One of the motivations behind this Beat Drop series we’ve been doing is to try to shine light not only on some of the most highly-touted, but also some of the lesser-known works of hip hop’s most famed beatmakers. For example, most people who know Alchemist for his work with Mobb Deep don’t need to be reminded of how dope “Keep It Thoro” is, but they might not have heard “The Red Light”, the compilation-only track he laced for underground favorites The Smut Peddlers. And everyone knows DJ Premier‘s history with Gang Starr and many of N.Y.’s finest, but some might not have known about the tracks he made with Xzibit (which was rudely thrown on the bonus disc for Man vs. Machine) and Chi Ali (who is better remembered for killing a dude over $20).
In the case of Dr. Dre, however, there aren’t really many “sleeper” picks to choose. Dre’s fame and reputation make it impossible for one of his beats to slip under the radar. If Dre lends his talents to another artist’s album, either you’re going to find out about it through some sort of media outlet, or it’ll end up locked in a vault somewhere between Hittman’s and Rakim’s albums (sorry, had to go there). As for when Dre decides to make an album of his own… how long have we been/will we be waiting for Detox? Unlike Primo, Dre doesn’t really work with artists with less than platinum aspirations (although, in this age of music purchasing, he’ll probably settle for gold). And unlike Alchemist, Dre’s “paying dues” period — whether you consider that to be his World Class Wrecking Cru days, his N.W.A. days, or the early days of Death Row — was fairly publicized. [Granted, Dre was known almost equally known as a rapper back then.]
In a way, Dre is similar to Kobe Bryant, another popular figure in L.A. (assuming Kobe hasn’t been traded by the time this is posted). Dre’s won multiple championships in his sport, and his high self-expectations make anything less than that a disappointment — granted, there’s no real equivalent to a “championship” in hip hop, but if there were, The Chronic, Doggystyle and 2001 would certainly qualify. He expects the talent around him to give nothing less than 110%, sometimes to the point that he unfairly expects that talent to perform on the same level that he himself performs — although, while Kobe can’t kick his less-than-spectacular teammates off of the Lakers, Dre can certainly drop an artist or two (or 10) from Aftermath. And, while some may be critical of the somewhat-unorthodox approach they each take to their respective professions, just like you wouldn’t change the channel when Kobe’s on the verge of dropping 60, you likely wouldn’t fast-forward through a Dre-produced track.
Provided by Lethal, myself, and occasional ML-contributor Hangover Monkey (they tried to make him go to rehab, and he said, “No, no, no.”), here are some of Dre’s works to definitely not fast-forward through…
I could easily pick 5 N.W.A. beats, but I didn’t grow up with those tracks so it’s hard for me to front and say they are my favorites.
Dre at his fuckin’ funkiest. A beat that captures the West Coast flavor and adds Roger Troutman to be in synch perfectly. Amazing.
Notice how the strings set off the song and go back and forth against the bass line, then ride out with the synthy bells over the rest of the bass line. How can you go against a song that pretty much gave a rapper a career and a name?
Not worth the $500 million that he got sued for (anyone know what happened to that lawsuit?), but Dre had the definitive Indian-style beat when they were a dime a dozen in the early 2000s. Shows Dre stepping out of his “safe” area for beatmaking. Still mad that this messed up as the springboard to re-introduce Rakim Allah to a whole new generation like it could have. [And, for the record, DJ Quik produced the original, and Dre produced the remix. I had to be schooled on that fact real quick. — Buhizzle]
For the first 2 seconds, you think you are going into some Star Trek transport shit. Then you end nodding your head non-stop to the drums and the bass.
Criminally slept-on, probably because it was buried on a soundtrack. Constant battle between the simple piano loop and the drums, with the little UFO-sounding type shit hovering over.
Although their debut album, Straight Outta Compton, is what shook up the world (and specifically the censors), N.W.A.’s follow-up, Niggaz4Life, made a bigger impact on Dre’s then-forthcoming solo career. He definitely experimented more on the production tip here, and this track, with it’s menacing tempo and unique sampling of Rare Earth‘s “I Just Want To Celebrate”, started the album off on a high note.
You ever turn on your speakers, and you don’t know how loud you have them set at until you actually play a song and it startles the fuck out of you? Try not to let this be the song in such a situation. The wailing “yeeaaaah” is too perfect. It’s a shame that Helter Skelter never materialized.
The universal appeal of a dope beat can be seen in the different ways it can be utilized as a song. The only thing worth remembering from that The Firm flop, Dre’s beat for Nas’, AZ’s and Nature’s cautionary tale about who might be listening in on you was later borrowed jacked by Puffy for a Carl Thomas and Faith Evans duet off ’01′s The Saga Continues… In this regard, honorable mentions go out to the title track off Niggaz4Life, which was sampled on Aaliyah’s “Come Back In One Piece” featuring DMX, and “Xxplosive” off 2001, which was later used by Erykah Badu on “Bag Lady”. [Talk about polar opposites -- Erykah uses the beat to talk about a woman dealing with emotional baggage, while Kurupt says the word "bitch" like it's going out of style.]
Dr. Dre’s Wikipedia page provides a good reference for his production techniques. There’s a block quote from a Time Magazine article on Dre, which basically describes Dre’s beat-making process as him programming a drum beat in a room full of musicians who play along, until Dre “hears something he likes” and goes from there — fitting that this quote is under a subheading titled Allegations of ghost writers and producers. But, despite any criticisms one might have of Dre after reading this, it’s tough to take credit away from him, and “Still D.R.E.” is a good example of why. If you try to isolate the ukulele melody in your head when you listen to this track, it’s gets a little irritating after a while. Yet, Dre is able to build a classic beat around it by adding (what laymen such as myself can only describe as) “his signature touch” to it.
Though a visionary and pioneer of “gangsta” rap, Dre’s beats don’t typically have that film-soundtrack gangster-vibe to ‘em in the same vein as (to keep things somewhat current) Prodigy’s Return Of The Mac from earlier this year. This track off Buck The World is, as far as I can recall, Dre’s only real attempt to capture that sound, and it’s really well done, with dramatic blaring horns and a funky bassline. It’s too bad 50′s shit-talking directed at Cam’ron at the end of the video was kept off of the album version — I never knew teeth could bleed.
Hangover Monkey’s Picks
This was the first rap song I ever memorized. The beat is infectious. Even if you have no rhythm at all, this shit will make you move. It’s that classic break beat disco sound that makes this track so danceable. So simple, but so perfect.
Possibly one of the best crew-cuts of all time. The beat on this is crazy with the organs and the slamming prison doors. This song was made with no hook, only straight fire. And the church organ intro with Bushwick Bill?!? Seriously, a work of art from the good doctor.
This song has a really low key feel to it. It’s the kind of song you only listen to at night, when you’re driving. It starts and ends like a more danceable version of some L.A. noir-type shit. Almost like a detective story… except about bitches. [Hadn’t heard this song in a while, but I’m now noticing a sample from Barry White’s “I’m Gonna Love You Just A Little More, Babe”, as more noticeably used on Nas’ “No Idea’s Original” and Ghostface’s unreleased “The Watch”. Clearly, though, Dre beat ‘em both to it. — Buhizzle]
This song will forever be proof that Dr. Dre can do anything with a synthesizer. This beat is simple and repetitive, and it gave force to the song that made “crunk” a household word.
The hardest song on the entire All Eyez On Me album. The driving piano, the killer horns, the way it almost improvises along with George Clinton! This song is classic uncut West Coast goodness. I bumped this shit every day for like 2 years straight in high school. Like 3 or 4 times a day. If I have a choice for my #1 favorite Dre beat, this is it. [Word to that. Some trivia about this beat — it was originally intended for that Helter Skelter album I had mentioned earlier. When that project fell through, Suge snatched it up for Pac’s album. Guess we can only imagine what Dre and Cube would’ve sounded like over this. — Buhizzle]
Next up — Hi-Tek.