R.I.P. Detox: A Brief History of Hip-Hop's Greatest Unreleased Album

Dr. Dre
Dr. Dre
Courtesy of DrDre.com

Tomorrow Dr. Dre releases Compton, his first album since 1999’s 2001. If you had told anyone over the past 16 years that Dre’s long-awaited third solo album was finally going to drop on Aug. 7, 2015, you would have been met with a dropped jaw, followed by a “Wow, so Detox really is coming out!” At that point, being the bearer of bad news, you would have to wince and say, “Well ...”

Detox, probably the most anticipated album in hip-hop history, is never coming out. This isn’t opinion, prediction or conjecture; it is sadly, if we are to take its creator Dr. Dre at his word, fact. Dre mentioned in passing, with the announcement of Compton last week, that Detox was “dead.”

This is a pretty big deal. Before Dre confirmed its D.O.A. status, Detox was rivaled only by Guns N’ Roses’ Chinese Democracy and The Beach Boys’ Smile in terms of the mythology and lore surrounding its existence.

Plenty of albums, especially in rap, are announced and never released. So how exactly did Detox get built up to such a dizzying degree? Here’s our moment-by-moment history of the rise and eventual fizzle of Detox.

B.D. (Before Detox): The new millennium got off to a strong start for Dre's label, Aftermath. At the absolute peak of the music industry's commercial clout, Eminem’s The Marshall Mathers LP was a smash. Dre’s work on that and his own 2001 album earned him a Grammy for Producer of the Year, and N.W.A reunion tracks from the Next Friday soundtrack and Ice Cube’s solo albums were creating the buzz that Dre was the one producer you shouldn’t have forgotten about. With the prospect of an entirely Dre-produced album from new Aftermath signee Rakim making rap fans’ mouths water, it seemed the good Doctor could do no wrong. Even the Aftermath-released soundtrack to The Wash went gold. Everyone was anticipating what Dre’s next move was going to be.

January 2002: Dre officially confirms that his third album is to be called Detox. Along with the news that it is going to be his final album, Dre reveals it’s going to be a rap musical. Yes, originally Detox was set to be a Training Day–inspired concept album.

March 2003: Dre divulges to XXL exactly how much the signing of 50 Cent and G-Unit has changed plans for Detox, explaining he gave the project’s best beats to the Get Rich or Die Tryin’ album.

January 2004: Newly announced Detox co-producer Scott Storch reveals information about Detox to MTV.com that begins to show just how ambitious the project has become. MTV.com describes the album’s progress as “dozens of beds of beats, various innovative rhythms and the skeletons for numerous songs, all of which are being fleshed out. No tracks have been titled yet and no final cuts chosen.” Storch himself calls it “the most advanced rap album musically and lyrically we’ll probably ever have a chance to listen to,” and confirms it’s going to be Dre’s final album.

March 2004: In an interview with XXL, Dre explains the album’s delay as he intends to make a masterpiece with "12 or 13 singles. So I'm really taking my time with each one. No album fillers or nothing like that. No fast-forwarding."

Summer 2004: Dre begins doing media for a variety of projects and insists everything regarding Detox has been put on hold to work on 50 Cent’s sophomore album, Eminem’s then-final album, The Game’s first album and the Aftermath debuts of Busta Rhymes and Eve.

November 2004: Eminem states on his Encore album: “And don’t worry ‘bout that Detox album. It’s coming. We’re gonna make Dre do it.”

January 2005: The Game’s The Documentary is released, including the song “Higher,” which features Dr. Dre saying, “Look out for Detox.”

Summer 2006: With the release of Busta Rhymes’ The Big Bang album on Aftermath, the topic of Detox becomes hot again. Scratch magazine devotes a cover story to the album, with the revelation that tracks originally made for the project have since surfaced elsewhere, including on The Game’s The Documentary, Obie Trice’s Cheers and “Throwback” from Usher's Confessions. XXL magazine names the album one of its top 10 most anticipated releases for the year, noting that a 2006 release would mark the same span of time between 2001 and Detox that separated 2001 from its predecessor, The Chronic.

September 2007: Dre tells the L.A. Times that he’s “eight years” into working on Detox, and mentions Aftermath signee Bishop Lamont is to be heavily featured. At this point, Aftermath has developed a reputation as a label whose artists not named Eminem or 50 Cent don’t get their albums released. Rakim and Eve are among the acts who have already left the label.

July 2008: Dr. Dre confirms to USA Today that comments made by Snoop Dogg to AllHipHop.com about Detox being “finished” were true, and that he hoped to have the album out by the end of the year, adding that the album would feature Lil Wayne, Nas and Jay-Z.

February 2009: The first leaks from Detox emerge, most featuring T.I.: "I Am Hip-Hop (Detox)," "Topless" (also featuring Nas) and "Shit Popped Off." Some believe these to be reference tracks for Dre rather than finished products. Also leaking at this time is “It Could Have Been You” with Nas, R. Kelly and Bishop Lamont.

May 2009: The first official release of a song from Detox, “Popped Off,” appears in a Dr. Pepper commercial. Both 50 Cent and Eminem begin regularly saying in interviews regarding the album that there are about 10 finished tracks.

June 2010: An unfinished full recording of the Jay-Z–assisted “Under Pressure” leaks, which Jimmy Iovine and Dre had mentioned in interviews months prior was going to be the album's first single. The leak causes Dre to issue a public statement that "Under Pressure" is an incomplete piece he's still working on.

November 2010: Dr. Dre, Snoop and Akon release the DJ Khalil–produced “Kush,” the official first single from Detox. That same month, Kendrick Lamar releases “Look Out for Detox.”

February 2011: The Eminem– and Skylar Grey–assisted second single, “I Need a Doctor,” produced by Alex da Kid, is released. It goes double platinum, making it the biggest hit of Dre's solo career.

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May 2011: The rumored third single, “Die Hard” featuring Eminem, appears during an episode of Showtime boxing show Fight Camp 360.

February 2012: Obie Trice says in a radio interview that Detox is completely finished.

April 2012: Dr. Dre and Kendrick Lamar’s “The Recipe,” rumored to be originally from Detox, is released.

October 2012: 50 Cent suggests Detox is going to be an EP.

And that, until last week, was the last we ever heard of Detox. By 2014, any and all of the parties involved stated that, while Dr. Dre was working on new music, Detox was no longer the title of the project.

Will we ever hear Detox? Perhaps we’ll hear more of the sessions in future leaks, but the tricky thing with hip-hop is how fast the sound changes. It’s hard to imagine a 2003 50 Cent, a 2005 The Game, a 2006 Busta Rhymes, a 2008 Bishop Lamont, a 2009 Jay-Z and a 2012 Kendrick Lamar all sharing the same soundscape on one cohesive project. These other supposedly finished Detox tracks might make for interesting time capsules, but right now we're probably all better off leaving Detox and visiting Compton.


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