‘The Defiant Ones’ - partners who put the word out about hip-hop revolution

The Grammy-winning HBO documentary series that chronicles the musical partnership of Dr Dre and Jimmy Iovine, comes to Netflix on Friday

Dr. Dre (right) and Jimmy Iovine (left)
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Cultural milestones, like lottery wins, come about through the most improbable of combinations and change lives for ever.

When music-industry legends Jimmy Iovine, the son of a Brooklyn longshoreman, and Dr Dre, straight out of Compton, took a shine to each other and forged a brilliantly creative partnership, our ears won the jackpot.

If you're seriously interested in the history of hip-hop and modern pop, then you best not miss The Defiant Ones – a four-part HBO biographical documentary mini-series that streams on Netflix this Friday – as it spins the surprising life stories of Iovine and Dre and their leading roles in a series of transformative events that span decades.

No punch is pulled in this gripping and gritty saga that revels in the agony and ecstasy of each man's musical journey. It transports viewers into the recording studios, the humble homes and the massive mansions, and into the criminal courts and down the highest corridors of corporate power where their artistic battles, breakthroughs and the sonic magic materialised.

This Grammy Award-winning series – which was first broadcast last July on HBO in the US and enjoys a 100 per cent "fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes – is directed by Allen Hughes, 46, a black filmmaker with Detroit roots, who was given total freedom to interview both men.

Hughes is also known as half of the Hughes brothers. He and his twin, Albert, have co-produced and co-directed visceral films such as Menace II Society, Dead Presidents, From Hell and The Book of Eli.

"I think Allen killed it, he's a great director with a great idea and I think it's a great documentary," Iovine, 65, told BANG Showbiz at the London premiere of The Defiant Ones on March 15. "We went along for the ride and, ultimately, I think it's about overcoming fear and overcoming a lot of obstacles. I think people will enjoy it."

Historical highlights here include the late 1980s rise of gangsta rap – where Dre (Andre Romelle Young), first gained notoriety as part of the rebellious hip-hop group N.W.A. – an era documented in the 2015 biopic Straight Outta Compton, which he co-produced with his one-time N.W.A. bandmate, Ice Cube.

The series also features the music industry boom of the 1990s, and its collapse due to Napster-style internet sharing, and finally, Apple's multibillion-dollar acquisition of Beats by Dre in 2014, a premium-sound audio brand created by Iovine and Dre in 2006.

The first episode begins in Compton, California, where Dre's fascination with dance music, DJ innovations and sound leads him to become part of N.W.A., while Iovine works his way up from college dropout and floor sweeper to join the recording industry, where he builds a reputation as a producer.

In the second episode, N.W.A. evolves into a force to be reckoned with but a series of calamities leave Dre seeking a new start. Meanwhile, Iovine continues to zip up the music ladder thanks to collaborations with Tom Petty, Stevie Nicks, Dire Straits and U2.

Their two lives merge in the third episode, where Iovine launches a new career as co-founder of Interscope Records, cutting a deal with Death Row Records for Interscope to become the label’s distributor. Dre, Snoop Dogg and Tupac Shakur become embroiled in a violent feud with East Coast rap rivals.

In the finale Dre's fortunes sour after some disappointing solo releases, only to soar anew when Iovine turns him on to the music of a then-unknown white rapper named Eminem. The licence to print money comes when Iovine and Dre dream up the idea of Beats Electronics, vaulting the partners to dizzying financial heights.

The shows also include interviews with music stars such as Bono, David Geffen, Eminem, Nas, Stevie Nicks, Ice Cube, Gwen Stefani, Jon Landau, Tom Petty, Trent Reznor, Snoop Dogg, Bruce Springsteen, Diddy and will.i.am.

Viewers will also enjoy access to never-before-seen footage of recording and writing sessions with Eazy-E, J J Fad, Nicks, N.W.A., Petty, Springsteen and U2, among others.

One of the most spellbinding segments shows Eminem – in a moment of utter humility – recount how in 1998 he was homeless and broke when Dre, who was himself down on his career luck at the time, bet everything he had and fought racism at his own record company to bring a blond, blue-eyed white Detroit rapper to the masses, with a big assist from Iovine.

“Back in those days, I didn’t have an artist to work with,” says Dre, 53. “I would go to Jimmy’s house and have listening sessions. He was trying to help me figure out where I was going to go with my music.

"He would take me down to his garage. There was cassette tapes everywhere. And I remember him picking up this [Slim Shady] cassette tape. He popped this in, and I was like – what is that? … who is that? Rewind that. Play that again."

The rest is history. On the day they met, Dre knew he had to sign Marshall Bruce Mathers III (Eminem), who would go on to sell 220 million records globally. Over the next decade, Iovine would do his part, too, to further shake up the planet's aural tectonics – helping make Lady Gaga the world's biggest pop star.

With their estimated net worths of US$770 million (Dh2.82 billion) for Dre and $950m for Iovine, things didn't turn out too badly at all.

The Defiant Ones is available for streaming on Netflix from Friday


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