Thanks to tags and signatures, listeners know the names DJ Mustard, MetroBoomin, and Just Blaze. Those who still keep their ears to the radio know Mike Will Made-It produced the beat, because a faceless lady says, “Mike Will Made-It,” every time. It's like sponsorship logos on soccer jerseys.
Cool & Dre's "This is" tag hasn’t been heard much recently. Two exceptions the pair produced: When Kent Jones showed off his Rosetta Stone study habits on “Don’t Mind” and when Fat Joe and Remy Mao went “All the Way Up.”
New life has been breathed back into not only the careers of Fat Joe and Remy Ma but also, in some ways, those of the beatmaking duo Cool & Dre, who never really vacated their spot as go-to producers.
New Times recently spoke with the Grammy-winning producers about their relationship, Fat Joe, Miami, and dynamic duos.
New Times: The two of you have known each other since 1996. Would you consider your relationship more of a brotherhood, marriage, or a little of both?
Dre: I would say brotherhood, family. We’ve known each other since we were kids. We’ve known each other for 20 years, since we were 16 years old. I’ve watched my brother Cool have his first child. I’m the godfather to two of his children. I’ve witnessed Cool through the ups and downs, through all aspects of his life, and vice versa. One thing that’s always been constant is our faith in God, but our mutual faith and love for each other as brothers. No matter what we’re going through in our personal lives or professional or whatever, me and Cool have an unbreakable bond.
How do you keep the balance of being friends and in business together, because when finances are involved, it’s a huge thing?
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Cool: Me and Dre in the beginning, when we got into this, it was partnership, and everything we do is a 50/50 partnership. And we’ve always kept that concrete since day one. It’s never changed. That was the easy part. We’ve been friends before we even started doing this music thing. Once we actually started making money – we went through the stages where we weren’t making no money, starving. And then, if we made $50, we split that $25/$25. When we started making more money, it was just an easy thing.
Producers’ signatures and tags are everywhere now, whether it’s Young Thug saying, “We got London on da track,” Metro Boomin, or DJ Mustard. Where did Dre saying “This is” come from?
Dre: That came from this record “New York” for Ja Rule. Actually, it’s one of our first records that broke across the country and on the radio — one of out first hit records, our first national hit record.
When we did the beat, we also did the hook on the record. My vocal was on the hook and part of the intro. I came in with the “This is,” just catching a vibe, and the record took off. People loved the “This is.” Whenever they’d see me and Cool, they would come with, “This is. This is.” And it was something natural we were doing anyway.
We’ve ended up producing other hit records and never put the tag on it. And people don’t know that we did “Rodeo” for Juvenile. Fucking number one record in the country, and we never put the “This is.” “Hate It or Love It,” number one record in the country. We didn’t put the “This is.”
For a good three to five years, we kind of fell back off of the “This is. This is” because it was a different era. It’s no science to it. And we were just making records, and we wanted the records to just form on their own without the signature being on there and let the records do what they do. And for years, a good three to five years, people were like, “What’s up with the, ‘This is’?” So we was like, we’re going to bring it back. And the very first record we brought it back on was “All the Way Up” for Fat Joe. It’s been great because the remix with Jay Z. Jay Z did the “This is” without asking him or anything. That was a huge compliment for me and Cool, and it was very humbling to hear him say that.
That “New York” record was a revival for Ja Rule. And this feels like it’s the same thing with Fat Joe with “All the Way Up.” Is that view accurate?
Dre: I would say this “All the Way Up” record would be a second wind for everyone involved. Joe is like a big brother to me and Cool. And on top of that, being the big brother, Joe helped elevate me and Cool’s career. When we met him in 2001, he gave us an opportunity to fly out to New York and work with his artist Tony Sunshine. We left Miami and started hustling in New York. And Joe opened up so many doors for us at such an early stage in our career. We learned a lot of game from him, as far as the music industry is concerned. The way he moved was similar to the way me and Cool were moving. We weren’t really the industry type of guys. We really didn’t know any A&Rs. We were just hustlers, just moving our music directly to the artist.
Our relationship to him is family. When he goes through his ups and downs, we feel it the same way because it’s a real camaraderie and a real family relationship. So this record here with “All the Way Up,” it came in a period when Joe was going through some things personally that set him back for a good two and half years. Me and Cool were there every step of the way with him for it. He had to go on vacation for a couple of months. When he came back home, he was in the studio that very second. And he was in the studio every day trying to figure it out. The “All the Way Up” record happened, and he knew from the beginning the record got cut that it was going to be a smash.
Have you ever felt that you had to create something that would be a hit, and did that ever block your creativity?
Dre: That’s a good question. Right now, me and Cool just like making good music. And when we say good music, we like creating vibes that people are going to appreciate. And if they take off as massive hits, then give thanks. But we’re being a lot more strategic than we were early on in our career because we understand we have a window of opportunity now that we need to continue to capitalize on. Is everything emphasized, “Oh, we got to make a hit”? No.
We just came back from London. We were in London for a week. And the first two or three days, we was vibin’, making good music, catching a vibe. After like two or three days, me and Cool in the cab on the way to go see Craig David were like, “Yo, we’ve been here for three days. We got another four days here; let’s start cranking out some hits.”
Cool: Also, we’ve been doing this for so long. We kind of know when it’s time to turn this on. Let’s plays these type of records that have potential to be hits. Our ear has changed for the better as far as hearing what could be a possible hit.
What’s the level of difficulty staying relevant?
Dre: It’s the hardest thing in the world, my brother. We have a phrase called “The key is to make another one.” So when people start talking like, “I just need a hit record,” well, the key is just to make another one. And that goes to someone who made their first hit record ever, and that goes to someone like a Cool & Dre, who have been in the game for 15 years. You go two years without giving them a hit, they hold those ten years against you.
Did Khaled give you some of these keys?
Dre: Oh, man. Khaled is giving everybody keys now. Let me tell you something about my brother Khaled. What’s crazy about that is this man has been doing this since we met him in 1996. The world is now just being exposed to his talk and his persona and his ability to inspire. That’s what Khaled has been doing since we met him. He’s got a unique ability to inspire no matter how small, no matter how big of a personality. He’s just got a God-given talent to inspire people. Even back when he was at 99 JAMZ, he would come visit me and Cool at Circle House Studios every night when he got off. And we couldn’t wait for him to get there, because we’d be in the studio working with an artist, and you’d hear Khaled out there. He was going to come with that energy that got the room hyped. And if you live in Miami and you’ve been around the scene for a long time, you know firsthand this is Khaled.
Describe your relationship with the Game, because many may look at the two of you and say you’re Joe’s go-to guys. But I can make the argument that you’re the Game’s go-to guys because you’re always all over his albums.
Dre: We’ve had our hit records with Game. We got one out there right now. We just landed from Turkey, I’m on the way home, and I’m listening to one of the radio stations out here, and they’re like, “We got the brand-new record from the Game featuring Jason Derulo! The new hit!” You know, me and Cool did that. And I think about all the records we’ve made with him; he’s done a lot for our career, meaning the work we’ve created together. “Hate It or Love It” was our first number one, and “My Life” was another smash. “Big Dreams” was another smash. Game is definitely family.
He had a conversation with Cool a couple of days ago. He was like, “Let’s get in the studio for two days and do my new album. All I need is two days with y'all.” And we know he ain't lying. You put me, Cool, and Game in the studio for two days, and they're going to have an album done.
Where do you believe Miami and South Florida fit in the landscape right now?
Dre: I can tell you where it was when me and Cool were coming up. It was in a real good space. Trick Daddy was winning. Trina was winning. Slip-N-Slide had just caught their stride in early 2000, 2001. I think what Cool and I did as producers was show the rest of the world that outside of what you’re hearing from Miami, there was producers and music coming from the city that New York artists would rap on and West Coast artists would rap on. I feel as though Cool and my contribution to the music scene in Miami was to diversify the sound and not be a Southern-based sound only. A lot of music Cool and I would create in the early 2000s was sample-based stuff. So I think we brought that diversity to the landscape of Miami.
Where it’s at now, it’s an exciting time because it reminds me of 2006 when we had an onslaught of artists from Miami hit the national scene, with Rick Ross, Flo Rida, Pitbull, Khaled. That was a huge period for us as a city, because we had Ross’ Port of Miami album go number one on the charts. Jay Z and Jeezy on the remix, that was huge. And I feel today that we have a bunch of whole new artists that’s going to make some noise in Miami — Broward especially. I know Broward is not Miami. You look at Kodak Black, at what he’s doing. You look at Lajan Sim and what he’s doing. You look at Zoey Dollaz and what he’s doing. Of course Kent Jones and what he’s doing.
As a producer with upcoming acts, the acts that you’ve mentioned, they’ve built a buzz more through the streets, whereas you have other artists who have built theirs online, such as Denzel Curry or Prez P, who is out of North Miami.
Dre: Yeah, there’s a white kid from Kendall. I forgot his name.
Dre: Yeah, he's booming, that kid. My man Paco put me onto him last year. He’s rapping and he’s touring. That’s the most important thing. The big indication that you’re really doing something is when your Instagram pictures stop looking like your backyard and start looking like the rest of the country. That means you’re touring. That means you're out here. You're winning. You’re working. He’s getting money. And that kid from Kendall is doing his thing, and Denzel Curry is doing his thing. And as much as we talked about making hits earlier, you can have a huge impact without having a monster record on radio. But don’t get it twisted: You want that monster record on the radio. There's a difference between having world tours and not having world tours.
Name the best dynamic duos in movies, sports, music, TV, or comics books.
Dre: Just this one movie by itself [Coming to America]: Arsenio Hall and Eddie Murphy, got to give it to them. Dynamic duo in sports: I’m from Miami, so I got to do Dwyane Wade and LeBron James. In music, dynamic duo, in my opinion... I’m going to speak on the one that had the most impact on my life, and that would be Outkast, and I think Cool would agree with me on that. Their music was a blueprint for Cool and myself as music producers and let us know you can be from down here and make the music with live instruments and you could sample and you could really rap. You don’t have to make just one style of music.
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Now it’s time to turn the tables, and I’ll let you ask me a question.
Dre: What’s your favorite Cool & Dre record?
Probably “Chevy Ridin’ High.”
Dre: I like that, I like that, I like that a lot. Let me tell you something about that. I’ll never forget this: Jigga was in Miami. He was here for business or something. This is when “Chevy Ridin’ High” was doing its thing. He had just signed Rick Ross to Def Jam, and he had asked me to meet him at the Setai Hotel. And he was staying there, him and his wife. I go over there to meet him. We’d already known each other. Whenever Jigga tells you, “Come fuck with me,” you’re tight. It’s Jay Z. I go over there, and he takes me out to the rooftop of the Setai. And he’s just talking about shit, music or whatnot. And he tells me, “Yo, Dre, I love that ‘I’m from North Miami. Ain't no secret, homie.’” That’s my favorite line on that record. And I looked at him and I said, “I wish I had a camera so I could record this, so I could play this shit for everybody.” North Miami would lose they mind if they heard this right now. So I’m glad you said “Chevy Ridin’ High.”