"I wasn't the only one who flew out there to audition," remembers Parker, "but I was the first person to meet Dre, and after a few days, they sent everybody else home. One week later, they got me an apartment in LA, and I had a production deal in six months. I'm not an easily excitable person — nobody ever knows if I'm upset or happy — but I can definitely say that I was in a hopeful mood when this was happening."
Since signing on, Parker has earned production credits — mostly for playing keys and strings — on at least a dozen hits, including this year's number-one Slim Shady comeback single "Crack a Bottle." Along with Dre, he cultivated backdrops on Busta's number-one 2006 album, The Big Bang, as well as on Jay-Z's commercially triumphant 2006 disc, Kingdom Come. Most recently, he spent several months at Eminem's Detroit studio contributing to all but one track on Relapse. The day Parker spoke with the Phoenix, he was busy recording Dre's vocals for Detox.
"Dawaun is what's supposed to happen if you've got the chops," says Berklee professor Prince Charles Alexander, a black-music giant who engineered such seminal Bad Boy releases as My Life by Mary J. Blige and Notorious B.I.G.'s Ready to Die. "There are always people at the top who are looking for the next thing, and when they find it, you become the next big thing. Music was in Dawaun's blood even before Berklee, and when you get in front of somebody like Dre, they can smell it on you in seconds."
Although he has the confidence that's especially demanded of hip-hop artists, Parker is hesitant to chalk his accomplishments up to skills alone. "I still hold my breath to this day," he says, "because I'm still like any of the other talented musicians I know. I guess I just have a unique path."
At least one person in the know, however, gives Parker a little more credit. "Dawaun Parker is the future," Dre tells the Phoenix. "Serious."
Working with Dre isn't exactly like drumming for Spinal Tap, but a number of careers have nearly imploded under the good doc's care. Rappers including Rakim, Eve, the Last Emperor, and Joell Ortiz all signed to Aftermath, never to see an album materialize; even Dre himself hasn't released a solo project in nearly a decade. Parker concedes that the label is the wrong fit for artists who want to rush albums, but says that Dre's perfectionist strategy jibes fine with him.
There's also one other cautionary tale that Parker must consider: his predecessor Storch famously blew through more than $30 million after finding short-lived success with his solo production venture. These days, Storch rarely makes headlines for his music; flat broke and in rehab for cocaine addiction, he was arrested in April for allegedly failing to return a leased Bentley.
"Trust me — I'm always on my financial planner," assures Parker, "and I make sure I don't buy too many cars. At the end of the day, the only path I want to follow is Dawaun Parker's — even though I don't completely know what that is yet.
"I definitely have plans to release my own artists," he adds, and, in terms of trumpeting his success, points to another New Englander gone mainstream-native in LA. "All I know is that I want to get on Conan O'Brien's couch. And no matter how many hit songs you work on, that's not something you can do from behind the scenes."
Chris "Nuthin' But a 'G' Thang" Faraone can be reached at email@example.com.