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Hidden away on a cul-de-sac in the heart of North Miami is an anonymous gated property, unremarkable to neighbors and passersby. But beyond the gate, things rapidly change: There's a cherry tree in full bloom and a sparkling waterfront view. It seems more upstate New York than North Miami-Dade. Welcome to the Lake House, the newly acquired nerve center of local hip-hop producers Marcello Valenzano and Andre Christopher Lyon, better known as Cool and Dre, respectively.
"We specifically wanted to be away from South Beach, away from all that craziness. When an artist comes here, they can feel at peace," Cool explains. "Plus we're in North Miami. This is our hood; we grew up, like, five minutes from here. And to think we never knew something so beautiful like this existed. That's crazy."
Dre, meanwhile, takes pride in showing off the Italian marble countertops and exterior landscaping at the studio. It's a far cry from flaunting 22s on his custom-made Chevy Chevelles, as he famously did on an episode of MTV's Whips and Dubs. Well, that was then, and this is now.
It's apparent that both Cool and Dre have grown more mature and refined since their debut on the hip-hop scene in 2001. The hometown heroes did Miami proud by being among the first locals to contribute beats for Fat Joe and the Terror Squad. Their production of "King of N.Y." on Joe's 2001 album, Jealous Ones Still Envy, cemented their reputation early on, and the duo has rocked with the Don since.
In fact, at the time of this interview, the producers had just returned from a video shoot with Joe and newly minted R&B prince Trey Songz for Joe's new single, "If It Ain't About the Money." Of course, they produced that too.
"We rolling with Fat Joe for life," says Dre, recalling when he first gave Fat Joe a 60-track CD of productions, from which one made the final cut. "Back then, we were in New York, selling our own produced mixtapes out of our trunk, when we got the call from Joe. It was huge that he put us down like that, and we owe him a lot."
But now, with nearly a solid decade in the industry, the duo has worked with nearly everyone else who matters. From Lil Wayne to Queen Latifah, from Busta Rhymes to Wale, old-school to new-school, even throw in some Gym Class Heroes, and it's a pretty solid resumé of number one hits that span a whole generation of hip-hop diehards. The duo is so in demand now, in fact, that a Cool and Dre beat can fetch six figures.
"It's bananas to think that there are kids growing up now that hear our music, and it defined their childhood, y'know? Think about it," Dre says. "We're like a soundtrack for an entire generation of kids who actually has a black man for a president! Anytime an artist steps into our studio, we let them know that it's that serious, that they're not just creating a song but a soundtrack for what's to come."
So if Cool and Dre are the soundtrack, who's the spokesperson? "Lil Wayne, most definitely!" the two agree, nearly in unison. And post-Rikers, whatever Weezy says will undoubtedly have a Cool and Dre beat behind it.
Making beats and creating new studios aren't the only things the two have going. Also on deck is a lucrative deal with GrooveMaker, an iPhone/iPod/iPad application that allows users to make digital beats using some of the moneymaking sounds by the moneymakers themselves.
"We're obsessed with technology," Cool says, "so for us to be able to provide sounds for something like this is unbelievable." But with the whole world being able to make its own Cool and Dre-esque beats via fast download for $7.99, are they worried they'll be out of business?
"Never!" Dre says, laughing. "People can copy all they want, but it's never like the original. They don't got our swag, our soul — that's what's more important. It's your personality that shines through on your productions."
Meanwhile, just as Fat Joe put the go-getters on at the beginning of their career, it's time for them to pay it forward. Cool and Dre's new project in that respect is a triple-threat brother-sister posse known as the Tandys, which the producers bill as a modern-day, coed version of the Jacksons. Tandys George, Richard, and little sister Katrina are all ensconced in the Lake House working on various projects that will be released off Cool and Dre's label, Epidemic.
The trio also seems to represent an artistic departure for the producers. The group's styles range from electro-house to Miles Davis-influenced jazz, far from the bass-heavy productions to which Cool and Dre have become accustomed. But they heartily cosign on it all. "We've been in this game for so long that we're pretty confident what's gonna pop and what's not," Cool says. "And these guys are ready!"
It's no wonder Cool and Dre are also ready — ready for the next stage in their highly successful career. "Our first love is music, no doubt," Dre says. "We're so blessed to be able to explore other things because of our success and be able to pay it forward and bring up a whole new generation of talent. Now that's true success — to give back."
"It's bananas to think there are kids growing up now that hear our music and it defined their childhood."