ANDRE YOUNG IS STILL BUZZING
After almost a decade of false starts, super-producer Dr. Dre is finally in the lab bringing Detox to life.
But does the Good Doctor have the prescription hip-hop has been waiting for?
Words: Jerry L. Barrow II Photos: Scott Council
JIMMY IOVINE’S GOT his game face on. The Interscope Records co-founder has had a long and prosperous relationship with Andre Young, better known as Dr. Dre, hip hop’s foremost sonic architect. From Death Row to the Aftermath, Shady and G Unit imprints, Jimmy and Dre have left an indelible mark on the last two decades of popular music, moving more than 50 million albums together. But time is running short, and it’s clear in Iovine’s expression. He has been waiting for more than a decade for Dr. Dre to turn in his near-mythical album Detox—the follow-up to Dr. Dre 2001, which dropped in late 1999.
Andre Young—a founding member of N.W.A and the sonic mastermind who introduced the world to Snoop Doggy Dogg, Eminem, 50 Cent and The Game—has never done things the usual way. Between rumors, missed release dates and side projects (Beats By Dr. Dre headphones are reportedly up to a million units sold, with estimated revenues of $50 million in the fourth quarter of 2009 alone), his fans have had their loyalty tested time and again. “You can’t rush Dre,” says fellow N.W.A alum Ice Cube. “He’s changed music twice already.” But that is small consolation for folks who haven’t had a new Dr. Dre album since President Clinton was in office.
Relief may finally be on the way. Several days after being honored at the 2010 ASCAP Rhythm & Soul Music Awards by his artist and friend Eminem, a smile is etched across Dr. Dre’s chiseled 45-year-old face. On an unseasonably cold June day in Santa Monica, he’s dressed in a long-sleeved white T-shirt and jeans, and his 215 pounds of muscle have him looking more like a superhero than a record producer. A mini-vacation with his wife of 14 years, Nicole, and the news that Eminem’s Recovery has debuted with more than 700,000 copies sold have the Aftermath CEO “feeling better than most days.”
It’s quiet in the sanctuary of his studio/nightclub across the street from the Interscope offices. This is where Dre tests out new music during private parties for friends. But today it’s all business.
An unfinished leak of the Jay-Z collab “Under Pressure” has lived up to its namesake, and the man who once rhymed “fuck rap, you can have it back” knows that it’s time to make his impression felt again. Sit back, relax and strap on your seatbelt.
VIBE: You were dismantling component systems as a kid. What’s it like having your own brand of headphones?
Dr. Dre: It felt so organic. It’s not something I just put my name on. We designed this thing from the ground up. It took like two years to put this together. We were tweaking it the entire time ‘til we got the sound exactly the way we want it. I got to do a side-by-side comparison between the Beats and Bose . . . I feel like hands down we got ’em beat as far as style and fashion goes and as far as the sound. We got ‘em beat because guys that actually make music get the sound on these. Nobody’s gonna be able to compete with us as far as headphones.
Diddy has Diddybeats and Lady Gaga has Heartbeats—both of which you helped set up—then Jay-Z’s Roc Nation has a headphone deal with Skull Candy, which also did a line with Snoop. How do you feel about the competition?
It’ a compliment on the one hand but on the other hand it’s like “Yo, this is my thing here. What’s going on?” [Laughs.] It’s all good. I’m not trying to knock anybody’s hustle. But like I said, nobody is going to be able to beat us at this game.
You also have a laptop complement to the headphones, correct?
The HP Envy. We’re trying to improve the sound in computers and laptops. These guys aren’t thinking about sound when they build these computers and the majority of people are listening to music on computers. So you might as well hear it the right way.
Why headphones as opposed to, say, a beat-making program?
That’s something I want to get into and the headphones were a good start. I want to get into putting out my own drum sounds and maybe a beat machine. We’re talking about iPod docks, car stereos and an entire line. We’re also doing a headphone with LeBron James called PowerBeats. They’re earbuds but they wrap around the ear. Each bud has two drivers so it sounds a little louder. You can hear the 808 in these. I’ve been wearing the prototype every day to work out.
So will Detox be streamed wirelessly into the Beats headphones?
In a perfect word, yes. Me and Jimmy talk about this all the time. It was supposed to be my album promoting the headphones, but it’s gonna be the other way around now. It’s gonna be a two-for-one thing. As soon as we finish this interview I’m going into the studio and get it on. I know it’s taking a long time but it’s not 100 percent work on my album that I’m doing every day. That’s why it’s taking so long. It’s been almost ten years since my last album [It’s actually been more than 10 years. —Ed.] but I haven’t been sitting on my hands. Keeping it real with you, I just started really getting involved in it and really feeling it this year. Around January or February. Before now I was kind of doing it more out of obligation, but now I really feel it inside and it’s pouring out right now. Music comes out much better when you’re in that frame of mind.