HBO's four-part documentary series, The Defiant Ones — which explores the early careers and the subsequent friendship forged between music business luminaries Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine — has the underdog qualities and unexpected twists and turns which make their lives seem like they were scripted by Hollywood screenwriters.
Thus, it feels much more like a bygone campfire story that you've heard bits and pieces of — but never in full detail — and much less like people dredging up old memories for the sake of being praised by their peer like Eminem, Bruce Springsteen, Snoop Dogg, Gwen Stefani, Diddy, Patti Smith, Bono, Tom Petty, DJ Yella, Ice Cube and will.i.am. who have all turned up to provide added richness.
While the Allen Hughes-directed project follows an almost strict chronological storyline over the four-hour-plus running time — tracking Dre's early days in Compton where there were an estimated 70,000 gang members at the times and Jimmy Iovine's religious upbringing in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn — the action actually starts with the duo's $3 billion USD deal with Apple for their Beats empire.
Iovine recalls keeping the news under wraps for six weeks without the slightest of leaks. He even used an analogy from Goodfellas to deter Dre from letting the cat out of the bag; referring to Robert Dinero's Jimmy Conway character who begins literally snatching fur coats off the shoulders of his conspirator's wives after telling them "not to buy anything!" out of fear that people would notice that they have just came into am Earth-shattering amount of money.
As is well documented, Dre allowed singer, Tyrese, to share the news on Facebook with the slightly inebriated mogul saying, "The first billionaire in hip-hop, right here from the motherfuckin' West Coast."
"Tyrese fucked that up," Snoop Doog deadpans in the film.
Dre called it "the top three most embarrassing moments of my life."
Jimmy Iovine had wanted to work with Apple for 10 years. The leak had the potential to sully a deal that was not only financially lucrative, but something that would be the ultimate validation for both men. He could have just as easily parted ways with Dre at that point, but he states in the film, "But it's the horse I rode in with."
Some of the best moments in the first hour of the series come as assessments by their peers. Diddy says of Iovine, "He's a different type of motherfucker." Eminem cracks of the duo, "Jimmy Iovine is the levitator, Dr. Dre is the innovator."
You get the sense that they are the perfect compliment to one another; with each savvy technician behind the boards taking turns producing each other to get the best possible outcome.
The first part takes us from each man's early childhood — where Dre was plucking records out of sleeves and playing them by the colors of the labels because he simply wasn't old enough to read yet — and Jimmy Iovine having been labeled "The Guy Who Fell to Earth" because people around him thought his outlook was out of this world.
Of the two early narratives, Iovine's is the more interesting. That isn't to say that Dre's is boring, but it's something we've learned through films like Straight Outta Compton. Whereas with Iovine, it's sorta like getting a better understanding of what made the Wizard in The Wizard of Oz tick.
Iovine had lined up a job to work on the docks when he stumbled into a job sweeping floors at legendary recording studio, The Record Plant. It was there that he began his tutelage underneath Roy Cicala whose early works included Electric Ladyland by The Jimi Hendrix Experience which was released in 1968.
On Easter Sunday, Cicala called Iovine in to work. His family bemoaned the request as they were a religious unit, and questioned making a kid whose only job it was to sweep the floor to come in on such a holy day.
As it turned out, Cicala was testing Iovine. When he showed up, he was allowed to serve as an assistant engineer for a session with John Lennon.
From that point on, Iovine said it was about "Making fear a tailwind instead of a headwind."
The entire series is definitely worth your time. From stories about the origins of how N.W.A came up with "Fuck the Police" after a paintball spree, to Jimmy Iovine's suggestion that Dre sell "speakers, not sneakers" after an impromptu meeting at a beach house, The Defiant Ones takes everything you know about the music business — which exists in loud and obnoxious tones — and fine tunes them so it makes complete sense to the untrained ear.