When Rockstar announced that West-coast rapper Dr Dre would be starring in his own campaign in Grand Theft Auto Online, very few expected him to release a whole EP of music in the game.
To put it into context, Dre hadn’t published any new music since his last album, Compton, back in 2015.
So just how did Rockstar convince one of the greatest rappers in history to play such a large role in a video game?
In a new interview with BET Music (geo-locked outside the US), Rockstar North’s Head of Development Rob Nelson revealed what it meant to have Dre in the studio.
“He needed to be fully integrated so that it made sense, and we wanted to make sure that his music had the impact it deserved,” said Nelson. “We asked ourselves, how can we integrate Dre into this experience at every level, and how can we get there in a way that makes it feel believable and fun? And so we literally built the game around him, not just his music.”
But with respect to convincing Dre to work with Rockstar in the first place, that came down to DJ Pooh, a producer and longtime friend of Dre.
DJ Pooh was already a creative consultant and writer for GTA 5 and Online, as well as being a presenter in the West Coast Classics in-game radio station.
Pooh told BET Music, “[Rockstar] reminds me of Def Jam back in the day,” said DJ Pooh. “[This was the] early days when you would pick up a record at the record store and just buy it because it had [the] Def Jam [logo] on it. You knew it was going to be quality. You knew that was going to be dope. You knew it wasn’t going to be wack. And I felt like that about [Rockstar’s] games and [its] quality.”
Pooh initially made contact with Dre regarding working with Rockstar for the Cayo Perico Heist update as a way to build something for the future that would eventually become The Contract.
There was some pushback from Dre first: “Initially it was just no. But that’s the normal answers you get from Dre…But the answer was initially no because Dre’s not a gamer. He just didn’t play any of the games. It’s not like he dislikes them or something, he just didn’t play them. He was like I don’t make things for kids.”
Being persistent, Pooh brought over his PlayStation (presumably 4) with a copy of GTA 5 to Dre’s house and handed him the controller. “He was blown away. He didn’t know you could do all this stuff – all the layers of gameplay that people are calling the metaverse, but it’s doper than that,” said DJ Pooh.
“He was like, ‘This shit is awesome,’ and he’s seeing me driving around in a lowrider. We out here putting different rims on the car, getting in a shootout, hanging out with my friends, I got a girlfriend – all that!”
Impressed by the game itself alongside the music and score, Dre began to establish trust in Rockstar Games.
Dre went to work producing music for the update, which culminated in The Contract EP, featuring guest appearances from Snoop Dogg, Eminem, and the late Nipsey Hussle.
GTA 5 and Online has been a tremendous success for Rockstar, having now been released on three successive generations of consoles.
A remastered version was released in March to leverage the capabilities of the new consoles.