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The 40 Greatest Dr. Dre Productions

With the rapper-producer set to headline next month’s Super Bowl halftime show, we look back at the productions that made him an essential hip-hop icon, from World Class Wreckin’ Cru to N.W.A to Snoop to Eminem

Photographs in illustration by Al Pereira/Getty Images; Ken Hively/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images; Jason DeCrow/AP; Patrick Downs/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images; Evan Agostini/Invision/AP

Dr. Dre’s production career spans three decades and some of the most famous moments in American popular music. The Los Angeles musician is responsible for introducing so many acts to the pop mainstream — from childhood friend Eazy-E to Snoop Dogg, Eminem, and many others — that it’s difficult to narrow his achievements to a few dozen picks. Meanwhile, readers of this list will notice the absence of Kendrick Lamar: While the Doctor has played a crucial role in Lamar’s career, Dre technically hasn’t produced any of the rapper’s hits … yet. With Dre, Snoop, Lamar, Eminem and Mary J. Blige set to headline the Super Bowl 56 halftime show next month, we look back at the productions that made him a legend. Take this list as a starting point for exploring an essential hip-hop icon.

From Rolling Stone US

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Dr. Dre feat. Hittman, Kurupt, Nate Dogg, and Six-Two, “Xxplosive” (1999)

“Xxplosive” is another Dre cult classic that didn’t get an official single release, yet became ubiquitous on urban radio anyway. Dre and Mel-Man weren’t the first to sample Soul Mann and the Brothers’ cover of Isaac Hayes’ “Bumpy’s Lament” — that honor belongs to Fabian Hamilton, who flipped it for Lil Kim’s “Drugs.” However, it’s “Xxplosive’s” sensuously atmospheric reimagining of the Blaxploitation chestnut, setting it over a back-stiffening trap drum rhythm, that Erykah Badu’s “Bag Lady” and too many other tracks to mention here subsequently copied. Nate Dogg’s vocal revisits his earlier star turn on “Ain’t No Fun,” while Texas newcomer and “freakaholic” Six-Two adds to the lasciviousness. “I got these hoes clapping they hands, stomping they feet/Every now and then they put they mouth on me.”

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50 Cent, “In da Club” (2003)

By the time “In da Club” dropped in January 2003, at the height of rap’s mainstream dominance, 50 Cent’s Get Rich or Die Tryin’ was the most anticipated rap debut since Snoop Dogg’s Doggystyle. It topped the Billboard charts for an impressive nine weeks and turned into Dr. Dre’s biggest hit as a producer to date. Its nightlife ubiquity around the globe endures, thanks to its medley of operatic keys, and a hook from 50 that virtually commands you to “find him in the club.” “As soon as he walked into the studio, he picked up a pen, and we were done in an hour,” Dre told Rolling Stone in 2003. The beauty of “In da Club” is its charming simplicity. 50 sounds like a thug comfortable in his own skin, and someone who can party just as easily as “crack your head with a bottle of Bud” if you step out of line.

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Snoop Dogg, “Murder Was the Case (Remix)” (1994)

This might be the closest Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg have come to making a horrorcore epic. Originally made for Doggystyle before being remixed and issued as the title single from a straight-to-VHS flick, “Murder Was the Case” found Dre ramping up the whining G-funky-worm melodies to an ear-piercing volume as a backing chorus cries out “Murder!” It’s a sensational G-funk freakout enhanced by Snoop’s tormented raps about making a pact with the devil to conquer his block. The Gothic tones of “Murder Was the Case” mirrored Snoop’s real-life troubles: He faced allegations of conspiring to murder a rival gang member before a 1996 trial acquitted him. During a memorable appearance at the 1994 MTV Video Music Awards, Snoop ended his performance of “Murder Was the Case” by declaring, “I’m innocent! I’m innocent!”

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Dr. Dre, “Forgot About Dre” (1999)

Dre may have admitted to feeling a little pressure before the release of 2001, but save for a few key numbers, it didn’t show. One of those moments is “Forgot About Dre,” an angry pushback against critics who prematurely claimed he fell off. “All you niggas that said that I turned pop/Or the Firm flopped/Y’all are the reason that Dre ain’t been gettin’ no sleep,” he barks over a twangy bounce track he co-produced with Mel-Man. Meanwhile, Eminem plays Flavor Flav to Dre’s Chuck D by riffing a tale about killing two pedestrians and some barking dogs, and then burning down a house. It made no sense in the context of the song, but it was funny anyway.

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Eminem, “My Name Is” (1999)

Thanks to 1997’s The Slim Shady EP, which spread quickly in the early years of internet .wavs and Real Audio streaming, Eminem was already an underground sensation when Dre and Jimmy Iovine signed him to Aftermath/Interscope. The trick was translating his foul-mouthed humor and complex rhyme schemes to a mainstream audience. Dre and Eminem reportedly finished “My Name Is,” the song that would introduce him to white America, in around an hour. Dre makes fanciful use of Seventies British singer Labi Siffre’s “I Got the …,” and the loping bass rhythm gives the song a shrugging “Who, me?” quality that suits Em’s vocal quirks and Cheshire-cat lyrics. Eminem has a goofy irreverence that helps the listener absorb some of his more outré comments, like claiming he “ripped Pamela Lee’s tits off” and “I just found out my mom does more dope than I do.” Dre humbly plays the father figure on his protégé’s star turn: “Slim Shady, you’re a basehead.”

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Mary J. Blige, “Family Affair” (2001)

Mary J. Blige was perhaps the greatest R&B singer of the Nineties, and Dre dominated West Coast hip-hop during that decade. Remarkably, however, neither scored a Billboard Number One pop hit until “Family Affair.” The song finds Blige effectively shaking off the ghosts of her well-documented past traumas, and Dre matches her with a buoyantly stomping club beat. “We don’t need no hateration,” she sings happily on the Grammy-nominated single. “Get your ass on the dance floor!” “I don’t think I realized I was successful in music until ‘Family Affair,’ ” she told radio host David Morales last year. “That’s when I realized I was, like, huge.”

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Eve, “Let Me Blow Ya Mind” (2002)

As Eve of Destruction, Philadelphia rapper Eve Jeffers was one of the first artists signed to Dre’s Aftermath Entertainment. But it didn’t work out. “I was 18 when I first got signed. I just wanted my album out, but I didn’t know who I was as an artist, and I think Dre works really good with artists who know their own directions,” she told XXL magazine in 2004. A second deal with Ruff Ryders set her on the right path, and by the time she rejoined Dre for the biggest hit of her career, she was one of rap’s biggest stars. “Let Me Blow Ya Mind” has the same ringing blues-guitar melody that girded Dre’s “Xxplosive,” but it sounds lighter here, and Gwen Stefani’s sassy chorus gives it a winningly pop tone. Eve keeps it hardcore, though. “Drop your glasses, shake your asses,” she commands. Perhaps inspired by the Top 10-charting, Grammy-winning success of “Let Me Blow Ya Mind,” Eve rejoined Dre’s Aftermath camp in 2004. Sadly, history repeated itself: Save for a memorable 2007 hit, “Tambourine,” nothing much came out of her second stint at the label, either.

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Snoop Dogg, “Gin & Juice” (1993)

“With so much drama in the LBC/It’s kinda hard being Snoop D-O-double-G,” begins this quintessential tale of a good day in the hood. “But I somehow, someway, keep coming up with funky-ass shit like every single day.” Dre’s track made fanciful use of funk sources, from a rhythm bed he cribbed from George McCrae’s “I Get Lifted” and buried underneath his own keyboard arrangements, to transforming Slave’s “Watching You” into the song’s decidedly adult singalong chorus. Overall, it found Snoop Dogg and Dre evolving from the “lyrical gangbangs” of The Chronic to a demimonde of California sunshine, afternoon car cruises, and liquor-fueled backyard parties. When Vibe magazine asked Snoop in 1993 if he considered himself a gangsta, he responded, “Oh, I’d like to say I’m a smooth macadamian.”

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Dr. Dre, “Keep Their Heads Ringin’” (1995)

After Dre dominated 1993 and 1994 with The Chronic and Doggystyle, “Keep Their Heads Ringin’” kept his name on the charts during a brief period of inactivity. The track teems with ideas, from the “Buck-buck-buck-booyakasha!” vocal snipped out of KRS-One’s “Mad Crew” to a backing trio of women who mimic the Sequence’s “Funk You Up” by chanting “Ring-ding-dong/Ring-de-ding-ding-dong!” The Billboard Top 10 single is a smooth and infectious G-funk party track where Dre goes “for your neck, so call me Blacula,” and demonstrates the good Doctor’s emphasis on quality over quantity.

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Snoop Dogg feat. Nate Dogg, Warren G, and Kurupt, “Ain’t No Fun” (1993)

With its bouncy, glitter-ball-illuminated groove, “Ain’t No Fun (If the Homies Can’t Have None)” is Dre’s version of a boogie-funk epic. While never released as a single, it has endured as an urban-radio staple and a frequent source of inspiration: Mariah Carey essentially lifted the rhythm for her “Heartbreaker (Remix)” hit in 1999. Just as famous as Dre’s disco-fried beat is Nate Dogg’s opening vocal, and the way he makes heartless pimping sound so playfully likable. “When I met you last night, baby, before you opened up your gap/I had respect for you, lady, but now I take it all back,” he sings. “’Cause I have never met a girl/That I loved in the whole wide world.”

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Eazy-E, “The Boyz-n-the-Hood” (1987)

As detailed in the hit 2015 movie Straight Outta Compton, the first N.W.A single happened on a lark. Dr. Dre was locked up for unpaid parking tickets, and Eric Wright bailed out his friend on the condition that they develop a record label. Ice Cube wrote the lyrics for “The Boyz-n-the-Hood,” a tall tale of a young, flashy drug dealer “cruising on the streets in my ’64” inspired by Ice-T’s “6 ‘n the Morning.” The initial plan was for a Brooklyn rap group then staying in Orange County, California, to record the track, but they balked at the violent and hyperlocal lyrics. Dr. Dre prodded a reluctant Wright to try rapping the lyrics. The sound of Wright’s twangy, off-center cadence and nonchalant attitude against Dre’s hard synthesized bass proved to be instant magic — the birth of the legend known as Eazy-E.

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Dr. Dre, “The Next Episode” (1999)

On this standout single from 2001, Dr. Dre and co-producer Mel-Man open with an orchestral flourish lifted from famed producer and composer David Axelrod. (Axelrod returned the gesture with “The Dr & the Diamond,” on his self-titled 2001 comeback album.) What follows are inspired performances from Snoop Dogg, Dre, Kurupt, and Nate Dogg. There are too many quotable moments to mention here, but the one everyone knows is Nate Dogg’s legendary kicker “Smoke weed every day!”

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Dr. Dre feat. Snoop Doggy Dogg, “Fuck Wit Dre Day” (1992)

If “Nuthin’ But a G Thang” established Dre as a visionary exponent of L.A. sunshine, good weed, and afternoon barbecues, then “Dre Day” revealed the grim underside of the G-funk era and its promise of retributive violence. Dre’s arrangement, co-written with bassist Colin Wolfe, turns an interpolation of Funkadelic’s “Not Just Knee Deep” into a scarily ominous portent of conflict. Each verse licks shots at rivals — Dre takes aim at friend-turned-foe Eazy-E, Snoop clowns “Fuck Compton” writer Tim Dog, and they both mock Miami entrepreneur and 2 Live Crew leader Luke Campbell as “quite bootylicious.” Fans who sent “Dre Day” to Number Eight on the Billboard singles chart were thrilled at Dre and Snoop’s mordant battle rap. It also helped burnish Death Row as the world’s most dangerous record label, a reputation that eventually became its undoing.

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N.W.A, “Straight Outta Compton” (1989)

As the opening track of the group’s classic Straight Outta Compton, Ice Cube, MC Ren, and Ice Cube present a statement of hardcore purpose, without the thuggish jokes that animated “Gangsta Gangsta.” The video clip for the single shows the crew stomping through L.A.’s blighted streets amid scenes of barking dogs, barbed wire, and fires. “I’m coming straight outta Compton!” each bellow, just before a slowed-down vocal sample from Ronnie Hudson and the Street People’s “West Coast Poplock” flutters by. “It was the best song of that album,” DJ Yella remembered for the Straight Outta Compton movie DVD. “It went right to the point. Wasn’t no sugarcoating. Nothing. This is where we from. This is how it is.”

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Dr. Dre, “Nuthin’ But a G Thang” (1992)

According to Dr. Dre, the origins of this seminal ode to Compton party-rocking lay in a stack of records he found at his mother’s house. Then he sought out Snoop Doggy Dogg, who was in jail on unknown charges. “I really wanted this demo done, so he called in and I taped the receiver of the phone to the mic,” Dre told an L.A. radio station in 2015. After Snoop was released, the two cut a proper version of the song that would help G-funk go pop upon its release, with backing musicians such as bassist Colin Wolfe replaying elements of the key Leon Haywood sample. More than its wormy keyboard melody and Blaxploitation groove, though, it’s the vocal interplay between Dre and Snoop Dogg — like a West Coast update of Run-DMC’s mic-trading sessions — that makes “G Thang” such a marvel to hear and one of the greatest songs in hip-hop history.