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Page 1

 Recording a solo album ended up being a largely maddening and ego-shredding experience for Gwen ...

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 "I went in all glossy-eyed, and she's like, 'You're a freak. Go.' " ...

Page 3

 Dr. Dre rolls his eyes at Gwen, but then 50 Cent talks her down ...

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The song "Long Way to Go," which is about an interracial relationship, came courtesy of another collaborator who made Gwen feel insecure: Outkast's Andre 3000.

"He's crazy talented," she gushed, "like totally get-down-on-yourself talented. I didn't have a lot to offer. If I'm super honest, it makes me look stupid, that I'm sitting next to him, feeling all blank brain, hoping I can come up with something good. And meanwhile, he keeps writing away. But you're in with Andre, so even if you don't get all your ideas in there, you're going to make something great."

Later on, Stefani had an idea for a melody that evolved into the curiously catchy "Bubble Pop Electric," in which Andre's alter ego Johnny Vulture takes her out on a date. "It sounds so weird and it's so Andre," she said. "If I could be a boy, I would be him."

Her confidence restored, Stefani, having co-written some 20 songs, figured the sessions were over — until she decided to give the Neptunes another chance. She hadn't felt a spark the first time they got together for the project, but then she reconsidered and booked seven days with Pharrell Williams.

She decided during those sessions that she needed an "attitude song." "I need something about how the [No Doubt] fans probably are like, 'Why is she doing this record? She's going to ruin everything.' " Her response is the b-girlish "Hollaback Girl" — the third song in three days she cooked up with Pharrell.

But her speedwriting streak ended when she tried to finish up the album with Dr. Dre. Stefani had previously worked with Dre, along with rapper Eve, on "Let Me Blow Ya Mind," and she had been hoping to recapture a little of that track's magic. But after she played Dre the songs she had been working on, he rolled his eyes.

  "[Dre] basically told [me] to go rewrite the whole song again. And I was like, 'Oh, no, what am I going to do?' "
"He was like, 'You don't want to go back there,' and I'm like, 'Yes, I want to,' and he's like, 'No, you don't.' "

Still, Dre found something for Stefani he thought would work — a dancehall reggae reworking of a song from "Fiddler on the Roof," "If I Were a Rich Man," which, transformed into "Rich Girl," had already been a minor hit for Louchie Lou and Michie One in the early '90s. All Gwen needed to do was update the track with Eve.

"I was helping with her rap, she was helping with my part, and we made the demo for Dre, and he basically told us to go rewrite the whole thing again. And I was like, 'Oh, no, what am I going to do?' "

Eventually, during a brainstorm while running on her treadmill, Gwen got it. At a dinner party another night, Stefani ran into 50 Cent, and in swapping Dre stories, she discovered that the rapper/producer was strict with everybody, not just her. "You kinda go with him last," she said. "You get the doctor in." If she had gone in with Dre first, she realized, she might not have had the confidence to keep at it as long as she did — completing enough tracks for two albums over.

"What I learned is that you can get a lot done if you push yourself," she said. "I made all my dreams come true of working with these people, even though I have so many insecurities. I still have this whole ego issue, and it's all bruised up and messed up. But at the same time, the record is so spectacular, and I can say that without bragging because I worked with so many talented people.

"I totally feel like I am Alice in Wonderland right now," she mused. "It's been such a journey. It's been so magical. I don't even know how I got to this point, it's been such a maze. I've been dropping down this hole for a year. But now, I've landed."

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