Luke dancers, Scarface, Phillip Michael Thomas’ busted pastel ties. Of late, none have been repping Miami as lovely as Cool & Dre. Before they became hired hitmen for everyone from Trina to Terror Squad, the gifted production duo got their grind on as faux-preppie crooners. After making the transition to beatsmiths, Cool & Dre caught the ear of Fat Joe, who commissioned them to craft tracks for his J.O.S.E. album. Since then, theirs has been a come-up tale that would make Tony Montana proud: more hits (for the likes of Juvenile, Joe Budden, The Game, etc.); a stint as official beatmakers for NBA Live 2005; and, eventually, their own imprint, Epidemic Records, where Dre is releasing his solo debut, The Trunk. XXLMAG.COM caught up with these newly-minted moguls to rap about the potentially risky task of producing for both G-Unit and Murder Inc. acts, Diddy’s pre-release paranoia, and why, after consistently keeping the streets on smash, their reign is far from over. OK, they’re reloaded!
So you and Cool started as an R&B group in the early-’90s, Boyz II Men–style. What saved you from a life of matching sweaters and doo-wop?
Dre: The fact that nobody liked us. [Laughs] And nobody wanted to make our music. Apparently, we weren’t that good. So me and Cool decided to start making beats, and that was basically what put us in the direction where we’re at now.
Fat Joe played a big role in you getting on. How did that connection come about?
Dre: I hate to neglect everyone in Miami that gave us a shot. Fat Joe was definitely the first prominent rap artist—he was very, very instrumental in our career. Amazingly instrumental in our career. But [working with] all the groups in Miami is how me and Cool made a name for ourselves. That allowed someone like Fat Joe to come down to Miami and hear about Cool & Dre and get with us. He met us through a guy we all know named Robbie Rob. [Rob] was on some, Yo, Joe’s working on his album and you guys make a lot of noise down here in Miami. [Fat Joe] wants to get a beat. After that, we hooked up with Joe and [found that] we got so many mutual connections.
What would you say was the defining moment for you as producers? At what point was it like, Okay, this is official now?
Cool: I think it was a combination of hit records. When “New York” came out, and also when [Fat Joe] came out with “So Much More.” It was a combination of those. They were a little far apart, but they were all still bubbling at the same time. “So Much More” was a club banger, then “Take Me Home.” It was a combination of those records that had people like, Wow.
When you put out “New York,” Ja Rule was in a pretty tough place, in terms of credibility. Were you initially nervous at all going into that collaboration?
Dre: Nah, because we had worked with Ja Rule prior to doing “New York.” We did a song called “Destiny” on his previous album, which was one of the biggest records on that album—the one where [in the video] he jumped out the truck wearing all black?
The Last Temptation?
Dre: Yeah, yeah, The Last Temptation. And . . . and . . . he’s a nice guy. He gave us a shot, you know? Me and Cool don’t get caught up in all that—music is music. So when we did the beat, I thought it would be great. Ja Rule, at that point in his career, was the biggest rapper on planet earth, so people started questioning him. And then [when] he came out with “New York,” everybody was like, Ja Rule’s making a statement. And [“New York”] did. Me and Cool, we try not to get involved in all of that, the politics and beef, ’cause us as producers, our job is to provide good music for the people. If we were choosing sides, there would be no “Hate It or Love It” or “New York.” And the game needed both of those records.
When you first came out, a lot of people compared you to the Neptunes. Why do you think that is?
Cool: I think the Neptunes comparisons came mainly from the fact that it’s two guys in the group—one light-skinned, one dark [laughs]. That was the main comparison. Because we were a duo people were like, Yo, these cats are about to take the Neptunes out! Then in all of the trade [publications], it was like, Neputnes, look out! The media took that and twisted it up. So one day, we were in the club out here in Miami and we seen Pharrell. Everybody was there and that’s when “Hate It or Love It” had just come out. Pharrell came up and was like, “Yo, I’m a fan of y’all. ‘Hate It or Love It’ is a hot record!” And then we were like, “We’re a fan of y’all since, like, SWV!” [Laughs] That kinda cleared the air right there. If there was any beef, [Pharrell] cleared it up right there and it’s cool.
Christina Milian’s “Who’s Gonna Ride” sounds suspiciously like an R&B jack of Three Six’s “Stay Fly.” Was there any apprehension…
Dre: Nah, that record got leaked. Um, I’m cool with Three Six Mafia, that’s fam. And I love that “Stay Fly” record; it’s like, one of my favorites. We did that intentionally, on purpose. The beat was just the beat but it sounds nothing like theirs. The fact that we put Three Six Mafia on that record lets you know that it’s a go. They’re my peoples and I loved [“Stay Fly”], so I was like, Yo, we gotta flip that.
Cool, people always say that you’re the more technical half of the duo. How do you approach the production process?
Cool: It’s never mapped out. Like, say I have a horn melody in my head and the sample doesn’t really go like that, then I’ll just take those horns and make ’em fit with the pattern. So, rather than building the drum track around the sample and conforming to the sample, I make the sample conform to the drum track.
You guys have submitted tracks for Diddy’s new album. Rumor has it he put you through a boot camp, on some, Nah, that’s not good enough, go back and do it over.
Cool: [Laughs] He did that to everybody, dog. Like, he had Pharrell, Scott Storch, and Timbaland, and he was like, “Nope! That’s not what I was looking for! Go back to the lab!” Then, finally, we got a beat on there and it came out dope [laughs].
So we’re not going to be seeing you on Making the Band 4?
Cool: [Laughs] “Go get me some milk!” Nah, nah. He was basically just trying to find the right sound. But it wasn’t just us—he was putting everybody through that.
Dre, the streets have been talking. Are you and Christina Milian together?
Dre: She’s a beautiful girl. I don’t know who wouldn’t want to be with someone as beautiful as her. You know, people wanna make a lot of things up, but I haven’t released any press release saying I’m with her. I haven’t seen any evidence to substantiate that. But I guess that’s what happens when people are in the studio [together] for a long time.
You signed Dirtbag and Tony Sunshine to your label, Epidemic Records. When can we expect projects from them?
Dre: Dirtbag’s single should be coming in another four months. Tony Sunshine is no longer on Epidemic. I think Joe has a deal for him somewhere else. Jive didn’t really understand what we were trying to do with Tony Sunshine so, you know, we had to let him leave. We couldn’t really make it possible for him. But Dirtbag is definitely coming with a single in the next three or four months.