#6 – Dr. Dre
|By AMIR SAID (SA’ID)|
Dr. Dre. Father of the quintessential west coast sound and one of the most iconic names in hip hop/rap music production.
When discussing Dr. Dre, the conversation can get a little out of hand with some people. There are those who look at the long list of co-production credits attached to many of the biggest Dr. Dre hits and wonder if he really was the man behind the beats. He was. Then there are those who think that Dr. Dre is the greatest beatmaker of all time despite the large number of co-production credits attached to many of his biggest hits. Wherever you stand in this regard, it’s best to look at Dr. Dre’s earlier work, i.e. prior to the mid-1990s for a better understanding of what makes him one of the greatest beatmakers of all time.
As the lead producer for his group, N.W.A., Dr. Dre (credited along with DJ Yella), created a sound that was a hybrid of the sampling and non-sample-based composition styles. Dr. Dre was making beats professionally as early as 1984. Back then, he was instrumental in helping to create the electro hop sound that DJ Lonzo Williams was most popular for. Electro hop was a fusion of the east coast’s electro funk sound and some west coast musical influences. In other words, Dr. Dre was a student of the roots of hip hop/rap. And on N.W.A.’s debut album Straight Outta Compton, Dre’s pedigree, knowledge, and skill were all on full display.
But it was the release of his debut solo album The Chronic (1992) that would cement Dr. Dre’s iconic status forever. Using a combination of hard-hitting drums, altered funk rhythms, replays of funk samples, and high-pitched portamento — pitch sliding — sine/saw wave synthesizer lines, Dr. Dre was pioneer of the budding southern California G-funk sound. While there’s some small dispute about who was first to come up with the G-funk sound, there’s no debate as to who was the first to popularize it and take it to new heights — that was Dr. Dre. He in effect made G-funk his sound, and in the process helped bolster what is now commonly understood to be the west coast sound.
Following The Chronic Dr. Dre continued to innovate, carving a more subdued but quite polished sound, that was personified by big drums, distinct keyboard riffs, and a magnificent mix. Indeed, the Dr. Dre “mix” still is the benchmark sound that many producers aim for when mixing down their music. During this time, Dr. Dre — who’s long used live musicians for replays of samples and or melodies and rhythms that he thought up, even on Straight Outta Compton — broadened his production associations with the likes of other producers and musicians like Sam Sneed, Mel-Man, Mark Batson, Scott Storch, Dewaun Parker, DJ Khalid, and most prominently Mike Elizondo.
Though inherently more of a quintessential producer that beatmaker, Dr. Dre nonetheless is a beatmaker with beatmaking roots that run deep. Often lauded by many people as one of the top 3 or 5 greatest hip hop producers of all time, Dr. Dre is synonymous with beats (no pun intended), quality production, and what it means to be a producer. But the word “producer” is not as interchangeable with “beatmaker” as people often think that it is. Unlike some known producers who lack the inclination to actually make beats, there’s never been any doubt as to whether Dre could hop behind an MPC and get busy. Dr. Dre certainly can— he’s no Diddy. So criticism in recent years, particularly questions about Dr. Dre using ghost producers, is a bit ridiculous. Dr. Dre does indeed work with a number of musicians and music professionals, and he does have other beatmakers (producers) signed to his production company. However, none of these facts undermine his personal abilities or the catalog of work he produced long before any such associations and production deals. And on The Chronic, the album in which Dr. Dre popularized the G-funk sound, he was the lone producer.
After the 1990s, Dre’s work often included the contributions of various associate producers and musicians. If this was strictly a “producer” list and not beatmaker, Dre would rate one or two notches higher. Indeed, many of his later works were collaborations and co-productions in which he was THE producer responsible for the entire final sound. Further, to some, Dr. Dre essentially stopped producing music (or making beats) a long time ago. Whether this is true or not, his catalog has and will stand the test of time.
Finally, in addition to his production role, Dr. Dre was a rapping member of N.W.A, and he went on to a successful solo rap career. Thus, just as with Ju Ju and Psycho Les of The Beatnuts, Havoc of Mobb Deep, Madlib, Showbiz of Showbiz and A.G., and Kanye West, Dr. Dre didn’t just rhyme as a side-job, it was a full-time gig. For this, Dr. Dre also holds the prestigious distinction of being in the canon of hip hop/rap as both beatmaker and rhymer.
The music and videos below are presented here for the purpose of scholarship.
Dr. Dre Beats (Songs) Recommended for Study:
SPECIAL NOTE: Listen to Straight Outta Compton and The Chronic, two of hip hop/rap music’s classic albums. (Straight Outta Compton is one of the most important albums of the second half of the twentieth century!)
“Let Me Ride” – Dr. Dre beat by Dr. Dre
“It’s Funky Enough” – The D.O.C. beat by Dr. Dre
“Nuthin’ But a G Thang” –Dr. Dre feat. Snoop Dogg
“Deep Cover” – Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg
“The Formula” – The D.O.C. beat by Dr. Dre
“Bitch Please” – Snoop Doog feat. Xzibit and Nate Dogg beat by Dr. Dre
“If I Can’t” – 50 Cent beat by Dr. Dre co-produced by Mike Elizondo
“Straight Outta Compton” – N.W.A. beat by Dr. Dre and DJ Yella
“Still Dre” – Dr. Dre feat. Snoop Dogg beat by Dr. Dre, Mel-Man, and Scott Storch
“How We Do” – The Game feat. 50 Cent beat by Dr. Dre, Mike Elizondo, and Scott Storch