PHOTOGRAPH FOR TIME BY SHONNA VALESKA  




In the Doctor's House
A visit to Dr. Dre's recording studio reveals that he eats, drinks and sleeps rap—and rarely rests

"Ah neee owder ellows!"

"Ow-der! Ow-der!"

Those are Dr. Dre's shouted instructions, heard through a storm of bass and beats so deafening that a full-size couch is actually lurching off the ground, like a great green whale preparing to breach. Realizing that he can't be heard, Dre touches a button on the mixing board and the music stops. "I need louder cellos," he says in a normal voice to the recording-studio technician. Then quietly to himself, "Cellos make everything sound evil."

Dr. Dre is not an instrumentalist. "I bought a trumpet a couple of years ago, and everybody started hiding from me," he says with a cackle. Yet Dre, ne Andre Young, 36, has been producing and recording music for 20 years. He started as a DJ with the disco-inspired World Class Wrecking Cru, and went on to form N.W.A., help create gangsta rap, have a multiplatinum solo career, discover Snoop Dogg and Eminem, win the 2001 Grammy for Producer of the Year and infuse rap with a permanent musicality that buoyed it across the mainstream.

Dre is also a global phenomenon. The two most recent albums he has produced, his own Chronic 2001 and Eminem's The Marshall Mathers LP, have sold 25 million copies worldwide. He's a multiplatinum seller in territories—Japan, New Zealand, Australia and Eastern Europe—that were distant hip-hop outposts a few years ago. Dre's distributor, Interscope Records, receives 4,000 requests a year from labels in such places as India, Turkey, Southeast Asia and Israel that want to add Dre tracks to international hip-hop compilations. Beyond his mere reach, Dre has also brought depth. Pepe Mogt, a composer who founded Tijuana's hip Nortec Collective of DJs, says, "What he did with his music was very influential for us because he created music that described the place of his origin [Compton, Calif.], which is something we try to do. Also, his sound is just incredible."

Currently, Dre is holed up in a Los Angeles recording studio putting the finishing touches on the sound track to the film The Wash, in which he co-stars with Snoop Dogg. "First off," he says, hands folded in front of him as he waits for a track to be re-cued, "I want to be known as the producer's producer. The cellos are real. I don't use samples." He says this with a touch of derision, as if sampling is a vulgarity in the producer's palette. "I may hear something I like on an old record that may inspire me, but I'd rather use musicians to re-create the sound or elaborate on it. I can control it better." Control is Dre's thing. Every Dre track begins the same way, with Dre behind a drum machine in a room full of trusted musicians. (They carry beepers. When he wants to work, they work.) He'll program a beat, then ask the musicians to play along; when Dre hears something he likes, he isolates the player and tells him how to refine the sound. "My greatest talent," Dre says, "is knowing exactly what I want to hear."

Truck Volume, a track for The Wash, began with a Dre beat and an eerie keyboard riff played on an old Vox V-305 organ. ("I was watching vh1—The Doors: Behind the Music," he says, by way of explanation.) Dre then added layers of strings. Everyone from Eminem to Madonna has been known to beg Dre for tracks, but the Doctor decides who gets his music based entirely on feel. Truck Volume, with its exaggerated haunted-house vibe, seemed like a good fit for the exuberantly hoarse rapper Busta Rhymes. "Busta just sounds crazy to me," Dre says.

Rhymes recorded his vocals a few days ago. Now Dre is icing the cake, playing the track from beginning to end dozens of times, nodding his head to the rhythm and making tiny adjustments as he goes. "More reverb here," he says. The technician tweaks the reverb on a two-second patch of Rhymes' voice. The track plays again. "Now it sounds like he's in the Grand Canyon." When the level is adjusted to his satisfaction, Dre calls Rhymes in New York. "I don't think we should add any more to it. Nah. All the breakdowns and all the instruments sound full enough. I'll call you if there are any changes." Dre hangs up, listens to the song one more time and tells the technician, "Put that on a CD real quick. Let me listen to it in my truck."

Dre works in spurts. This week he's had three studio sessions of 19 hours or more. Last week he did a marathon 56-hour session. If he didn't go to the parking lot for the occasional car-stereo listening test, he'd have no idea whether it was night or day. In his truck, he declares Truck Volume ready to go. "This s___ should come with some Tylenol."

To help break the monotony of studio sessions, Dre has a floating band of merry men on hand—security guards, musicians, friends—all eager to crack up the Doctor. While he takes a break and eats dinner, the room fills with half a dozen folks who smoke pot, drink Hennessy Cognac, make fun of one another and generally behave like nightmare houseguests. Dre clearly loves the distraction, though he doesn't personally indulge in anything beyond a toothpick. When he folds up his plastic clamshell of chicken and says, "Back to work," the room clears.

Hard on the Boulevard, a track on which Dre raps with Snoop Dogg, is the first single from The Wash. The video is supposed to shoot in two days. The track isn't finished yet. Dre is also working on a song for No Doubt, due next week, and on tracks for his next solo album, Detox, which he'd like to release in 2002. He seems unconcerned.

Dre has asked a male singer named Cocaine to come in and rework some of his vocals on the Boulevard chorus. Dre doesn't feel that the song is properly layered yet. "One of the things I like most about producing is recording vocals," he says. "I like instructing people, but I'm also trying to bring out a good performance, so I work with them—encourage them." When Cocaine arrives, Dre plays the track. Even though Cocaine is a relative unknown ("He must not want to get his stuff on anybody's station, naming himself Cocaine," says Dre) and Dre is the top producer in the game, he is enthusiastic, even sweet, in explaining what he's looking for. When it appears Cocaine is not getting it, Dre sings the part, revealing perfect pitch and a surprisingly nice voice. Cocaine listens to him, nods his head and starts warming up his pipes.

It's getting into the wee hours, but Dre seems to be gathering strength. He bounces into a side room for a quick meeting with a writer from The Sopranos interested in doing a show about the record industry with Dre as star and producer. When Cocaine says he's ready, Dre drops into his Aeron chair and glides across the studio's floor to the mixing board. "All right, everybody," he says with a smile, "let's make some music."


QUICK LINKS: | Introduction | Latin America | North America | Europe | Asia | Africa |
Backstage Pass | From the Editor | Table of Contents


Copyright © 2001 Time Inc. All rights reserved.
Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.
FAQ | Site Map | Privacy Policy | Terms of Use