The Greatest Album That Never Was: A Eulogy For "Detox"

We pay our respects to the never-was cap to the "Chronic" Trilogy.

BYNicholas DG

This room has been silent for sixteen years. For sixteen years, this hip-hop fan has waited for this hallowed space to be filled with the sounds of a classic that was promised-- Detox. The ultimate follow up to Dr. Dre’s only other solo albums, The Chronic, and its sequel, 2001. Instead, it’s a summer night in 2015 and Compton is being blasted through my Beats speakers. Trust me, I know that I’m still being blessed with a classic in the form of Compton: A Soundtrack. It’s a surefire success and is as much a fantastic goodbye to Dr. Dre, the rapper, as it is a beautiful passing of the torch by Dr. Dre onto a younger generation of lyricists. It’s not Detox, though. And while Dr. Dre might think that’s a good thing-- and perhaps it is, I mean he’d know-- on paper, Detox was the thing of legend.  

So, with that…

Ladies and Gentlemen, we gather here today to mourn the loss of the greatest album that never was: Detox. They say you never know what you had until it’s gone, but in the case of Detox, we’ll just never know what we had because, well, we never got it. Still, Detox’s nearly two decade-long slow burn into ashes leaves an absence felt. The tease was thorough enough, the leaks were significant enough, and the updates (whether legitimate or rumored) were enticing enough for the identity of the now never-to-be album to take mold in the minds and imaginations of fans.

In 2000, after multiple lucrative phases of his career, Dr. Dre was sitting atop of the hip-hop world once again. This time, he was enjoying the successes of his protégé Eminem and his sequel to Chronic, 2001. Seemingly everything that the former N.W.A squad member touched turned to gold (literally). With dominating singles like “Forgot About Dre” and “The Next Episode,” Aftermath Records and Dre were quick to capitalize and announce his final record as an emcee, Detox.

What was intended to be the curtain calls of all curtain calls wound up being the Cold War of rap. Detox was to feature a roster of superstar producers (including but not limited to RZA, Jay-Z, DJ Khalil, and HiTek) and cameos from the greatest emcees the scene had to offer. It was to be the perfect conclusion to a trilogy of solo albums from the Doctor, succeeding where "Back to the Future" and "The Dark Knight" failed.  

Once described as a concept album that told “one story about one person...through a character’s eyes” with Denzel Washington rumored to narrate, it is possible that we will never know a hip-hop story as star-studded and immersive as what Detox was supposed to be. Though, it’s entirely possible these plans are over a decade dead at this point.

And yet we still lament.

And why wouldn’t we? Detox was taken away even before it was even put in the ground for good, with the announcement of Compton. It’s the hip-hop pang that keeps giving. In 2004, just five years removed from Dre’s second record and four years removed from the initial Detox announcement, the rapper/producer announced to XXL magazine that he put the idea for Detox to bed. With his Aftermath records imprint doing better than ever, Dre opted to grandfather the next generation, saying, “I’ve decided...that I wasn’t gonna do another album. I wanna work on these artists.” Within a year, though, Eminem and Dr. Dre himself both left hints on separate tracks that we should expect Detox after all (Em on the title track of Encore, Dre on the Game’s “Higher).

How ironic, how much Detox can leave us feenin’.

That’s not to say there weren’t some good Detox memories, though. There were a few peeks that Dre himself allowed to be shared with us. The super secretive project, like many others in the digital age we live in, fell victim to leaks. And while undesirable leaks may have been part of the reason Detox wound up being stillborn, they did provide us with awesome tracks-- some of which Dre himself embraced. “Kush,” which featured Snoop Dogg and Akon, forced Dre’s hand into officially releasing the song through iTunes. We even got a video for it.

But still the album stewed. And it didn’t stew into Compton, because Dre himself said so on Beats 1 Radio, when simultaneously announcing the new project and cancellation of Detox. Citing dissatisfaction with the music as his reason, Dre chose Compton as the project to go with.

Despite being from the East coast, I can still find immense pleasure in the West Coast love letter that Compton: A Soundtrack wound up as. But, before it existed-- we were to have legendary bi-coastal crossovers. Track after track got left on the cutting room floor because unfinished Detox products found their way on the world wide web, ultimately leaving us robbed. Could you imagine what a polished collaboration between Dr. Dre and Jay-Z would sound like in 2015? The potential is especially exciting, giving the quality of their 2010 Detox leak-- an unfinished track named “Under Pressure.”

When all's said and done, death is almost always met with life. I suppose with all this somber reflection on Detox, it’s easy to lose sight of the life it gave in its place. Not only is Compton: A Soundtrack worth the wait, it’s now evident Detox had to die so that other rappers' careers and projects can live. In 2003, he gave the best Detox beats he had to 50 Cent’s Get Rich or Die Tryin’ -- a game-changing album that could very well have changed the course of hip-hop. He took time off from rapping to nurture his label and its signees, in a noble gesture to preserve the game. And if Detox was what had to be put aside so that the rest of the hip-hop industry could keep moving (and so that Dre could climb higher and higher up the Forbes list), I’d say Compton: A Soundtrack is a hell of consolation prize.

So, goodbye, Detox. Thank you for your sacrifice.

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