5 Lessons About Success in HBO’s ‘The Defiant Ones’

The docuseries offers an inside look at two careers that shaped the music industry forever.
August 3, 2017
9 mins read

Every era has produced creative innovators. Shakespeare changed the world with his sonnets, the Wright brothers taught us to fly and Einstein gave us his theory of relativity. In 2017, two of the greatest innovators of our time come in the form of music producers Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre; though their names may not be as widely recognizable as Shakespeare, their daring contributions to the music industry have changed American culture for good.

HBO’s new documentary series “The Defiant Ones” charts the music moguls’ very different careers and examines the impact each has had on American music. Jimmy Iovine is a slim, Italian man from Brooklyn who got his start producing with Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty and Stevie Nicks. His tenacity allowed him to work his way up from the engineering board to the head spot at his own record label, Interscope. Dr. Dre ushered in the era of gangster rap in the 90s through his involvement with Compton rap group N.W.A.

His later solo career was spent rapping, producing and heading up Death Row Records. The two began a partnership when Iovine picked up Dre’s first solo album, “The Chronic,” and helped make it a hit. Since then, the two have collaborated on many projects; they launched careers for many household names, including Eminem, 50 Cent, Gwen Stefani and Kendrick Lamar. They are also the creators of the popular headphones “Beats by Dr. Dre,” which they sold for three billion dollars to Apple in 2014.

The documentary may clock in at a time-consuming five hours, but the breadth of each man’s career is wide and well-deserving of the time invested. Director Allen Hughes tells each man’s story with deliberateness. He never glosses over their faults, but also doesn’t linger on them long enough to distract from his larger narrative about their success and influence.

The show also clearly highlights the struggle between creativity and hard business in the music industry. Many of the musicians the men have worked with are called upon to chime in, including rapper Eminem, who dubs Iovine “the levitator” and Dre “the innovator.”

The series is worth a watch to get the full story, but if you don’t have time, here are five lessons about innovation that the documentary revealed.

1. Have an Authentic Passion for Your Career

Iovine and Dre always believed in the power of the records they were producing, knowing that they would make a statement and change the artists’ life. The series reveals that Dre started mixing beats as a teenager, spending countless hours of free time creating new sounds and remixing popular songs.

For him, it was always about the music and not about the chance to make money. Though both men have more than enough money to retire, they continue to produce music and work with artists because their passion is intrinsic.

2. Back Up Your Reputation with Hard Work

For all the controversy that might surround Dr. Dre’s life, no one could ever accuse him of not working hard enough. “The Defiant Ones” shows him laboring in the studio for hours to get one note on an album right. This perfection helped him produce countless records and launch careers, but also often wore him and the artists he worked with out.

Iovine has a similar work ethic, going in on weekends and spending days at a time in the studio to produce a perfect album. Though this kind of work ethic can lead to stress and heartache, it also makes a case for the tangible results you get when putting in real hours of hard work.

3. Know When to Walk Away From a Project

Iovine and Dre worked with dedication, but also knew when to step away from a project when they needed a change. After releasing “The Chronic” in 2001, Dre worked on a follow-up album, “Detox,” for years until finally putting it aside and releasing “Compton” in 2015 instead.

Image via Fist in the Air

Fans were upset, but he explained that as an artist, he just didn’t connect with the music on “Detox” and felt it wasn’t him. “I have to have a reason,” he said in the documentary. Iovine also learned when to transition; after burning out on long hours in the studio with a live U2 album, he made the transition to music executive and started Interscope records. The men were confident in their career choices even when they required a big leap of faith.

4. Take Chances When You Can

Part of being an innovator is going where no one has gone before, and Iovine and Dre certainly demonstrated this willingness throughout their careers. Dr. Dre did it from the very beginning; N.W.A was known for their provocative songs, like the track “F**k the Police,” that dared to go where no artist had gone before. Releasing songs that explicit was a risk, but it paid off and ushered in a new era of rap music.

When Iovine and Dre partnered for Death Row Records under Interscope, Iovine allowed Dre to bring in outsiders like Marilyn Manson and Nine Inch Nails, groups that were definitely outside the mainstream but who also found a strong fan base and added something new to the industry. When the two began to create a line of speakers in the late 2000s that would later become “Beats,” they were exploring territory quite different from music production. Their ability to take chances allowed their careers to expand and change over time.

5. Keep Learning and Evolving Everyday

More than anything, Iovine and Dre demonstrate how to gracefully evolve in a rapidly changing industry. Their music was always on the cutting edge because they were willing to let go of old methods in favor of new ones. When music streaming became popular, they had to completely change the way they produced, marketed and made money off of music albums.

They also began exploring other avenues of music production, which led to the development of Beats and their involvement in the streaming service Apple Music. Both men stayed sharp and never felt they had the industry all figured out; instead, they adapted to twists and turns, staying dynamic and one step ahead of the game. No matter what career you’re in, the ability to move forward with the times and adapt to change will take you far.

Carli Scalf, Ball State University

Writer Profile

Carli Scalf

Ball State University
English & Journalism

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