You were up against DJ Premier in the finals.
Preemo is definitely one of my favorites. I got a chance to chill with him and Guru out here one time. We sat and talked for like an hour and they were cool as hell. I’m a fan.
Do you think the VIBE tournament helped to elevate the stature of the producer?
The producer definitely needs to get a lot more credit than we do. No producer—no artist. Not many artists can go in the studio and make their own records. But a lot of producers can.
In the photos for this cover you have music notes in the syringes. Is there a science to hip-hop?
That’s a good question. You know what? I don’t know. Anybody that says that they know is crazy. You just come in and do what you feel. The way hip-hop is going and the way it sounds can change tomorrow. I think everybody has their own method and approach so there is no direct science for it. You can do a hip-hop record with no rapping. Hip-hop is so dope because it’s the only music that you can mix with other forms of music. You can mix rock, hip-hop, jazz—it’s spread out.
So there is no Dr. Dre formula?
No. There is no direct formula because I like collaborating and whoever I’m collaborating with, I’m absorbing their energy and they’re absorbing mine and that’s how the record is going to sound. To me there is no Dre sound.
But if you listen to 50 Cent’s “In da Club” and Mary J. Blige’s “Family Affair,” there are similarities.
Okay, but that’s not what I’m thinking when I go in to make it. I don’t go in saying it has to sound like “this.” Each record has its own personality. I think, “Is this record wearing Timberlands or is it wearing earrings?” If it comes out sounding similar to the last record, then so be it.
When did you first put your hands on a pair of turntables?
Damn, that’s a good one. Probably when I was 14 years old. I heard “[The Adventures of] Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel,” and that made me want to DJ. It made me want to know what hip-hop was. That was the song that did it. I immediately went home and called some friends and we were taking apart one of my friend’s mother’s stereo sets. They called them component systems back then. We figured out how to make a mixer from the balance button and got it cracking—started making tapes. Not too long after that, my mom got me a Numark mixer for Christmas and I was off and running from there. I still had the raggedy turntables, but it made it a lot easier.
What happened with those piano lessons with Burt Bacharach?
I’m still going. I have a different piano teacher now and I’m learning a lot about theory and hopefully I can get my Quincy Jones on later, score some movies.
What’s your relationship like with Quincy Jones?
He’s one of my mentors and people I’ve looked up to in this business. I hung out with Quincy on his 70th birthday.
Has he bestowed any musical gems on you?
You know what? All we’ve ever talked about is life and personal shit. We’ve never talked technical or about music.
I’m just talking about whatever Quincy wants to talk about. The door is open for me to go to his house and talk to him anytime I want. He gave me that invitation. I just want to absorb it, because everything he talks about is useful to me. It doesn’t matter when I get it, as long as I get it. You know, I’m sitting there and I want to ask him about Thriller and Body Heat, but I’ll get to that. I’m actually supposed to be going to his house next week.
You mentioned a hip-hop album without rapping. Will we ever hear a Dr. Dre instrumental album?
Oh yeah, that’s in the works. An instrumental album is something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time. I have the ideas for it. I want to call it The Planets. I don’t even know if I should be saying this, but fuck it. [Laughs.] It’s just my interpretation of what each planet sounds like. I’m gonna go off on that. Just all instrumental. I’ve been studying the planets and learning the personalities of each planet. I’ve been doing this for about two years now just in my spare time so to speak. I wanna do it in surround sound. It’ll have to be in surround sound for Saturn to work.
Because Saturn has the rings and you’ll have to hear the sound going around you the entire time the instrumental is playing. You make Jupiter big. Earth of course has to [sound] wet. You really get into the actual personality of each planet and you go with that.
That’s an exciting concept. That’s why leaked music kind of cheats you. Because it’s not in the package it was meant to be in.
Without a concept it’s just another song . . .
Because it’s out of sequence.
That’s big! Absolutely. That can make or break a record, the way you sequence it. That is 100 percent a job in itself and that happens throughout the entire process of recording an album with me. I might take a CD home and listen to a few songs back to back and say, “Okay, those two songs have to play together on a record.” Then you wait for that to happen again and then you have a partial sequence. That’s an art in itself.