Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Dr. Dre (Chronic Symphonies Dressed in a Full Metal Jacket)

by Barry Michael Cooper

"It's a difference between making beats and producing. I go in and I produce."

Andre "Dr. Dre" Young,
November 1998, Philadelphia, Pa.

From Kabul to Compton, the bloody and tattered garment of war is threaded with the needle of a full metal jacket. No matter what set you claim--Blood, Crip, Taliban, or Al Qaeda--bullets tailor the design of victory and defeat.
For almost three decades, Andre "Dr. Dre" Young has scored the Wagnerian operetta known as The Battle of South Central. From NWA, to Snoop, to Death Row, to Hip Hop's Great White Hope--Eminem--a Dr. Dre production was body-rocking in it's sound, thought-provoking in its perception, and cinematic in its vision. Unlike New York Hip Hop--which was driven by the claustrophobic rhythms of subways and etched in the shadows of skyscrapers that seemed to choke out the sunlight--Dre's California G-Funk was alfresco; a dark and breezy ticket to ride, even if it depicted a drive-by victim taking their last breath.

If Sean "Diddy" Combs is the Francis Ford Coppola of Hip Hop, then Dr. Dre is Hip Hop's Stanley Kubrick. Dre's productions are "Kubrickian" in the way he uses sound, the same way Kubrick uses space to frame drama and define character. It's what we don't see in Lolita and A Clockwork Orange that plays in the viewer's mind long after the film has ended. Dr. Dre's sonic transposition of Kubrick's spacial concepts are manifested as polyrhythmic landscapes; interlocking and aurally gorgeous fractions that swallows each listener whole. Like the spartan, pulsating bass and whiny Moog pitch wheel of Deep Cover (and even Nothin' But A G-Thing) that reveals the melodically adroit flow of the newcomer known as Snoop Dogg. Or the cartoonish but calculated guitar loop that translates the emotional pain of Marshall "Eminem" Mathers 1999 debut--The Slim Shady LP--into a lyrical diary of tortured paranoia. Dr. Dre's less is always more than what you bargained for. Which is why his productions are so addictive (did someone say, Detox?).

Listening to what Dr. Dre created with Eminem, I was reminded of an episode of Martin Lawrence's popular eponymous '90s sitcom, where Sean (played by the remarkably versatile character actor Jon Gries), the white engineer of Martin's very black talk show, attempts to pass off his 8-track demo tape of trailer park Hip Hop to Snoop at a house party. When Snoop fixes Sean with an incredulous gaze, the engineer warns him not to sleep on a "whole new audience". With the mega-success of Eminem in 1999, I wonder if Dr. Dre was on the set of Martin that day taking notes.
In 1998, Dr. Dre was a man in transition; he left Death Row Records amid a trail of whispers and lies, and created Aftermath Records in the fog of skepticism and derision. A few days after Thanksgiving of that year, Dr. Dre flew to Philadelphia, Pa., to appear in a video I directed titled Ask Yourself A Question, a track Dre produced for Ricardo "Kurupt' Brown's solo album, Kuruption. Like Dre, Kurupt--a somewhat spazzy but very talented emcee--was a recent Death Row escapee who decided to form his own label, too; Antra Music, in his hometown of Philadelphia.

En route to scout locations the day before the shoot, I asked Dr. Dre and Kurupt if I could film some behind-scenes-footage with them. They agreed. I shot almost two hours of Dre and Kurupt--who, at my suggestion, played two Philadelphia homicide detectives, on the trail of a serial killer dismembering dirty cops--and their relaxed conversation about life after Death Row turned into a tutorial on modern Hip Hop history. Dre talks about his time at Ruthless, how Snoop is a great character actor, and in response to the critics who felt he was falling off, Dr. Dre said the only thing he was falling off, was "diving boards".
In talking to Dr. Dre, I felt I was in the presence of man who was confident in his brilliance without gloating in the fact that he was a genius. Years later, with the global impact and immeasurable, game-changing success of Eminem, Dr. Dre not only proved the naysayers wrong; Dre's prolific creativity made the arc of his upward diving ability, nothing short of Olympic.

Check out part one of the documentary "Dr. Dre: Chronic Symphonies Dressed In a Full Metal Jacket", below (here's an interesting tidbit; after hearing the name "Simon" mentioned in the doc, I found out later that it referred to none other than Death Row co-founder Marion "Suge" Knight; as in "Simon says do this, Simon says do that..." Deep).
Be sure to pick up my new anthology, "Hooked On The American Dream-Vol.1: New Jack City Eats Its Young," available exclusively on Kindle/Amazon. Amazon/Kindle has a free, downloadable app for all computers and mobile devices. Click here to go to the "Hooked On The American Dream-Vol.1:New Jack City Eats Its Young" Kindle store site.

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