started, as he has claimed in two songs, his range is far from limited to that. Need even more proof? Check the positive timeless vibe of Mary J. Blige’s “Family Affair” or the Fiddler on the Roof -inspired “Rich Girl” by Gwen Stefani and Eve.
Dr. Dre has often been referred to as the Quincy Jones of Hip-Hop, but I respectfully beg to differ. The comparison, I assume, began from how flawless each of their productions sounds and how clean their mixes are. While that is certainly true, I would argue, at this point, Dre is the Quincy Jones of his entire generation because his legacy is so much more than just technical perfection in a single genre of music. They both have careers that have lasted decades, redefined popular sound, reinvented themselves on multiple occasions, and set a new standard for which professional excellence is measured. Then, on a more personal note, they have both survived brain aneurysms. Mr. Jones suffered one in 1974 and survived the surgery. Shortly thereafter, doctors discovered another one, and he survived that operation as well. Eight years after that initial scare, Jones went on to create what’s widely regarded as the magnum opus of his iconic career, producing Michael Jackson’s Thriller. When Dre met with Jones for his Pharmacy show on Beats 1, he stated, “You’re my ultimate mentor and inspiration. You’re the reason I decided to get into production.” With that said, it will be exciting to see too if Dr. Dre’s pinnacle of artistic achievement is still on the horizon. No matter what happens, be thankful the opportunity exists to find out, and no matter the outcome, there’s already more than enough quality material to make Dre music’s most significant figure since his own arrival. And, even if it is a quarter of a century down the road before it becomes official, he is even now still destined to be remembered alongside his mentor Quincy Jones as an icon among icons. One of the greatest producers to ever do it. Period. Respect due.