the Los Angeles Times did a survey among 22 record company executives to name
the artists they believe will sell the most records over the next seven years.
Dr. Dre was at the top of that list. One executive said that Dre, who won
a Grammy in February for Producer of the Year, might be the greatest talent
in the music business right now. Hip-hop is the most dynamic sound in pop,
and he’s the king of hip-hop.
As I walk into Record One in Studio City, Chatman is in between juggling phone
calls and greets me with a warm smile, informing me that Dre is on his way.
He invites me into the control room where Dr. Dre’s Dream Team is already
warming up. Ensconced in Studio B, engineer “Veto” (a.k.a. Mauricio Iragorri)
is tinkering on the SSL 8000, while Mike Elizondo, bass player, and Scott
Storch, the expert on keys, file into the studio. The activity seems normal,
even mundane, until Dr. Dre walks into the room. The vibe in the control room
shifts up a level of energy. During a lunch break, the conversation turned
to a VH-1 documentary on The Doors that Dre had seen the previous night, and,
after commenting on how much he liked the keyboard sound, Scott Storch immediately
launched into what was a near-perfect rendition of the classic Doors sound.
Soon Mike Elizondo had joined in on bass, Dre added a beat at the turntable,
and, before you knew it, a song was born!
Contrary to media reports that his recording sessions are filled with drugs,
alcohol, and gang warfare, all I saw was positive energy, professional vibe,
creativity, and solid business. After completing a call with his protégé Eminem
(a.k.a. Marshall Mathers), where he was advising the young rapper on some
crucial business decisions, Dre turned his attention to the interview at hand...
Dr. Dre can be described as many things : a catalyst, an astute businessman,
an innovator, but perhaps the most interesting description of the man, born
35 years ago as Andre Young, is his description of himself as 'a motivator.'
'I’m a very good motivator,' he shares. 'I direct well. I’m a person that
will spend three or four hours working on one line of a song to get it correct.
I have to be able to work with artists who are ready to go through that torture.'
Some of the artists that have signed up for his unique brand of “torture”
are Snoop Dogg, Eminem, and the hardcore rap group N.W.A., which Dre founded
in the mid ‘80s with fellow rapper Ice Cube and signed to Eazy-E’s Ruthless
Although Dr. Dre had been rapping and DJing since his early years growing
up in one of L.A.’s rougher neighborhoods, Compton, he’s surprisingly realistic
about where his truest talents lie, and that’s in production. In addition
to being credited with inventing gangsta rap, he’s responsible for creating
his own musical style : G-Funk. This patented, often imitated style of music
immediately became the defining characteristic of the entire generation of
music. There are few that would argue that from the introduction of G-Funk,
Dre’s sounds and rhythms shaped the future of rap music, while impacting its
history at every turn.
One of the key moments in Dr. Dre’s career came in 1992, when he founded Death
Row Records with his friend Suge Knight. This became a platform for Dre’s
obvious production talents. He released only one solo record for Death Row,
the critically acclaimed The Chronic. While the production values behind G-Funk
dominated the hip-hop world for the next four years, collaborations with stepbrother
Warren G and the immense success of Snoop Dogg’s 1993 debut Doggystyle cemented
Dre’s name on the list of the most powerful and influential men in the music
industry. Unfortunately, all of this success did not prevent the eventual
collapse of the record label in 1996 amid financial difficulties and creative
differences, not to mention a lengthy murder trial for the label’s star, Snoop
The businessman in Dr. Dre had matured through all the challenges and obstacles
of the ‘80s and early ‘90s. His instincts served him well when he made the
decision to bail from Death Row Records almost a year before its ultimate
demise. Eventually, he formed Aftermath Records and turned his production,
mixing, and writing energy toward a young rapper he found in Detroit called
Eminem. This collaboration not only resulted in Eminem’s 1999 debut record,
The Slim Shady LP, and the multi-platinum smash follow-up The Marshall Mathers
LP, but also a Grammy for their collaboration on 2001’s Forgot About Dre.
Dre explains, 'Forgot About Dre’ was actually Marshall’s idea. He said I have
an idea for a song, I just need some music to it. So he sent the chorus to
me and then we went to work on our music. We recorded it at Granny’s House
Studio in Reno, and then we put the song together in a couple of hours.' The
collaboration also garnered him a Grammy for Producer of the Year. 'That was
big,' confides Dre. 'I love the fact that I didn’t have to go on stage and
give a thank you speech. I didn’t have anything written down. As it turned
out, when they called my name for Producer of the Year, I just stood up. That’s
going to be the perfect ending to my life story.'
Perhaps he should start preparing his acceptance speech for next year now
because an Engineer of the Year Grammy is certainly not out of the question
for the technically savvy Dre. He humbly admits that, although he defers to
his engineer of choice, Veto, on certain things, he himself is the man behind
the board for the majority of the projects he works on. His roots in recording
began in a small studio in the back of a club in Compton where he used to
DJ. 'I would just come in there during the week and just try to create my
songs, just messing around, seeing if I had it. I would play them in the clubs
on the weekend and I would get good responses, so I just kept doing it and
it became my profession.'He continues, 'I learned how to engineer basically
from that club. I also learned a lot from this engineer, Donovan, at Audio
Achievements in Torrance. We used to work together a lot, and I eventually
started working by myself on mixes. I wanted it to sound a certain way and
I felt nobody was going to be able to dig in my brain and get the sound out
that I wanted except me. Everyday I would learn something new. I’m actually
still learning with all the new technology.
Through the years, as any engineer would, Dre has defined his choices in audio
gear. He’s candid about his love for any and all Solid State Logic consoles,
as well as the Studer A827. He always uses Quantegy 499 tape. His mic of choice
is the Sony C800G, which is the only mic he ever uses on vocals. When recording
vocals with the Sony mic, he runs it through a Neve 1073 mic pre, and then
through the SSL compressor and a dbx 160, but he admits to very little EQ
on the vocal. Dre explains, 'I usually record vocals flat. The only time I
put EQ on vocals when recording is if I know for a fact that I’m going to
want it to sound like that during the mix.' He continues, 'When I want a little
more crispness out of the mic, I use the 1073 EQ with just a little high end.
I don’t use too much compression; maybe 4:1 with the outputs set to zero.
I usually do my compression afterwards. I like the compressors on the SSL.
I usually have the ratio up to about eight or ten on a lot of things.' Dre,
a die-hard fan of analog recording, is one of the few producer/engineer’s
left in the world that have not jumped on the Pro Tools bandwagon and, true
to form, he makes no apologies for that.
'I tried digital a couple of times and I don’t really like it. There’s just
something about it. For me, it’s not fast enough just yet. I tried to record
into Pro Tools and got one of the best Pro Tools operators down to record
the music, and it’s just not me. Not yet,' he concludes. 'We had the Sony
3348 in the studio, and I tried a couple of songs on it and it didn’t give
me the sound I wanted. The kick drum started sounding transparent. It wasn’t
good.' When it’s time to mix down, Dre makes the unusual choice of mixing
straight to DAT, so you can imagine that the DAT machine is a key element
in any studio he chooses to work in. Dre’s DAT machine preference is the Panasonic
The question on everyone’s mind, though, is what gear does Dr. Dre turn to
make his signature beats? Engineer “Veto” confides that there’s a laundry
list of toys that make a Dre session complete. 'The brain of the whole thing
is the MIDI sequencer, the Akai MPC3000. We use the Korg Triton keyboard.
Usually that’s the controller — the Nord Lead and Korg’s MS2000. Lately we’ve
been trying out the Alesis Andromeda A6. Someone recommended a Waldorf cue,
and we seem to like that one as well. They let us try it for a day and we
said, 'Yes, we’ll keep it!' You might also find a nice array of vintage keyboards
on hand, including those by Rhodes, Wurlitzer, Moog, and Roland. But Veto
says what you won’t find in use on a Dre session is a lot of outboard gear.'
'We don’t use a lot of outboard gear,' Dre concurs. 'I doctor the vocal as
far as de-essing and maybe some low-end EQ for the kicks. We use a lot of
EQ on the console and all the limiters. Most of it comes out of the SSL and
into the quad compressor. I like the sound of it on the mix bus. That’s the
SSL quad compressor in the center of the console'.
Dr. Dre certainly knows his way around the studio and in and out of a “tool
box. This knowledge he credits to once having his own studio, complete with
an SSL 4000E/G. 'We did a lot of Eminem’s first record at my home studio.
Actually the first song we did together, ‘My Name Is,’ was done there,' remembers
Dre. Eventually he removed the studio from his home and is now vocal about
his love and support of the professional, commercial facility. 'I kind of
got tired of having a home studio because you get to the point where you want
to feel like you’re going to work. Plus, sometimes you have to work with people
and there’s just some people you don’t want in your house', he laughs.
This love for the commercial recording facility has Dr. Dre hanging out on
a regular basis at L.A. recording hotspots like Larrabee West, Encore, and,
of course, Record One. 'We mix most everything at Larrabee West. I just like
a studio that’s comfortable, has a lot of space, and, very important, has
a lounge with a kitchen,” he shares. “The equipment is important, but, to
be honest, I’m still working on the same board I’ve worked on since 1990.
The important part is who’s pushing the buttons.'
Dr. Dre just finished 'pushing the buttons' on a new project, D12, the first
act on Eminem’s label, Shady Records. D12 is an 'incredible group' Dre praises.
'All the guys in the group are great musicians. They all have really crazy
personalities, you know, and I love working with them. I think they’re going
to be a big group. Eminem is the sixth member in the group.' Also on the horizon
for Dr. Dre is his first foray into surround sound mixing. 'I’m going to record
and mix my next record in 5.1, so it gives me a whole new world to work with.
Hopefully, then people can just throw it in their DVD player and have a little
blast of entertainment.'
One thing that’s evident about Dre is that he strives to keep his audience
entertained regardless of what he’s doing. He wants the records he makes to
stand out and intrigue the fans long after they first listen. He ensures this,
he says, by putting what he calls his “sprinkles” into the mix. He explains,'People
come up to me on the street and say, ‘I hear something different every time
I listen to your record.’ That’s what I like to hear — that’s the sprinkles.'Even
when he’s self-producing, he challenges himself constantly. I really take
a lot of time on each song and make sure it’s okay — I’m my worst critic.
I want to make sure it’s right.
The multi-faceted Dre has put plans in place to expand his empire by adding
two more talents — acting and directing — to his already impressive resume.
Dre fans can look forward to a Snoop/Dre reunion with the release of a movie
they’re currently filming together, The Wash. The power duo will also collaborate
on the soundtrack of this “dramedy.” Dre spills another interesting tidbit
— he’s going to direct a movie within the next year. 'The first movie I’m
doing is called Raincoat. It’s all about…condoms,” he muses with a grin. Acting
is a true passion that he intends to explore fully in the future. “I want
to do a really big movie and have it come across really good. I want it to
have the same feeling that my records give people. This movie is going to