Watch this. Seriously, Watch It.
Sometimes you watch a documentary series and it just blows you away; Making a Murderer, Wild Country & The Staircase - it happened with all of them for me. I've just finished watching another, The Defiant Ones, and I think that it may be just as good, if not better than any documentary I've seen before.
The Defiant Ones is a HBO series (available on Netflix in the UK) that documents the careers of Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre in parallel, culminating in them selling "Beats By Dr. Dre" to Apple for three billion dollars in 2014. Check out the trailer below:
The documentary kicks off with both of these guys at the beginning of their careers; Dre is working as DJ at a local club in Compton where he soon becomes a member of the popular hip-hop group World Class Wreckin' Cru. Meanwhile, Jimmy is just starting out learning his trade by sweeping the floors at a recording studio in NYC. Things move quite quickly for the pair and Dre soon becomes acquainted with a certain local drug dealer by the name of Eazy E, and aspiring rapper Ice Cube. Jimmy, with a stroke of luck, is asked to help out recording following an engineer being on holiday - it just so happens that a certain John Lennon was in the studio that day.
We soon see early flashes of genius from Dre as the foundations for rap group NWA are laid. During a recording session, he manages to convince a reluctant Eazy E to start rapping - and we all know how that turned out. Just listen to any track by him, or NWA and you can see how talented he is, he has such a unique voice. He'd never been much of a rapper before he met Dr. Dre, but Dre spotted the talent and knew exactly what he could do - and the rest they say, is history.
I found the NWA chapter of this documentary extremely fascinating, as I didn't really know the full story behind one of rap's most controversial groups. One of the more interesting stories was how the track "Fuck Tha Police" came to be. Following being on the receiving end of some unwarranted harassment from the local police, Ice Cube penned the track in retaliation and after some initial reluctance from Dre (the track actually spend some time in the trash!) the group recorded one of the most controversial, yet iconic, rap songs of all time. The song caused quite a cultural movement at the time and actually resulted in a letter from the FBI being sent to the group asking them to stop performing the track!
The documentary doesn't shy away from controversy either and highlights some of the more troubling times that the group and its members faced. During the times where both Eazy E and Ice Cube had gone their separate ways f, Dr. Dre violently assaulted Fox television presenter Dee Barnes as he was upset at how she had covered the acrimonious split of the group. While this was an extremely horrible and cowardly act, you see how remorseful Dre is regarding it, and how these events helped shaped his future.
Whilst NWA was busy causing controversy Jimmy was busy working his own genius, whilst learning from another. Jimmy got the opportunity to work with The Boss himself, Bruce Springsteen, on his legendary (and potentially the greatest rock record of all time) album Born To Run. I am a MASSIVE Springsteen fan, so anytime he is on film, I will sit up and take notice. When you look back at the documentary as a whole after finishing, you can really pinpoint this as a turning point in Jimmy's career where he learns a whole new work ethic from an absolute master of the art. Jimmy credits Bruce with teaching him a whole new way of working - but it works both ways, Bruce realised that Jimmy is going above and beyond and credits his commitment.
We also see earlier flashes of Jimmy's genius business mind at work. Whilst working with Patti Smith - he realised the need for her to have a huge hit single, and luckily he knew just the song. Following his work with Springsteen, he knew of a song that would be a perfect fit for Patti, so he tapped up The Boss to see if he would hand it over. Bruce being Bruce agreed to it no problem and the song in question; Because The Night - a track that ended up being more successful than any song of Springsteen's by that point.
“There are two kinds of guys that you’ll run into. One kind wanted to go home at 5 and their interest in what you were doing didn’t exceed the demands of the day for them. They never lasted. When you’re trying to push the boundaries and explore new frontiers you need to be surrounded by people who believe in what you’re doing”
Over the course of his career, Jimmy works with some of the biggest names in the music industry such as Tom Petty, U2, Stevie Nicks and Dire Straits and it quickly becomes apparent how just how smart a guy he really was. Fed up of waiting for artists to seek out his help, he decided to go it alone and be the one to seek out the new artists, and in 1990 Interscope Records was founded.
Interscope Records quickly became one of the biggest labels in the music business and was responsible for launching the careers of artists such as Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch, Tupac Shakur and No Doubt. We also see Jimmy's genius business brain at work yet again as he manages to sign one of the hottest bands of the moment - Trent Reznor fronted Nine Inch Nails. We see interviews with some of these artists and those around him and it's clear from these conversations just how well respected Jimmy is and his worth ethic to get business done.
We soon reach the point where the careers of Dre and Jimmy start to come together. In 1992 Jimmy and Interscope Records joined forces with Dr. Dre and Suge Knight to finance and distribute their record label Death Row Records. Many record labels had already passed on Dre's debut solo album The Chronic due to a combination of existing contracts and some other controversial goings on - but Jimmy being Jimmy was so impressed by the record, he made things happen.
As dedicated to greatness Dre is, he also knows when to give up. Following his hugely successful second album 2001, and his work producing records for other artists such as Eminem, 50 Cent, The Game, D.O.C and Eve, Dre's third solo album, titled Detox was scheduled for release in 2007. Over the years that followed, there was still no sign of the record, and as the years passed the anticipation grew. In media interviews, growing increasingly frustrated, Dre would state that the album "wasn't finished", and he "was working on it", and it "would be ready when it's ready".
“They’re the enemy of creativity. You never know when you’re going to be inspired and what’s going to inspire you. You can’t put a time limit on creativity. We’re artists. We’re just being creative, man. Shut the fuck up and let us do our job.”
Unashamed to admit that he suffered from "social anxiety" and was having trouble finishing the album as he strove for perfection, Detox was shelved. Instead, Dre decided to release a compilation album titled Compton, to be released alongside 2016's NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton. Dre confirmed that Compton would be his final album, and Detox would indeed, never be released. You have to admire Dre for knowing when to walk away from a project. Despite being in production for around 15 years, he knew he couldn't achieve the levels of quality that he wanted on Detox, so he knew that it would be better to not release it than release something he wouldn't be happy with.
In the final episode, we meet Eminem - perhaps rap's most controversial figure since the days of NWA and we learn the backstory of how he first met Dr. Dre and Jimmy. I don't want to spoil things too much, but the retelling of Dre & Eminem's first studio session, and how the track "My Name Is" came to be was a standout moment for me. Eminem talks quite strongly about his feelings for Dre & Jimmy, and how much he owes his career, and success to them - something that nearly never happened and took a lot of convincing execs to make happen.
By the end, the series comes full circle and we see the invention of Beats By Dr. Dre - the brainchild of Jimmy & Dre following several unsuccessful attempts by sneaker companies to try and get Dre to endorse their products. Unsurprisingly, it was Jimmy who came up with the suggestion that made most business sense - speakers and headphones. We are then given a glimpse in to the marketing strategy that turned Beats By Dr. Dre into perhaps the most successful and recognisable headphone brand in the world. Following their domination of the speaker world, the company moved in to the world of digital music and Beats Music was born. This venture proved to be not quite as successful as the headphones initially - until of course, Apple got involved. Wanting to make the company as profitable as possible, Jimmy as always knew what to do - he convinced Apple to splash three billion dollars to purchase the company in 2014, a deal that turned out to be the largest acquisition in Apple's history. Even in the latter stages of his career, Jimmy proves that he is still one of the smartest, most respected guys in the industry.
Along with just how purely interesting, and engaging this documentary is, it has been filmed absolutely incredibly. The cinematography on series really is top class. I think that's also part of the reason why it kept me so hooked. It's often the hallmark of a good documentary and occasionally you will switch one on that looks a bit rubbish, and before you know it you have switched it off again.
The series may clock in at around five hours, but that didn't stop me binging it all in one sitting - it was that engrossing, and the story of these guys careers is so interesting that it makes it 100% worth the investment. The Defiant Ones also teaches an extremely valuable lesson about work ethic and commitment to excellence. These guys are the best in the industry for a reason and they didn't get there by chance; it took years of hard work, dedication and a work ethic like no other.
I can't recommend The Defiant Ones enough. If you have any sort of interest in hip-hop, or even just the music industry in general - then this is absolutely worth your time. The interviews are eye-opening and insightful, it doesn't shy away from controversy and it is shot absolutely beautifully. I came out of this knowing a hell of a lot more than I did before I watched it. Do yourself a favour and watch it for yourself.
The Defiant Ones gets 5 out of 5 from me.