Skip to content Skip to footer
jimmy iovine (left), dre (right)

How Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine built the biggest empire in music

Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre are now best known as executives that completely changed the landscape of the music business, but that wasn’t always the case.

Music was Dr. Dre’s first love growing up in Compton and he used his massive record collection as a creative outlet to avoid falling into the violence around him.

Dre’s mother Verna would host house parties and Dr. Dre, who was still a toddler, would be in charge of the music.

Verna introduced Dre to soul and funk music, laying the groundwork for a full musical education that would expand across all genres.

As a teenager, Dre became known in his neighborhood as a DJ. He would mix the old school hits he used to play at his mother’s parties with the new school hip-hop that was just starting to become popular.

That combination of genres and styles would become a Dr. Dre trademark. He’s known as the godfather of G-Funk, a subgenre of hip-hop that uses funk-inspired guitars with hip-hop percussion.

After changing hip-hop in the studio, Dre would try his hand as an executive, spotting young talent and giving them the opportunity to take off.

Jimmy Iovine went from studio janitor to engineer to rock super-producer in ridiculously quick fashion.

After his cousin Ellie Greenwich, a singer-songwriter on the NYC rock scene in the ’60s, got him a job at a local record company, Jimmy got a call on Easter Sunday asking him to come in.

There was an artist trying to work on a record and the studio needed an extra pair of hands. But in an Italian-American family, Easter Sunday isn’t just another day and Jimmy’s mother was having none of it.

Somehow Iovine escaped his house and went to the studio. The artist waiting for him? John Lennon.

Yes, Jimmy Iovine’s first work as a music engineer was with John Lennon.

After that, Jimmy worked on Bruce Springsteen’s legendary album Born to Run. Bruce would spend hours on end in the studio working to find that perfect sound. It became an obsession.

Initially, Jimmy thought Springsteen was crazy and almost quit, but after staying on and seeing the masterpiece they had created together, Iovine adopted Bruce’s single-minded mentality.

From there, Jimmy Iovine would produce for Patti Smith, U2, Stevie Nix, and some of the biggest names in rock music before moving to the boardroom.

Dre and Iovine first connected in 1992 when Dre and Suge Knight came to show Iovine The Chronic.

Iovine was floored. He and Dre had an immediate connection.

When Dre left Death Row, Iovine gave him his own company Aftermath. When the other executives at Interscope told Iovine to drop Dre because of outrage over the ‘gangsta rap’ label, Jimmy refused.

As business partners, Dre and Iovine forged the perfect partnership.

The unlikely duo of Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre went from creatives behind the scenes to executives that changed the way business and music interacted forever.

jimmy iovine

Jimmy Iovine’s secret to success? Turning fear ‘into a tailwind’

HBO’s four-part miniseries The Defiant Ones documents how the unlikely partnership of Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine became one of the most fruitful partnerships in music history.

While the film, which debuted on Sunday, begins with the drama around Iovine and Dre’s $3.2 billion deal with Apple over Beats headphones (I won’t ruin it for you, but there is dramaThe Defiant Ones goes way back in time, detailing the two producers’ journeys separately.

Dre and Iovine had very different starts in the music business.

Dr. Dre was a musical prodigy from an early age and became known for his DJ skills around his neighborhood.

Iovine, on the other hand, was a college dropout who didn’t want to go work on the docks like his dad and uncles.

While Jimmy Iovine was looking for work, his cousin Ellie Greenwich, a songwriter on the scene in the 60s, got him a job at a recording studio mopping the floor.

As the story goes, Jimmy would pester the main producer in charge of the studio to let him work on the boards and on one Easter Sunday, Iovine got his break.

Iovine told Page Six about his experience on Easter as a 19-year-old,

“It’s Easter 1973. I’m 19. Doing clean-up work. Sunday the record studio called. Come in. Answer the phone. They had a slot open. I said, ‘On my way.’ My mom, upset, said relatives were coming over after church. I said, ‘Going to work. I’m saying no to nothing.’”

It’s clear that Iovine saw the recording studio as an escape route from his surroundings,

“This record place looked to me incredible. Better than my dad working on the docks. I saw future possibility.”

Turns out Jimmy was right. Guess who was waiting for him at the studio?

“And my first recording session? John Lennon.”

Imagine the intimidation. John f*cking Lennon. But Iovine talks at length in The Defiant Ones the key to his success is being able to “turn fear into a tailwind instead of a headwind.”

In an interview with Esquire, Iovine said being able to conquer that fear is what produces success,

“Bruce Springsteen is as afraid as any of us, but he knows how to conquer it. If you’re great, that means you’re freaked out that the next day you’re not going to be great. You keep trying. Never be satisfied.”

Pretty awesome stuff.

All four episodes of The Defiant Ones are available on HBO and its streaming services. Go watch that.