It was November of 1999 and we were on the cusp of the millennium when Dr. Dre famously proclaimed that the next one thousand years would be “the millennium of Aftermath,” on the song “Forgot About Dre.”
It was a pretty bold statement. We applaud him for his bravado, but now that the new millennium is approximately 1.2% over, is his prediction holding true? And, how is it comparing to the Willennium?
Things started out incredibly strong for Aftermath. Not only was the previous year's 2001 album still going strong with big singles, but the label released Eminem's The Marshall Mathers LP, which broke first-week sales records and sold 10 million copies. Plus, Aftermath signed rap legend Rakim and promised an album from him entirely produced by Dr. Dre.
Eminem was busy launching his Shady Records imprint, so not too much happened at Aftermath. Still, the label had a successful previous year to coast on, and cleaned up at the Grammys. While Dre's next heavily hyped protege Hittman left the label in October, the year ended on a positive note with their soundtrack to The Wash being certified gold.
January began with the announcement that Dr. Dre was readying an album called Detox, a “hip-hop musical” which would be his final studio album and come out later that year. (None of this is a joke.) Meanwhile, a dominant summer boasted the release of Eminem's The Eminem Show (which would eventually sell eight million units), and R&B performer Truth Hurts' gold single, “Addictive,” which featured a verse from Rakim.
Rakim left Aftermath, but that was overshadowed by the rise of 50 Cent, whose hot-selling debut Get Rich or Die Tryin' tightened the label's grip on the rap industry. Buzzed about up-and-comer Stat Quo arrived on the scene as well
50 spent the year supporting his G-Unit Records imprint, while Eminem released Encore, his “retirement” album. Though it moved five million copies, it became the label's first release of the millennium that critics weren't so hot on. In other news, Aftermath signed a then-struggling Busta Rhymes.
Bouncing back after a comparably weak year, Aftermath put out the highly anticipated (and heavily delayed) debut from The Game, The Documentary, which went gold in one week and moved two million copies. Later, 50 Cent's sophomore album The Massacre moved five million more and Eminem's best-of compilation, Curtain Call: The Hits, added another two. Meanwhile, the label signed newcomer Bishop Lamont.
With no new music from Eminem on the horizon and The Game's defection due to a beef with 50 Cent, Aftermath prepped for the future by re-signing former Ruff Ryder Eve, as well as Marsha Ambrosius of Floetry and promising upstart Joell Ortiz. The label also finally released Busta Rhymes' The Big Bang, which went gold.
In Aftermath's quickest defection yet, Eve left after the label failed to release her latest project. The imprint was also at the center of the year's biggest rap rivalry, coming out on the losing end of 50 Cent's first day sales showdown with Kanye West.
Stinging from an underwhelming 2007, Aftermath had an even worse year in 2008. While Busta Rhymes had moderate success with his Linkin Park-assisted single “We Made It,” he left the label before they could put it on his album. Joell Ortiz and Stat Quo followed suit, giving Aftermath a reputation as the label that doesn't put out records. Detox was still nowhere to be seen.
Raekwon's Only Built 4 Cuban Linx II was released to critical and commercial success, as well as the revelation that he was at no point signed to Aftermath. Marsha Ambrosius and producer Focus leave, but the imprint benefits from Eminem's comeback album Relapse and 50 Cent's Before I Self Destruct, though both are the worst-selling releases of the respective artists' careers. Meanwhile, Aftermath signs Slim the Mobster.
After five years, the loyal Bishop Lamont finally left Aftermath, citing its inability to put out his album. Regardless, the label had its strongest year in quite some time, boasting both Eminem's quadruple-platinum Recovery and Dr. Dre's “Kush” single. Optimism abounded that Detox might actually see release during this millennium after all.
The year began strong, with ten Grammy nominations for Eminem's Recovery. Detox's second single “I Need a Doctor” arrived as well, although it was much derided. This momentum was followed up by absolutely nothing.
Just over halfway through 2012, it's not looking too terrible. Kendrick Lamar and Black Hippy have signed to Aftermath, and Lamar and Dre offered up their single “The Recipe.” 50 Cent released “New Day,” featuring Alicia Keys and Dr. Dre, the latter of whom headlined Coachella and brought Tupac back via a crappy hologram.
Conclusion: The third millennium got off to a fast start for Aftermath. But it soon became clear that Dr. Dre had little interest in releasing albums from anyone not named Eminem or 50 Cent — or even his own. Currently things are looking bleak, and one suspects it may end up being the Willennium after all.
Then again, the millennium still has 988 years to go, so it's quite likely that things can be turned around.