Imagine two men. One is a Compton-born founding member of the provocative hip-hop supergroup N.W.A turned Grammy-winning solo artist and highly sought-after producer. The other is a New York-born rock producer/engineer turned founder of the massively successful label Interscope Records. Both men garner about as many platinum plaques and hit singles as instances of their names landing in the hot seat and news headlines.
Despite the controversies and a few challenges along the way, Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine have weathered many storms to become a dynamic duo and two of the most important (and disruptive) figures in pop music history.
Directed, written and executive produced by the acclaimed cinematic visionary Allen Hughes, the four-part HBO documentary The Defiant Ones vividly educates and reminds us all of the music impresarios’ journeys toward greatness. Hughes turns their biographical sketches into parallel life stories, allowing The Defiant Ones to seamlessly capture intimate portraits of Dre’s and Iovine’s professional lives and ongoing friendship. Hughes—famous for directing Menace II Society, Dead Presidents, American Pimp, From Hell, The Book of Eli and Broken City—portrays the innovators as transparent men, giving both their successes and failures equal airtime.
The Defiant Ones develops as a nonlinear limited series over four consecutive evenings beginning today, Sunday, July 9th. The program fades in with the famed Facebook video of an intoxicated Tyrese, standing next to Dre, announcing that Apple purchased Beats Electronics, Dre and Iovine’s company, for $3.2 billion. The once top-secret acquisition signaled one of the most lucrative deals in both hip-hop culture and technology, solidifying the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee’s status as one of hip-hop’s pioneering billionaires.
From there, Hughes uses the leak as a cinematic launching pad to revisit and acknowledge what made Dre and Iovine special in the first place. He strategically flip flops, conjoins and crochets together the music veterans’ histories via music video montages, news clips, photo galleries, home movies, magazine covers, performance reels, album sleeves, track sequences, geographic aerial landscapes, set visits and never-before-seen studio sessions. Requiring six years to assemble, Hughes’ pristine editing transitions over a majestic score composed by Academy Award winner Atticus Ross, fluidly melding Dre and Iovine’s plights together without any distortion or confusion.
A host of Dre and Iovine’s close friends and relatives, journalists (even Dee Barnes), attorneys, accountants, managers and record executives contribute their two cents, of course. An ensemble cast of performers appear throughout The Defiant Ones like a who’s who yearbook of legendary and contemporary superlatives: will.i.am, Snoop Dogg (in his comedic and herb-smoking element here), Diddy, Stevie Nicks, Bono, Bruce Springsteen, Eminem, Trent Reznor, Gwen Stefani, Nas, Ice Cube, Patti Smith, Tom Petty, DJ Yella, Lady Gaga, MC Ren, The D.O.C., Fab 5 Freddy, Steve Stoute, Alonzo Williams, Kendrick Lamar and David Geffen among others.
The man born Andre Romelle Young to a teenage mother demonstrates his impeccable skills behind the turntable and perfectionist tendencies behind the console. His tenure in the flamboyant electrofunk outfit World Class Wreckin’ Cru yielded classics like “Surgery,” “Juice” and “Turn Off the Lights.” Feeling stifled by the pioneering West Coast hip-hop group’s direction, a petrified Dre stepped out on faith and co-founded Ruthless Records along with the late Eazy-E.
Their group N.W.A sold millions of records while sending shockwaves through the political community for their unapologetic, graphic “gangsta rap.” Internal conflicts revolving around royalties, management and contracts led to the group’s demise. Dre then reinvented himself with Death Row Records, pervading the charts and music retailers with his multi-platinum-coated G-funk sound in songs like “Nuthin’ But a ‘G’ Thang” and “Let Me Ride.” Death Row, co-founded by Suge Knight, was home to Snoop Dogg, 2Pac and Dre’s own magnum opus, The Chronic (1992). The 52-year-old’s subsequent label venture, Aftermath Entertainment, made stars out of Eminem, 50 Cent, The Game and Kendrick Lamar.
Born to Italian immigrants, Iovine, now 64, on the other hand, didn’t seem to have any direction. The persistent, brutally honest idealist was neither a good student nor a stellar musician. Hell, the man famous for negotiating on the phone with his feet up was barely a good employee. Agreeing to work one particularly Easter Sunday changed Iovine’s fate. The chairman of Interscope Geffen A&M engineered a project for John Lennon. That sacrifice ultimately earned the self-taught, high maintenance producer production credits with Foghat, Dire Straits, Bob Seger, U2, Springsteen (Born to Run LP), Smith (“Because the Night”), Petty (Damn the Torpedoes) and Nicks (Bella Donna).
It wasn’t long before Iovine felt the urge to launch his own label. Interscope Records, the same label that signed and advocated for Dre, signed and supported acts like No Doubt, Nine Inch Nails, Black Eyed Peas and Marilyn Manson. Activists and Interscope’s parent company, Time Warner, did everything they could to stifle Iovine’s progress. Miraculously, the shrewd workaholic kept the wheels in motion, maintaining majority ownership of his company while also preserving the integrity of his artist roster.
Throughout all four installments of The Defiant Ones, it’s inspiring to witness Dre and Iovine remain determined and ambitious, thriving on evolving in their crafts. A few rare moments disclose their humanity over their fame. Dre can barely address his younger brother Tyree’s murder without tearing up. He acknowledges his dependency on alcohol at one point in his career. His highly publicized 1991 attack on Barnes may be one of the first times on camera where an apologetic Dre shares his remorse for the episode. Iovine, owning up to his own cocaine addiction and romantic involvement with Nicks, even shines light on his dedication to his executive duties ultimately costing him his marriage.
As the series closes, The Defiant Ones finds Dre and Iovine making their mark in the tech and philanthropic spaces. Post-Napster and music piracy, digital music fuels the men to recalibrate their roles and careers in the music business. Beats Electronics earns them a fortune. Their flagship product, the headphones, are heavily endorsed by entertainers and athletes. Dre and Iovine use their influence and wealth for good, earning honorary degrees, delivering commencement addresses and funding state-of-the-art facilities at the University of Southern California (USC) and Compton High School for students who aim for careers in both technology and entertainment.
The Defiant Ones is yet another memorable programming coup for HBO. Look out during Peabody and Emmy season because this show will more than likely earn quite a few awards. Not only is The Defiant Ones required viewing for multiple generations of music fans, it’s a story that personifies how believing in your dreams and yourself comes with both great rewards and consequences.
Despite the good and the bad, the highs and the lows, The Defiant Ones reinforces that the journey toward greatness is completely worth it.
WATCH The Defiant Ones on HBO July 9th at 9:00pm