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This article was published on August 7, 2015

Dr Dre’s ‘Compton’ can teach startups some big lessons… honestly

Dr Dre’s ‘Compton’ can teach startups some big lessons… honestly
Mic Wright
Story by

Mic Wright

Reporter, TNW

Mic Wright is a journalist specialising in technology, music and popular culture. He lives in Dublin. He is on Twitter at @brokenbottleboy. Mic Wright is a journalist specialising in technology, music and popular culture. He lives in Dublin. He is on Twitter at @brokenbottleboy.

Okay, so this has the potential to stumble into terrible LinkedIn territory, like one of those articles by marketing guys that say something like ’50 Lessons inbound marketers can learn from Game of Thrones” (“Be the Cersei Lannister of SEO!”).

Regardless, I’m going to rush onwards in a fairly transparent attempt to be allowed to write about hip hop on The Next Web again.

Dr Dre just dropped ‘Compton’ as an exclusive on Apple Music. It’s his third solo album, following the undisputed classics ‘The Chronic’ and ‘2001’, and like them, it’s pretty damn incredible.

But while Dre has always been pretty clear on how he feels about people who forget about him – he’s not a fan – the run of three solo records in 23 years hardly makes him the most prolific artist, despite many production credits and guest spots on other rappers’ work.

And easy way to apply lessons from Dre’s career to the world of startups would be to look at what he did at Beats with Jimmy Iovine, but that would be boring.

In many ways, Beats was a triumph of marketing and strategy, not of tech smarts. Grumpy hi-fi heads will tell you that the company’s headphones are a triumph of style over functionality, as if being stylish or popular with ordinary people is a failure. Let’s not even entertain that.

Instead, I’m going to focus entirely on Dre’s work in hip hop to hew out some points that even the most white bread of startup people can grok. Trust me, I’m so white, I’m practically translucent.

Master design but learn to vary it

From ‘The Chronic’ through to ‘Compton’ and in his many stints behind the boards for other artists, Dre has shown a consistency in design – deep bass, horns sampled from old soul joints, tight snares and brutal flows.

The three records are each very different but there is a consistency of purpose and vision, they all feel like they come from Dre. You know a Dr Dre production in the first few seconds. Just listen to ‘The Next Episode’ (note: real doctors do not recommend smoking weed every day).

There’s a salutary lesson for people building products in the pattern established by Dre’s three solo albums – build products that feel like they’re definitely the creation of your team, not biting on the ideas of others. Wear your influences honestly but transcend them.

Be willing to build bridges with former collaborators

N.W.A was a pretty lean startup – just Dre, Yella, Eazy-E, Ice Cube, MC Ren and the oft-forgotten Arabian Prince. They worked within the limitations of their time and place to create records that sold big and made an even bigger impact. Then, like a lot of startups, they imploded.

Though Dre went on to create many more successful enterprises – from ‘The Chronic’ to launching Eminem and ultimately flipping Beats into a huge paycheck from Apple – the journey also included a lot of animosity between him and the other co-founders of N.W.A.

On ‘Compton’, he once again makes amends and builds bridges, both lyrically and literally with Ice Cube putting in a guest appearance on ‘Issues’. The pair have also collaborated on the forthcoming N.W.A biopic ‘Straight Outta Compton.’

The lesson for startups and entrepreneurs: You probably will make some enemies and have some fallings out. Be willing to rebuild the burnt bridges and work with other talented people when it makes sense.

Consulting for others makes your core product better

Dre has spent years producing other artists, making beats that he hasn’t hoarded himself, but instead given to other artists. The result? ‘Compton’ feels as fresh as any hip hop record that’s dropped this year.

If you can help other people in your startup community, do it. Consulting for others – both for cash and for karma – is really useful. Learning more about other people’s products and the way they work, will make your own products better. It’s simple.

M.R.E.A.M. (Marketing Rules Everything Around Me)

You can build an incredible product, you can have the best UI, the best UX, the most killer features in the world, but if people don’t know about what you’ve made, it’ll sink like a Meek Mill diss track.

Obviously, Dre has the advantage of being deeply embedded with Apple and Beats 1, which is playing the hell out of ‘Compton’, but there’s still a salient lessons for startups there – learn who the influencers in your space are, get them onside and get them talking about your product.

Got some other hip hop lessons that startups should learn? Drop them in the comments and they might make it into a follow up article.

Read next: The greatest tech references in hip hop