After witnessing Dr. Dre working in the studio for many years I would have to say that one of most important facts missing from the N.W.A movie [Straight Outta Compton] is not just aspects of Dre’s personal and political life and vision, but a clear description of the high level of sonic mastery and expertise that he has exhibited and presented to the world for the past 30 years.
When Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin presented Def Jam’s Hip Hop productions to the world with classics by Run DMC, LL Cool J and Beastie Boys, they brought not only productions that had dynamic and socially relevant songs to the world, but also a level of sonic excellence that was achieved by bringing top musicians and mixing engineers into the studio to engineer and fine tune those sound recordings.
The difference between Dr. Dre and most producers is that when most producers get to a level where they feel they have the songs strong enough, they then bring in top level Grammy award-winning mixing engineers like Manny Maroquin, Serban Ghenea and Jimmy Douglass to fine tune the sonics and perfect them. Most successful hit producers are usually known to be paired with a world renowned sonic genius who has studied electronics and the use of probably either the Neve or SSL consoles who will then take the music and fine tune the frequencies in order to maximize the sonic experience. These mixers are well studied and learned persons who have mastered and perfected the art of combining science and math with audio technology on the same level as a person who has mastered any other complex scientific machinery that is extremely difficult to operate and requires a highly proficient level most often associated with technical geniuses.
Take a look at an SSL console. You’ve probably seen them in pictures and have always stopped to think, “How do they use that thing? How do they operate all of the levers and buttons?” As a music producer, I will guarantee you that most of the people you’ve probably seen sitting in front of these consoles in a picture have no idea how to operate them proficiently either.
“Boyz In The Hood” Sonically Stands The Test Of Time
While watching Straight Outta Compton, one of the interesting things to note is not only “Boyz In The Hood,” a great and timeless recording of Eazy-E that soulfully captures a bit of LA inner city history, but it’s also a recording so sonically proficient that 30 years later it stands up well next to anything recorded and on the radio today. This anomaly is the case of all of Dre’s most well know records. Let’s get to the reason why.
Many of Dre’s most famous recordings not only begin with him programming the first kick and snare drum, but they also end with him mixing the records with a scientific and sonic mastery created by his own two hands. Dre is not only the producer of the song and a writer of his music but is also the engineer who has mixed all of the recordings that he has released. There is no other scientific genius brought in to enhance his sounds or “man behind the curtain,” because he is that scientific technical genius.
Most, if not all of the greater producers of all time have brought in the greatest drummer to set the tone and rhythm of the recording. Dre as the drum programmer is that drummer on his greatest records. At the end of producing the vocal and then getting a song sounding strong, Quincy Jones, Rick Rubin, T-Bone —and most of the current all-time greats and Grammy Producer of the Year —then bring in the top mixer and sonic mathematician engineers of their generation to mix their productions. Sonic scientists like Tom Lord Algae, Bruce Sweiden and David Ferguson often come to mind as the mixers who have enhanced the productions of the greats to make them sonically brilliant and timeless. One of the main facts missing from a movie about musicians and recordings is that Dr Dre is not only producing but is also mixing his own records personally to some of the highest audiofile quality ever witnessed.
Much of the modern tone of globally appreciated Hip Hop recordings was developed by the Doctor’s hands. Kanye West once discussed his dream of making New York beats with “Los Angeles sonics.” Kanye West wrote the summary for Dr. Dre in an article about greatest artists in Rolling Stone magazine where he stated Dr. Dre’s song “Xxplosive” as where he “got his whole sound from.”
Dr. Dre is at the core of the development of taking Hip Hop records to that higher level of scientific and audio mastery. Influences of his mixing and placement of kick, snare and vocal can be heard in everything today from Britney Spears to Madonna to One Direction records and anything else that uses Hip Hop beats made with drum machines that imitate his crisp, clear, clean and thumping production sound.
In Straight Outta Compton I witnessed Dre doing a bit of production work (in comedic fashion), getting ready to record 2pac’s vocal on “California Love” and developing the keyboard line on “Nuthin’ But a G Thang”. In between there were N.W.A performances, family back story, business and police confrontations and sexual liaisons.
However, if the story were really “keeping it real” to what Dr. Dre is regularly all about on a daily level, what you would really see would see on screen would be Mr. Young painstakingly behind the SSL console for hours, days and years on end first learning and then perfecting the use of electronic engineering on his mixing console and applying those skills with detail on the level of the highest rated electronic engineer in any field, and then using that rare and unprecedented skill to deliver recordings of the highest sound quality of our modern generation. No other big name producer has even come close to his programming and engineering skills, that have projected the recordings of Eminem, Gwen Stefani, Snoop Dogg, Mary J. Blige and yes, even J.J. FAD’s “Supersonic” into perfected sonic hits that can stand up forever as timeless and spectacular.
When buying a product from a company often we have the choice to choose the high end most expensive version or possibly a cheaper version that is more applicable to the budget of the average person. One thing we can agree on that the most important thing on a Beats headset is the signature of Dr. Dre, which represents and stands for decades of sonic achievement.
So, take the Compton soundtrack album and put it on in your Beats headset, or even better on the highest quality pair of speakers that you can get in front of. Not trying to sweep any personal drama under the rug, but while listening to Dre’s sonic excellence, remember that although Van Gogh cut off his ear in 1888, more than 100 years later what we all know and appreciate is that Starry Night is an artistic achievement in human developmental accomplishment.
….. and yes I just compared Dr. Dre to Vincent Van Gogh.
Mark Batson is a multi-platinum award winning producer, musician and songwriter for Alicia Keys, Dave Matthews Band, Grace Potter, Seal, Dr Dre and Eminem. He is an alumni of Howard University and also former pianist for The Smithsonian Institution’s African American Culture Department.