PHOTOGRAPHS BY SCOTT COUNCIL
INTERVIEW BY VANESSA SATTEN
Check this exclusive excerpt from XXL‘s December/January 2011 Dr. Dre cover story where the Doc talks about growing old in hip-hop and stepping away from the booth after Detox…They say good things come to those who wait.
Well, hip-hop has been very patient for the past 12 years, while producer extraordinaire Dr. Dre has worked on Detox, the extremely anticipated follow-up to his monumental, six-million-selling 1999 album, 2001, and his first solo classic, 1992’s The Chronic.
First announced in 2002, and teasingly rumored to have been finished and scheduled many times over the years, Detox has turned into the rap equivalent of Guns N’ Roses’ Chinese Democracy: delayed so much that it’s taken on a mythical quality. Many have doubted it will ever actually become real.
All along, though, Dre has stayed busy. The legendary member of N.W.A and founder of Death Row Records has spent the past decade cultivating the talent he has long surrounded himself with (think Snoop Dogg, Eminem, 50 Cent, Game) and crafting the occasional freelance beat for some of music’s other biggest stars (think Mary J. Blige, Gwen Stefani, Jay-Z). In 2008, he partnered with Interscope boss Jimmy Iovine to create Beats by Dre, a line of high-end, high-fidelity headphones that has since become a major success.
But it’s time for The Good Doctor—who is now 45 years old—to return. Not just to the studio, but to the vocal booth and the mic, maybe for the last time ever. For the past two and a half months, Dre has been holed up at a studio in Ferndale, Michigan, outside of Detroit, recording the final parts of Detox. On a recent November night, XXL paid him a visit there, and he sat down for an exclusive interview about his artistic process, getting old in hip-hop, the state of the game today and what it’s like to have so many people always asking, “When is it coming?”
So Detox is really coming?
Yeah, that’s the only reason why I’m here. I’m out here in Detroit, getting some work done with Em on the project. I’ve been out here for about two and a half months. Yeah, that’s it. I’m tryna get it done. I’m really feeling it now. My energy has been back and forth with the record, tussling with doing it out of obligation, as opposed to doing it because I really feel it. My feelings about it have been going up and down. Now I’m in that place where I’m really feeling it, and it’s coming out right. It’s like, Yeah, I’m excited about it.
So there has been a point where it felt like an obligation?
Absolutely. Actually, throughout the process, the majority of it has been that, doing it out of obligation. I think this record is gonna help feed a lot of families. You know what I’m saying? So that part is hanging over my head. The only part that has been pushing me back is just the fact that I’m getting older, and certain things to talk about… But I can incorporate other artists, new artists with this record, to say some of the things I won’t say. It’s been a little tussle in that area also, just because of age and being able to identify with the younger audience.
It’s interesting you bring up age. Aging can be an issue for some hip-hop artists. It’s hard for older artists to remain relevant. But it seems like, when it comes to Dr. Dre, age is not as much of an issue.
Right. I’m fortunate in that way. [Laughs]
Why do you think that’s the case?
I really believe it has a lot to do with my mystique. I have a natural mystique about myself, and I think people are intrigued by that. I think that’s all it is. And I’m real particular about the things that I do, how I’m presented, and my image. I make mistakes here and there. But like I said, I’m real particular about what I put out. I always try to make sure that everything I attach myself to is quality. So I think that’s another reason. And it’s been that way throughout, from the beginning. I think the public knows for a fact that, when I do something, it’s at least worth checking out.
You never let yourself get corny?
Yeah. It’s just really paying attention to the people that are around me. Like
I said, I have really good quality control around me. It’s not just me. And
I make sure that I take care of myself. I feel like, now I feel much better—and actually look better, to me—than I did when I was in my early 20s or 30s. I’m definitely healthier now. That has a big part to do with it, just staying healthy. It definitely keeps your confidence up. I’ve actually had tests on my body, and the doctor said I’m 31. [Laughs] So I’m riding with that shit. [Laughs]
What about the element of getting jaded with age? Isn’t there a point where you’ve had so much experience, where you start to say, “This shit is stupid”? How do you stay interested?
You know what? I say that quite a few times in the studio, to be perfectly honest with you. I’ve been through that thing several times, where I’m like, “You know what? I quit. I’m not doing this. Everything is starting to sound the same.” But like I said, I have good people around. I have people that push, like, “No, no. Let’s do this.” Em, for example. My wife, of course. Jimmy. All these people are like, “Nah, nah, c’mon. You could do it. You could do it.” I experiment. Every now and then, something corny would pop out, just from experimenting. That’s going to happen if you’re creating. But nobody will ever hear that shit, hopefully. [Laughs]
Were you ever going to trash Detox and start another project? Or just trash everything altogether and never do another project?
The thought crossed my mind several times.
To leave altogether?
Quit? “I’m done”?
“I’m going to retire”?
I don’t ever see myself retiring totally from music, because I have a genuine love and passion for it. But as far as me going into the mic booth, that shit is over. I’m always going to talent scout and try to find new artists to work with. But, yeah, that’s it. I don’t see myself doing it the way I’m doing it now. I’m in the studio at least five or six days a week for 16, 18 hours. I think I’m going to back off a little bit and spend some time with the family. But I’m always going to make records… It’s almost—I still feel like it’s, like, a high for me. I always feel like that day I’m not in the studio could’ve been the day I made my best record. So I still have that thirst. But as far as getting on the microphone and being an artist, that’s over for me. I just want to produce.
So that means that you’re not on the mic on Detox? Or just after Detox?
The talent scouting has always been one of the most fascinating things about your career. Your ear for talent. Besides your legacy of music personally, you brought the world Ice Cube, Snoop Dogg, Eminem, the list goes on. With Em alone, the impact has been so huge for hip-hop—and that was a big risk you took, with the issue of his race and his subject matter.
Yeah, throughout my career, I’ve always tried to take certain risks. Even at the beginning, with “Fuck Tha Police.” I’ve always tried to take certain risks, and as far as Em goes, I always felt like nobody can deny it’s good. I feel like, if I hadn’t met Em or we hadn’t linked up, he would eventually have become a success anyway. Because he’s so talented. I was just fortunate enough to meet him first and open the door for him. As far as the race thing goes, when I heard Em for the first time, I didn’t even know he was White. I just knew I wanted to work with him. And that kind of actually made it better for me, because it was so different. As a creator and innovator, nothing can beat that, and that’s all I was looking at. It was a new and creative thing that sounds different and looks different, and we got along. We had fun making those records in the early days, and still. We still have the same energy today that we had the first day we went in the studio. And we still have that level of passion for it.
THAT WAS ONLY THE HALF OF IT, COP THE DECEMBER/JANUARY 2011 ISSUE OF XXL [ON STANDS NOW] TO READ THE REST OF THE DR. DRE COVER STORY