Since the early 2000s, songwriter and producer Andre Christopher Lyon has been best known as Dre, of the prolific production duo Cool & Dre. The Grammy-winning Miami producers worked on some of the defining hip-hop hits of the past two decades, including the Game's "Hate It or Love It" and Fat Joe and Remy Ma's "All the Way Up." Most recently, the duo's efforts were prominently featured on Jay-Z and Beyoncé's joint album, 2018's Everything Is Love.
But after two decades of success behind the scenes and on features, Dre is ready to step into the limelight. The producer is set to drop his first solo album, Family Ties, by the end of August. Ever the perfectionist, he says he's waiting on vocals before he announces a definitive date.
"We've always made music together and maintained our relationship like family," Dre says of Fat Joe. "When we made the record 'So Excited,' I did the hook on the record; that way it's easier for the artist because all they have to do is write their verses. Joe loved it so much he was like, 'Yo, Dre, I'm keeping you on it.' I've done things before with artists, but I was comfortable being a producer. But Joe has always pushed me to be an artist. He says God gave me the talent and a gift to be just more than a producer and to stop fucking around."
The song's positive reception encouraged Dre to continue with Family Ties, which he says will feature some of his biggest musical inspirations, including superstars such as Mary J. Blige. The ten-track album will also include previously unreleased vocals from the late rapper Big Pun. Dre says he's aware of the impact Latinos are having on music — Latin music has become the world's most-streamed genre. Latin trap artist Anuel AA is also featured on the album.
It makes sense that Dre's first album is largely collaborative after the two decades he's spent crafting hits for other artists. He says part of the reason it's taken so long to step out on his own is that hit-making always came before his dreams of being a solo artist, especially once the accolades began piling up.
He recalls producing the song "Chevy Ridin' High" for Rick Ross at a time when Cool & Dre were in high demand.
"When 'Everyday I'm Hustlin''' dropped, I was just so excited for him that I made the 'Chevy Ridin' High' record and asked him to get on it... This was the point in our career where we had made 'New York' for Ja Rule and 'Hate It or Love It' for the Game — both number one records — and my schedule as a producer was unbelievable. When I looked at the calendar for what Cool and I had to do compared to what I had to do, as an artist, I had to make a choice," he says. "If I were to have pursued being an artist 100 percent, I wouldn't have been available to do sessions with Mary J. Blige or Linkin Park, so I made a decision. I didn't want to disturb the Cool & Dre production career because we had worked so hard to get to that position."
But conditions have changed since then. Dre says advancements in technology afford him the ability to release his own music while he works with other artists. He promotes his solo projects on social media even as he and Cool plan collaborative projects.
The production duo's Epidemic Records, which is partnered with DJ Khaled's We the Best Music Group and Jay-Z's Roc Nation, is also seeking new talent to add to its roster.
"I'm excited for Family Ties and for the streets to hear it, but Cool and I are always looking... to support the new talent," he says. "I love working with established artists, and we just came off of working with the Carters, but we love working with new artists because we can be a part of their start in the beginning and throughout their career. We're all keeping busy."