Dawaun Parker on the making of 'Relapse' and what he’s learned from Dr. Dre
Under the aegis of legendary beatmaker Dr. Dre, Dawaun Parkerhas spent the last four years in a residency of sorts. But with first-week sales of Eminem’s “Relapse” estimated at an excess of 600,000 copies sold, it may signal that the Berklee College graduate is ready for board certification. After all, the 26-year-old multi-instrumentalist received co-producer credit on 14 of 15 tracks on Slim Shady’s comeback, including lead singles “We Made You” and “Crack a Bottle” — the latter of which shattered records for most first-week downloads sold.
While most producers spend years shopping beat tapes or forming groups in the hopes of catching a break, Parker’s path has been relatively bloodless: Scooped up a mere two days after graduating from the prestigious New England conservatory, he went straight to aiding the Aftermath honcho, as well as Busta Rhymes, T.I., 50 Cent and Jay-Z.
Self-effacing in the wake of Aftermath’s continued Soundscan domination, Parker spoke to Pop & Hiss about the making of “Relapse,” what he’s learned under Dr. Dre’s tutelage and Eminem’s penchant for drawing comical sketches in the studio.
How did the recording sessions for “Relapse” differ from previous albums that you’d worked on?
Most of the time, me, Dre, Mark Elizondo and sometimes a guitar player will just sit together and jam, and eventually we’ll come up with loops and ideas. With Eminem, he’d be constantly running in and out of the room and whenever he’d finish recording his tracks, he’d let us listen. We usually stuck with it. I was amazed by the level of complexity of the stuff he was writing, even at the beginning stages.
Em’s a funny guy — he’d draw all kinds of pictures of crazy cartoons and people flying and tape them to all the doors to keep things lighthearted. He was just on a tear — every time he’d leave the room he’d say something more mind-blowing. As a long-time fan, it was an incredible experience.
Dre’s a notoriously tough critic in the studio. Is he a difficult boss to satisfy? Does the competitive environment make you a better producer?
I don’t feel like I’m anywhere near his level, but just being around so many talented people is exciting. It’s about trying to make the best music I can. I imagine other people could get frustrated but I relish the fact that I get a chance to work on such interesting material.
Dre’s got an insanely sharp ear. He’ll describe a drum sound to me and work until we get it just right. It’s that diligence that makes him so successful and critically acclaimed. I feel the pressure to deliver my best every time. It’s not necessarily about being perfect or about pleasing Dre. He’s all about creating the best and most fun environment around. We try to keep it organic but at the same time we’re not going to settle for a 7 either.
You guys have been finished with the “Relapse” album for several months. What are you working on now?
We’ve been working on 50 Cent’s “Before I Self Destruct" and "Detox." I’ve also been slowly putting stuff together for my own group, GodBody. But working with 50 and Dre have taken up a lot of time.
What’s the status with “Detox?”
There’s been a lot of progress. Every day we create more sounds and [see] what decisions Dre makes. Whenever he’s ready to put something out, we will. I think we have some great material, and he sounds excellent on the microphone. In all likelihood, 50’s album will be next to drop, then the second installment of “Relapse.”
Sonically, how does the music you’ve created for “Relapse” differ from what you’re creating for “Detox?”
Eminem’s sound is dark with big drums and a lot of space for him to fill with rhymes. I think he can rhyme over anything but he had ideas in his head where he was trying to come and create. I’d have to guess what he wanted, and I knew that I couldn’t repeat. One day you’d create things that were green, the next you’d have to create things that were blue.
Judging from the records we’ve made for “Detox,” Dre wants things that are more soulful. Eminem’s progressions and sounds tend to be rock-oriented, while Dre’s influences are more rooted in R&B, funk, and soul.
-- Jeff Weiss
Photo credit: Larissa Underwood of Larissa Underwood Photography