Perhaps you're an admirer of Bruce Springsteen's Born to Run album and you'd enjoy some intimate details about the recording sessions and what happened in the studio. Or perhaps you remember being astonished by the announcement that Apple was acquiring this company, Beats, for $3-billion (U.S.) and you're still wondering what that was all about.
You'll get both in The Defiant Ones (Sunday, HBO, 9 p.m.) an epic, eye-opening docu-series about music moguls Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine, their seemingly unlikely partnership, astonishing rise and formidable impact across multiple areas of the popular culture. You'll get a lot, actually, and some insight into two odd, driven individuals who helped shape the music industry of the past two decades and, some would say, helped destroy it.
The series – which continues on Monday through Wednesday – opens with scenes of chaos. After a handful of musicians smile for the cameras, there is footage of a raucous party to celebrate the looming purchase, in 2014, by Apple of Beats Electronic and Beats Music. Dr. Dre and his cronies are going wild with the news that it would be a deal worth billions. Iovine wasn't there. In fact, he was outraged and embarrassed that the acquisition, still a mere rumour, had been made public. That's part of the allure of the series – Iovine, a caustic but cautious, private man, contrasted with the hellzapoppin' world of Los Angeles hip-hop and rap. As Iovine says, he was stunned when Puff Daddy called him and said a lot of people on Facebook were talking about the deal and the wild party. Iovine gritted his teeth and hoped the deal would not be scuttled. It wasn't.
Springsteen is among those who provides rueful insight into Iovine the producer and studio technician. When making Born to Run he was, he admits, obsessed with creating the right sound. Time had no meaning for Springsteen and the band in the studio. Iovine, then very much a junior techy, was pushed to get the sound exactly as The Boss wanted. He would fall asleep at the controls and Springsteen would angrily prod him awake to keep trying. There's a touch of this sentiment in Springsteen's tone: "I knew that guy when he was nothin.'"
Without it being larded on, a theme in the series is the irresistible rise of two guys from poor backgrounds who were misfits but saved by music. Iovine was a working-class New York kid destined to work as a longshoreman on the docks, like his dad. Not interested in much but music, he got a job sweeping floors at a recording studio, got fired and got another junior job at a studio. A know-it-all and difficult, he worked his way up by being fanatical about the intricacies of recording.
Dre was born Andre Young to a mother who had just turned 16. That wasn't unusual in the Los Angeles district of Compton, but the boy was cared for, coddled and supported by a mother who insisted that he succeed. As with the older Iovine on the other side of the continent, Dre had a single-minded devotion to music.
The advent of record-scratching DJs at Compton parties was a revelation to him, and when his mom bought him a mixer when he was a teenager, his life course was set – he, too, was obsessed with sound.
Both were loners. "I don't remember one moment of high school that I enjoyed," Iovine says emphatically. Dre's world was his family. Still, their worlds collided and intersected eventually, making for an unusual business marriage. They trusted each other and both fell out with almost everyone else they worked with.
"Jimmy Iovine is the levitator; Dre is the innovator," says rapper Eminem during the series. Eminem is just one of countless artists who appear, and not all are in awe of the duo. U2's Bono is pretty much smirking when he claims that producing the Rattle and Hum album broke Iovine's spirit.
The series is not a mere celebration of the rise of two working-class artists and businessmen. It takes viewers into the extraordinary, violent world of West Coast hip-hop and rap in the 1990s, when vast fortunes were made, people died in brutally violent feuds and drugs were the engine that drove all sorts of madness. Dre was co-owner of Death Row Records, which revolutionized so much and generated vast amounts of money. Snoop Dogg is around to tell tales about those days. Tupac Shakur isn't, and Suge Knight is in prison.
While Dre was involved in the heady chaos of that time, Iovine was running his own record label, Interscope Records, which would become intertwined with Death Row Records and offer it access to a world beyond the West Coast. The duo was responsible for an astonishing shift in pop music, and then partly responsible for solidifying the ubiquity and triumph of iTunes, which essentially caused the collapse of the old music industry. In 2008, Dre released his first brand of headphones, Beats by Dr. Dre, and he and Iovine were already involved in music-streaming services. This entrepreneurship was lucrative for both of them and helped pave the way for a disastrous loss in income for many artists. The duo would say they simply helped the marriage of culture and technology.
Director Allen Hughes, who took several years to make what he thought would be a months-long project, is ambitious here. There is plenty of positivity about the two central figures but it doesn't shy away from the violence and sexist behaviour in the careers and personal lives of the two men, including Dre's assault on journalist and rapper Dee Barnes. And, in the end, the series notes that these two individual rebels found each other, succeeded together and, in due course became no longer rebels, but another corporation acting like any corporation. It's a wild, vivid, perceptive ride into a world as glamorous as it is ugly.