How does DRE Films find time to do an interview? It’s a random question that the man in charge of heading Maybach Music Group’s film and marketing division is struggling to answer. After all, when you are the visual brains behind arguably the most omnipresent rapper on the scene today, Rick Ross, you more than have your hands full. From directing videos (among the many clips Ross’ “Rich Forever” and “Yella Diamonds,” Meek Mill’s “Amen” and Wale’s “Ambition”) to overseeing MMG’s viral and blogging campaigns, DRE has built a praise-worthy reputation within the music business.
Now with the news that Rozay’s fifth album God Forgives, I Don’t is set to debut no. 1 with first week SoundScan sales of 220,000, DRE won’t be getting any sleep anytime soon. VIBE caught up with the visual talent to discuss his love for video direction, Rick Ross’ evolution as MMG’s boss, Gunplay’s swastika tattoo, why Meek Mill’s stardom was a surprise, and much more.—Keith Murphy
On other videos I did a lot of videos for Ross’ Rich Forever. ‘So Sophisticated’ ‘High Definition,’ ‘Yella Diamonds’, ‘Swear To God,’ Wale’s ‘Ambition’…Meek’s ‘House Party’ and ‘Amen’
Can you talk about the first time you met Rick Ross? What is your earliest memory of him?
The first time I met Ross was at a music video shoot that I was doing for Masspike Miles called “Street Judge.” This was in 2010 and I was surprised because Ross showed up out of nowhere. I didn’t know he was going to make a cameo. I’m just out in the middle of Carol City [in Miami] shooting and I see the Phantom pull up and I’m like, ‘What the hell is going on?’ [laughs]
That had to be nuts, right?
It was shocking. Just for me to know that from where I started in the game one of the biggest artists in the rap industry is coming to my set. And when Ross got there he was very cool and did what I asked him to do. And then he started shooting pointers at me like, “You have to put out a behind-the-scenes first, you have to push it like this…” Once he saw the video when it came out Ross approached me and told me he really loved it. He loved the concept and a lot of shots and told me he was going to make me rich [laughs]. That’s where it all started.
When did you know that your life would never be the same after you joined MMG and Maybach Films?
When I got a phone call from Ross and his manager Gucci Pucci asking me if I had a passport and if I was ready to go to Canada and start shooting for them. My first gig with Ross was the “BMF” video. We started shooting blogs and other music videos. That’s when it really started for me.
When did you know that Rick Ross had become a superstar?
When “BMF” came out. Everybody kinda knew he was the next star. And me being from Miami there are not a lot of acts from Miami on his level. So obviously, my goal as a director was to want to work with him. I started working with artists on his label and eventually I got his attention.
What kind of label boss is Ross? How has he evolved as a label head?
When I started with him, Meek [Mill] and Wale were not even on the label. There was some talk about it. But once everybody started coming on board I just saw Ross put on his boss hat and make sure all the necessary moves got executed. He was the one making sure all MMG artists had the right beats and the right features; that everybody was working is working and promoting their project. It’s incredible how Ross manages to come out with such a classic piece of work like God Forgives, I Don’t and at the same time he’s helping everyone else put out their projects like Wale’s Ambition and Meek Mill’s Dreams & Nightmares. It’s been great to watch.
Tell the truth…Ross has a clone, right?
[Laughs] It’s just crazy. Everything Ross touches turns to gold.
Does Ross have a secret hobby that we don’t know about? Is he a sick gardener; is he a monster at Monopoly?
Ross is unbeatable at Call of Duty! He is serious about that game. He whips everybody…I can’t even play against him anymore [laughs]. He is so disrespectful when he plays. He doesn’t care.
What was it about the art of video direction that inspired you to make it a career?
I was doing graphic design before this and my cousin Jon J, who is actually doing videos with me now and does a lot of stuff for Wale and Meek, he was an aspiring rapper. I had a camera one day and I think I had just started working with an iMac in 2009. It had iMovie and I told Jon, ‘Hey, I can shoot something. I can put something together if I can get through the tutorial.’ And we went out to the streets and we started shooting some scenes, and I spent two days editing this video. And it was the worst video I had ever did [laughs].
But I bet you thought it was the greatest thing ever put to film at that point, right?
Right! We thought it was the shit! I really enjoyed the time I spent outside driving around looking for shooting locations. I enjoyed the editing process. I got hooked after that. I started investing in myself and into cameras and its been on ever since.
Have you sat down recently to watch that video?
Yeah, I have. But it’s hard to find. Whenever I do see it I’m like, ‘Man…’
Some of your recent videos like Meek Mill’s ‘Amen’ and Ross’ ‘Yella Diamonds’ have been very controversial. Did you realize you were going to get push back from those clips?
Around that time we knew “Amen” was controversial. But I don’t think the video was controversial. I felt like the video was fun. There was no religious imagery in that video. We were just thanking God for the good times. And Meek was just thanking God for his success. He’s on tour with Drake and he’s flying in private jets. It’s a dream come true and a blessing. That’s really Meek’s lifestyle and there’s nothing fake about it. I think all the controversy came from that pastor trying to make a name for himself.
Before we get into ‘Yella Diamonds,’ are you shocked at how big Meek Mill has become within the hip-hop landscape?
When I first met Meek, I didn’t know he would become what he is today. I didn’t know of him when I first met him. That’s when he was just signing with Ross. And Ross told me during a video for DJ Khaled’s “In My Hood” to shoot “Ima Boss.” So I ended up shooting the viral version for it, but I didn’t know it was going to become that big. For me to be attached to that was crazy.
What was your reaction when the video for “Yella Diamonds” was banned from television?
I come from a background where I’m just hungry and willing to experiment. I just felt like for that record I had to bring Ross’ lyrics to life. And those lyrics are pretty raw. I wanted to get in there and make some people act. That’s the lane I’m going for. I’m preparing myself to direct a feature film.
What are some of your upcoming videos fans should be looking out for?
We have “911” off of Ross’ new album. We are writing a treatment right now for “Ice Cold” featuring Omarion. And I have a big surprise dropping this week.
Is it a clip for “3 Kings”?
[Laughs]…I’m not saying.
Hip-Hop has always been about characters. And one character that everyone seems to be talking about is Gunplay, who recently talked about his inspiration behind his swastika tattoo. Did you do a spit-take when dude was interviewed about his controversial ink?
All I can say is Gunplay is a unique individual. He’s very talented. The thing about Gunplay is people don’t see that kind of wild character in hip-hop today. People are attracted to that. He has that crazy, I-don’t-give-a-fuck energy.
So no comments on the swastika? You are good.
[Laughs] I’m not going to touch that one. I just feel like Gunplay is an underdog story. People saw him come from the bottom. All of a sudden people see him getting all this attention.
What’s the best part about being a part of the MMG team?
I’m just blessed to be in this game. I feel like I’ve helped to create a powerful movement. I’ve helped with the visuals and made sure we are consistent with the blogs and virals because it’s all about the fans. I’m proud of that. For me, it’s not just about being a director. You have to make sure the visuals are promoted in the correct way. I go extra hard on the promotions and marketing. I’m tweeting all day. I don’t want to put that in somebody else’s hands because it’s my project. I’m just doing what I love.