The Defiant Ones: A Decent Attempt to Tell Two of the Music Industry’s Greatest Success Stories

Rap, rock, racism, and the visionaries who built a music empire

A multi-episode journey through the life of producer Jimmy Iovine and his relationship with Dr. Dre leaves me wishing someone had edited this documentary before publishing it on HBO. Despite featuring interviews with almost every music icon from the last five decades, The Defiant Ones desperately lacks post-production editing. It feels like the director couldn’t decide which material to include, so he included everything.

Some of the footage in The Defiant Ones is absolutely amazing, and I understand why they decided to split the story into several episodes, but there’s about an episode worth of content that should have been cut. The story simultaneously covers the rise of Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre as producers and eventual billionaires after the duo sold Beats to Apple for $3 billion in 2000.

The entire documentary is well over four hours long and features some of the most interesting footage I’ve ever seen, although it appears a lot of it is also on YouTube. I also found the overall vibe of The Defiant Ones to be the exact opposite of the point of the documentary. It feels very corporate, like someone spent a lot of money on the production of this documentary. If you watch the credits, each of the artists has their own personal makeup artist, including Eminem, who apparently needed someone to do his hair for him. Thug Life.

The real focus of the documentary is how Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine managed to influence the direction of the music industry for the last few decades through hard work and persistence. Both seem to have a preternatural ability to identify talent in others and bring it out in the studio.

Iovine’s relentless focus on each record having a hit single seems to have been a major factor in his artists’ success. Without losing focus on the artistic side of producing a record, Iovine managed to convince some of the most famous musicians to loan their songs to other artists and expand their catalogs. After helping Bruce Springsteen produce Born to Run, Iovine successfully convinced him to let Patti Smith have his song, Because the Night, for her record. The single swiftly rose to the Billboard top 10 and is undoubtedly Patti Smith’s most popular song. Iovine pulled a similar maneuver with Tom Petty and Stevie Nicks that backfired when Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around outperformed Tom Petty’s new record, Hard Promises, which was also produced by Jimmy Iovine.

Patti Smith (Spotify)

Hold up. I haven’t forgotten about Dr. Dre. The Defiant Ones takes an episode or two to cover the rise of Dr. Dre’s original group N.W.A., their split, the east-west rap beef, and the death of Tupac. By this time Jimmy Iovine had grown sick of the higher-ups wanting unoriginal music, so he started Interscope Records with Ted Fields and Atlantic Records, becoming a producer of producers. Now free from Eazy-E and N.W.A., Dre crafted one of the greatest albums of all time, The Chronic.

Meanwhile, Death Row Records had put together a sick lineup of rappers that would put west coast rap on the map. The label included Tupac Shakur, Dr. Dre, and Snoop Dogg — and they owned the charts. Then Suge Knight decided to get on the mic at the 1995 Source Awards in New York City. By dissing Puff Daddy in his home town, Suge Knight ushered in a all-out war between east and west coast rappers that resulted in the death of both Tupac and Biggie.

Any artist out their who wanna be an artist, and wanna stay a star, and don’t [wanna] have to worry about the producer trying to be all in the video, all on the record, dancin’ — come to Death Row!

Despite The Chronic’s success, Dre risked falling into obscurity by the late 90s, desperate to either write another hit record or find a new talent to produce. In Jimmy Iovine’s basement, Dre would find the latter in the form of a tape labeled ‘Slim Shady.’

Iovine and Dre built their careers taking risks on the right artists, and the 90s was a make-or-break time for both as Iovine tried to legitimize his record label and Dre tried to prove he could be a great producer for Interscope. Apparently, some of the executives even wanted to fire Dr. Dre during this period. Iovine said they would have to fire him as well.

“Fuck it, I’m throwing the dice, I’m betting all the marbles on Eminem” — Dr. Dre

Despite Dr. Dre’s backing, most of the executives were skeptical that a controversial white rapper was a good choice. Luckily, Dre persisted, and created a monster. In 2001 Dre completed the comeback, releasing The Chronic 2001.

Interscope Records wanted to be unique from the outset, signing groups like Primus and Nine Inch Nails. Iovine was responsible for Gwen Stefani’s rise to stardom and bringing Fergie and will.i.am together to create the Black Eyed Peas. He had a hand in a lot of the most famous groups over the last few decades, including 50 Cent and U2.

At the end of the day, Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine have accomplished so much, and been a part of so many historic records, that it’s difficult to cover everything. I think the directors faced the same issue and failed to properly handle it. It’s sad that so much of the documentary series is wasted on content that should have been chopped by the editor.

The series seems to lack direction, bouncing from one topic to the next without grounding the viewer. While the story unfolds somewhat chronologically, the date only appears on the screen a couple times — perhaps an issue that post production could have fixed. They try to tell the story by blending together interviews, a tactic used beautifully by most 30 for 30’s, but the interviews don’t really get the job done here… despite being extensive.

Ignoring the issues of length and organization, The Defiant Ones is a must watch documentary for anyone who wants an inside look at the music industry since the 1970s. The documentary attempts to bring together music, culture, and history to tell multiple stories in one series, and it does a fairly good job.


Here’s a collection of some clips and music videos used in the documentary: The Playlist