Plugging an auxiliary cord into a phone is commonplace at a hip-hop studio: Let’s hear what you got. But it’s different when you are standing in Aftermath Studios and Dr. Dre is handing you the cord. You’re about to hear your music like you’ve never heard it before. Dallas producer Da Dreak would know. It happened to him.
A few months ago, Da Dreak found himself in Dre’s studio, and the legendary producer was so impressed that he started fleshing out Dreak’s beats on the spot. While his work ultimately didn’t appear on Dre’s Compton: The Soundtrack , released last week, Dreak is the second Dallasite to find himself in Dre’s orbit this year.
Born and raised in Dallas, Dreak, 35, started rapping in high school and made his first beat in the late 1990s. He has a tri-coastal sound, mixing Southern hip-hop with West or East Coast influences. In the last 10 years, he’s focused increasingly on production, remixing MCs all over the city. “It was split down the middle,” he recalls of the hip-hop scene in years past. “Either you were the hip-hop purist backpacker or you were the street.” But Dreak was one of the few who could work with both crowds.
With a group called Made Man Familia, Dreak also started making frequent trips to South Texas. He even got radio airplay in cities in the Rio Grande Valley, such as McAllen. Despite the area not having much of a hip-hop scene, the group managed to draw some large crowds, even opening for Mack 10 and Kid Frost. “We got a lot of respect down there when we performed.” Dreak started doing engineering and production work at Valley of the Kings, before getting his own studio in Garland.
Last March, Dreak met Denaun Porter at South by Southwest. Known for his work with D12, Porter has also worked in production with Dr. Dre throughout Dre’s career and produced songs for 50 Cent and Snoop Dogg. He also produced songs for Eminem and tours with him as his hype man. Porter was immediately struck with Dreak’s production sound.
“He has a little swing to his music,” Porter says. “He uses different chord progressions. With most people, you can tell what the next step is going to be. With him, he played a couple beats and I couldn’t tell what his next step was going to be. It’s not a traditional way of thinking.” Porter immediately wanted Dre to hear Dreak. He liked Dreak’s sound and noticed an attention to precision and detail that he thought Dre might appreciate.
Dreak and Porter quickly started working together, meeting up in different cities to work on a beat kit and Royce Da 5’9’s next album, among other projects. In May, Dreak went to Los Angeles to celebrate his birthday and work with Porter. Porter took Dreak to Aftermath Studios, where he works as a producer for Aftermath Entertainment, Dre’s label.
“I wasn’t expecting Dre to be there,” says Dreak. But Porter led him into the first control room and Dre was standing at the board. Porter isn’t in the habit of bringing people over to Aftermath. “But Dre’s like a brother to me and Dreak seemed really cool,” Porter says. Looking back, he was simply happy to bring new talent to Dre, but he was also glad to give Dreak a birthday present: “That’s not something that happens,” he says, with a laugh. “It’s not normal at all to just stop by.” Indeed, the compound is gated with security.
After a quick introduction, Dre said he wanted to hear some of Dreak’s beats. Then he started bringing Porter up to speed on what they were working on, which was Compton. Dreak sat back and listened. “Everything sounded so complete,” he remembers. “You couldn’t say it was missing anything.” But Dre still felt there was much work to be done.
Also working at the compound that day was Justin Mohrle. The 23-year-old from Garland, who is featured on three of Compton’s tracks, was working in another building. Typical of Dre’s secretive working environment, Dreak — who had once met Mohrle briefly, but didn’t know him well — had no idea what Mohrle was working on that day. “We spent a few minutes or so catching up,” Dreak recalls.
After an hour and a half, Dreak got ready to leave, but Dre reminded him that he still wanted to hear one of his beats. Dreak plugged his phone in and played something he had used in a beat battle competition in Atlanta. Dre liked what he heard and asked to hear another. Dreak played him a song he’d submitted for a Miles Davis biopic. Dre liked that too, but asked him to play the first beat again.
“I don’t know what happened,” Dreak says. “But he immediately got in his creative mode.” Dre asked Dreak if he wanted to work on it, and made it clear that he meant for the next three or four hours. Dreak naturally accepted. “There were moments when he was playing the music so loud you could feel your organs move,” Dreak recalls. “He blew out speakers while we were there. He just had someone come in and replace them in the middle of the session.”
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“You’ll realize every flaw,” Porter agrees. “You can tell if you made something in a small room or a big room.” In the loudest room he’d ever been in, with a wall of speakers, Dreak had no choice but to make a huge sound. A session player added a horn to the track and Dre got busy working, periodically asking Dreak if it sounded okay. Dre and King Mez eventually added vocals to the track.
Six hours later, around 7 a.m., Dreak and Porter finally left. The ride back took about an hour and he sat silent and wide-eyed in his seat. Just what would happen with his beats was unclear; over the coming months there were suggestions that Dreak’s work would appear on Compton. Porter was convinced it would. The project was so top-secret that Dreak himself was in the dark until the album was released last Thursday.
“You work on it and then you don’t know what’s going to happen to it,” Dreak says of working with someone like Dre. “You don’t want to say too much.” While he ultimately wasn’t on Compton, Dreak is optimistic; simply sharing studio time with Dre was life-changing and there’s the possibility that those beats will be used on another project in the next couple years. “A lot of times artists and audiences don’t know what they want to hear,” Dreak says of being a producer. “It’s our responsibility to crack the code to the next level.”