Dr Dre's 20 best productions – ranked!

As the Grammys announces it will honour the producer at its 2020 ceremony, here’s a look at his journey from gangsta rap pioneer to Beats billionaire

20. The DOC – Beautiful But Deadly (1989)

An intriguing anomaly in Dre’s back catalogue. You could call Beautiful But Deadly a belated attempt to jump on the Def Jam rap-rock bandwagon, but it’s smarter than that. Its distorted guitars are based not on heavy metal, but psychedelic soul: Eddie Hazel’s stellar turn on Funkadelic’s Maggot Brain provides the blueprint. Either way, it rocks.

19. Truth Hurts ft Rakim – Addictive (remix) (2002)

Addictive was a track that turned into a nightmare: an uncleared sample of Indian artist Lata Mangeshkar by original producer DJ Quik led to a $500m lawsuit and an injunction to prevent it being broadcast or performed. Dre’s remix is still fabulous: Indian flutes, sitars and vocals fighting for space with high-drama synth stabs.

18. The Lady of Rage – Afro Puffs (1994)

While the Lady of Rage’s moment in the spotlight was brief, it produced one indisputable classic. Afro Puffs takes Dre’s post-Chronic sound down a dark and sinister alley – heavy, atonal bass, oddly creepy percussive clatter, high G-funk synths wailing off-key – while Rage offers a surprisingly woke lyrical stance for a Death Row artist, covering body positivity and Afrocentric beauty. Willow Smith has claimed the lyrics “changed my life”.

17. TI – Popped Off (2012)

By the time Popped Off slipped out on TI’s mixtape Fuck Da City Up, Dre’s production work was becoming sporadic, his attention presumably consumed by the Beats company that would make him a self-proclaimed billionaire. But Popped Off is a low-key reaffirming of his skill: a huge beat and sample snipped from Kool and the Gang’s Summer Madness turned into an epic fanfare.

16. NWA – Express Yourself (1988)

Dre’s handful of mid-80s productions for the World Class Wreckin Cru showed promise, but NWA’s Straight Outta Compton was something else. Express Yourself’s use of the bouncy Charles Wright original was a masterstroke, both commercially minded and at odds with NWA’s relentlessly grim subject matter: even the relatively benign lyrics here are filled with violence.

15. The Game – How We Do (2005)

There was a marked decline in the quality of MCs Dre worked with in the early 00s: 50 Cent wasn’t anything like as talented as Eminem, and the Game wasn’t anything like as talented as 50 Cent. How We Do’s success rests on Dre’s spare, gripping production: a spindly hook endlessly repeated over old-school 808 beats.

14. 2 Pac – California Love (1996)

In 1996 Dre wisely fled Death Row, a label about to go horrifyingly out of control, but not before producing one final anthem. Like Blackstreet’s No Diggity, which Dre worked on incognito, California Love is powered by a piano riff – this one sampled from Joe Cocker’s 1972 track Woman to Woman. He also paid homage to funk pioneer Roger Troutman, whose talk box provides the hook.

13. Bilal – Fast Lane (2001)

In the aftermath of Eminem’s vast success, Bilal made for an unlikely Dr Dre collaborator: a “conscious” neo-soul artist, affiliated to Questlove’s Soulquarians collective. But Fast Lane is amazing: the Curtis Mayfield-esque vocal and lush harmonies crashing against a sinister Dre beat, decorated with an eerie, shimmering organ and crawling analogue synth.

12. Dr Dre – Forgot About Dre (1999)

He is effortlessly out-rapped by Eminem – whose spectacular guest appearance was later lauded by Kendrick Lamar as the best verse on Dre’s album 2001 – but the producer’s bullish recounting of his achievements is lent weight by how good the music is: the perfect expression of 2001’s chilly, bare post-G-funk sound.

11. 50 Cent – In Da Club (2003)

After the dazzling invention and technical brilliance of Eminem, Dre’s next superstar protege was a backwards step, with tired gangsta cliches exploiting a lurid backstory. That said, 50 Cent sold millions, and at their best his collaborations with Dre have a creepy power. In Da Club is as about as bleak and omnious-sounding a party-starting banger as it is possible to imagine.

10. Dr Dre – Talking to My Diary (2015)

The closing track of Dre’s 2015 album Compton sounded remarkably like Dre bidding farewell to his career as a rapper. If so, it’s a great soundtrack to the end credits: flurries of strings sampled from François de Roubaix’s Dernier Domicile Connu (also the source for, of all things, Robbie Williams’s Supreme) and live horns, including an exquisite jazzy solo.

9. Eve ft Gwen Stefani – Let Me Blow Ya Mind (2001)

Despite Dre’s protestations, Let Me Blow Ya Mind demonstrated how adaptable to pop 2001’s sound was. The beat could have been on that album, Eve’s rap is suitably tough, but Gwen Stefani’s chorus is the perfect sweetener: it became a global smash.

8. Dr Dre – Lil’ Ghetto Boy (1992)

Easily overlooked amid The Chronic’s bigger hits, Lil’ Ghetto Boy is the album’s emotional centre. In place of NWA’s furious screw-you nihilism, it feels equivocal, thoughtful, even troubled by the cycle of street life it depicts, a mood embodied by the mournful Donny Hathaway sample that provides its chorus.

7. Eminem – My Name Is (1999)

It’s de rigueur to point out that the sample on My Name Is was played by Chas and Dave; more important is how brilliantly Dre uses it. In contrast to G-funk’s slickness, it sounds slightly ungainly, jerky and off-kilter; even – as Dre suggested – “annoying”: the perfect backdrop for Eminem to introduce his disturbing Slim Shady character.

6. Dr Dre ft Snoop Doggy Dogg – Deep Cover (1992)

Dre’s post-NWA solo debut was a ferocious statement of intent. As a rapper, he’s upstaged by Snoop, but it’s all about the beat, which turns a sample from Sly and the Family Stone’s joyous Sing a Simple Song into something ominous, overlaid with a double bass and off-key horns. Big Pun’s 1998 version of the same rhythm, Twinz, might be even better.

5. NWA – Real Niggaz Don’t Die (1991)

NWA’s 1991 album Efil4zaggin is so unremittingly unpleasant that its actual sound gets overlooked: what price skilful beats next to lyrics as foul as those on One Less Bitch? Nevertheless, the beats are a quantum leap on from Straight Outta Compton, as shown on its opening track: a vast, potent patchwork of samples, including a fabulous hook snatched from white funk-rockers Rare Earth.

4. Snoop Doggy Dogg – Who Am I? (What’s My Name) (1993)

All the singles taken from Doggystyle are brilliant: the first might be the best. An imperious updating of the cluttered sound of P-Funk, Who Am I?’s sound is thick with George Clinton samples, its bassline elastic and supremely funky, its grinding, squealing synths adding a hint of unease. That it ended up on a Money Supermarket advert tells you a lot about Snoop and Dre’s journey from folk devils to beloved institution.

3. Dr Dre – Still DRE (1999)

Dre’s late 90s were rocky: early releases on his label Aftermath were coolly received, rumours abounded regarding his failure to follow up The Chronic. But the album 2001 was a swaggering return. Still DRE sounds supremely confident: there’s virtually nothing to the track beyond one insistent sample and the occasional synth flutter, but it’s utterly addictive.

2. Dr Dre – Nuthin But a G Thang (1992)

The single that introduced the world to G-funk via Dre’s patent blend of 70s soul samples – in this case Leon Haywood – and analogue synth tones (the trademark “funky worm” whine was created on a Moog). Its brilliance, as here, lay in the contrast between the sound’s warm nostalgia for the music of childhood and the harshness of the lyrics it supported.

1. Mary J Blige – Family Affair (2001)

The video for Family Affair features a brief cameo by its producer: with a broad grin, Dre lifts his arms in triumph. As well he might. It might seem wilfully perverse to pick one of his poppiest productions as his greatest, but Dre’s snappy adaptability to different artists and eras has always been among his strongest skills. And besides, Family Affair is just a no-further-questions moment of perfection, such a fantastic, irresistible single as to disarm any criticism. Its construction is simple – an unrelenting two-chord piano line, staccato strings and the occasional subtle synthesised whoosh supporting one of Mary J Blige’s most economical and understated vocals and the most earworm-y of melodies. The cumulative effect is undeniable.


Alexis Petridis

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Furious, funny and potentially fatal: hip-hop’s 20 greatest diss tracks – ranked!
As Drake, Kendrick Lamar and more continue their high-profile beef, we run down the most inspired – and vicious – attacks in rap’s history

Alexis Petridis

25, Apr, 2024 @2:00 PM

Article image
Dr Dre at 50: NWA, bangers and beef – the moments that made a megastar
He’s the super producer who came straight out of Compton, taught you how to smoke trees and introduced you to OGs Eminem, 50 Cent and Snoop D O double G. As he hits 50, here are 50 reasons why we’ll never forget about Dre

Angus Batey

12, Feb, 2015 @7:00 PM

Article image
Dr Dre, Kendrick Lamar, Eminem, Mary J Blige and Snoop Dogg to perform at Super Bowl
The five multi-award-winning artists will perform on the same stage together for the first time at next year’s half-time show

Benjamin Lee

30, Sep, 2021 @9:42 PM

Article image
The 100 greatest BBC music performances – ranked!
As the Beeb celebrates its centenary, we take a look at its most memorable pop moments, from the birth of grime to the first sightings of Bob Dylan and Bob Marley, plus TOTP goes Madchester and countless classic Peel sessions

Guardian music

06, Oct, 2022 @12:12 PM

Article image
Dr Dre, Snoop Dogg, Eminem, Kendrick Lamar and Mary J Blige’s half-time show – an all-timer
The supergroup of hip-hop and R&B legends delivered the most entertaining Super Bowl half-time show in years

Sam Wolfson

14, Feb, 2022 @2:55 AM

Article image
Eminem: his 30 greatest tracks, ranked!
From horrorcore fantasies to soul-searching nightmares, here are the greatest moments from the Detroit rapper’s tumultuous career

Thomas Hobbs

20, Feb, 2020 @1:30 PM

Article image
The greatest banned songs of all time – ranked!
Thirty years on from 2 Live Crew being banned by the Beeb, we pick 20 foul-mouthed, orgiastic outings deemed too scandalous for public consumption

Laura Snapes

14, Feb, 2019 @1:02 PM

Article image
Pharrell Williams’s 30 greatest songs – ranked!
It’s 20 years since his band NERD released their debut album – but the rapper-producer-singer-songwriter has been responsible for an avalanche of hits. As he and co-pilot Chad Hugo get inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, we count down Williams’s 30 greatest bangers

Alexis Petridis

10, Mar, 2022 @2:00 PM

Article image
‘It was freaking bananas!’: rap luminaries on the defining moments from 50 years of hip-hop
From Brooklyn block parties to globe-trotting glory, some of the biggest names in hip-hop share their personal highlights from five decades of rap, rebellion and raising the roof

As told to Thomas Hobbs

25, Aug, 2023 @6:00 AM

Article image
Film studio plans to reunite NWA and team them with Eminem for European tour
The makers of Straight Outta Compton want to revive the legendary rap group to promote the film about them

Guardian music

23, Jul, 2015 @6:59 AM