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Dr. Dre’s ‘Detox’: A Timeline of Hip-Hop’s Great Unfinished Album

The decade-plus saga of the ‘Chinese Democracy’ of rap.

The decade-plus saga of the 'Chinese Democracy' of rap.

It was 2002, and Dr. Dre had just conquered the world. What to do for an encore?

The previous two and a half years were the most successful of Dre’s storied career. After struggling to establish his new Aftermath Entertainment label, he struck gold with Eminem’s debut, The Slim Shady LP, and then his own second album, 2001. As the latter moved more than 7 million copies, it dominated urban radio throughout 2000 with singles like “Still D.R.E.,” “Forget About Dre,” “The Next Episode,” “Xxxplosive” and “Fuck You.” Meanwhile, Aftermath issued Eminem’s diamond-certified classic The Marshall Mathers LP and Xzibit’s platinum album Restless, and became one of the hottest rap labels in the industry.

Dre was already considered one of the greatest producers of the past 25 years. At best, a third solo record would have been just another laurel in his heavily feathered cap. Instead, he embarked on creating Detox, which he often called his “final album.”

Related: Dr. Dre to Release New Album as ‘Compton’ Soundtrack

During the next 10 years or so, Dre reportedly worked on tracks with more than two dozen rappers, producers and vocalists, from Aftermath stars like Em, 50 Cent, Busta Rhymes and Kendrick Lamar, to T.I., Rick Ross, Lil Wayne, Skylar Grey and Mary J. Blige – and that’s not counting artists rumored to have hit the studio with him, like Elly Jackson of La Roux and Q-Tip. For nearly a decade, he publicly vacillated on whether or not Detox would ever be released, and then just as he seemed primed to deliver the album the world was waiting for, he apparently decided not to put it out after all, leaving us with only Internet leaks and rumors of what might have been. Some fans still clung to the hope that maybe in a few years time, just like the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson turned into his legendary aborted Smile sessions into the valedictory 2011 box set, perhaps Dre would reward their patience with one hell of a rarities package.

The saga took an expected turn this week when it was revealed that he will drop a third album after all. But it’s not Detox. Instead, it’s a companion record to the N.W.A biopic Straight Outta Compton (which premieres in Australia on September 3rd) that will include all new music, including potentially the first songs from the seminal gangsta rap group since 2000.

As news continues to break about the surprise release, let’s look back at the once-endless-seeming project that it appears to have finally put to rest.

2002-2003: Dre announced that his highly anticipated follow-up to 2001 would be called Detox. Perhaps inspired by his impressive cameo in the Oscar-winning good-cop-bad-cop drama Training Day (or as Prince Paul’s hip-hopera A Prince Among Thieves), he explained that it would be about the life of a hit man of the same name. “I had to come up with something different but still keep it hardcore, so what I decided to do was make my album one story about one person and just do the record through a character’s eyes,” he told MTV News that April. “It’s probably going to take me a year to get it all together.” 50 Cent, Snoop Dogg and Eminem would add vocals, and Denzel Washington was rumoured to narrate the whole thing.

But problems had already begun to rise by the end of the year when Dre ditched the concept idea. In November, Ice Cube told MTV News that Dre postponed Detox to work on his Aftermath debut. (That project never appeared, and Ice Cube eventually left the label.) The following March, Dre told XXL that he gave “the cream of the crop” of his Detox beats to 50 Cent’s megahit Get Rich or Die Tryin’, including possibly “In Da Club.” Nevertheless, Interscope suggested that Detox might appear in the fourth quarter of 2003. 

2004: Detox was tentatively scheduled for fourth quarter of 2004. More guests were leaked (Mary J. Blige, Eve and the Game), as well as contributing producers (Denaun Porter, Nottz and Hi-Tek). Dre told XXL in March that he wanted to “have 12 or 13 singles. So I’m really taking my time with each one. No album fillers or nothing like that. No fast-forwarding.” And Dre’s right-hand man at the time, Scott Storch, told MTV News that Detox would be “the most advanced rap album, musically and lyrically, we’ll ever have a chance to listen to.”

But by mid-year, Dre conceded that he was too pre-occupied with his Aftermath imprint. “I’ve decided within the last two weeks or so that I wasn’t gonna do another album,” he told XXL in May. “I wanna work on these artists.” To be fair, Aftermath was one of the hottest labels at the time, thanks to a roster that included 50, Em, Busta Rhymes and others.

Still, the Detox dream persisted. On the title track to his hit album Encore, Eminem shouted, “And don’t worry ’bout that Detox album. It’s coming. We’re gonna make Dre do it.” 

2005-2007: “Look out for Detox,” promised Dre on the Game’s “Higher.” But what followed was silence, at least from the Doctor himself. Meanwhile, collaborators like Mike Elizondo and J.R. Rotem stoked anticipation in the press, and built a mythic status for the still-unreleased album.

In the fall of 2006, now-defunct Scratch magazine published a Detox cover story, calling it “hip-hop’s unreleased masterpiece. . . coming soon?” Numerous Dre-affiliated producers gave details about the on-off sessions, including Bernard “Focus” Edwards Jr., who teased, “We were doing psychedelic Sixties rock music with dark chords.”

Producer Imsomie “Mahogany” Leeper posited that Detox would have an overarching theme similar to the 1998 movie Very Bad Things. “The road Dre led me down was like, ‘I’m thinking of making the album like a movie, like having 16-bar jazz pieces, live instruments.'”

Meanwhile, the article suggested that tracks from the Game’s The Documentary and Obie Trice’s Cheers as well as “Throwback,” a standout track from Usher’s diamond-certified Confessions, were intended for Detox. Of the latter, Just Blaze said, “I did the beat in like 2001 for Dr. Dre. . . the whole concept was him telling hip-hop that she’s gonna want him back when he retires.”

In 2007, Dre gave an extensive interview to the LA Times. Journalist Robert Hilburn suggested that, contrary to popular belief, the rapper had been working on his third album for the past eight years. He somewhat unfavorably compared Dre to Phil Spector, Brian Wilson, Axl Rose and “earlier pop music train wrecks” before acknowledging that the West Coast icon was far from an eccentric studio recluse. Indeed, Dre had been responsible for some of the biggest hits of the decade, from Eminem’s Encore, 50 Cent’s Get Rich or Die Tryin’ and the Game’s Documentary to Eve’s “Let Me Blow Ya Mind,” Gwen Stefani’s “Rich Girl” and Mary J. Blige’s “Family Affair.” 

Still, many drew parallels between Detox and Guns N’ Roses’ decades-in-the-making Chinese Democracy (at least before the latter was released in 2008). For his part, Dre explained, “I was really hoping to have it out this year, but it’s going to have to be pushed back a while because of some other things I’ve got to work on.” He continued to refer to Detox as his final album. 

2008: Is there movement on the Detox front? In June, Snoop Dogg claimed that the long-gestating album was finished. “I was starting to doubt it myself and then I went up in there and he played so much music for me it knocked my head off,” he said.

The following month, Dre confirmed the good news to USA Today. “In a perfect world, I’m shooting for a November or December release,” he said, adding that it would feature Nas, Jay-Z and Lil Wayne.

But in November, Interscope CEO and Dre’s BFF Jimmy Iovine kiboshed the Detox release date. “Dre’s going back [in the studio] in January,” he told Billboard. “Dre had to stop making his album to finish Eminem’s album [Relapse].”

2009: With Detox still a fantasy, purported leaks from the seemingly never-ending sessions began to appear. There was “It Could Have Been You” with Nas, R. Kelly and Bishop Lamont. Several T.I. reference tracks emerged as well, including “I Am Hip-Hop (Detox),” “Topless” and “Shit Popped Off” (which eventually appeared on T.I.’s Fuck Da City Up mixtape). Meanwhile, the list of Detox helpers continued to pile up, from neo-soul singer Anthony Hamilton to Drake.

Dr. Dre previewed a snippet of “Popped Off” himself during a Dr. Pepper commercial. By now, the rising mogul was deep into his Beats by Dre venture, and during his promotional appearances for the headphones line he continued to mention Detox. He told ABCNews.com, “Hopefully I’ll get it done at the end of this year, and we can hear it next year.”

2010: A series of events give rise to the hope that Detox is finally becoming a reality. In April, Iovine announces that Dre’s collaboration with Jay Z, “Under Pressure,” would be the album’s first single, and Dre confirms the news during an appearance on CNBC. But in June, an unfinished version of “Under Pressure” leaked. In frustration, he posted a “Message From Dre” on the Interscope website. “The song that’s out on the Internet is an incomplete song that I’m still working on,” he wrote. An official version has yet to appear.

Still, momentum seems to build towards an eventual release, from more leaks like a second version of “Topless” (this time with Eminem) and “Turn Me On,” to a Vibe cover story where Dre protested, “I thought it would take, at worst case, a couple of years.” He also suggested another tantalizing future project for fans: an all-instrumental album called The Planets.

Meanwhile, a TV commercial for Beats by Dre Powerbeats found Dre working in the gym with LeBron James as a pre-release instrumental of “Kush” boomed on the soundtrack. “You’ve been doing a whole lot of working out, Dr. Dre,” riffs comedian Affion Crockett. “It’s ’bout time you do a little working out on that album!”

The end of the year brought official Detox music. “Kush” featured Snoop Dogg and Akon, and while the single earned mixed reviews, it peaked at Number 34 on the pop charts. “I Need a Doctor” proved to be the bigger hit, thanks to soaring pop production by Alex Da Kid, an arena-shaking chorus by Skylar Grey and a passionate, anguished verse from Eminem.

“You come to me with ideas/You say they’re just pieces of the puzzle ’cause the shit I hear is crazy/But you’re either gettin’ lazy or you don’t believe in you no more,” Eminem rapped. “You’re supposed to be my mentor/I can endure no more/I demand you remember who you are!”

2011-2014: As “I Need a Doctor” soared to Number Four on the charts and was certified double platinum, Dr. Dre and Eminem perform the track at the 2011 Grammy Awards. Detox seemed imminent, with more leaks such as Dre and Em’s “Die Hard,” which premiered on the Showtime series Fight Camp 360: Pacquiao vs. Mosley, and “Chillin'” with Swizz Beatz. Dre posted a video where he said the phrase “4/20,” leading fans to believe that Detox would drop on April 20th (a rumor that an Interscope rep later denied.

But that November, Dre seemingly pulled the plug on the whole thing during an interview with Fader TV. “I’m gonna take a little bit of a break, enjoy some time with the family,” he said.

It’s unclear what led Dre to stop publicizing Detox. Perhaps he decided to stop work on Detox to devote his full attention to new protégé Kendrick Lamar, just as he had done with 50 Cent and the Game years before. In April 2012, Dre and Lamar release “The Recipe.” Its producer, Scoop DeVille, later told Whoo Kid on Shade45 that the beat was originally intended for Detox. Meanwhile, 50 Cent mused that Detox might only be an EP. “I don’t know if he’s even excited to do it now,” said 50.

In 2014, Eminem producer Dawaun Parker told the podcast “Shots Fired” that Dre’s next album wouldn’t be called Detox. And while describing her recent studio sessions with Rap-Up.com, Marsha Ambrosius told a similar story. 

“We went to Hawaii just before the end of last year for a couple of weeks and got to really cram in with the production team that he’s got going now, Focus and the squad,” she said. “Detox was a title that was thrown around so many years ago. . . It sounds like a fitness center now.”

2015: On July 29th, Ice Cube appears on Philadelphia’s Power 99, doing press for the Straight Outta Compton movie and claims that Dre would be dropping his third album – and the soundtrack to the film – on August 1st. “It’s mega. It’s Dr. Dre. It’s what everybody’s been waiting for,” Ice Cube tells the Rise & Grind Morning Show. That same afternoon, multiple sources confirm to Rolling Stone that the record will be released at a later date.

With that, it appears that Dre’s Detox has become a legendary unfinished album, ranking alongside Prince’s Crystal Ball and 2Pac’s One Nation as one of popular music’s great what-ifs. But his forthcoming Straight Outta Compton soundtrack may not be a bad consolation prize.