From sweeping through a grimy New York City studio to presiding over an interactive and innovative exhibit at the LA County Museum of Art (LACMA), it’s been a journey for music industry legend Jimmy Iovine.
The hardworking New Yorker longshoreman father once bragged to friends that his son had “magic ears. He can hear what you’re thinking.” It turned out to be true – Iovine engineered some of the catchiest and most iconic albums of the 1970s and early 80s, before putting those magic ears to work coaxing the talent that defined a generation of music. .
After her debut in those grimy studios, Iovine went on hiatus to end all hiatus, making recordings for an artist roster that sounds like a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nomination slate: Lennon. Springsteen. Patti Smith. Tom Little.
Turning that success into a brash and daring new venture, he headed west to settle in Los Angeles, co-founding Interscope Records. Iovine struck gold when he turned to the streets of South LA and the names that rang out in Compton and Long Beach – names like Snoop Dogg (then Snoop Doggy Dogg), Tupac Shakur and the man who would go on to become his business partner and one of the most financially astute music artist-turned-moguls of all time, Dr. Dre.
Iovine always saw where the music world was headed, and never more so than when record labels struggled with the advent of downloadable music in the early 2000s, an existential crisis that could have sunk the industry.
By 2006 he had left the daily Interscope and, alongside Dre, co-founded Beats – not just a headphone company but a music giant in its own right with a huge digital library – before selling it to Apple. for $3 billion and laying the foundation stone for Apple Music in the process. After a stint as an executive at Cupertino-based tech giant Jimmy Iovine, perhaps for the first time in his life, slowed down.
“Jimmy basically came out of retirement” for that, joked John Janick, Iovine’s hand-picked successor as CEO of Interscope. “I did, I did,” Iovine retorted.
They’re at LACMA early on a Saturday morning, discussing their latest joint project, a hugely ambitious art and music project that has seen some of the world’s most sought-after visual artists reinvent album covers for some of the most popular tracks. Interscope hits – including Dre’s “2001” and “The Chronic”, 2Pac’s “All Eyez on Me” and “Me Against the World”, Lady Gaga’s “The Fame Monster” and “All That You Can’t Leave Behind” by U2.
The visually stunning exhibit is an “interdisciplinary celebration of culture,” will.i.am of the Black Eyed Peas, whose album “The END” was covered, told CBS News.
As always, there is an innovative digital component. Open Snap, point your phone’s camera at the artwork, and the best-known tracks from the album it’s based on automatically play on your phone.
Iovine and Janick followed Interscope’s playbook of finding the best talent possible and letting them go wild. “You can’t follow a pattern for anything creative or you’re dead,” Iovine told CBS News. “You have to drop it.”
Janick says the artists, whose ranks include Kehinde Wiley, Ed Ruscha and Takashi Murakami, “got it from day one.”
Lovine, a serious art collector for the past decade, agrees. He says he’s confident the artists “did some of their best work for this project.”
Walking through the exhibition space is not only a window into the influence that Iovine still has – capable of mobilizing 46 of the world’s best artists to complete an exhibition in just 11 months – but also a visual testimony of the depth and range of Interscope’s back catalogue.
And that revives at least part of this long list. The redesigned album covers have already gone on sale in ultra-limited editions of 100 each, with proceeds going to the Iovine and Dre Foundation, which is building a state-of-the-art high school in South Los Angeles.