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August 04, 2017

Defiant Dreamers

A dogged documentarian chronicles the union of two music icons.

Iain Blair
  • Allen Hughes

    James Minchin/HBO
  • Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine

    Joe Pugliese/August/HBO

HBO’s new four-part music documentary, The Defiant Ones, chronicles the storied partnership of rapper-producer Dr. Dre and music executive Jimmy Iovine.

While the title slyly references the 1958 chain-gang drama starring Sidney Poitier and Tony Curtis, the story could have been titled The Odd Couple.

Iovine was the son of a Brooklyn longshoreman, and Dre (born Andre Romelle Young) was straight outta Compton. Their unlikely union would rocket them to music-business royalty and influence global pop culture.

The Defiant Ones, premiering July 9, relates “the inside, never-before-told story” of the duo’s artistic and business collaboration, says cowriter, director and executive producer Allen Hughes (Menace II Society). That relationship dates back to the early ‘90s, when Iovine’s Interscope Records distributed Dre’s output.

Later, Iovine teamed for Dre’s Aftermath label; in 2008 the two partnered for Beats Electronics, which they sold to Apple in 2014 for a staggering $3 billion.

“Even though I’ve known them both for over 25 years, it wasn’t easy getting them to sit down and do this,” Hughes says. “They’re polar opposites in many ways, but they have one thing in common — they never look back.

“Dre’s really enigmatic,” he adds. “Once he’s finished a record, he never listens to it again. So it took a long time and a lot of hard work to get them to finally look in the rear-view mirror and tell their stories.”

Hughes isn’t kidding. “I thought it’d take maybe  a year,” he says. “Ultimately, I shot them over the  course of three years. It was like a forensic search, looking for the evidence and trying to piece it all together.”

Luckily, Hughes got some help from some of the biggest names in the music business — Bruce Springsteen, Bono, Eminem, Nas, Stevie Nicks, Ice Cube, Gwen Stefani, Tom Petty, Trent Reznor, Snoop Dogg, Jon Landau, Diddy, David Geffen and — all of whom appear in the show.

“Everyone wanted to do it, but the hardest person to get was Patti Smith,” Hughes recalls. “She didn’t sit down till the very last minute.”

In another coup, Hughes tracked down rare archival footage and never-before-seen footage from recording and writing sessions with Eazy-E, J.J. Fad, Stevie Nicks, N.W.A, Tom Petty, U2 and Springsteen, among others. “Even Dre and Jimmy didn’t know this stuff existed,” he notes.

“It’s an incredible story, with drama and tragedy, highs and lows,” he says. “I want audiences to watch it with an open mind. Both men achieved the American dream several times over, but it isn’t just about fame and money and power. You have to reconcile all that with your demons. I think they both have.”

This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 6, 2017

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