Finding out your favourite rapper’s favourite rapper is the kind of thrill that was previously only resigned to receiving the shiniest of football stickers in your deck. It’s a childish spark of electricity that sends jolts of joy around your body, comforted in the knowledge of understanding a little bit more of your idol. That feeling of unstoppable exultation only increases when those two favourites happen to align, and your new favourite spitter reflects on another of your heroes as an inspiration or influence. Well, if the unfathomably talented Dr Dre is an idol of yours, then boy, do we have a treat for you.
Dr Dre made his name as part of N.W.A., a rap group that not only relied on their visceral rhymes, Dre’s uncanny ear for an infectious beat and their own perpetual appetite for destruction to propel them into the mainstream — they had some serious punk ethos too. As part of the group with Easy-E, Ice Cube and MC Ren, Dr Dre become one of the biggest names in hip-hop, providing countless inspiration for the plethora of acts that followed him. He has also presided over one of the most meteoric rises in music, with his protege Eminem now regarded as one of the greatest rappers of all time and certainly one of the best-selling. But to typecast Dre as only a hip-hop head would be to overlook one of his favourite bands of all time — Nirvana.
“I think rap music is the only vital form of music that has been introduced to music in a long time since punk rock,” Kurt Cobain once said in a recently discovered piece of lost audio. “I would never do rap music. No. There’s just no sense in it. The people who do rap music do it just fine… I’m usually offended by people like Vanilla Ice, and stuff like that.”
He added: “The white man ripped off the black man long enough. They should leave rap music to the African-Americans because they do it so well, and it is so vital to them.” That wasn’t all he had to say about rap music though, also stating: “I’m a fan of rap music, but most of it is so misogynist that I can’t even deal with it. I’m not really that much of a fan, I totally respect and love it because it’s one of the only original forms of music that’s been introduced, but the white man doing rap is just like watching a white man dance. We can’t dance, we can’t rap.”
Despite this, or perhaps because of it, Kurt Cobain has long been a fascinating idol in the realm of hip-hop. Whether it was the iconic nature of his standing in the early nineties, as hip-hop began to take the baton from rock as the most subversive music genre around or the singer’s searing and sincere lyrics, the Nirvana man has been a fixation for the hip-hop world for decades. Jay-Z used some of Nirvana’s lyrics in ‘Holy Grail’, Tyler, The Creator has often cited Cobain as a cultural touchstone, and even Method Man has spit a few bars about the singer. But it was in Dr Dre and Jimmy Iovine’s 2015 documentary The Defiant Ones that we witnessed Dre’s affection for the group.
In the HBO documentary, which charts Dre’s life from N.W.A. to global media mogul, the rapper opens up about the trials and tribulations of his life. And while many bands and artists have figured in his life in some shape or form, there’s only one which can be called his favourite “Nirvana” proclaims Dre in the film.
The scene arrives as we see Dre in the Bahamas, and like any real fan, as Nirvana’s track ‘Stay Away’ rings out on the speakers, we see Dr Dre, one of the most famous men in hip-hop history, losing his cool and screaming as any fanboy would. “Yo, I’m starting to sweat right now,” says the producer, “just listening to this shit. It’s bananas. Nirvana, Kurt Cobain, that’s my favourite rock group of all time.”
In a previous interview, back in 2010, Dre even went as far as to name the band’s raucous debut album Bleach as one of his favourites of all time. Having cleared out thousands of records, the rapper and producer kept only three for himself. “What I did was just went through and jotted down everything I was in love with so I could order it [later],” he shared.
Those three albums were Curtis Mayfield’s Superfly, Barry White’s Greatest Hits and Nirvana’s triumphant debut album Bleach, about which Dre said: “That’s one of my favourite albums ever made. I still listen to that shit to work out.” If you’re in need of the perfect workout music, then this album comes doctor-approved.
While Dre also notes his love of Kraftwerk, it is Cobain that has always shined for hip-hop heads around the world. And there’s no bigger hip-hop head than Dr Dre.
Watch The Defiant ONes on HBO or Netflix UK.