J. Prince Reveals How He & Mike Dean Got Dr. Dre’s Secret Production Formula (Video)
From the somber swing of Scarface’s The Diary to the flamboyant complement to JAY-Z & Kanye West’s Watch The Throne, Grammy Award-winning producer, mixer, engineer, and musician Mike Dean has been a versatile sound provider for 25 years. Few creators can do as much as Mike in the genre, across era, region, and style. The Houston, Texan earned some of his earliest credits while cultivating a sound for the 1990s and 2000s Rap-A-Lot Records roster. Dean used his skills with the guitar, keyboards, and beat machines to give rappers and singers a vibe that wrote new chapters in the Dirty South legacy. That ability would take Dean to the West Coast for a stay, and later, Hawaii, Manhattan’s Mercer Hotel, and more recently, Wyoming—thanks to Kanye West. Rap-A-Lot founder J. Prince recently explained his hand in helping lead Mike Dean to bigger platforms, and a monstrous sound. According to the O.G. executive who just published his memoir, The Art & Science Of Respect, it began with surrounding the music virtuoso with the right people.
“I met Mike Dean in Digital Studios [in] Houston. He came in to play an instrument—a guitar or something; I think he was part of a band,” Prince recalls for Ambrosia For Heads. Back then, J. was running many of Rap-A-Lot’s creative and business operations. He hired Dean to work on Geto Boy solo projects like Willie D’s I’m Goin’ Out Like A Soldier and Bushwick Bill’s Little Big Man. “I placed him under [Rap-A-Lot producer John] Bido,” says J. “That’s who really taught Mike Dean how to produce.” Under the man born John Okuribido—who had been with the label since the late 1980s—Dean reportedly sharpened his technical skills. “Mike Dean studied him, and I watched Mike Dean evolve. I watched how fast, how quick his mind was with different things. He had a relentless work ethic.” Prince says he admired those qualities because he related. “Mike Dean was one of the only ones who’d stay woke with me, after I’d put everybody else to sleep,” Prince says with a laugh, referring to the two men working for days at a time without sleep.
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According to Prince, he wanted Dean to work alongside others, just as he had with Bido. Tone Capone, an Oakland, California producer later responsible for Tha Luniz’ “I Got 5 On It” joined Dean in Houston. Louisiana’s N.O. Joe also entered the Rap-A-Lot fold in the early 1990s. Prince tells AFH, “What I started doin’ was I started placing Mike Dean under every producer that we done worked with, even up to Dr. Dre.”
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Dre had a working relationship with J. Prince and Rap-A-Lot. The producer who had Geto Boys on and around his Chronic sessions in 1992, produced solo cuts for Scarface and Devin The Dude. Face’s 1997 #1 The Untouchable and Devin’s Just Tryin’ ta Live were albums Dean and Dre both worked on.
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Rap-A-Lot’s founder says he had a precise plan. “There was a sound that Dre had. When [DJs] put his wax on in the club, and I put my [Rap-A-Lot] wax on in the club, [his sounded] so much louder than ours.” Back in the ’90s, the Rap-A-Lot’s vinyl records read “Club Wax” on the label, as a testament to the importance of nightlife. J says, “I’d talk to Mike Dean about that all the time.” When Dre and Scarface had a session in California, Prince insisted Mike Dean attend. “I sent Mike Dean with a message. I said, ‘Man, I want you to watch everything this man’s doin’. I want you to come back with his secret,'” Prince remembers with a laugh. “And Mike Dean came back with the formula. Our sound was different from then forward.” The independent label mogul who now owns two islands in Belize does not specify that formula. However, Rap-A-Lot enjoyed some critical acclaim and commercial success during its tenure with Mike Dean at the boards.
“That’s who Mike Dean is. He’s a guy…if you let him sit around you…if he goes around the money, he gonna figure out how to leave with some of the money,” the businessman born James Smith says at the close of the segment.
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Since his days in H-Town, Dean’s sound has attracted artists ranging from Madonna to Migos. Meanwhile, he stays the course with Texas artists like Z-Ro and Travis Scott. However, the multi-threat’s talents go beyond the soundboard. Dean has co-writing credits as recently as Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s 2018 joint album. Mike can also be found on stage playing guitar and keys in concert for Kanye West and Scott. The veteran also operates his own label, M.W.A., since last year. In addition to The Carters, his handiwork is on Pusha-T’s DAYTONA and Kanye West’s ‘ye in the last month.
The Art & Science Of Respect by J. Prince is available now in paperback, hardcover, and audiobook.
Video Interview by Justin Hunte.
#BonusBeat: Just this week, Dean showed his appreciation for J. Prince’s text: