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Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine on New USC School: 'Look at What Hip-Hop Can Do'

Music industry heavyweights discuss their endowment

May 16, 2013 12:30 PM ET
Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine
Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine
Sam Jones

A day after the announcement that Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine are donating $70 million to USC to create a new arts, technology and business program, the two, joined by USC President Max Nikias and the new school's dean, Erica Muhl, gathered in Santa Monica near the offices of Interscope Records to speak with the press.

Following a short press conference, Dre, Iovine and Muhl sat down for a one-on-one interview with Rolling Stone to discuss why the school is necessary in today's world, how involved in the new school the two music moguls plan to be and how both of them look to their home lives first for inspiration.

Will you be hands-on with students and involved at the academy?
Jimmy Iovine: The thing with Dre and I – this is the good and bad news – we're control freaks. So we're gonna annoy them to a point, but we just want to help lend a feel and whatever experience we can lend. We're in great hands with Erica and the institution. Especially those first 25 kids, we want to really inspire them and make this the best opportunity it can possibly be.

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So it will start with 25 students – that is a very selective program. Have you already started to look at applicants?
Erica Muhl: We will be recruiting the first class in the fall, so we're looking forward to that, and we are looking forward to having Jimmy and Dre involved in every aspect of the academy as it moves into its inaugural gear, including working with students, but also looking at what is that very special model for that student. It is going to be kind of a unique degree, and we're going to be looking for the best and the brightest.

Dr. Dre: And it's important to us that this thing succeeds, because we have egos, also.

Muhl: Yeah, I feel no pressure at all.

It is the Iovine-Young School, and those names have a lot of success attached to them.
Iovine: We decided we wanted to do something a while ago. Like Dre said, we're very fortunate, and this just felt right to us. We sit around and we talk about a lot of things, Dre and I, and if something just feels right . . . this feels right. It feels natural to us, and then we met Max and Erica, and when we meet people that we really connect with, it usually moves pretty quickly.

When did you start to notice a shift in the kids you were meeting that made you realize a school like this was necessary?
Iovine: From my perspective, I've been talking to Dre every week for 20 years, so we share a lot of different things. First of all he noticed it at home – you notice it with your own kids.

Dre: Definitely, you notice it at home first.

Iovine: That's where Dre first started inspiring me about headphones and sound. He said, "Man, these kids listen to music that just has no feel. The sound is awful." That's where that whole thing started – in the house with friends, saying, "These earbuds, does anybody know they have no feel to them?" So then we noticed that the modern kid's language of technology is so strong that he or she also has got a feel for music or movies or a feel for video games – it's all one kid now, and it's amazing. Then we started looking for people like that, like Luke Wood, who runs Beats – he's that kid. He's 40 years old, but he's that kid. There were a lot of those kids, and we just want to give them a shot to go to school somewhere. We asked a lot of advice from Max and Erica on where they could go and just clearly really develop and succeed and excel.

Let me make one more point: When I was making records, which was even 15 years before Dre was making records, musicians were not technologically inclined. These kids are all tech. The new musician, you have to be fluent in technology. So we see a lot of that with musicians.

Dre: Absolutely. Everything is technical now as far as the recording process.

Muhl: I can say that in the arts we've been seeing this paradigm shift for a long time. The actual student that not only we see coming in, but the student that we are looking for, is entirely different than what we were looking for 10 years ago, even. It is a very different model that has incredibly strong creative skills, and yet they are able to handle the technology, because they have to be. They create differently, they disseminate what they do differently, they market themselves differently. And it's been kind of a slow shift on academia's part to be able to recognize and really create something that is the right vehicle for those students.

Iovine: We don't feel we're pioneers in education. But what we are is we're giving Erica and her team at USC the funds to do this and to do something I think a lot of people in education want to do, according to what Erica's been telling me.  

What's also exciting about this is it feels like it creates a concentrated area for students to understand music, rather than just technology.
Iovine: If you look at the culture of the company we all respect, Apple – and Apple was founded in the culture of technology and liberal arts, and it's really influenced us, especially at Beats. And there are millions of kids that have those two sensibilities, and this is kind of how they flow. Whether you lean tech or arts or design, this place can really help you.

The program opens in 2014. Fast forward to 2018 – what is one project each of you hopes to see come out of the first class of students?
Muhl: The great thing about this program is what we have seen in kids of today is they are going to be engaging in careers that we can't even imagine yet. We have no idea what it's going to be, so my dream project is that one of those kids has created something we have no concept of what that might be right now. So there you go.

Dre: She's right. We don't even know it exists.

Iovine: Hopefully I'm not buried under Tommy Trojan by then.

You both have a lot of friends. Are there people you'd like to reach out to and have them involved?
Iovine: We're enthusiastic guys and our friends are terrific, and whoever wants to really get involved and help out, I'm sure Dre and I are going to be open to anything. It's really not about us.

What else do you want people to know about the school?
Dre: Look at what hip-hop can do.

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