Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine bask in their suc­cess

HBO’s ‘The De­fi­ant Ones’ is a les­son in keep­ing an open mind — and open ears

The Hamilton Spectator - - A&E - HANK STUEVER Wash­ing­ton Post

Di­rec­tor Allen Hughes’ daz­zling and de­fin­i­tive four-part HBO doc­u­men­tary “The De­fi­ant Ones,” which chron­i­cles the un­likely pair­ing and mu­tual rise of record pro­duc­ers Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine, sets out to tell a rags-to-riches story, but it mostly dwells on the riches.

The film, more than four hours long end-to-end, is the kind of solid but friendly doc­u­men­tary all celebri­ties dream of hav­ing made about them, awash in jaw-drop­ping sweeps of Mal­ibu beach houses, vis­its to luxe man­sion in­te­ri­ors and pri­vate-jet cab­ins, sup­ple­mented by drone’s-eye views of yachts and es­tates and per­fect light­ing ev­ery­where Iovine and Dre go. De­spite its fix­a­tion on provoca­tive and at times har­row­ing (and even crim­i­nal) tra­vails, “The De­fi­ant Ones” never stops bask­ing in the per­ma­glow of their suc­cess, which, seen here, is more beau­ti­ful than any high-def­i­ni­tion film about ma­rine life. Even Tom Petty looks gor­geous.

With the de­ter­mined thor­ough­ness of a rol­lick­ing 700-page biography, “The De­fi­ant Ones” de­votes its first two (and most interesting) episodes to ex­plor­ing the wildly dif­fer­ent early lives of Iovine, 64, the son of a Brook­lyn long­shore­man, and Dre (An­dre Young), 52, born to a sin­gle mother in Comp­ton, Calif.

A shift­less Iovine, who hated Catholic school and loved rock ‘n’ roll, got a job mop­ping floors and an­swer­ing phones at record­ing stu­dios, even­tu­ally work­ing as an en­gi­neer, lucky enough to be the only techie avail­able for ses­sions with John Len­non and, most mem­o­rably, see­ing Bruce Spring­steen through the ar­du­ous mak­ing of “Born to Run,” the singer’s break­out al­bum. From there, Iovine finds his true tal­ent for deal mak­ing and hit-spot­ting, work­ing with Patti Smith, Ste­vie Nicks, Petty, U2 and other chart­top­pers. Though he pos­sesses nat­u­ral tal­ents for both au­dio en­gi­neer­ing and al­bum pro­duc­ing, Iovine’s true knack is a form of alchemy, an abil­ity to mix tal­ented peo­ple and en­cour­age and then ex­tract their best work, ex­ploit­ing it to su­per­star­dom.

“(Iovine) hap­pens to you,” says U2 front­man Bono. “He’s like a virus that enters the sys­tem un­in­vited. ... He knows this is go­ing to work out well for both of you.”

Dre’s story is more fas­ci­nat­ing, in­cor­po­rat­ing as it must the emer­gence of a sub­genre — gangsta rap — within the larger creation story of rap and hip-hop in the 1980s. Dre also comes across as a far more com­pli­cated man than Iovine. De­spite all the hours (years, in fact) of ac­cess he has given to Hughes, Dre’s in­ner­most thoughts re­main enig­matic and ob­scured, even if his short­com­ings are more promi­nently dis­played. (In­clud­ing the time he as­saulted a fe­male TV host, among other skir­mishes with the law that led to a brief 1994 prison sen­tence.)

What’s most clear, when com­par­ing Dre and Iovine, is that Dre has the su­pe­rior ear and tech­ni­cal know-how. His ear­li­est pro­duc­tion work, made at home, “just sounded bet­ter than any­thing on my speak­ers,” Iovine says.

By the early 1990s, Iovine was run­ning his own record la­bel, In­ter­scope, which came to the res­cue of Dre’s la­bel, Death Row Records, dur­ing a par­tic­u­larly fiery pe­riod in Amer­ica’s cul­ture/me­dia wars, as crit­ics sought to blame Dre, who first found no­to­ri­ety with his group N.W.A. and the con­tro­ver­sial rap song “F--- tha Po­lice,” and his co­hort (Snoop Doggy Dogg, Tu­pac Shakur) for a rise in crime and the over­all de­cline of civ­i­liza­tion.

“The De­fi­ant Ones” treats the height of gangsta rap (in­clud­ing the ri­val­ries be­tween East and West Coast rap­pers and the 1996 shoot­ing death of Shakur) in much the same way that Ken Burns treated the his­tory of jazz, but with­out as much con­text as Ezra Edel­man’s “O.J.: Made in Amer­ica.” At this point in the story, it might have been wise to slow down and probe a lit­tle more than Hughes does.

In­ter­scope, with artists like Nine Inch Nails and Mar­i­lyn Man­son, was fa­mil­iar with the art of provo­ca­tion and the blow­back from would-be cen­sors, but more than that, Iovine des­per­ately ad­mired the mu­sic that Dre and oth­ers were mak­ing — enough to defy ex­ec­u­tives at Time Warner, then the la­bels’ par­ent com­pany, and keep putting out the edgi­est ma­te­rial pos­si­ble. Sup­port­ing Dre en­sured the dis­cov­ery and sign­ing of up­com­ing tal­ent, in­clud­ing Eminem, 50 Cent and Ken­drick La­mar.

The 21st cen­tury ar­rives like a morn­ing-af­ter headache, and the record in­dus­try be­gins to reel from the ar­rival of Nap­ster and other mu­sic-shar­ing web­sites that evis­cer­ate the busi­ness model. It’s here that “The De­fi­ant Ones” be­gins to fall back on plat­i­tudes and ex­ec­u­tivesuite back-pat­ting, telling the story of Iovine and Dre’s nec­es­sary piv­ots as moguls in a dig­i­tal era — end­ing, most spec­tac­u­larly, with the creation of Beats Mu­sic, an idea for top-notch head­phones that they ride to a $3 bil­lion deal with Ap­ple.

By the end of Part 4, the doc­u­men­tary has dwelled too much and too long on their self-sat­is­fac­tion (par­tic­u­larly Iovine’s), which is fine if you like watch­ing rich peo­ple en­joy the twi­light.

Where “The De­fi­ant Ones” re­ally soars how­ever — and where it can teach all of us a les­son — is by cap­tur­ing what hap­pens when we open our minds and ears to one an­other. There is no log­i­cal rea­son Iovine and Dre be­long to­gether in the pan­theon of me­dia moguls, ex­cept that they heard and un­der­stood each other on a level that tran­scended race, back­ground and per­son­al­ity. It’s one of the great bro­mances of our time.

“The De­fi­ant Ones” (four parts) be­gins Sun­day at 9 p.m. on HBO. Con­tin­ues nightly through Wed­nes­day, July 12.


Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine are the cen­tral char­ac­ters in HBO’s “The De­fi­ant Ones.”

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