It proved a wise decision – the 68-year-old has a net worth of around $1 billion today.
Founding his first record label, Interscope Records, in 1990, he later co-founded Beats Electronics with rap artist Dr Dre. The company was acquired for $3 billion by Apple in May 2014 – the tech giant’s biggest acquisition to date.
Apple bought both the music streaming service Beats Music and also the manufacturing arm, Beats Electronics, supplying headphones, speakers and audio software. This made Iovine and Dre very wealthy.
How did Iovine launch his career?
Iovine was born in Brooklyn, New York, in March 1953, into a working-class family. His father worked on the docks and his mother was a secretary. After attending Bishop Ford Central Catholic High School, he became a student at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.
A cleaning job at a recording studio introduced him to the world of music production and after dropping out of college, he worked his way up from cleaner to music engineer. He has since been involved in producing more than 250 albums during his hugely successful career.
When Jimmy Iovine met Dr Dre, it proved a real turning point in both artists’ careers. Their collaboration in founding Beats Electronics in 2006 led to both partners becoming billionaires.
Dre’s early life
Dre was born Andre Romelle Young in February 1965, in Compton, California. The son of Theodore and Verna Young, he attended Vanguard Junior High School, but his parents later transferred him to Roosevelt Junior High School, reportedly due to fears of gang violence at his old school.
He then attended Centennial High School in Compton in 1979, followed by Fremont High School in Los Angeles, but he had little interest in academic studies.
After high school, he continued his education at Chester Adult School in Compton, but eventually dropped out when he started performing as a DJ at Eve’s After Dark nightclub. Inspired by rappers such as Grandmaster Flash, he adopted the name Dr Dre, the “Master of Mixology”.
Different career paths
The illustrious partnership between the record producer and the rapper was an unlikely one, as Dre’s career was built on rap, while Iovine wasn’t familiar with the genre at first, having produced albums for mainstream recording artists such as Stevie Nicks, John Lennon and Bruce Springsteen.
However, in an interview with the BBC in 2018, Iovine admitted, “Something about me and Dre just clicked.” He said they had never argued since they first met.
Iovine had just produced the U2 album, Rattle and Hum, while Dre was a member of controversial rap group NWA. They had both worked in the music industry for some time but moved in different circles.
Iovine had worked as a sound engineer for Voyager Golden Records and had also supervised soundtracks for romantic films such as Sixteen Candles and comedies including Scrooged. He had worked with some of the biggest artists in the music industry.
Dre had been a DJ and rapper in his teens and had recorded demo tracks at Eve After Dark’s recording studio. In 1985, he joined the music group, World Class Wreckin’ Cru, who became stars of the 1980s West Coast hip hop scene.
In 1986, he collaborated with rapper Ice Cube to record tracks for hip hop label Ruthless Records, run by rapper Eric Wright, alias Eazy-E. The three artists formed the rap group NWA, which wrote about stark subjects, such as violence in the inner-city streets.
Their first album, Straight Outta Compton, was a huge success, despite being banned from most radio stations.
Dre met Iovine just after the latter had finished working with U2. They began to chat about music and Dre gave Iovine his debut solo album, The Chronic, to listen to.
In an interview, Iovine said he had been feeling drained after finishing U2’s Rattle and Hum in autumn 1988. He described them as an “exhausting” band.
He said he “knew hip-hop was going around”, but admitted he had no idea what it was. Then, Dre walked in with his album. Iovine had heard some of NWA’s tracks but told Dre he didn’t know hip hop at all.
However, after listening to The Chronic, Iovine said, “I don’t know hip-hop, but I know my speakers,” – meaning he liked what he heard. He asked, “Who engineered it?”
When Dre said he was the studio engineer, it sparked Iovine’s interest. He likened Dre’s circumstances to “making a record falling out of a building”, describing the band as “a bunch of guys who had no money”.
It spurred Iovine into doing something different and taking a risk out of his comfort zone. He said to Dre, “Wow! If you can do it under those circumstances, let’s go!”
It was a big risk for Iovine at the time, as there was much hostility in the mainstream media towards rap – and in particular towards NWA. Iovine said he “wasn’t a hip hop guy” until he met Dre, who changed his views.
From that day on, Iovine and Dre became friends, collaborating musically and in business. Iovine said he felt energised by the new challenge. His record company, Interscope Records, became a marketer and distributor for Dre and Suge Knight’s Death Row Records in the early 1990s.
They released best-selling rap albums including 2Pac’s All Eyez On Me and Snoop Dogg’s Doggystyle. When Dre departed Death Row, he teamed up with Iovine again in 1996 on the Aftermath label – home to artists such as Busta Rhymes, Eminem and 50 Cent.
Their collaboration stretched way beyond record producing. In 2006, Dre and Iovine launched Beats Electronics in Santa Monica, California. This was arguably their biggest risk. The company manufactured and sold headphones that had the ultimate sound quality and also personality.
After launching the headphones, they also entered the streaming market with Beats Music. The company went from strength to strength over the next decade, leading to its eventual sale to Apple for £3 billion in 2014.
Iovine says his philosophy has always been to do whatever it takes to make a go of things. He said if that meant sweeping the floor, then he’d sweep it. He added, “Be in the room with the best people you can. Learn from the best – get in that room somehow.”
What are they doing now?
Iovine and Dre gave $70 million to the University of Southern California to create an arts, technology and innovation academy, which opened in September 2014. They are both known for their philanthropy.
In 2017, Dre also donated $10 million to construct a performing arts centre at the new Compton High School. It will include a 1,200-seat theatre. Dre is partnering with the Compton Unified School District on the project.
Iovine has also been a mentor on the US talent show, Fox’s American Idol, helping young would-be stars to forge a career in the music industry.
Dre has recovered from a brain aneurysm on 5th January 2021. After a long period in hospital, the 56-year-old says he’s now fully recovered and has posted selfies at the gym on his social media accounts.
Snoop Dogg, speaking in an interview on 15th May, said his dream was to play a half-time show at the 2022 Super Bowl in Los Angeles with Dr Dre, Eminem, Kendrick Lamar and 50 Cent. He claimed Dre was “available”. The star has yet to respond publicly to the suggestion.
Apple has continued to develop the Beats brand, introducing new designs such as the Beats Solo Pro, Apple Beats Powerbeats and Apple Beats Powerbeats Pro. Every year, an estimated 10 million pairs of Beats headphones are sold, with an average price tag of approx. £110 each.
Iovine’s advice to “be in the room with the best people” emphasises the importance of how a meeting in the right place, at the right time, can truly change your life. You can get a really great feel for something or someone when you are there in person.