Dr. Dre has lived it. With N.W.A, he blazed a trail for gangsta rap in the late Eighties before striking out on his own with 1992's The Chronic, which defined the West Coast sound. But that was a long time ago. Since his first and only solo album, Dre, who is now thirty five, has directed videos, left Death Row Records, produced a bunch of rappers, discovered a bona fide star in Eminem and even mixed a song on the new Nine Inch Nails record. Sitting in New York's Rihga Royal Hotel bar and munching on crab cakes in a corner booth, he is ready to talk about his second solo effort, Dr. Dre 2001. Well, almost ready. There's a disagreement among his crew, and they've come to Dre's table to seek a solution. "We'll have to go to homey court later," he says, straight-faced, then laughs. "I'm Judge Dre, Dr. Dre — I've got about fifteen jobs. Sometimes, though, I'm the one on trial in homey court."
A few songs are about re-establishing your reputation. Do you really think people forgot?
There's only a couple of songs where I'm defensive. I'm just responding to the shit I was hearing. People were saying that I didn't have it anymore and that I hadn't made a good record in years. I just can't ignore that shit. I had to respond. So this is my "Shut the fuck up" album. Now what do you people have to say?
This album has a lot of clean piano sounds and strings.
Well, I definitely wanted a different sound. I wanted people to feel the same vibe they did when they heard the first one, but with some 2001 futuristic shit going on. I got the drums much cleaner on this one, and the way I have everything panning and the sounds coming out is cool. I think I'm on with this one.
Am I crazy, or is there a mandolin on there?
I didn't use any mandolin. I really tried to stay away from all those Italiano type of sounds, but there are a lot of strings. I worked with this composer, Camara Kambon, who won an Emmy for a documentary on Sonny Liston. He's on some major shit. I wanted the music to come from the brain. I think I've got only one sample on there. Most of it is from thin air — nothing.
You started the West Coast's love of the mini-Moog. Was it hard to keep off the stuff?
Yeah. I really tried to stay away from those high-pitched sounds, but, you know, some songs were just asking for it: "Please mess me with that high-pitched shit." I kinda replaced the Moog on this one with a Nord Lead — it's a little red keyboard. It's bad, kid. You get the Moog sound but with a different texture.
"The Message," with Mary J. Blige, is a very earnest, from-the-heart song.
It's basically about my brother that got killed. I've always wanted to make a song or do something about him. Finally this came along. It's ironic — I also always wanted to work with Mary J. Blige. She heard it, sung it — didn't charge me anything. She came in and did her thing, and I love her for that.
How did you reunite with Snoop?
I just called him and asked him to get down on my record. He came through and asked me to do the same. I came through. It's as simple as that. No money exchanged hands. We don't even talk about business. It's automatic.
Didn't you two stop talking for a while?
There's never been any bad vibes between me and Snoop. I think that was created because of my split with Death Row. We probably needed to break away from each other, but in that break, we both realized that we are a lot better together. It's never about business with us. Me and Snoop are always, like, nonstop ideas when we're together. We have some projects we're going to be partners on — straight-to-video movies and shit like that.
Is there going to be an N.W.A reunion?
Yeah. I'm looking forward to it. I talked to Cube, talked to Ren, and we're going to sit down soon. It's gonna be me, Cube, Ren and Snoop. We're gonna call the album Not These Niggas Again.
It seems that these days, rappers are fearful of not showing love or allegiance to every rap family. It's almost politically correct. What's up?
If you're not sincere with it, you shouldn't say anything at all. There's a lot of people on the West Coast that still don't get along with the East Coast, and vice versa. We know that. At least it's a much smaller percentage now. We're building bridges out here. It was funny for me to get off the airplane here in New York, turn the radio on in the car and hear my song. West Coast hardly ever gets played in New York. In L.A., we listen to everything. If it's banging, it's banging — we don't care where it's from.
How has your life changed in the last nine years?
I've gotten my personal life all the way intact and made sure that it's straight. Without that, you have no foundation. Your building is going to crumble.
Was there anything in particular you needed to change?
Just me. That's all.