The year was 2002 and a 38 year old Dr. Dre had just floated the idea of ‘Detox’. if all went to plan this third and final album would cement his legacy, win a few Grammy’s and add a few million dollars to an already healthy bank account. To give a little rap context Ja Rule was busy being a primeval Drake; who himself was just beginning his run on Canadian TV. Nelly was outselling Jay Z who was in turn promoting a joint album with R Kelly. A lot can change in thirteen years.
In the years that followed, stashing away mythical nearly-finished yet still unreleased albums rather annoyingly become a thing. There was the fourteen year wait for D’Angelo’s ‘Black Messiah’, the fabled Jay Electronica debut that may never reach our ears and recently Frank Ocean has decided to join that list. But in the field of promising and then failing to deliver 'Detox' was the apex. Dre’s third album has been on again, off again more times than Ross and Rachel. Release date scheduled, release date cancelled, release date reset, release date pushed back. And then; silence. On, off, on, off, on until last week when Dre confirmed that hip-hop’s most anticipated album had been dragged into the recycle bin on his Apple MacBook and forever erased.
Dre is a perfectionist so says just about everybody who has ever stepped foot in the studio with him and that meticulous work ethic has generally worked for him, both with his own albums and those of 50 Cent, Eminem, Snoop Dogg and most recently Kendrick Lamar. So why was ‘Detox’ any different? The official party line is that 'Detox' was scrapped because it failed to meet his lofty standards. Very feasible and technically true. I say technically because in reality Detox was probably not just one album but a multitude of projects started and then binned as the Doctor rigorously attempted to nail a third classic.
Dre himself in 2002 stated that ‘Detox’ would be a concept album, a hip-hop musical of sorts centring on one character, but just a year later he claimed to have abandoned the album to pull his full efforts into making Aftermath Records a success (a decision that worked out, mind.) When ‘This is Detox’ and ‘Topless’, the first T.I. assisted reference tracks leaked in 2009 it became clear that the direction had again shifted with neither sounding like anything you would hear on Broadway, off Broadway or at your local panto.
Much like a sighting of Big Foot, Nessie or the Sydenham panther, somebody new would come forward every few months claiming to have caught a glimpse of the Holy Grail, each with a different description to the last. At one point it was “psychedelic Sixties rock music with dark chords” and then according to Scott Storch it was the "the most advanced rap album, musically and lyrically, we'll ever have a chance to listen to." ‘Kush’, the album’s first official single was in fact neither and by the time ‘I Need a Doctor’ was released it seemed that Dre; who had built a reputation on crafting cohesive albums, had switched track again. It’s so hard to predict what ‘Detox’ would have sounded like because it doesn’t seem like Dre ever really knew himself.
Really then it’s no surprise that he has seemingly gone back to his genesis with final album ‘Compton’; an unofficial soundtrack of sorts for impending N.W.A biopic Straight Outta Compton. In the same way American Gangster unburdened Jay Z from sporting the placated face of music business mogul, Straight Outta Compton has given Dre reasonable excuse to take a break from the Apple offices and make the project he probably wanted to all along. So here’s to another album about hitting switches and cruising in low riders, it’s what everybody; including Dre, wanted anyway.
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Words By Aniefiok Ekpoudom (@AniefiokEkp)