“Quincy Jones told us a long time ago, ‘Chase the music and the money will come. Never chase money — chase the music.’ Since then, we’ve been chasing the music.”
Before Marcello “Cool” Valenzano and Andre “Dre” Lyon became the veteran producers they are today, they were in an R&B group together in high school, inspired by Jodeci. Unfortunately, they failed to realize that one important aspect of the music business is money — they needed it in order to survive. “We were kids, so we didn’t have money to buy beats,” Dre tells People CHICA. “So we decided that we were going to save up some money instead of paying someone $1,000 to buy a beat. We saved up and bought our own keyboard. That’s also the day we decided we were going to become producers. We did it out of necessity to make music for the band we were in.” They started gaining attention for their beats more than their singing, and became Cool & Dre, the production duo known for a truly impressive string of hip-hop classics.
Their first notable hit was Ja Rule’s 2004 hit “New York,” then came the Game’s debut single “Hate It or Love It,” Juvenile’s “Rodeo,“ and more with Lil Wayne, Birdman, Nas, and so on. Prior to their “New York” success, the Miami natives had started working closely with Fat Joe, who in September released his latest Cool & Dre–produced track. “It’s a dope feeling to be able to, 18 years later, still be making smash-hit records with somebody that’s done so much for us,” Dre says. “He helped open doors for us when we were young and gave us the opportunity to come to New York and do our thing. To still be doing this so many years later is just such a great feeling.”
Their most recent accolade is a Grammy award for their work on Beyoncé and Jay-Z 2018 joint album, Everything Is Love, which features four of their tracks. In a candid conversation, the producers open up about their inspirations, their upcoming album Family Ties, and offer some advice to aspiring producers.
You’ve both been in the industry for almost two decades now. Do you feel like the role of a producer has shifted at all?
Dre: The premise of producing has never changed — the only thing that has changed is technology, which makes it a lot easier for you to get music to people. Now you can just email a beat and they’ll record it where they’re at and send back the vocals, then you edit it and send it back again. There’s a lot of that going on. [But] we prefer to be in the studio with the artist and get a feel for them. We have a laptop with a thousand beats. We also at times create from scratch with the artist, because the artist might have an idea. When you’re not in with the artists, you lose the opportunity to make those one-on-one records that are personal to them.
You recently worked on “Yes” with Fat Joe, Cardi B and Anuel AA. How did that come about?
Dre: Joe came to the studio one day with an idea of flipping Héctor Lavoe’s track “Aguanile.” He’s a huge fan of his. Joe played us the record; we even put the movie on the screen in the studio — El Cantante with J.Lo and Marc Anthony. We caught the vibe and sampled the record, started cooking up the beat, and immediately, once the beat started going, Joe was like, “Oh s***, this is a hit.” After Joe laid his verse, he was like, “I’m gonna put this kid Anuel on here.” We didn’t know who he was, but Joe’s like, “Trust me, he’s one of the biggest boys in the game. He’s gonna kill this. I think I’m gonna put Cardi on it, too.” … When we sent it to Cardi B, it took six or seven months just to get her vocals back, and Joe wanted to drop this record for the summer. Every day he’d come to the studio: “I can’t wait anymore, I want this for the summer!” Cool and I would tell him to chill and trust the process — it’d be worth the wait.
Cool: There are probably ten different versions of this record. Every time [we recorded] there’d be a new version to play.
What are you working on now?
Dre: We’re working on Family Ties, a collab album between me and Fat Joe, produced by Cool & Dre. Over those seven months of us waiting to get Cardi’s vocals back, it allowed us to keep listening to the album and changing things and recording new material. The album we had seven or eight months ago, only like three songs stayed. The rest of it is all new material we recorded while we waited. It worked out perfectly. We’re looking at a December [release] to end the year strong. We have some really cool surprises — some tricks up our sleeves.
Where do you get your inspiration when songwriting or creating a beat?
Dre: Quincy Jones told us a long time ago, “Chase the music and the money will come. Never chase money — chase the music.” So since we were kids, we’ve been chasing the music. Music is playing in our heads 24/7. If I hear a sound outside my house, like a bird or something, it makes me think about music like, “How can we use that? What can we do with that?” When it comes to inspiration, it’s always natural. Like if we’re on a long plane ride, Cool will be on his laptop. He’ll be editing a beat or writing a mix, I’ll be writing and recording on my phone.
Cool: There have also been plenty of times where we start beats without any idea. We’re just balls of creativity.
Keeping mind that the music industry is so cutthroat and evolving daily, what advice do you have for aspiring producers?
Dre: You have to have patience. It’s tough — you have to have thick skin to make it.
Cool: Pay attention to what’s going on. If you’re uploading beats for a year and no one’s hitting you back, not even the neighbor down the street that’s trying to be a rapper, [then] you have to elevate your production. Compare yourself to other music that’s out, sonically. Don’t copy it — just put your beat next to something that’s hot and see if it compares. If you see that the drums ain’t knockin’ and the melody is not up to par, you might have to invest in some better drums. If you can’t invest at least $100 in yourself, then you’re in the wrong field. Invest in yourself, have patience, and always master your craft. Never stop learning.
What is your proudest moment, career-wise?
Cool: I’ll always remember working with Jay-Z and Beyoncé. When we first heard Beyoncé on one of our records, that’s one of those memories that is always going to be engraved on our minds. Working with those two GOATs, it was like, “Wow, we worked hard.” Working with two people that we always looked up to was an amazing feeling.
Dre: That was definitely a highlight. To give you another moment, I would say working on “All the Way Up” for Fat Joe, the success of that record and it being nominated for two Grammys. At the same time, an artist named Kent Jones had a breakout single on the Billboard Hot 100. Both “All the Way Up” and “Don’t Mind” were out at the same time. For us to have both those records come out at the same time was an amazing feeling, and it validated our hard work and our contributions to the game.