Like Dr. Dre's "Detox," these are albums that will never be.
For years, Detox became something of a running punchline in hip-hop circles. The album has cropped up as both interview fodder and a lyrical reference for everyone from Eminem to ScHoolboy Q, the latter of whom once claimed the record to be “like a mix away” on “There He Go.” Over a decade in the making, the concluding entry in the trilogy that began all the way back in 1992 took on a near-mythical condition of elusiveness. Halted by Dre’s unquenchable perfectionism, the ticking of the clock plays no role in the Aftermath mastermind’s creative process and his former protégé Snoop Dogg infamously dropped “five albums from the day that Detox was supposed to come out, till the day it didn’t.”
Pursued by a dissatisfaction that he just couldn’t quell, Dre eventually downed tools on this potentially world-altering record and put it behind him. When he did re-emerge in 2016, he did so on Compton, a sprawling love letter to his past that was inspired by cinematically revisiting it through the NWA biopic. Released just 6 days after it was announced, it's comparatively painless road to completion speaks to one of the eternal truths of the industry. Sometimes, what the public are anticipating and what you want to deliver just doesn’t sync up.
Anything but an isolated incident, Dre relinquishing an album to the ether puts the legendary producer in elite company. So, without further ado, here’s ten more sought-after records that may exist in the archives or as a batch of rough mixes, but have never— and likely will never— see the light of day.
Kanye’s gallery of shelved work
Kanye West attends an event in NYC, 2019 - Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images
Aside from Dre himself, no one has become more of a byword for the interchangeability of creative focus and taste than Mr. Kanye West. Seemingly working with the aforementioned Compton icon on the follow-up to Jesus Is Kingas we speak, those familiar with Kanye’s tendency to make sweeping declarations will only permit themselves to feel a shred of excitement at most. As much phenomenal, paradigm-shifting music as Ye has delivered up to this point, there’s a similar amount of music that’s been resigned to a theoretical discography.
Between two separate iterations of Good Ass Job including one that was meant to be a straightforward sequel to Graduation, his decision to embrace his “super nerd vibe” with the proposed TLOPfollow-up TurboGrafx16, announcing So Help Me God/Swish in 2015 and getting its artwork inked on his skin all the way to a confirming a proposed collab record with Drake, Ye is the master of the misdirect at this stage.
Whether he’s purposefully throwing fans off the scent or he’s simply refining projects from initial concepts to something more robust, Kanye’s eagerness to pledge that something is coming, only for the pipeline to remain barren, has forever altered how we view his words.
Lil Wayne and Drake’s collaborative album
The master and the heir apparent of Young Money, Drizzy and Tunechi have never failed to deliver across the course of 17 cuts as a duo. Last teaming up on 2017’s Dedication 6 for a “Family Feud” remix, hearing the two reconvene after several years of musical estrangement was like catching up with an old friend. The signature sound of YMCMB’s golden era, the two trading bars is always a recipe for greatness and as such, conversation abounded about “young angel & young lion” finally harnessing that chemistry they established way back on So Far Gone’s “Ignant Shit” into a full project.
Yet as he revealed to XXL in 2011, the arrival of Watch The Throne compelled the duo to put the plans on the backburner for the foreseeable.
“Me and Wayne scrapped the idea of a collaboration album. We just agreed that it would be looked upon as... this competition,” he conceded. “I feel like it would get caught in this whirlwind of hype. [Wayne] agreed. We just said, ‘If we do it, we’ll do it down the line. But right now is not the time.’”
Nine years on, we’re no further ahead on getting it on the docket in any official capacity but Weezy insists that “We still text and send songs here and there, change a verse because he killed me or change a verse ‘cuz I killed him.”
D’angelo – James River
By the time that Voodoo dropped in 2000, Richmond, Virginia’s very own R&B pioneer D’Angelo had the world on tenterhooks for his next move. Yet for all that there was five years between Brown Sugar and the platinum-selling sophomore project, no one would’ve expected that there’d be so many bumps in the road on the way to an eventual follow-up. Although we’d get The Vanguard-assisted Black Messiah 14 agonizing years later, there is a missing link in the chain that’s still shrouded in a cloud of internal turmoil and darkness to this day. Taking on numerous shapes over the years, updates on an album entitled James River were kept all but non-existent from D’Angelo himself, leaving collaborator and The Roots’ stalwart Questlove to occasionally chime in with a snippet of information. After he’d leaked an acoustic version of what’d eventually become “Really Love” to Australia’s Triple J in 2004 and damaged their relationship in the process, Quest then proclaimed that James River was “97% done” in 2011.
Although his eventual return was seminal in itself, there’s always going to be part of us that wants to hear some other excerpts from the reported “five albums worth” of material that he’d recorded in that time.
Outkast - 10 The Hard Way
OutKast, 2000 - Scott Gries/ImageDirect/Getty Images
Said to be helmed in its entirety by their trusted advisors Organized Noize, 10 The Hard Way is known among Outkast fans as the grand send-off that never was. Reportedly constructed alongside Idlewild and its subsequent soundtrack, this record was meant to escort 3 Stacks and Big Boi back from the prohibition-era realm of their cinematic endeavours and into the heat of the Player’s Ball. In what makes for truly dismaying reading now that we know how history has panned out, a 2006 interview with Sleepy Brown saw him outline exactly where the record was headed.
“That's supposed to be the last OutKast album”, he asserted. "Hard tracks, rap tracks. They was all for it, we've made plenty of beats for it, then, all of a sudden, he [Benjamin] don't wanna do it no more. I just wish he'd make the decision," he sighs. "Just say it! Are you done, or are you done? Nobody's gonna be mad, but they'll be mad if you keep doin' this to 'em!"
Eminem - The Funeral
Although “it’s your funeral” may have been the gripping tagline of this year’s Music To Be Murdered By, the graveside ceremony we’re referring to dates all the way back to 2006. Becoming the stuff of forum legend, The Funeral was the proposed next entry in Em’s catalogue after Encore and came with a fleshed-out premise to boot. Slated to be a double disc project, the album’s proposed title wasn’t a throwaway remark, it spoke to the concept of laying his previous aliases to rest.
“I'm not really on any of the tracks named The Funeral”, he told BET. "Those tracks just signify the death of each persona." The Eminem fansite states that the album was intended to contain three sections, each divided by one The Funeral track. Bizarre was set to rap about the Slim Shady persona, Dr. Dre was going to handle the Marshall Mathers persona, while Obie Trice was going to rap about the Eminem persona. The final track which was reportedly title "Where I'm Standing" was meant to showcase Eminem's "rebirth."
Enticing as that sounds, it looks like it’ll never see the light of day, unless he chooses to revive the structure for one grand swansong somewhere along the line.
J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar’s collaborative album
J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar performing during Cole's tour, 2014 - Taylor Hill/Getty Images
Every generation has one of those great “what if’s” that arise from contemplating what would happen if two or more legendary artists teamed up for one full-length project together. The previous era had the “Murder Inc” supergroup of Jay Z, DMX and Ja Rule that failed to materialize and we have the Cole and K. Dot album that’s been hinted at for nearly five years now.
Regularly stoked by their teams either to keep interest alive or, in some cases, seemingly for their own amusement, they first encountered one another on Born Sinner’s “Forbidden Fruit” before later remixing one another’s tracks on “Black Friday” of 2015.
With Kendrick and Cole both claiming that they’d love to do it on numerous occasions and Lamar even cropping up in an uncredited capacity on ROTD3, the last real correspondence we had on the matter saw Dreamville’s leader state that “We just did a few songs. Like, we did a bunch of ideas. Put it like that. It was nothing like, you wouldn’t call it an album… Not because it’s never gonna happen. Just because, like… it’s not right now. I don’t like teasing or playing the game ’cause this has been going on for a minute.”
Whatever the case, it’s hard to imagine any record stopping hip-hop in its tracks quite like Kendrick crossing over to Cole World.
Slaughterhouse - Glass House
Despite having all the lyrical talent in the world, there was something about the dynamic at the heart of Slaughterhouse that never enabled them to live up to their potential. Across their 2009 independent debut to the Shady-backed Welcome To Our House, clashing egos, beat selection and apparent management interference prevented Royce, King Crooked, Joell and Joe Budden from creating the sacred text of rhyming that they, by all rights, should’ve delivered. Said to feature an equivalent “Slaughterhouse of producers” that included Just Blaze, J.U.S.T.I.C.E League, Illmind and others, Royce may be adamant that they didn’t finish their last album Glass House but to Crook’s mind, they’re “robbing the culture” by not releasing it.
"It came out incredible," he told Talib Kweli’s The People’s Party podcast. "I wanted it to see the light of day. For Budden’s part, he’s happy to leak the album but who knows whether that’ll ever occur.
Black Thought & Danger Mouse - Dangerous Thoughts
Sometimes, a producer and MC combo is enough to set your imagination ablaze. Danger Mouse’s hip-hop pedigree is well established, from Gnarls Barkley to DANGERDOOM. Two years after he’d meticulously spliced Jay-Z and The Beatles together for The Grey Album, Danger was granted the opportunity to work with another one of hip-hop’s most astounding pens, The Roots’ Black Thought. Said to be “midway” to completion back in 2006, the Philly icon said later in the year that he “would call it a meeting of the minds. It would not be like me, Black Thought from the Roots, and Danger Mouse the producer — it’s us taking on two personas.”
With Black finally releasing solo material with Streams Of Thought Vol 1 & 2, let’s hope that they can finally build on all that chemistry they’d exhibited during the rapper’s appearance on Dangerdoom’s previously unreleased jam “Mad Nice.”
Zack De La Rocha’s solo album
Throughout his career, Rage Against The Machine’s Zach De La Rocha has resembled less of an artist and more of a force of nature. Initially leaving the rap-rock group that’d made his name in 2000 as he felt that it had “undermined our artistic and political ideal,” the rumour mill about a solo project from Zack essentially started there and then. Amid collaborating with DJ Shadow, KRS-ONE and others, it only seemed like a matter of time until a fiery album of political vitriol that embraced his hip-hop roots would arrive. Over the next decade and a half, Zach would be pictured in the studio with Nas, undertake some sessions with Questlove and even deliver an incendiary verse on Run The Jewels’ “Close Your Eyes (And Count To Fuck.)”
Then, in 2017, EL-P incited chaos on social media when he declared that “The Zack de la Rocha album is happening in 2017. And yes this is new material made this year and yes there is more where that came from. And that's all the info I'm authorized to give out. Been keeping my mouth shut about my work with Zack since January when we did it. It hurt. Now I'll commence keeping my mouth shut about the rest.” To date, all that’s emerged is the phenomenal El-P produced “Digging For Windows” but we’d be eager to hear more.
Nas & AZ - The Essence/The Firm Sequel
Nas & AZ out in NYC, 2019 - Johnny Nunez/WireImage/Getty Images
Since Nasir Jones came to the fore on the all-time great debut Illmatic, no one has been able to meld so neatly with his style in the vein that AZ can. Delivering one of the showstopping verses of the album— and in this writer’s opinion, all-time— on “Life’s A Bitch,” the pair have kept that shared rhythm alive over the years on tracks such as “Serious,” “The Flyest” and “The Essence” not to mention during their time in Dr. Dre’s The Firm supergroup. Speaking of that last track from Aziatic, its title bears the same name as the proposed collaborative album between the two that, for one reason or another, has never emerged. Once again consigned to the stuff of forum speculation, what AZ has been more forthcoming about is the prospect of another record alongside Dre, Foxy Brown and Nature under the mafioso-rap banner of The Firm. Speaking to The Boombox in 2012, the eternally underrated New York MC claimed that the only thing holding them back is scheduling.
"I just spoke to Foxy like two to three months ago. Everybody's cool. We all reach out, there's no bad blood. We all grown and what not, so it's cool. Nas' album [Life Is Good], just came out and he's doing him. I'm trying to wrap up my Doe or Die 2 album, so I'm working. So hopefully, we can make it happen again -- one more time. But if not, it was a great experience."
Although they may be at vastly different ends of the industry at this stage, the prospect of hearing Nas & AZ hook up for a full-length project will never lose its lustre.
Which of these albums would you love to hear?