Dr Dre

For sheer drama, nothing beats the beginning of a Dr Dre production. Whether it’s ‘The Next Episode’s‘ sizzling brass fanfare, ‘Let Me Blow Ya Mind’s‘ rinky-drink riff or the earth-shaking orchestral stabs that kick off ‘In Da Club‘.

The Brian Wilson Of The Beat know how to grab you from the get-go. The real-life equivalent would be Andre Romelle Young bursting through some saloon doors with a couple of smoking pistols, then aiming them right at your crotch.

Of course, that isn’t what happens when you meet Dr Dre. He was on a brief promotional trip with Eminem (who was just about to release ‘The Marshall Mathers LP‘). A posse of of bouncers and record company personnel were gathered outside the penthouse suite, occasionally glimpsing Eminem padding around in a saggy grey tracksuit in the room next to Dre’s. Meanwhile, Mrs Dre – Nicole Threatt – was flexing her plastic around the boutiques of Sloane Street, having been disappointed not to find everyone in England in top hat and tails.

As hip-hop stars often do, like he’d rather have root canal surgery than submit to an interview. Dressed in a tracksuit and drinking a Hennesy and ice, he was an imposing man with a scarred face who you definitely wouldn’t f*ck with.

Having worked through the mayhem of NWA and Death Row Records, Dr Dre has seen  and done more bad stuff than most of us will ever encounter, which inevitably makes him intimidating.

Yet the flip side is his musical genius, which seems as vigorous today as the day he started. What other late-’80s hot young bucks are still doing stuff that’s not only relevant but setting the standards of modern record production?

Is it down to the drugs? Well, while Dre admitted that he occasionally like the “blaze” (smoke) in the studio, spliff didn’t seem to be a prime inspiration. Ecstasy? He like it now and again, had taken it with Eminem, but not the effect the morning after. And while that afternoon he’d added to his collection of 20,000 albums by digging around Soho for obscure soundtracks, this year Dre claimed that he no longer buys that many records.

Part of his secret is, of course, his perfectionism, he made Gwen Stefani cry in the studio because he demanded so many takes. He’s also got an amazing ear for other people’s talent, discovering Eminem and 50 Cent as well amassing a crack team of producers he can delegate to. This way Dre avoids burn-out while expanding his market share.

The Doctor’s lab is in the Record One complex in Sherman Oaks, LA, where he has a studio on permanent hire and his team wander in and out, trying out new ideas 24/7. He’s probably there now, working on the new Eve and Ice Cube albums, the soundtrack to Bad Boy II and his own ‘Detox‘, a concept album he says will be his last as an artist, and “the one I want to be remembered by”.

Dr DreOf course, 40 minutes didn’t really unlock Dr Dre’s amazing mind. He wasn’t in the mood for jokes.

Either, the question whether he’d ever been been mistaken for a real doctor brought forth the terse answer, “No”.

The emotional temperature dropped to freezing point when asked if we could talk to him about Death Row (“Depends what you ask,” he snarled, staring right into our eyes).

He also told an unsavory story about a T-shirt seller shitting into a bag, which went some way to explaining the more laddish and boorish side of the records he’s produced.

It was a thrill to meet him, but make no mistake – the essence of Dre is contained in those spring-loaded grooves, the best of which you’ll hear at Milton Keynes this weekend.

In person, he may be a middle-aged married man with a questionable sense of humor, but as a producer he’s the don, still Dre, a one-man world-class wrecking’ crew.

© NME 21 June 2003

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