Director Allen Hughes faced an immediate problem as he prepared to shoot documentary series The Defiant Ones, an in-depth look at the careers of Dr Dre and Jimmy Iovine: how to get two notoriously private individuals to open up.
“My approach was not to do a fluff piece,” he says, “and they didn’t want to do a fluff piece either, but I don’t think they knew how far I wanted to go.”
The four-episode documentary, which arrives on Netflix eight months after its initial airing on HBO, focusses on the convergence of two worlds: hip-hop and rock music, black and white, generation X and baby boomer. It serves as an intriguing look into the sea changes in the music industry over the past 40 years, culminating in rap’s emergence as the dominant force in popular music.
In the 1990s, Dre and Jimmy Iovine met and developed a friendship that led to the creation of the Beats headphones and streaming service enterprise. The Defiant Ones begins at the end – when the two sold Beats to Apple for a reported $3.2 billion in 2014.
While Iovine has more or less managed to maintain his privacy throughout his 45-year career, Dre has had to fight for his, avoiding interviews wherever possible and keeping the intricacies of his musical process to himself.
So, gaining access to Dre’s life – and his studio – was no small feat.
“The number one thing with Dre is that, when we started this film, we had known each other for 22 years,” he says. “I think that helped, but also we would – he invited me on holiday, and we would go to the Mediterranean for three weeks, or here, there, whatever. Just go spend time with him and get to understand him. That went a long way towards him opening up, because those were like therapy sessions for both of us. It wasn’t tough in that we had that history, but it was challenging knowing that he doesn’t normally do this.”
Filmmaker Hughes is best known for his seminal gangster flick Menace II Society, but to fulfil his duties as a documentarian meant broaching some uncomfortable truths with his subjects. In the series, he speaks with Dee Barnes, a TV host who was assaulted by Dre in the 1991, and he gets Dre to discuss the issue publicly for the first time – the subject was conspicuously absent from the 2015 NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton, which was produced by the rapper.
“There are things as you’re shooting that they may be uncomfortable with,” Hughes says of the inevitable pushback he faced from Iovine and Dre. “And I’d say they were pretty reasonable. There were some things they weren’t comfortable with, some fights that I didn’t win, but ultimately nothing that affected the narrative that I wanted to tell. But it was always just pushing and pushing and pushing and eventually they’d bite my hand.”
There’s one such scene, towards the end of the series, where Dre snaps at Hughes after the filmmaker tries to dig out information about reported violent dealings during the Death Row Records days (label boss Suge Knight was rumoured to have dangled Vanilla Ice from a balcony, among other allegations). “I’m not saying that on camera, Allen,” Dre says, exasperatedly.
“That’s why I left that in there,” he says of this part of the film, which gives the audience a brief glimpse behind the curtain. “That was a technique I used to show what the process was to pull this stuff out of them and other subjects, where I kind of took the curtain down so you can see the give and take.”
He, does admit, however, that he was initially worried that his proximity to his two subjects – he had known both for over 20 years – would affect his ability to maintain emotional distance throughout the filming.
“That’s why brought my partner in, Doug Pray, who specialises in documentary filmmaking. I brought him in because he’s brilliant, but he also helped me with the journalistic line when things were getting too close. I know these guys, so you have to have that ‘honesty-maker’, or whatever you want to call him.”
And, after filming interviews with stars such as Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen, Bono, Eminem, Snoop Dogg and a host of other superstars, he had become a master at getting interviewees to give him the goods.
“The number one thing, the way I approached the interview, whether it was Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen, Bono, the guys from NWA, Snoop Dogg, was the same way: I just made sure that I was present as an interested audience member,” he says. “So when something was funny I’d laugh my ass off; I just stayed focused on them and interested in a genuine way, and I just did what I would want people to do if I was telling the story, which is be crazy mad interested and react in the right places, and then when a story was told that had never been told before, encourage that story. So just be a big fan, be a massive fan and you see they start opening up and give you a lot more.”
The Defiant Ones arrives on Netflix UK on Friday 23rd March