Dr. Dre Explains Why Eminem Was The Missing Link In Making 2001 (Video)

Twenty years ago today (November 16, 1999), Dr. Dre released his sophomore solo album, 2001. It became a benchmark album that book-ended a decade that the producer and rapper had fueled. Personally and musically, plenty had happened since The Chronic, which marked Dre’s first album since leaving N.W.A. and Eazy-E.

The Compton, California producer, rapper, and DJ had left Death Row Records three and a half years earlier, in 1996. In a new interview, he compares that year to “Vietnam.” In the exit, he’d reportedly forfeited an ownership stake and his personal song publishing in a Gangsta Rap empire. Dre had launched Aftermath Entertainment, also distributed by Jimmy Iovine’s Interscope. This label, using the mantra “We don’t set trip; we set trends,” began as something of a musical playground. Dre’s early signings included Compton O.G. King T and Death Row’s first pardon, RBX. Leaving Daz, Sam Sneed, and others, Dre created a new musical team of West Coast pioneer Chris “The Glove” Taylor, as well as Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania’s Mel-Man and Bud’dha, among others. In its first year, Dre released a compilation of his new roster. He also released Nas’ super-group The Firm’s Album, compromised of Escobar, AZ, Foxy Brown, and last-minute Cormega-replacement, Nature. However, even with Nas’ project topping the charts, many fans felt like Dre’s new venture was lacking compared to the glory of N.W.A. or Death Row.

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Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine appear together for a video that recalls the making of 2001. “That day at Jimmy’s house, in his garage, completely changed the course of my life forever,” Dre says. At Interscope’s Chairman’s house, Dre heard a demo tape and reportedly some battle material from a Detroit, Michigan MC by the name of Eminem.

At that time, Dre was looking for talent. Dre recalls, “It was the same approach [as The Chronic], because I’m trying to put myself in the studio with a lot of great artists, as far as the microphone, and where it goes. [Meanwhile], I’m just trying to get on a song or two, here and there. My first album, The Chronic and 2001, I believe I might be on four or five songs. It sounds and appears like I’m on more, because of the way I sequenced the song and structured it. I didn’t want to appear on the album at all, to be honest. I just wanted to produce—find artists and produce ’em. The D.O.C. talked me into getting on the mic and doing this thing.” However, few could deny that Dre was the biggest star on his label.

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Meanwhile, Hip-Hop wanted to see how Dr. Dre would respond to haters. Namely, Suge Knight’s label had used artists to take jabs at Dre, personally and musically. His 1996 album single “Been There Done That” was remade disparagingly by J-Flexx, a disgruntled writer from Dre’s Row team. Meanwhile, earlier in ’99, Knight released a compilation, The Chronic 2000, shoplifting Dre’s touted title. Dre’s former manager-turned-partner used matching artwork to The Chronic, and originally planned to pack the double-album with unreleased and remixed Dre tracks. As legend has it, Dre offered Suge points from 2001 to recant the name. The friend-turned-foe and his staff refused. Dre and those around him, including Eminem and Snoop, were being trolled in the years before the term existed. 2001 demanded a reply.

Dr. Dre remembers 1999 that way too. “In the ’90s, Hip-Hop was a contact sport. All of a sudden, I’m on my own again. And I have to go find new artists and musicians to work with. Fortunately for myself, I had done it once before when I separated from Eazy and Jerry Heller and Ruthless [Records]. So I know what the feeling of starting over feels like. But the second time, I had Jimmy.” Iovine, who had been in the music business for more than 30 years, was taken by Marshall Mathers. He brought Eminem to Dre.

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The introduction changed things, even before 2001. “Eminem was the missing link. Hearing [Eminem’s] demo and how it made me feel, and then meeting him, and how we say eye-to-eye as far as the work goes, and what we wanted to do in the studio—he was hungry, I was hungry, and it was just that spontaneous combustion. We just clicked, and that just brought everything and everyone together that was happening at the time,” Dre says. “We found out that what we were doing really works, and that’s all we needed. It’s like, ‘Okay, The Slim Shady LP, they like that.’ Now that we know what works, wait til’ they hear this.'” In early 1999, Dre executive produced Eminem’s major label debut, which eventually was certified quadruple-platinum. It presented Dre’s ear in a new way, outside of West Coast Gangsta Rap. It also introduced the mainstream to a witty, profane, and incredibly agile lyricist from the battle circuit.

Eminem kept that same energy for Dre’s project. He wrote “Forgot About Dre,” which would become a video single (embedded below). “He wrote the song for me and Snoop, originally,” remembers Dre. “He laid the reference vocals for Snoop, and I liked the way it sounded [better].” That’s the version that made the LP. Dre never addresses his haters by name, but the song gave Young the latest word. He addressed the lukewarm response to 1996’s compilation as well as the jeers from the cheap seats of the music industry.

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Dre and Jimmy also recall “The Next Episode.” Dre reveals that it was the last song recorded for 2001. While he wished it to be the first single, Iovine vehemently refused, suggesting that Young was chasing a hit in his reunion with Nate Dogg, Snoop Dogg, and Tha Dogg Pound’s Kurupt—building on an early ’90s-era demo routine that did not make the first album.

Iovine recalls rushing the release after that final approved addition. “You put the album out the minute you can, ’cause [Dr. Dre] may change his mind. Doggystyle came out, I think nine days after it was finished,” the music mogul says of Snoop’s Dre-helmed debut six Novembers earlier. “The greatest promotion man is the person with the best record.”

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Ultimately, Young and Iovine settled on “Still D.R.E.” Dre recalls, “JAY-Z wrote those lyrics. I think they came back in maybe 24 hours with the whole song written.” That song became the comeback single. The video recreated a new “Nuthin’ But A ‘G’ Thang,” complete with older, wiser Dre, Snoop, and D.O.C. cruising the streets of Los Angeles in the deep purple 1964 Impala lowrider. It packed a new, different sound, and it showed a confident Andre Young reclaiming his props as Hip-Hop’s best ear.

At AFH TV, there is a 1999 interview with Eminem. We are currently offering free 7-day trials.

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#BonusBeat: Dr. Dre, Eminem and Hittman’s “Forgot About Dre” video: