Expand your horizons.
There’s an inherent sense of intimidation that arises when a producer of Dr. Dre’s caliber sits behind the boards. his reputation as a perfectionist is well documented. Known for honing in on everything from frequencies to cadential delivery, there’s nothing that eludes the Good Doctor’s storied ear. Not only is he a master in the art of arrangement, but he’s also one of the game’s most capable recording engineers. Drums hit harder. Haunting pianos sit comfortably in a mix. Space can be truly felt.
Painstaking it may be for the underprepared, Dre’s borderline alchemical formula has worked wonders time and again. His name has been attached to countless hit singles, many of which stand as enduring classics. You’d be hard-pressed to find a hip-hop fan, casual or otherwise, who doesn’t hold at least one Dr. Dre production close to heart. And yet, despite ushering in several of the game’s biggest names -- be it Snoop Dogg, Eminem, 50 Cent, or The Game-- there’s a certain aura of elusiveness surrounding him.
In reality, Dre has been prolific for over thirty years. Since first arriving on the scene in the late eighties, he has assembled a truly massive discography, working with no shortage of artists from the West Coast and a few notable East Coast emcees. With such a vast repertoire of tracks to his name, many of the more obscure cuts might remain under the radar to the younger fan. Now, on the first day of a brand new decade, it’s time to celebrate the lesser-known bangers. We’ve previously examined Dr. Dre’s most haunting beats. We’ve done his Death Row-era classics. It’s time for the deep dive.
The following is in no particular order.
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Hittman ft. Dr. Dre & Knoc-Turn’al - Bloww
When Dr. Dre first connected with Bronson rapper Hittman, the objective was to groom a rapper called “Lil Homie,” who was meant to act as the Doc’s sidekick on wax; Hitt confirmed as much when we spoke for our retrospective on 2001. The creative partnership proved fruitful beyond expectation, and Hitt ultimately landed on ten of the project’s tracks. Sadly, the dynamic ultimately faded, and Hittman’s anticipated Aftermath debut found itself shelved; the only officially released relics were a sample of “Last Dayz,” as seen in the “Forgot About Dre” video. Years later, Hitt would go on to release the project independently, with Dre handling four of the instrumentals. One of the highlights arrives courtesy of “Bloww,” a track that sounds like a holdover from the 2001 sessions. Patient basslines and somber pianos suggest the involvement of Elizondo and Storch, a spiritual successor to the elite 2001 duet “Big Egos.”
King T - Da'Kron
Though King T’s Thy Kingdom Come album ultimately fell victim to Dr. Dre’s fabled perfectionism, the 1998 album was eventually released in a staggered fashion. Laying seven of the project’s eighteen tracks, Dre’s fingerprints can be felt throughout, his musical instincts sitting somewhere between Dr. Dre Presents...Aftermath, The Firm, and 2001. An east-coast-inspired guitar lick pairs nicely with Dre’s crisp drum and bass, the perfect backdrop for the effortless T to administer flow on. In truth, it was hard to decide between "Da'Kron" and fellow album cut "Where's T," with the former gaining the edge through its subversion of Dre's expected sound. Either way, it’s a shame the project was never given an official release, as a full-scale partnership between two West Coast legends would have been one for the books.
LISTEN: King T - Da'Kron
Royce Da 5'9" - The Throne Is Mine
Airtight though his sound may be, there's something refreshing about Dre on his underground tip. Evidently, one of his rawest cuts arrives courtesy of a young Royce Da 5'9", who found himself invited to the 2001 recording sessions at Eminem's behest. Though he ultimately secured a writing placement on "The Message," one of Royce's most interesting contributions to the cause was "The Throne Is Mine," an unreleased song that found Dre exploring some unexpected sounds. "We got you surrounded, the Chronic 2000" raps Royce, over Dre's deftly-plucked guitar arpeggio and ominous choirs. While the unmixed variant is all we've got, the low-fi vibe gives the track a welcome backpacker aesthetic, leaving us wondering his this one might have been worked into Dre's sophomore classic.
Knoc-Turn'al - Str8 West Coast
In the early millennium, Dre seemed ready and willing to set his sights on both Eminem and Knoc-Turn'al, two chief contributors to the 2001 recording sessions. Unfortunately, Knoc's debut album Knoc's Landing found itself plagued by piracy and shelved as a result; in response, the Long Beach rapper released an EP of the same name, which included a pair of Dr. Dre produced album leftovers (as well as a strange rock-inspired beat from a young Kanye West): "The Knoc" and "Str8 West Coast Remix." And while the remix is badass in its own right, there's something special about the Knoc-centric original, as he floats ghostlike over an elite Dre banger. Picking up where hard-hitting piano beats like "Ackrite" left off, Dre slowly introduces new instrumental elements into the fold; by the chorus hits, his signature ear for darkness is revealed through a subtle minor-key progression.
LISTEN: Knoc-Turn'al - Str8 West Coast
Eve ft. Styles P - That's What It Is
Though Eve would never release a full album on Aftermath, the Ruff Ryders first lady and the Doc laid down their fair share of excellent collaborations. And while Scorpion's "Let Me Blow Ya Mind" is far from a deep cut, the album's second Dre collaboration "That's What It Is" marks an uncelebrated milestone in hip-hop history. Which is to say, one of two unions between The Lox, herein represented by Styles P, and Dr. Dre. Off the rip, "That's What It Is" gains momentum through its no-nonsense opening bars, which finds Eve taking to Dre's demented orchestra with head-nodding precision. Picking up where she left off is the unapologetically G'd up Styles, who opts for a drawn-out rhyme scheme lined with violent bars. Simple in a sense, yet effective, clinically mixed, and immediate in true Dre fashion.
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Warren G - Lookin' At You
There's no denying that Dr. Dre loves his smut. Aside from delivering hyper-sexualized solo material, Dre has always been a wingman to those within his circle. In 2001, Warren G dropped off The Return Of The Regulator, featuring a single beat from his stepbrother Dre. Naturally, "Lookin' At You" was released as the lead single, driven by an instrumental that's simultaneously dark and seductive at the same time. With an ever-so-menacing piano progression dominating the backdrop, Warren's tale of courtship, seduction, and a sealed-deal is premium gentleman's club material. Warren G cruises over the beat with confidence, spitting game in an understated fashion -- especially compared to his bro's more rambunctious approach to one-night-courtship. On that note...
LISTEN: Warren G - Lookin' At You
Dr. Dre & DJ Quik - Put It On Me
Cut from the same cloth as the equally X-rated "Bad Intentions," Dr. Dre's first and only collaboration with DJ Quik arrived heavy on lyrical pornography. The musical equivalent to a late-night jaunt at a neon-drenched no-tell motel, "Put It On Me" once again found Dre laying down a dark piano-driven banger, enhanced by a melodic guitar arpeggio and slinking bassline. Speaking about the track's creation, Knoc-Turn'al explained that he helped bring Dre and Quik together in the first place, revealing that Dre employed the songwriting responsibilities to him. "Dre was like don't let this n***a rip me," laughed Knoc. "Quik's style is cold. It was a challenge for me to try and match his style. Try to match the same intensity and same cleverness that Quik has." Luckily, everyone involved in the creation of "Put It On Me" delivered -- it sounds exactly what a link-up between two West Coast legends should.
LISTEN: Dr. Dre & DJ Quik - Put It On Me
Raekwon ft. Lyfe Jennings - Catalina
Is it fair to deem Raekwon's masterpiece "Catalina," drawn from 2009's classic Only Built 4 Cuban Linx 2, a deep cut? In the sense that it often remains omitted from discourse surrounding Dre's best work, it seems fair to highlight this cocaine-fuelled gem. For the first time since linking with The Firm in 1997, Dre found himself exploring motifs closer to Scarface than Boyz N The Hood, soundtracking full-blown mafioso rap in luxurious fashion. While previous classics like "Phone Tap" have long surpassed the Deep Cut status (many name it among Dre's finest instrumentals), "Catalina" found Dre testing himself in an exciting fashion, lacing distinctive instrumentals for one of the best lyricists of all time in Raekwon. The end result is one of the most surprising beats in Dre's career, a breath of fresh air, the equivalent to Tony Montana on a leather chair.
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Mack 10 - Hate In Yo Eyes
Who would have guessed that a flip on the disco classic "Stayin' Alive" would go so hard? That's Dre's vision at work, drawing inspiration from the most unexpected sources. Linking up with the Westside Connection OG Mack 10 for one of their rare collaborations (the other being Ras Kass' "Ghetto Fabolous"), Dre laid the foundation with a twanging guitar loop, effective bass work, and eerie atmospheric transitions. Unsurprisingly, "Hate In Yo Eyes" served as the lead single for Bang Or Ball, because if you have a Dre beat, you release it to the public as quickly as possible. Arriving during an era in which Dre was in the midst of perfecting a new musical formula, this strange and hypnotizing instrumental marked a cool departure for the legendary producer. The Bee Gees would be proud.
LISTEN: Mack 10 - Hate In Yo Eyes
Busta Rhymes - Truck Volume
"Truck Volume" is the sonic equivalent to a haunted video game cartridge. Arriving in tandem with "Break Ya Neck" and the spooky "Holla," Dre's trilogy of beats for Busta Rhyme's Genesis stand among his most intriguing work of the early millennium. There's something medieval in essence about the eighth track on Busta's low-key classic, a meticulous blend of synthesizers, organs, descending basslines. In other words, madness befitting of New York's self-declared Goliath. More than anything, "Truck Volume" reveals the brilliance of Dre's engineering; lesser hands might have fumbled such a layered and dynamic instrumental, yet the final result hits hard enough to earn its name.
LISTEN: Busta Rhymes - Truck Volume