(CNN)Few music producers can say they hung up on Dr. Dre because they didn’t believe it was really him calling. Even fewer can say they’ve toured with Snoop Dogg and worked with iconic artists such as Britney Spears, Eminem and Ice Cube.
In studios across the world, the hip-hop legend has brought together the influences of his Arab heritage with a range of other musical styles to create a sound that resonates with people.
CNN spoke to the producer about how his heritage impacts his music and his worldview.
Tell me about your early years in America …
I grew up in … Michigan. And it was like my whole (family). My dad went to Palestine and brought all my uncles and my aunties and my cousins (back with him). He bought a little kind of ranch and put them all up in there, so every day after school we had our own little village …
They’d grow their own vegetables and their own food, that Middle Eastern food that they’d like to eat, like mulukhiyah (an Arabian stew served with rice). Things that they didn’t sell in the stores back then. So we had our own little community with our family.
How did you go from radio DJ to a big time hip hop producer?
Being at the radio was really cool because the artists would come in. When they released their albums, I’d get to meet them. Or if I did a remix for somebody and then they’d come in and I was like: “Hey, I’m the one that did that remix.” Because they’d drive around LA and hear their song on the radio … Every step led to the next step.
And what about Snoop Dogg. How did that relationship form?
Oh, Snoop is nuts. Snoop and Dre, I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for those two. I met them both kind of at the same time. They’re my friends. If I never even made one cent from it, I would still want to work with them and be with them, because it’s not even work with them. Snoop is just so fun. They’re both fun, but, Snoop is just — he’s Snoop.
How did your Middle Eastern roots influence your music and your career?
In Middle Eastern music you have the quarter tone … only certain instruments can play that Middle Eastern quarter tone, like a violin, can play it, the oud can play it, because there are no frets, so you get the little tones in between. So, I have a wider range of musical tonality that I can go to. The beauty (of Arabic music) is the quarter notes.
Every year I do a project in the Middle East region. It might be a film score, music production or a business collaboration. It could be in Amman, Cairo, Jeddah or Dubai. It gives me an opportunity to come to the region and collaborate with artists, producers and other creatives. There’s so much potential we can achieve there.
Explain your passion for collecting records
I’ve been collecting records since I was a kid, and that’s kind of where I find my inspiration. Hip hop incorporates every type of music — so it has rock, funk, soul, gospel, it’s used country, classical music, Arabic music.
And you also collect vintage musical instrument. Which are your favorites?
The piano that (The Doors) did “Riders on the Storm” with. I love listening to The Doors.
Ray Manzarek, who played with The Doors, gave me a Gibson Kalamazoo organ after a session we did. It broke down in the studio so I told him I would get it fixed for him. It took a year to refurbish it electronically and then Ray just said to me, “hey, I’m not hauling that thing around. You can have it!”
I also love Prince’s Telecaster guitar which I bought at a celebrity charity auction in 1999. Sheila E — Prince’s percussion player — had put it in the auction.
The more original analog stuff that I have that I can use, I think it makes the sound stand out. It just has some type of soul to it, that you can’t get from just pulling up your laptop and just pounding out a track with your fingers.
What drives you?
Obsession and curiosity. People sometimes ask me: “What do I gotta do to be a producer. I want to make beats.” I’m like: “Go make 10,000 beats, because if you really love doing it you won’t ask how you get paid, you won’t ask anything.” That’s why I’m still here. Because I’ve always been obsessed with this.
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