Throughout N.W.A's brief career, it was Ice Cube who served as the group's main political firebrand — a shit-starter of the highest order, unafraid to take on systemic injustice and institutional hypocrisy. But on "Animals," Dr. Dre's track off his recently released Compton, it's the Beats mogul and reclusive producer who delivers one of the most impassioned and political verses of the year.
Overseen by Dre, DJ Premier and Russian producer BMB Spacekid, and written by Dre collaborators King Mez and Anderson Paak, the track offers a blunt look at class division, police brutality and racial profiling.
"Not all of us criminals/But cops be yelling, 'Stay back nigga!'" Dre rhymes on the King Mez–written verse. "We need a little bit of payback/Don't treat me like an animal/'Cause all this shit is flammable/Don't fuck around, 'cause when it's done, it's done."
According to Premier, working with Dre for the first time in his 26-year friendship with the N.W.A-member-turned-solo-star, the polemical track addresses a continuing problem head-on. "Not every cop is bad, but the bad ones really deserve a payback for all the bullshit they do," Premier tells Rolling Stone. "It's not even fair to humanity. Then y'all wonder why y'all get shot at and dealt with. Stop the madness on us, and we'll stop the madness on you. Until then, that badge and gun need to be dealt with with honor and respect. Otherwise, we ain't giving you respect back. Fuck you."
Before Dre was involved, Primo and BMB Spacekid created the skeleton of the beat in Moscow earlier this year as part of a project for Boiler Room TV. MF Doom originally signed on to handle vocals but backed out when he had to have surgery. Paak came in as a replacement to record his vocals in Moscow shortly after.
Premier tells Rolling Stone it wasn't coincidence that Paak — who wrote his verses first, when the song was originally called "FSU" ("Fuckin' Shit Up") — penned his contribution to the track after the death of Freddie Gray and shortly before the unrest in Baltimore.
"He was extremely angry over what happened to Freddie Gray," Primo recalls. "The song was basically done before Dre heard it, and Dre was meeting with Anderson on a separate issue. When they met, his manager brought it up to Dre, and Anderson played it for him. Dre was like, 'Yo, I want this on the album, and I want to rap on it too.' I was like, 'Hell, yeah.'"
Dre and Premier continued to work on the track together in Dre's home studio, with Talib Kweli recording an unused verse for the song. (It's unclear if Dre will release that version at a later date.)
For Primo, who first met Dre at a 1989 record-release party for Gang Starr's debut album, No More Mr. Nice Guy, it was Dre's work ethic that attracted him to the project as much as his talent.
"Dre told me in the studio, 'I never considered myself a rapper.'" —DJ Premier
Despite hip-hop's resurgent ghostwriter controversy, Dre has never been ashamed to admit he doesn't write his own verses. "Dre told me in the studio, 'I never considered myself a rapper,'" Primo says. "'I'm a producer and a DJ.' But he makes it his own rhyme, and he knows how to turn into the person who wrote it.
"I know he's been keeping his eye on me just like I'm keeping my eye on him," Primo added. "He said, 'One of the things that always amazed me about you is every album that you've done, you do all of it: production, scratching, mixing. Everything.' He wants work going on 24/7. You better be working. There's no sitting around. If somebody yawns, you're going to hear him say, 'Don't do that in front of me.'"