Producers Cool & Dre on What It’s Like to Make a Beyonce and Jay-Z Album
When Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s album Everything Is Love appeared suddenly on Tidal on Saturday night, a surprising name stood out on the credits list: veteran duo Cool & Dre co-produced three of the nine songs on the album, along with a bonus track. Cool & Dre were ubiquitous on much of the radio in the mid-2000s – see Ja Rule’s “New York” and the Game’s “Hate It or Love It,” for starters – and enjoyed a recent renaissance as the team behind Fat Joe’s “All the Way Up.” The pair had never worked on a Jay-Z or Beyoncé album before, though. On Everything Is Love, they’re responsible for “Summer,” the album’s soul-sampling opener; the radio-ready, Dr. Dre-interpolating “713”; and a pair of triumphant cuts that appear near the end of the LP, “Black Effect” and “Salud!” Cool & Dre co-produced more tracks than anyone on the album other than Beyoncé and Jay-Z themselves.
“We always joke with Jay: Working with them two is like working with the Golden State Warriors,” Dre says. “We can just dribble the ball up the floor and look like geniuses.” Rolling Stone spoke with the duo – Dre is by far the chattier of the two – about how they ended up on Everything Is Love, the recording sessions in Paris and Cardiff, and how Jay-Z and Beyoncé’s talents pushed them to new creative heights.
How did you get involved in the album?
Dre: We’ve had a relationship with Jay-Z shit, for 15 years. OG Juan introduced me to Jay shortly after [The Game’s] “Hate It or Love It” was ringing off. He told me back in the day: “‘Hate It or Love It,’ I get it, I gotta let that go. But [Ja Rule’s] ‘New York,’ you were supposed to hand deliver that to me. You gotta find a way to get to me.” We’ve always had a cordial relationship with him. We never had the opportunity to get on one of his albums. You have to be right beside him. Jay has a thing, he’ll text or email: “Stay close.” That’s advice you have to take literally. He’ll record in two weeks and the album is done.
So probably eight, nine weeks ago, Cool and I started sending him ideas. We emailed it to him, and I reminded him about that time he told me, “Yo, before we send this to anyone else, I’m gonna take your advice and hand deliver it to you first.” He emailed right back after he heard it, “This shit’s crazy. Keep feeding me.” After a couple records, we gave him one song that he loved so much he was like, “You in L.A.? Come over.” We’re in Miami right now, but we’re gonna be in LA immediately; I’m booking flights. He invites us over, and in a 10 or 11 hour span, we cut around five or six records. Towards the end, he started playing me records that him and Beyoncé cut. There was one record that Cool kept saying, “Yo, Dre, don’t leave there without playing him ‘Salud!'” So after he played a couple Beyoncé duet records, I was like, “Yo, can I play you one more?” It was just the beat, but he was like, “What the fuck? You wait until the end of the night to play this shit? You crazy?” I was like, “I got a hook idea.” He’s like, “Lay that shit.”
As I was laying it, Beyoncé walks into the studio. When it was done, she played it three or four times, and she’s like, I love this, this is great. From that night, Jay kept saying, “Stay close.” Young Guru [Jay Z’s longtime engineer], God bless the man, one of the realest guys ever, made sure he kept me and Cool in the loop. These people are busy as hell, so he would always let us know what’s going on. He’s like, “Yo, we’re going to Paris, if you guys want to come out, you should come out.” We stayed there with B and Jay for two and a half or three weeks in Paris.
Jay has a thing, he’ll text or email: “Stay close.” That’s advice you have to take literally.
When you initially sent him those beats, did you know he was working on this album?
Dre: Not at all. Back when we did “All the Way Up” and he got on the remix, he reached out and was just showing love. I made it a point to stay in touch. He said, “Stay in touch, don’t be afraid to hit me. If you do something that’s crazy, don’t be afraid to send it to me.”
What was the atmosphere like in Paris?
Dre: They were rehearsing for the tour at this stadium, and they bought out the owner’s suites upstairs and set up studios upstairs. While we were working out, we would look out the window and watch Jay and B prepare for the tour, rehearsing, all the lights. Once he let us know his focus, we started working on that too. “Salud!,” the bonus cut, was the first record Beyoncé cut. She cut that before we went to Paris. That’s when we knew we were in the right place. To have a relationship with Hov don’t mean shit with Beyoncé.
Cool: We were in a special zone. When you look to the side and you see the stage and you see magic being put together, it was straight inspiration. That’s when “713” and “Summer” were birthed. We were getting out as much creative heat as we can.
Dre: It was important for us to physically be there. A record like “Summer,” when Cool played the music, I started coming up with melody ideas, words and hooks. When we played it for them, I think they didn’t know we could bring that to the table. They knew they could get some hard-ass beats from Cool & Dre. But they didn’t know they were gonna hear a record they could connect so close with. This is Beyoncé and Jay-Z, arguably the best in both categories. We went into the studio every day with the sole focus of, let’s try to blow these people away.
You made “Summer” from a Leon Michels sample?
Dre: He had that one section that spoke to us immediately. Big up Leon. He’s an unbelievable musician. Me and Cool are sample guys. That’s what we do. It’s so great now in 2018 to work with guys who can create original music and we can sample them.
Why did you want to end that song with those strings?
Dre: Shout to my man Maserati [Tony Maserati, longtime Beyoncé engineer]. There’s a reason Beyoncé and Jay-Z are credited as producers – they produce. They heard it and were like, “This sounds great, but let’s add some live strings.”
And this whole album was made after that session in Paris?
Dre: Yep. The reason we say they’re like the Warriors is they shoot from full court, and it goes in every time. People were still recording parts an hour and a half before the last show in London, three hours before the album was released. They were still putting last second touches on. This shit is not a game. They don’t have rules. The album got turned in three hours before it got let go.
The last couple days was no sleep, in the studio non-stop. The record gets sent off to mastering, then they hear, and want to change this, this, and this. You master the record, they ask for changes. Everything was crunch time. They’re doing this as they rehearse for this humongous tour.
This shit is not a game. They don’t have rules. The album got turned in three hours before it got let go.
How did “713” come together?
Dre: Big-up our young producer 808-Ray that Cool discovered on SoundCloud a few years ago. He’s a phenomenal programmer. The “713” record, he was like, “Let’s try to make it a little more West Coast, like Dr. Dre was on it, that era.” Then I was like, “What if we come with the ‘I’m representin’ for the hustlers all across the world?'” You know Jay-Z wrote that shit for Dr. Dre? Let’s pitch the idea to him and see if Beyoncé will do it for 713 [a Houston zip code]. Hov loved it.
When were in Paris, me and Cool were being very deliberate. We would watch as Jay and Bey finished the rehearsal and were walking away from the stage. Our room upstairs was directly over the tunnel they had to walk under. I would look, Jay and B would be walking towards the tunnel and I’d say, “Yo, Cool, play that!” He would play the beat, and I would open up the door to hear what he was doing. Before you know it, they pop in our room.
“713” was one of those nights when they were up in our room upstairs. They loved the hook, they loved the beat. Beyoncé had told Jay, “Yo, we need to do a hardcore love song, like back in the day, when Method Man and Mary J. [Blige] had that hard record together. Jay was like, “I know exactly what beat to do this to,” and pulled this one out the stash.
I remember the night he pulled us into his studio and played it for us, he was like, “No one knows the story of how we met. This was the first time I’m ever telling this story.” Boom, he plays it for us. After we listened to the first verse and the hook and the beat played a couple times, he looks at us and he goes, “I never knew a love-ove-ove like this – oh shit, I gotta cut this!”
Cool: Just seeing how that came together, we literally were in the room when he started that second verse. The “net work” line [“Queen, I ain’t mean no disrespect/But the way I net work, it’s hard for me to connect”] he came up with while he was in on the mic. He had his eyes closed and it just came to him. You know it came to him right away.
When did you guys move from Paris to Cardiff?
Dre: We were in Paris for a couple weeks. Jay told us to stay close; we’re gonna stay close. Beyoncé’s team were like, “things are going good, we’d like for you guys to continue working. Can you come out to Cardiff?” I gotta salute my brother Cool, in this game you gotta make sacrifices. Cool missed his daughter’s graduation from eighth grade. That’s my goddaughter, too.
Cool: We did Cardiff for a week. That was a crucial week, when the album was really fine-tuned and finished.
And how did “Black Effect” come together?
Dre: We did the beat in Miami. Jay mentioned he wanted a sample feel with a vocal singing through it. We reached our guy Smitty, he’s great at finding samples. He digs all day. I was like, “yo, you got anything in your stash with someone singing some pain shit?” He pulled that one up [the sample is Flower Travellin’ Band’s ”Broken Strings”] and we cooked that up. When we sent it to him, he was like, “This is fucking crazy.” The original beat we put on was more hip-hop; he was like, “This shit needs some bounce.” So we switched it up and gave it more of a trap feel. 808-Ray came in on hard on that. Jay-Z took it to another place. Beyoncé came and added those crazy “higher” vocals.
That sample is pretty esoteric.
Dre: Right now as we speak, this guy is on YouTube searching up old shit. He loves to dig.
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