Dr. Dre: Nuthin' But an "M" Thing
Producer/performer Dr. Dre changed the rap game twice: First with NWA's groundbreaking 1988 debut Straight Outta Compton, and again with his own disc, 1992's The Chronic. After teaming up with Eminem in 1999, he once again made a
mammoth move, putting skeletal but compelling backdrops on the rhymer's incendiary diatribes to created The Slim Shady LP. How did Dre top himself on the follow-up? He explained to VH1 it was all about keeping it hot.
VH1: How did you first discover Eminem?
Dr. Dre: I was at [Interscope chairman] Jimmy Iovine's house one night. Usually when I'm over there, we listen to demos in his garage. We finished listening to everything that we had been working on that night and he said, "I want you to check this out. What do you think about this kid?" Jimmy pops in the cassette. I was blown away. There was a song called "Bonnie and Clyde" that I really loved, and one called "Murder Murder" that didn't make it on the record. But I knew I had to work with him right then. I met him about two days after that and the next day we were in the studio at my house. We came up with four joints that night and three of them made it onto his first album.
VH1: What was it about him that appealed to you?
Dr. Dre: His lyrical content. He sounded like he had big-ass balls. He finds ways to rhyme words that don't seem like they should rhyme. I felt that.
VH1: Was there ever any concern about the fact that he was white?
Dr. Dre: I didn't even know he was white when I heard the demo. Jimmy Iovine told me a little later. Then my wheels started turning. I thought he would be able to get away with saying a lot more than I would get away with saying. If a black guy said that stuff, people would turn the radio off. That's reality.
VH1: Did you ever worry that Eminem might turn into another Vanilla Ice?
Dr. Dre: No. Vanilla Ice is corny. Eminem is over the top. He pays attention to what he's doing in the studio, and he makes sure his records are coming out right. He still has a strong career ahead of him.
VH1: How did you come up with the ideas for The Marshall Mathers LP?
Dr. Dre: There's no big scientific explanation. We don't wake up at two in the morning, call each other, and say, "I have an idea. We gotta get to the studio." We just wait and see what happens when we get there. The only time we didn't actually sit in a studio and create something on the spot was with "Kill You." I was talking to Em on the phone. He heard the track playing in the background and was like, "What's that? Send me that track!" So I sent it to him, he wrote the lyrics, came down and we got busy with it.
VH1: In "The Way I Am" he attacked his fans. That's not something most artists would do.
Dr. Dre: On that record he decided to get a lot more serious. He didn't want people to start thinking he was a clown, with all the outfits you see in "The Real Slim Shady" video. Some fans out there come on a little strong. If you're sitting down eating with your little girl, they'll stick a piece of paper in your face and say, "Look, I bought your record. Sign this." Sometimes they are very rude. Those are the people that he was attacking.
VH1: What did you think when you first heard "Stan?"
Dr. Dre: I thought "Stan" was the best song that he's ever done. It's weird listening to that. He's in character and talking about himself. It was a brilliant record: Put together really well - the whole nine. 45 King did his thing. A song like that brings a breath of fresh air into the game, some CPR. It's not just your average hip-hop record with the MC bragging about where he's from, what he's drinking, or what he's driving. It was somebody saying, "I'm gonna do something different, and make it the best record I've done."
VH1: What about "Kim"? What was your reaction the first time you heard that?
Dr. Dre: My jaw hit the ground. I played the song over and over about 10 times. That's one of my favorites next to "Stan." Just because of the aggression that he put into it. I thought it was gonna push some buttons and make people's skin crawl. It's important to get a reaction and jerk some kind of emotion out of people when they listen to what you're doing.
VH1: Why do you think so much of The Marshall Mathers LP is reactionary?
Dr. Dre: You're always gonna respond to what people are saying about you. It gives him gas to go on.
VH1: Does Eminem ever tell you about stuff that gets him mad?
Dr. Dre: Definitely! All the time! It doesn't stop. He's always looking for a concept. "Oh, this person said this? Okay, gotta go at him. There's another line." It makes the game a lot more fun.
VH1: What happened when you turned the original version of The Marshall Mathers LP into Interscope? Didn't they say there wasn't a single on there?
Dr. Dre: Yeah. We thought the album was done, but we didn't feel like there was anything commercial enough to put out as a first single. Once people heard the album and got into it, I knew we had a second and third single. But we needed that big opener. So me and Em came back in the studio for about a week or so, and created "The Real Slim Shady." Boom! We felt it right away. It was one of those moments. He had the hook already. We put music to that, and it came out right. My kids were singing it, you know what I'm saying? That was enough for me.
VH1: What was it like when Eminem was talking about killing you on "The Real Slim Shady?"
Dr. Dre: It was funny to me. As long as it's hot, let's roll with it. That album would never come out if anybody censored what we were saying. So in my opinion, the crazier it is the better. Let's have fun with it and excite people.