The Defiant Ones, HBO’s four-part documentary that brilliantly told the story of one of music’s strongest and unexpected duos: Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine. Their partnership and most importantly friendship, was the tailwind behind electronics company Beats By Dre that sold to Apple for $3 billion in 2014. Having both started from humble beginnings, the stories of how their careers came to fruition were authentic and inspirational. Add to that, the brilliance of director Allen Hughes (Menace II Society, American Pimp) and immaculate editing by Doug Pray and Lasse Järvi, The Defiant Ones is one of the most impressive documentaries ever made.

Here are the five key lessons we learned:

[1] NEVER UNDERESTIMATE THE POWER OF HARD WORK & GRIT

Dre was the son of a single mother in Compton, California who was constantly told both she and her son would never amount to anything. Jimmy grew up in Brooklyn, New York and never attended college. Early in his career, Iovine recalled that Bruce Springsteen taught him work ethic, remarking “the guys that wanted to go home at 5 p.m. never lasted.” Iovine took that advice to heart and even as a devout Catholic, showed up to work on Easter Sunday. To his surprise, John Lennon was there– Jimmy’s big break.

SETH SHAPIRO: Especially early in your career, you need to put in time ‘off the clock’ to prove yourself. If you work ‘bankers hours’, especially in a creative, competitive industry like production or advertising, for example, you will get lost in the shuffle and wind up actually working as a bank teller one day. If you want to work for the big boys, you better be ready to pull up your sleeves and put in the extra time to stand out from the rest. If not, a creative, competitive industry is not for you.

KARLY FINISON: I was super inspired seeing some of Jimmy and Dre’s experiences at the beginning to their careers. It reminded me of my first internship in sports at the WHDH-TV (7NBC-Boston) sports desk. During this time, the Bruins were competing in the Stanley Cup Finals, the Patriots were preparing for their upcoming season and the Red Sox were at the beginning of a playoff run that would ultimately end in a World Series championship that fall. I was responsible for time-coding the notable plays using a program called iNews for the sports producer to include in evening news segments. As you can imagine, this wasn’t the most glamorous position, especially for someone who at the time dreamed of being on-camera. Oftentimes my shifts wouldn’t end until around 1a.m.. With that being said, in The Defiant Ones, I connected with some of the situations Iovine described when his career was in its infancy. I didn’t realize it, but my internship experience at 7NBC impacted the future direction of my career. My passion for sports and media lead me to transfer to Boston University, and Koon Lam, WHDH-TV’s executive sports producer at the time, wrote my recommendation letter.

[2] YOU BELONG

Despite early in his career feeling in above his head, Iovine often members his father saying, “every room you go into is better because you’re there.” While it may be uncomfortable to be in a room with people you initially perceive as far more experienced than you, it’s ultimately an opportunity to learn from the best. During Iovine’s time working for Lennon, he began to meet and gain the trust of other artists in the industry like Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen and Stevie Nicks.

Having witnessed Jimmy’s work with Lennon firsthand, they then called upon Iovine to produce for them as well. Earning the respect of one person, client or company can go a long way. 

SS: Confidence is always a fleeting thing but I think as you go through your career and have successes, job changes, bigger titles, make more money, awards etc you realize your value is just as much as anyone else’s maybe besides the Bill Gates, Steve Jobs (RIP) and other Titans of the world. Point is, keep grinding and the success and confidence will come over time. 

KF: Some of my first jobs included being a camp counselor, busser, hostess and sales associate. While they weren’t the highest of positions, they were jobs in which I learned lessons that still stick with me today: if you arrive right on time, you’re late; it’s not what you know, it’s who you know; you never have a second chance to make a first impression.

Sometimes it’s easy to feel uncertain when you don’t have the same experience as others, but I think it’s important to still bring positive energy and make your presence felt in whatever room you’re in. For Iovine, his time working for Lennon was a gateway into meeting other artists in the industry. One relationship or even one job could end up impacting the rest of your life.

Great article about the editing process by Ron Dawson. Preparation is the key to masterful creativity.

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[3] PERSISTENCE PAYS OFF

When Dr. Dre’s first solo album The Chronic was complete in ‘92, Dre and Snoop Dogg flew out to New York, approached every record company in Los Angeles, and played it for any listening ears they could find. Not one record company wanted to pick it up. Dre said, “I started second guessing myself. Is it possible that what I think is good, isn’t good because everybody is telling me it’s not working?”

When Dre played the album for Interscope executives David Cohen and Iovine, both were immediately impressed. Nas recalls, “when Chronic hit, it changed the world.” Not only is this a testament to Dre’s strong belief in himself and his craft, but also a testament to Iovine’s commitment to support music he was inspired by despite what other industry executives thought and their negative perceptions of Dr. Dre at the time.

Ultimately, The Chronic’s success transformed the music industry, put West Coast rap on the map, and eventually went triple-platinum. There’s no question that the album’s success is rooted in both Dr. Dre and Iovine’s fiery passion to do something, and be something different.

KF: When I first moved to Los Angeles, I dreamed of working for Nike and was persistent to reaching out to not only employees at Nike West, but also media professionals that were somehow involved in Nike’s work. I found that the payoff was enormous. Not only am I now working for a company, Diesel Films, that is involved heavily in sports, but also one that has projects with Nike nearly every month. In a way, Jimmy took a chance on Dre. I feel really lucky Seth Shapiro was willing to take a chance on me because each day I work with brands I admire and projects I’m passionate about.

SS: Bottom line. Never give up. I have always been fortunate to work at amazing places, especially for someone who grew up in and around sports. Madison Square Garden, the Miami HEAT, the NFL Network, definitely all dream jobs but this wasn’t an accident either. For example, all the way through college I would be persistent in the pursuit of working for ESPN when they came to my college, UMass, to cover a college basketball game or use a work connection to get me on to the Summer Olympics. Bottom line – BE OPPORTUNISTIC. Don’t let FEAR get in the way of your dreams or your career, if there is an opportunity TAKE IT and figure out the other stuff later.

[4] THE IMPORTANCE OF RELATIONSHIPS

For Dre, Jimmy was not just someone he worked with, but also a friend. “Jimmy was unlike every other record executive I had met. He wasn’t talking about how many records we were going to sell, it was a conversation about the art,” said Dre. 

They both were open to creativity and were okay being patient in their craft. When two people, or even businesses, are both committed to producing the best end result, and not just something to put out there, they become a force bigger than themselves. Dre and Jimmy did just that. 

KF:  On any team, it’s always more rewarding to play with people who care about the sport and team beyond just wins and losses. The same goes for the work place. When a boss has invested in you, you’re ultimately not worried about receiving constructive criticism because you know he or she has your best interests at heart and is challenging you to be better. Many of Iovine’s artists remember being pushed almost to the brink, and Iovine telling them ‘you’re not done.” However, this resulted in more often than not successful albums and countless Billboard hits.

SS: I think just as important as relationships is what I call ‘relationships with merit’ In that I mean just because you meet someone doesn’t mean they know what kind of talent and skill you bring to the table. It’s actually proving yourself as capable and bringing something to the table to that person where a relationship really thrives. Yeah knowing someone is good, but if you’re not good at your craft, it really doesn’t matter. Bottom line, network but also be great at what you do.

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[5] EMBRACE CHANGE

Despite music’s transition from cassette tapes to CDs being an extremely lucrative time for record labels, the rise of Napster and other online music services presented new challenges. Napster gave listeners the ability to download music for free without paying the artists which drove Iovine insane. But even given the changing nature of the industry, Iovine always wanted to do something unique. 

When Dre saw Jimmy walking on the beach in Los Angeles and invited him up to his house, their 10-minute conversation proved to be the spark behind now billion-dollar company that continues to leave its mark on music, sports and culture. “We could call it Beats,” Dre said. Iovine replied, “That’s it.” Despite consumer electronics being a completely different industry for both Dre and Jimmy to dive into, they are still committed to putting the best product out there, as they did with music.

SS: If you told me two years ago that Diesel Films would be cutting a vertical show for the NFL and Snapchat, a platform at that time that was used by kids for its ‘24 hour posts’ I would of told you that you were crazy. But that’s where we are, the media landscape is always changing and you have to evolve or get left behind. Unless you are Christopher Nolan you can still shoot large format film (of course there are always exceptions), but for most of us we need to evolve with technology.

KF: I experienced a similar transition when I started to dive deeper into the journalism world. More companies were looking to young graduates to take on multiple roles, so as students we were required to take multimedia and online journalism classes in addition to straight beat reporting. Fast-forward three years, and I’m working for a digital production agency that is adjusting to the continuing changes in media as well. More clients are asking Diesel Films to produce vertical video for Snapchat and Instagram, in addition to the longer form pieces for online and television. Both of these shifts prove that you must be willing to not only adjust to change, but embrace it in order to stay relevant and in business.

While this is just a snapshot of some of the lessons from the documentary, stories of how Iovine and Dre impacted the careers of Gwen Stefani, Lady Gaga, Kendrick Lamar, and most notably and also by chance Eminem, are equally as inspiring.

The Defiant Ones is a must-see for professionals aspiring to be great in any industry and at any stage in their careers.

We would love to hear your thoughts about the film & how it impacted you in the comments below

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“When you’re a race horse, the reason they put blinders is because if you look at the horse on the left or the right, you’re going to miss a step. That’s what people should have.

When you’re running for something, you should not look left and right and think ‘what does this person think,’ ‘what does that person think.’

No, GO.”’

– Jimmy Iovine