To call Dr. Dre a pioneer of hip-hop would be a gross understatement.
Since 1986, the producer, turntablist and MC has been at the absolute forefront of the rap game, with his distinctive, synth-heavy boom-bap production technique setting a standard for beats that very few can match.
In addition to being a founding member of seminal rap collective NWA, Dr. Dre is deemed responsible for creating the West Coast G-Funk sound, as well as introducing hip-hop heavyweights such as Snoop Dogg, Eminem, 50 Cent and Kendrick Lamar to the masses – in short, he’s definitely more than just a pair of headphones.
In this week’s Gear Rundown, we celebrate one of the greatest living hip-hop producers by exploring the various synths, keyboards, samplers and drum machines exquisitely utilised by the one and only Dr. Dre.
Released in 1999 as Korg’s flagship synthesiser, sampler and workstation, Dr. Dre extensively used the versatile Triton on most of his productions from 2001 onwards, including Eminem’s The Slim Shady LP, The Marshall Mathers LP, and 50 Cent’s debut Get Rich or Die Tryin’. A classic hip-hop production tool, the Korg Triton is also heavily used by producers such as The Neptunes, Timbaland, and Just Blaze.
MOOG MINIMOOG MODEL D
It’s no secret that Dr. Dre’s a huge fan of Parliament-Funkadelic – the blueprint of the G Funk sound instigated through his production work on 1993’s The Chronic oozes the likes of George Clinton and Bernie Worrell, and nothing personifies the West Coast sound like that of the Minimoog Model D.
This classic analogue synthesiser is used by Dre for both its rumbling bass sounds and whiny leads – a classic example of which being his production on Snoop Dogg’s classic ‘Gin and Juice’.
FENDER RHODES 88 ELECTRIC PIANO
Image via YouTube.
In this image, you can see Dre playing a vintage Fender Rhodes 88 Electric Piano, an absolute classic instrument featured in some of the finest funk, jazz, hip-hop and soul from the ’60s to today. You can also spot a Nord Lead perched atop of the Rhodes, which is presumably used for pad and lead sounds.
Dr. Dre supposedly used this sampler/synth hybrid throughout the recording of NWA’s seminal debut LP Straight Outta Compton, which turned 30 last week and still sounds just as relevant as it did upon release in 1988.
AKAI MPK49 USB MIDI KEYBOARD
An Akai MPK49 can be spotted next to Snoop Dogg as he jams out in this video depicting a studio session from Dr. Dre’s infamously unreleased record Detox – a project the producer has reportedly been working on for close to 20 years.
ROLAND TR-808 DRUM MACHINE
Regarded as the most famous drum machine of all time, the booming bass drum of the Roland TR-808 can be heard all over NWA’s first album, with a prominent example being heard on ‘Gangsta Gangsta’.
The Akai MPC3000 is by far one of the most important production tools in the history of hip-hop, with prominent users including Dr. Dre, J Dilla, DJ Premier and Swizz Beats.
Speaking with Scratch Magazine in 2004, Dr. Dre discussed his heavy use of the Akai MPC3000, claiming to own at least five of the units. “I love using the MPC3000. I like setting up like four or five different MPC3000’s, so I don’t have to keep changing discs. So I have them all lined up, and I have different drum sounds in each one, and then we use one for sequencing the keyboard.”
Dr. Dre supposedly also utilised an original MPC60, designed by music tech legend Roger Linn, in his later work with NWA, with frequent collaborator and keyboardist Colin Wolfe providing an insight to how Dre used the MPC60 as a part of his writing workflow at the time in an interivew with Wax Poetics.
“As far as coming up with the tracks for NWA, we would first write down a bunch of song titles and listen to some records. Sometimes Dre would build a drum track in the MPC  or SP  first. Then we’d get inspired by a groove, switch a note or two. I’d usually have an idea of what we’d want then come up with something pretty quick for it. Once we had the title and track, D.O.C. would usually write Dre’s verses, Ren would always write his own. Different people would write Eazy’s verses—sometimes D.O.C., sometimes Kokane. I’d usually be the one to record Eazy and Dre’s vocals because I was good at punching in.”
In a 2002 commerical for Coors Light, Dr. Dre can be seen making beats on an Akai MPC2000 on a plane – as you do.
This classic ’80s drum machine/sampler was prominently used by Dr. Dre to capture samples and produce much of NWA’s early material, and can be spotted in this video of an interviewrom NWA’s studio in 1988. Watch out for Eazy-E poking an assasult rifle in your face at the start.
AKAI S900 MIDI DIGITAL SAMPLER
This early 12 bit digital sampler, released in 1988, was frequented by Dre while producing early records for NWA, Snoop Dogg and 2-Pac.
BEATS BY DR. DRE
Come on. This one is obvious, right?