On March 27 I was summoned to go to Encore Studios in Burbank, California, to interview Dr. Dre, his new songstress Truth Hurts and the legendary Rakim, the newest addition to Dre's Aftermath roster. Needless to say, I was more than excited to do these interviews — I was honored. The day was filled with plenty of stars, including
DJ Quik and Xzibit, and the energy in the building was both extremely
creative and explosive, to say the least.
When I first arrived there was hardly anyone there, so the staff and I took that
time to case the joint and feel out the best spot to do the interviews.
The whole time I was wondering who would actually show up — Dre has
always been hard to buckle down, and throughout his career Rakim has been
notorious for ducking an interview or two. In addition to the MTV appeal, I was really banking on the hip-hop credibility that King Tech and I built over the years to be an added draw to ensure their arrival.
No sooner did I give birth to the thought than Rakim Allah himself walked through the kitchen, which seemed to be the central location to lounge. We greeted each other with a hand shake and half of a hug. For the first few moments, all I could do was absorb the presence of the man who single-handedly changed the face of MC'ing in hip-hop and also inspired me to continue to rap over a decade ago. Soon after, it didn't take long for us to indulge in a conversation about the evolution of rap.
He commented that
rappers had different motivations in the past: It wasn't only about the
riches back then, it was very important to improve on your skills as a
rapper and to innovate — not just duplicate — what the hottest rapper was
doing at the time. It's funny, but the whole time he was speaking, I was
imagining the video for his song "Move the Crowd," while reciting the lyrics
from his song "Lyrics of Fury" in my mind.
Rah's demeanor was everything you might imagine it to be: cool, calm, collected and wise beyond his years. We cracked a few jokes about how hard some of these MCs try to be with their lyrics but lead a life different from their subject
matter. It was just a good energy. I really felt like I was talking to
somebody I knew already, and as legendary as he is, he has to be the most
humble man I ever met. He would greet everybody like he was as thrilled
to meet them as they were to meet him. I even watched him volunteer to carry
a woman's bags to her car — everybody was flabbergasted.
We swapped a few more philosophies and chopped it up a bit. In the end, this interaction made the interview seem like a dialogue between friends; at least to me it did.
Rakim hasn't lost any of the qualities that made him so respected and
mysterious. And for everybody out there wondering, I eventually heard some of
his music, and mark my words: "Oh my God!" (see "Rakim Out To Change The Game Again, With Help From Dre").
Later in the day, I was lounging on the patio in front of Encore Studios,
which, by the way, is a gated lot. I'd just finished an in-depth interview
with Truth Hurts, where I discovered that we had a lot in common — we have
mutual friends and we both lived in the Bay Area, but the shocker was that we
were both signed to Giant Records at the same time. To
my surprise I also learned that she'd studied to become an opera singer and
that she is a songwriter as much as she is a singer. Truth definitely paid
her share of dues, from being in a group that couldn't quite get off the
ground to leaving that group to have a child. Before hooking up with Dre
she had it bad, which explains why she was skeptical before actually taking
him seriously. Our conversation was very raw and uncensored — she doesn't
hesitate to speak her mind, hence the name "Truth Hurts." (see "Truth Hurts: Battling Bubble Gum With Dr. Dre").
I was going over my notes outside at a patio table when I heard the roar of a Ferrari engine coming through the gates. I was pleasantly surprised to see the most celebrated producer in hip-hop bounce out of the silver and black rocket on wheels (I guess the rumors are true — he does like fast cars). To tell you the truth, I was still riding high from the Rakim interview, and would have been satisfied if Dre hadn't shown up, but the fact that he did gave me a feeling similar to the one I had when I first met Prince Ken Swift of the original Rock Steady Crew years ago in Cali — they are both legends walking.
Dre greeted me with a "What's up, Sway?" and I was like, "What's up, Dre?" I
gave him the skinny of the events of the day and we both glowed when I
mentioned the interview with Rakim. He said that initially it was
a feeling-out process in the studio when he and Rakim got together, but that
eventually it became a unified working environment. He said he almost wants to
treat the Rakim project like he's a new artist, and hit the public with
something that they never heard before. I was thinking to myself that it
doesn't hurt knowing that these two guys are the best that ever did it.
Listening to Dre talk and watching his actions, the thing that I admired most
was that after all that he has accomplished, he is living in the "now" and he
is as excited about every project coming out on Aftermath as a parent is with
their first-born child. He rushed me to the engineering board and started
playing me some Rakim beats that were all banging, and believe me, I would tell him and you if they weren't.
Dre said he was just as enthusiastic about the Truth Hurts project as he was with any of the others. He also said that he had just left Eminem's house in Detroit and that his project is definitely a step beyond anything else that Em has done (see "The Doc's Diagnosis: Eminem Still Crazy"). Dre really seemed at peace with himself and has a definite vision of what he wants to do with his company. And he has placed himself in a very creative atmosphere (see "Dr. Dre's Final Album Will Be Hip-Hop Musical").
DJ Quik greeted me on the way out, and I told him that he owed me an interview, especially since he came up with Truth's first single, "Addictive," featuring Rakim. He was cool with it; he is always upbeat with me, which makes it hard to believe some of the beefs he's had.
Xzibit snatched me into a side studio and played me his entire new album,
Man Vs. Machine. Needless to say, most of the songs were hard-hitting and
grimy, but some stuck out more than others. The one I remember most is a song
called "The Answer."
All in all, this day marked a high point in my career and in my journey as an
evolving constituent of the hip-hop community.