Dr. Dre, Jimmy Iovine & Mouloud Achour
Online media Clique.tv is about to launch a TV channel, that will soon be available on the Canal offers. Clique tells the story of today’s world and gives a platform to those who rarely talk. This TV channel will mix music and talk shows. In a time where everything is moving faster and faster, we decided to slow down time and to give room to passion and reflection.
We might go against the grain ; this bet has partly been inspired to us by The Defiant Ones docu-series. For a million reasons, Dr. Dre is one of our biggest inspirations - without him, Clique might have never even existed. When we’ve had the opportunity to meet him and Jimmy Iovine with our friends from Les Inrockuptibles magazine (April 18th issue, with a hand-drawn cover by Charlotte Delarue), we’ve decided to have, hopefully, a conversation that will spark some vocations. Something that inspires, unites, grows up and builds : this is our definition of a Clique. Welcome to our clique. The adventure is just about to begin.
The show is called The Defiant Ones, and its four episodes are available on Netflix. It tells the story of Dr. Dre, arguably the best rap producer ever (Death Row Records, Snoop, Eminem, Kendrick Lamar…) and Jimmy Iovine, one of the great architects of rock’n’roll since the mid Seventies (John Lennon, Bruce Springsteen, U2). In the nineties, Iovine creates the Interscope label, where Dre will sign and produce albums such as The Chronic, Chronic 2001, Snoop Doggy Dogg’s Doggystyle or Eminem’s sophomore effort, the Slim Shady LP, in 1999.
A decade later, they create together the Beats by Dre brand, where they produce speakers and headphones engineered for the music lovers. The desire to overthrow an industry by creating your own playfield is probably what united Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine in the first place... (P.S.)
Hi! First of all, I have to thank you for something that you don’t know about. If I’m doing this job and if I’m here, it’s because of you guys. I quit school when I was 16, and the Hip-hop culture helped me to grow up ; it taught me to read and to learn by myself. I started to write, to document this culture, and now it’s been twenty years since I first spoke on the radio. There is a line from Dre, at the beginning of the Straight outta Compton LP, which became my motto. You’re saying, “You are now about…”
…“You are now about to witness the strength of street knowledge”. Yeah, that’s how I started the record, and I did say that on Straight Outta Compton… And we actually opened the Straight Outta Compton movie with that line... I’m glad it was understood and that some young people were able to transform their environment in a way that generates positivity. This is beyond everything we could have imagined.
The media was talking so bad about us, and so bad about you… They were talking about controversies and gangsta rap, and for us you were role models. And I was like: “we have to be present on the media, because they don’t know how to talk about us.”
Man, that’s beautiful.
Yeah that’s great, man.
That’s beautiful. It really is. You have no idea whenever you doin’ that shit, that somebody in France is thinking about that shit. Dre was just trying to get laid. (laughs)
It’s crazy to know that what we’re doing in the studio can touch people that way and so far away. It’s crazy.
It’s funny you mention that, because when I was going to work with Dre, the distributor called me and said: “You can’t pay them this much money, ‘cause no one in Europe listens to their music. It’s a local fad, that’s not big enough for Europe.”
Yeah. You’re exactly the guy we were talking about. We felt that what Dre was representing… Some kids had no model, he synthesized this with his sound.
Can you explain the meaning of “street knowledge” to me? What does it mean to you?
It’s just like, you know… A lot of people were giving us flak about the term “gangsta rap”, which I hate. We never called our music that. It just got labelled as that. The whole world was against us... It was just us reporting what was going on on the streets : the good, the bad, the teachings of the elders… That’s basically what our thing was, and that’s what we meant by “street knowledge”. If you’re not from there, you might only remember the clichés, but it will be understood by the people who need to get it.
How do you explain that the media didn’t understand you for such a long time, while the youth understood you immediately ?
I never really cared about what the media was saying about my music, especially if it was something negative. You know what I mean? I just go on and I do what I’m feelin’ in that moment as an artist. If I really paid attention to those things, it would hinder what I do. It would get in the way of what I do. So I just go on and focus on what I’m doing, and what I’m feelin on that moment, no matter what the fuck that feelin is. I just go with it. So these are the things that come out of it.
In France, we have a proverb : “When you show the moon to a fool, the fool is watching your finger”. And I think that when the both of you united, everybody watched the finger. And you were seeing further and further...
Yeah, well… Everything, everytime you change something: music, movies, television… They always say the same thing. “It’s not gonna work, it’s not like the other thing.” You just work your own lane. Dre’s just great at keeping to his own thing and not worrying about anybody else. I don’t live like that either. I don’t give a shit about what anybody thinks.
You have something in common. You can spend hours and hours in the studio, working on a mix. Now, people are listening to music on their phone and all kind of devices. Can you tell us, in this era ruled by algorithms, how important it is to have the best sound possible?
That’s why we built headphones… Me and Dr. Dre obviously knew that this was a problem. We built headphones so that people could hear music the way that we hear it.
That’s exactly it! It was one of the motivations for building headphones.
Yeah, Dre kept coming: “My kids listen to all this crap! What are we supposed to do?” And then when he mentioned to me the whole thing, I said: “Yeah, let’s make headphones.”
Can you explain to me how important it is to spend hours and hours on a mix? How do you work on that? Legend says that Dre can spend like three weeks on a single song.
Well, on a song, yes, sometimes it takes that long, but not on a mix. The mix is my favourite part, because I feel like I’m more of an engineer than a producer. So usually a mix, it takes me at the most two days. Producing a record can take quite a while, but once I have everything in place and I know what it’s supposed to sound like, and I believe the record is done, probably maximum two days on a mix.
We’re very different people. I did a mix once for six weeks, for that song called “Refugee” by Tom Petty. That was before there was automation. We had a sound in our head, we just couldn’t get it. The way it worked with analog and tape… Everybody had to turn their knobs at the same person, you got three people with their hands on the board. And every take is completely different. And again we may have gone a little lost, it took about six weeks… (laughs)
Waaay back ! I remember doing that with N.W.A. records, because there was no automation in that time. There were marks all over the board. But I was also good at cutting tape, so if we get to a spot and I was great up to then, I would just go from there and cut the tape. It taught me to be precise ; everything became much easier when we started using computers…
That’s your mentality, you’re my guy. Cutting precisely… I was just like: “how long is it gonna take until I get it?” I didn’t want to cut a tape, I wanted to get the vocal performers when they cut the track, I wanted to get everything that happened. So I would just keep going… I made the tape companies a lot of money. (laughs)
Together, could you have formed a group called VWA, Visionaries With Attitude?
(laughs) If somebody thinks that you got a vision or something like that, that’s on their side. You’re not sitting there sayin’ “I got a vision”, you know what I mean? Maybe that’s what God did or somethin’, but we’re just kinda like: “Ah, me? I’m just like working really hard, I’ve had a good idea, I’m workin on an idea, a very good idea and I work as hard as I can, as brutal as I can. I just feel like it takes more pain than anybody else and that just, sooner or later, something happens.” That’s it. I never think about it before or after again, personally.
That’s a difficult question for me to answer. I just listen, I listen with my gut. I don’t listen with my ears. It’s kind of hard to explain, I just go for this feeling when I know it’s done. It’s just a feeling I get in my... somewhere near the solar plexus. My ears are just the portals to get there. It’s very physical.
As you mention guts, I’d like to talk about the way you sign new artists. When the Bomb Squad was all over the place, you brought instruments to create the G-Funk, by mixing P-Funk instruments with heavy beats…
Yeah, but I was also inspired by Hank Shocklee. I used to listen to Public Enemy everyday on the way to the studio. I’d listen to that during the making of NWA records, “Rebel Without a Pause” and the whole Yo! Bum Rush the Show were a big influence on me. So I’d love the Bomb Squad, so I just took a little bit of that, of P-Funk, and then just turn it into my own. That’s pretty much how the beginning of what you would call “my sound” came about…
Yeah, but you’ve never followed any trend. When you signed Eminem, you signed a lyricist from the alternative scene, while everyone was into the gangsta sound. Then you signed Kendrick, and now Anderson .Paak... You’re never in the trend.
No, no, no. It’s about creating. I don’t look for trends. I look for great shit. Anything that has the potential to be great. Then it becomes fun. And I need to be touched by the voice. All the artists that you mentioned, their voice hits you the second you hear it…
Jimmy, do you listen to every artist that Dre signs?
No. Dre does his own shit. Every now and then, when he’s done or on his way through, he calls me and says “what do you think it is?”, like on the plane the other night, and then I give him my opinion, but it’s his show and we’re just friends. We’ve been together a long time, you know…
But it’s a very important opinion, you know! (laughs)
It’s cool… We’ve been doin’ this for a while and we know each other, we trust each other. You get to get a little bit of a rhythm, and I’m kind of looking for things that other people aren’t looking for in his work. You build trust over time and all I give is opinion. If he likes it he likes it, if he doesn’t he doesn’t...
When I saw The Defiant Ones, I thought that the real struggle was not about becoming a huge star or having a crazy attitude. I thought it was about finding inner peace and building a family. I feel like this is one of the main struggles for the both of you.
I can’t speak for Dre, but I never have any peace until... I’m trying now. Even when I’m smiling and laughing with friends, the clock is... the brain is doing that. And as long as it’s doing that, I’m not fully at peace or happy. So right now, I’m trying to pull back a little, and see if I can combine some work… I met an incredible woman, and that’s my wife, and I’m trying to make my life mean more… Dre is younger than me and I just want to, as a great friend would say, I just want to get me some peace. And Christ, you know that ain’t easy.
I feel like when I’m creating, there has to be a little bit of drama around. And right now, it was difficult to get motivated because I have no drama in my life… I guess I am at peace.
Knock some wood.
Yeah yeah yeah. Man, I don’t know if I can get any more peaceful.
Then you learn how to create like that ! You know the whole thing, the Holy Grail of life, is peace with ambition. That’s the Holy Grail, if you can get that.
Yeah, I never had that. Right now, I’m a lot at peace.
How can you manage a family life with your job? How hard was it to manage both?
In the old days really…
It’s easy now. It’s very easy now, but you know…
When you’re building one of those things, man, it’s just brutal. You’re trying, you know what I mean? You think you’re doing it, but you’re doing the best you can.
Yeah. It’s really tough having to plan days to spend with your family. That’s pretty much how it was years ago. Trying to balance sixteen hours a day in the studio and… It’s fucking crazy. But now, it’s the other way around. I plan my work.
You said you find motivation in drama, but you both found motivation in failures too. We saw it in The Defiant Ones. What was the most instructive failure in your life?
Be on video with Tyrese. Hahaha ! (Everyone laughs loudly)
And my greatest failure was not being there when he was with Tyrese! (Some years ago, Tyrese posted a video on the social networks announcing the sale of the Beats by Dre company to Apple, before the official announcement was made. This video could have jeopardized the deal, which was the biggest of Dre and Iovine’s lives…)
I learnt very young by my mistakes. When I got my first production job. I was starting to think: “Oh my God, I’m going to make a lot of money and I will do all this…” And it really wasn’t my style of music. They were good, but not my style of thing and I headed to the money… And then I went “Wow man, you got to head towards what you feel and what’s great.” And then I made sure I did that after that. They were great but they weren’t my thing.
Dre, can we talk about the Aftermath episode, when you started the label? You have this song, “Been There, Done That”. What was the last time you said this sentence to yourself ?
I use this sentence all the time… That point of my life, musically, it was just off balance. I was off track then and trying to find it. It was a period of doubt… It happens with artists. Everything isn’t going to be out of the park… But I was trying to find it and fortunately Eminem came along.
Is it true that he recorded three songs in one day, the first time you met ?
Yes, that’s a true story. Two of them went on the album. One of them was his first single.
And how did you meet Kendrick?
I met Kendrick… Funny enough. I was working with Eminem. I was in Detroit. And Eminem’s manager, Paul Rosenberg, said “you should just check out this kid from Compton.” At the beginning, it was his music that turned me on, but what turned me on the most was his interview, and the way he spoke about music and the passion he had about music. That turned me on more than anything, so I wanted to call him and meet him. We got on the phone and… boom, history!
When you created the Beats brand and platform, you gave the power to people who love the sound and the music. Now it’s about streaming, algorithms and playlists that tell you what you can love and choose. You decided to go the opposite way, through curation and your personal tastes – I’m thinking about your radio show. What is a calculated move ?
Yeah. It was very calculated but it came from a natural feeling. We’re all touched by music. We wanted to share it naturally.
That’s what Apple Music is. Apple Music is a combination, and we try to leave the human element combine with the algorithm, and it’s a lot of work. You know why? Cause you have to have communication between the arts, the artists, and technology, the engineers. And they don’t always understand each other. That’s a big thing I’m doing : to help them understand. It’s why Dre and I built that school (the USC Jimmy Iovine and Andre Young Academy for Arts, Technology and the Business of Innovation). The school is about liberal arts and technology communicating with each other. (http://iovine-young.usc.edu/)
What can we learn in that school?
A combination of liberal arts and technology, how to make people work together. So if you go to the school and I go to the school : I lean towards science, technology and design, but you lean towards the liberal arts, whether it’s painting, music or whatever... We work together on a project. So I understand why you do what you do, and you understand why I do what I do. And that makes for going forward when people want to make algorithms into playlists. Both sides are speaking to each other, rather than: “just take my word for it, this kind of song belongs here”. You know, it’s just too frustrating. That’s why what you’re seeing now is all utilities in music services. They’re all basic utilities. Great things will come out of this school.
Right now, if you were twenty years old, what would you do?
I would do the same thing. I love making music. Anything that I can do to get my creative juices out. I just love being creative. I love taking nothing and then turning it into something. I don’t know what that would be if I was twenty right now, but it would definitely be something creative. There’s so much to do with technology, if you’re smart and passionate…
Well, I’d get more dates. (laughs) And I would work somewhere between technology and liberal arts. That’s what I’m interested in most. Where they cross.
What is the future of that? Right now, streaming has revolutionised the music industry… Do you think that in the other industries, like movies or books, we will be living the same revolution? How will we consume culture?
Well, there’s two things. One: Netflix has a culture. HBO has a culture. Amazon film/television has a culture. Hulu, Disney have a culture. But Spotify, Amazon and Apple music do not have cultures. They’re utilities. They have got to become platforms and cultures, that move. When you look for a connection in music, you find it in these services because they’re unique. But these services cannot survive just as utilities. So I think that music has a long way to go. We’re at the beginning of a huge revolution.
What song do you have in common ? Which track can unite you?
My most fondest stuff that I never knew about, that Dre listens to on his samples and stuff like that, is… like all of a sudden, I found myself last week swimming to George Clinton.
I didn’t know that. (laughs)
Yeah, it’s true. I found myself doing that. I really started to understand it more, like when I was a kid. I always loved black music when I was a kid but I really got into it after I met Dre, and really started to understand the underpinnings of it. So I would say that the biggest influence towards my appreciation of the different kinds of black music, I had to work with Dre to understand it a bit more. Like with rock music, when I worked with John Lennon and Bruce Springsteen, they really taught me something about rock music that I didn’t know. I went deeper and understood more about it.
I also discovered George Clinton and Parliament thanks to Dre… Right now, Hip-hop is the new pop. I’ll quote Biggie: did you ever think that this culture would take it this far?
I knew that Hip-hop was eventually going to become big. I had no idea it was going to become as big as it is, but you know… it had to, because of the energy and the passion it has put into it. And maybe it has the potential to become bigger. If people like you are here today, there must be many others…
I know you will think this is a stupid question but it’s not. What is your definition of being an adult?
Well, he’s younger than me.
I don’t think I am one yet. I’m not sure if I want to be one… I’m having fun.
You know, I’m 65, it’s a different story from Dre. When you’re 50, you’re still feeding of that fire. And when you turn 60, you got to say: “OK, what else is going on in my life?” It’s a great thing, it’s not a bad thing. And I’m just looking at all parts of my life right now and I’m just kind of saying “OK what does this mean, what does that mean?”… Because I went into more people than Dre and I will find myself having to mentor a lot of young people. And that usually hits the adult switch.
Who were your mentors?
You’re looking at him .(laughs) Jimmy Iovine.
A boy in the hood.
When I was growing up, I got very lucky. I had no talent, no information, I came from a place where I didn’t learn anything culturally. Culturally, I was… really unfit. And then I walked into Bruce Springsteen, John Lennon and Patti Smith, and those five years with them… I got my college education. And I learnt so much from them, about what was cool, and what was not cool. I knew the things that I liked, but I didn’t understand it. I’m talking about passion, curiosity, experience… And making six hours with those people during five years, I started thinking like that. And I’ve left there and even today, I realize that those roots are in there. I knew who those people are. They’re with me every day.
I have a question. Right now, between the two of you, who’s “the man with a masterplan” ?
Look at Beats. I had an idea, I wanted Dre to do something. I wanted to do something with an artist. Dre said a word to me, it triggered another word, and another word… And then we went and did it. Now we’re always like, you know… “What is Dre doing? What am I doing? How does it fit together, how does it work? Sometimes he does stuff on his own, sometimes we do stuff…” Because since we had Beats, we really became friends and partners. We were always friends and now we are really partners. We don’t know what’s gonna happen. And if you know, that’s not gonna happen!
You really don’t know. I really didn’t. I walked down the beach that day. I had no idea I was going to be in a headphone company. No idea. The furthest thing on my mind. So you had to let yourself open for that.
Jimmy, can I ask you a favor? Can you ask the guy sitting next to you to make a new record?
That’s really interesting. Dre, you heard that French guy ?
(laughs) That was good.
I’ll tell you… I don’t have my old job anymore. I want him to make a record if he really feels it, if he really wants to make a record. But you don’t have to put out every record the way it is. You can put records out differently now, and you know, you have to get over what was the record. He’s doing a TV show right now that I consider to be his next record. It’s just a different expression. He plays himself in it, and… it’s a record! It may not be what you think a record is…
Yeah, he’s gotta be open... Eminem! I annoyed you with the fuck Eminem was talking about. That kid gave me his tape. I said: “You know what? This kid sounds like a nutcase! I’d bet you Dre would like this kid.” It’s like: play it for Dre, he loves it and… boom. You think I had planned all that? I couldn’t plan that out.
I love you guys. You’re the best duet… ever. You’re like the Muppet Show. (laughs)
You should… We really are like that.
This is us all the time, man.
Are you working on some tracks?
I am. I’m working on some music, I don’t know… I’m not sure of what it’s going to turn out to be, I’m not sure if it’s going to come out, but I’m recording.
Do you think that the word “album” is still meaning something, in this time of playlists…
I hate the fact that the art of the album is disappearing. It sucks.
But yet, yet… He’s somebody that, with this TV show that he’s doing, he’s embracing it… without even knowing it. You know… Fuck the album! You know what I mean? Fuck all of it! You don’t know what the new project is going to be. Maybe not an album, maybe it’s a TV show, maybe it’s a video, maybe it’s visual, maybe it’s five songs connected to… I don’t know ! I think people like Dre just do something, and then it’s for people like me to say : “that’s what it is !”. I see what you’re doing. I think his next album… is this television show! And no one knows what the fuck I’m talking about. I keep saying it, but watch ‘til he makes it, there will be twelve people making the same fucking show.
All I can say is The Defiant Ones series has been as inspiring to me as The Chronic was when I was younger. I wanted to end this interview with this point : when I watched your show last summer, I was like: “We’ve created our own media in France, it’s doing good on the Internet, but anyone can do it…” All the specialists are saying that the youth doesn’t watch TV anymore. So we decided to prove them wrong, and in the next few weeks we will launch our own TV channel in France.
We made that move after seeing what you did. You inspired us.
That’s great. I approve that. By the way, that’s what The Defiant Ones is about. It’s about pivoting. Do you know what the word “pivot” means? Like: “We’re going in this direction… No we’re not : we’re going that direction.” That’s career. When you have something good, that’s how you have to think. Sometimes you got to pivot in a relationship. There is an old expression that my father used to say: “When the cat is bigger than the shit… You keep the cat. If the shit is bigger than the cat, get rid of the cat.” That goes for everything: your job, your relationships, your friendships. Cat always has to be bigger than the shit. If you work like that, you’ll be fine, I promise.
Thank you very much. (laughs)
Cats always have to be bigger than the shit.
This show is called Clique. What is your definition of a clique?
A click ? Like tick-tock tick-tock…
For me, it’s a metronome.
Me too… Or you mean like a clique of people? To me, it’s just people who share some interests. Whether that’s love, peace, politics, street knowledge… Whatever your thing is, that’s your clique if you have something in common. I look for people that have something in common with me.
My definition of a click, I would have to say, is a metronome. And I never started one song without it.
Thank you. And good luck for your TV channel.