DR. DRE INTERVIEW FROM SCRATCH MAGAZINE
Dr. Dre doesn't even listen to his old music, so don't think he's going to tell you what the bass line for ”Deep Cover” is. It shall remain a mystery, as Dre prefers to keep much of his process. He also doesn't like to talk much. Why should he? The music speaks for itself. Dre is the measuring stick for how far hip-hop's come and where it's going. You can't deny the gift the man has for putting together some hot shit. Truth be told, he makes anyone sound good.
A few years ago, he said, “Fuck rap, you can have it back.” But it's been three years, and he still hasn't let go; he's got this rap shit in a chokehold. This is a man at the top of his game, but after speaking with him, you get the sense that this is just the beginning. Unlike some who feel constricted by the hip-hop format, Dre feels the music has no limitations. He's about to take this hip-hop thing to another level. Picture him with a 40-piece orchestra at his fingertips, and you begin to realize how serious it is.
We managed to chop it up with him for a minute about beats, his process, and the life of the super producer. He's sold over 50 million records and influenced the sound of music more than anyone in the game, but he just wants to keep making beats that snap necks. Dr. Dre is a man with vision. He's trying to help you see it too.
So you've decided not to release your new album Detox?
I decided not to do it because I didn't think it would be fair to all the artists that I want to work with. I'm really hard on myself when it comes to my own record, so it would have taken nine or ten months of my time. I could get two or three artists' albums done in that amount of time, so I decided just to back off of it. I cut a couple of songs, and I was digging the way I was sounding on the mic. There's always something to write about. I mean if I didn't have a label to run, and a lot of artists to put out, it would be a different story, then I could just totally concentrate on self. Building my company and getting these artists out is my main priority right now. I spread out the tracks that I did for the record to the other artists I'm working with. I don't think anybody's going to be mad about it after they hear what I'm doing.
Are inspired by anything that's going on out there?
I don't think I'm really inspired by anything that's going on out there right now. I'm not really mad at it, but there's nothing that's really motivating me right now except for the artists I'm working with. I'm not just saying that because they're with my label. These artists are coming in with some hot new ideas so it's just the stuff that I'm working with that's inspiring. There's nothing out there that's really different. There's nobody doing or saying anything that I haven't heard before.
You have a very strong work ethic, spending days in the studio at a time, working on things over and over until you get it right. How do you know when something's done?
It's a feeling I get when it's right, so I just keep going until I get that feeling. It's like a butterfly type feeling. When I hit it, and it's right, and the mix is right, that's when it's time to come out. Nothing leaves this studio until I get that feeling.
What's a typical session like for you?
I don't go out to clubs and party like I used to. I just get up, go to the gym, come to the studio. Usually I get to the studio around 3 PM, and my hours can vary anywhere from two hours to, I mean, my record is 79 hours non stop. As long as the ideas are flowing, I'm in here. I feel when I come to the studio, I have the same energy today as I did 20 years ago when I started. I still feel it, I love music.
Can you tell me a little bit about the collaborative process in the studio?
I use the same engineer every day. I work with the same player or players every day. Once I find something that's working for me, and I dig it, that's it. I work with a player named Mike Elizondo, it's usually just me and him. He's a bassist, and he's learning keys and guitar right now. So it's pretty much just me, him, and my engineer Veto (Mauricio Iragorri) in the studio every day just grinding out the tracks; we just go. Every day I come in the studio I try to lay at least two or three tracks down, at least that, before we start working on vocals.
How important is the engineer in your process?
The engineer is very important. Working with me, the engineer's almost got to have ESP to know what I'm thinking, and he has that. It's like body language, he can almost feel what I'm getting ready to ask him for. It's a building process, and it took us a while to get to that point. We've been working together for years, probably since '98 or '99.
What is that makes a good MC to you?
Again, it's just a feeling that I get. It's a look that I look for, it's the way that they carry themselves. Of course, the talent has to be there. I look for somebody that when you hear their voice, you know it's them right off the top, it's no question. And we have to be able to get along. The talent gets you in the door, the personality keeps you there. I have to feel like I can work with somebody that I wouldn't mind leaving the studio and going to have dinner with and just chopping it up. That has nothing less than that. I want somebody that's gonna come in and work, and be ready to fucking really do they thing. Because I'm the first one here, and I'm the last one to leave, I tell ‘em, “You can't work hared than me, but try to keep up.”
What inspires you?
Just music in general, man. I love making music. This is what I was put here to do, to make music. I love doing this, man, it's almost like a high for me. If I'm out of the studio too long, it feels funny. I got this feeling like, “Damn, this could have been the day I came up with fucking ‘Billie Jean' or some shit.” If I'm not in the studio, it always crosses my mind.
Do you know when you have ‘Billie Jean' or a big hit?
Yeah, right off. Like I said, it's a feeling. Most of the time that record comes fast. It's not one of those things where you're working on the same record for two weeks, usually that record comes in a couple of hours.
Can you talk a bit about some of the equipment you use?
I love using the MPC3000. I like setting up like four or five different MPC3000's, so I don't have to keep changing disks. So I have them all lined up, and I have different drum sounds in each one, and then we use one for sequencing the keyboard.
Can tell me a bit about your process of recording drums?
We really take a lot of time on getting the right drum sounds. We EQ the drums before we sample them into the MPC, and then once we come up with the track, we spend a lot of time EQing the drums before we record them into Pro Tools. We take quite a bit of time to get that right, because I know it's one of the things that people like about my music. I've used the same drum sounds on a couple of different songs on one album before but you'd never be able to tell the difference because of the EQ.
You mentioned Pro Tools.
I had Pro Tools right when it came out, but I wasn't a fan of it because I lost a little bit of my low end before they perfected it. So, I used to just use Pro Tools for sequencing the albums. But now I think they've perfected it enough for me to roll with it, so I've been using it quite a bit.
But you're still using a lot of analog keyboards, I saw a Wurlitzer in the studio, a Fender Rhodes?
Yeah, I love the old school sounds. ARP String Ensemble, Rhodes, old school Clavinet, the whole shit. I'm a big keyboard fan. I don't really dig working with samples because you're so limited when you sample.
But you came from a sampling background?
Actually, most of my music has been played. Back when we started with the N.W.A. thing, it was a lot of drum loops, drum samples, and what have you. But if we were going to sample something, we would try to at least replay it, get musicians in and replay it. If it was something we couldn't replay, we would use the sample. I've tried to stay away from it as much as possible throughout my career from day one.
Any surprising musical influences?
I'm a big P-Funk fan, that was it for me growing up. Curtis Mayfield, Isaac Hayes, I was influences by all of those guys. That's what really motivated me to use live instruments on my records. Just listening to the way they put their records together. That appreciation came from my mother. There was always music being played in my house when I was growing up, and that's all I heard was 70's soul. And then the DJing thing came along.
How did you get into DJing?
What motivated me to want to DJ was Grandmaster Flash. I heard “The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel” and I was blown away. So, me and a friend of mine at the time decided to tear apart a couple of component sets and make our own little mixer and two turntables. And not too long after that, my mom got me a mixer, and that was it for me. But I would have to give credit to Grandmaster Flash for getting me into the business. We had dinner once in New York, he's a cool brother.
Do you think your DJing background has made you a better producer?
Definitely. I would definitely not be as good of a producer if I hadn't started DJing. Because that's where I really started paying attention to how records are made. I would critique and just listen and say, “I would have done this different.” So that definitely was a stepping stone to what I'm doing now.
When did you realize this is something you were good at? That this is something you wanted to do the rest of your life?
This club I was DJing at at the time had a little demo studio in the back of it. I made a couple of demos, played them in the club, and got a good response. So I just started making it a little bit better here and there, and the next thing you know I had a record out. Everybody was digging it, so I decided that this was the job I was going to take.
Hooking up with Eminem has been a big turning point for you. Did you know he was going to have the effect he did?
I knew it was going to be big. I didn't know it was going to be this big. I didn't know it was going to be half this big. I knew people were going to get into him, and love him, and just think he's a crazy ass white boy. But I had no idea it was Oscar bound. It's a perfect example of an artist coming in and taking advantage of the situation. That's what he did, he came in, and he works his ass off. Everybody that came in the studio and really put their thing down, and really put it together has been successful with me. Everybody else that I've worked with that's slacking ends up having to go to somewhere else to do their thing.
So it's either put up or shut up?
That's it, you got to come in and go to work, man. I open the door, like I said, you're not going to work harder than me. The harder you work, the harder I'm going to work. At least I'm going to try to make sure that's happening.
Do you think it's hard for some people to push themselves to that level? Do they have different expectations?
I think some people that I've worked with expect to come in and for me to wave a magic wand and say, “Ding, hit record!” But it's not like that. You have to come in and give some energy, and we have to put the same amount of work in on the record. It's not just going to be me putting my hand in your back and moving you around like a puppet.
Some say hip-hop is a young man's game, yet you defy that. How?
I don't think it's a young man's game. It's all in how you're putting it together, and how you're carrying yourself. If you feel old, it's going to turn out like that. I don't even think about that. I feel like I could turn 50 and still make a hot hip-hop record.
Is there potential for a hip-hop Rolling Stones, still rocking the mic at 70?
I think so. I don't I want to necessarily see a 50-year old rapper, but being behind the scenes, making tracks, and producing, there's no age limit on that. It's all about who's keeping it hot. You could make a hot hip-hop record if you're 70, you just gotta know what's going on in here, and know what the people want. If people are talking about somebody being too old, that means that sound is getting too old. It's time to start your game over, reinvent yourself or something.
Is that what you do?
That's exactly what I do; I try to reinvent myself. If you keep doing the same thing, people are going to get tired of it, that's when it becomes old. So, I gotta keep reinventing myself. Plus, when I put a record out, I think a lot of people are influenced by my music, and I think there's a lot of shit that comes out that sounds similar to mine. That makes the sound become old a little bit faster, so I definitely have to keep reinventing myself and trying new things.
Have you ever considered producing a non-hip-hop album?
Definitely, I would love to do a rock album. I would love to do a Black rock album. Ghetto Metal. It's just a matter of the right lead singer coming along. Once that happens I'm off and running. That's all I need is a singer, we'll put the band together later. If I get the right front man, I'm going to try that.
Is the music industry ready for a Black rock band?
They'll be ready for anything that's hot. If it's hot and it's different, and it's working... Look at Lenny Kravitz. He's hot as shit.
You seem like a real perfectionist.
I am a perfectionist, but it has a lot to do with the people that are around you. They have to have the same vision, the same motivation. It takes a while to get the right people around you; it takes a long time. But I think I've finally done it, I think this is going to be my crew for a while.
You've contributed work to a number of soundtracks. Have you ever considered scoring a film?
Yeah, that's one of the things I want to get into. I started studying music theory, learning how to read and write music. It's been over two years, so I'm really getting involved in that. I definitely want to get into scoring movies. I have to have the knowledge, so I think in the next four or five years I'll have it down, I'll be ready. I'm not even going to attempt to do something if I don't think I'm going to be great at it. I know for a fact that's something that I could be good at, but I have to get the knowledge first. That's almost like learning a new language. I have to really understand what I'm doing, I have to learn that language. It takes a while, and I want to be the best at it, so I'm going to put the time in.
Has learning music theory influenced what you're doing in the studio?
A little bit. It's actually broadened the way I look at music and listen to it, just knowing how the notes are placed. I pay attention to all that a little bit more now. A while back, I thought it would hurt me, I thought I would start paying too close attention, and maybe miss something. But I think it's helping out. And once I really get that shit, “Look out!” (laughs)
You've got more money than these dudes out here that are still talking about cars and jewels, yet you don't focus on that in your music. What keeps you rooted?
I talked about it a little bit when I was younger, but this is a job, man, that's all it is. I'm serious about music. It's a job, and I want to get paid of course, but I don't need to talk about it. If I was a plumber, I wouldn't talk about the money I was making, I'd just talk about my job. I'd be talking about pipes and shit. All I want to talk about is the music and how we can better it.
How can we better it?
I think we just need producers who are willing to stick their necks out there and try new and different things. I love Outkast and what they're doing because they're trying some new and different things, and it's working for them. They stick their necks out there, and it works and I love that. That's what we have to get more of.
Anybody else stand out? We spoke with Nottz for this first issue, and he was very excited about having contributed tracks to Detox.
Yeah, I got a couple of things from him that'll probably be used for somebody else now. I like Nottz. I love Kanye West. I love the Neptunes of course, they have their thing, they're trying new things. Who else? Just Blaze. Timbaland. Hi-Tek is hot as shit, I love Hi-Tek. This new guy we're working with right now, we just signed as a producer, his name's Focus. He's a new up-and-coming producer, he's hot as shit.
I understand you've recently sent some beats to Burt Bacharach.
We did a little thing together. My piano teacher introduced us. Burt Bacharach came by the studio, and we chopped it up for a little while. I gave him a couple of skeleton tracks on a CD, and he went home and played some piano over it. The next thing I know they had this jazz trumpet player play on the record, and it sounded hot. I think they're going to put it out. I would like to really get in, and do something from scratch with him as opposed to me giving him a track, and him going to his studio and doing his thing, and us sending it back and forth.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Hopefully, I'll have my music theory down and I can score a movie or two at that time. I'll definitely be making hip-hop records, looking for new hot artists. I'm really trying to score some movies though, that's what I'm working on. That's a big challenge. To conduct a big ass string section doing something that I wrote would be ridiculous. That's the dream right now.
What's your legacy? What do you want to be remembered by?
I don't really think about that. My thing is just coming in here and making records, and hopefully people will go out and buy it and bump it. I'm just trying to come in and better myself when I'm in here. If I had to give an answer to that I'd say that I'd like to be remembered as a person who really cared about his music, and really entertained people with my talent. I just want to be remembered as being the shit.