RIP 'Detox': The Complete History of Dr. Dre's Masterpiece That Never Was

Thirteen years after it was first announced, we deliver an exhaustive eulogy for hip-hop's most anticipated album ever: Dr. Dre's 'Detox.'
Author:
Publish date:
Dr. Dre, Detox, album

Finally. After 13 years of release dates, rumors and leaks, last weekend Dr. Dre publicly admitted that the sun is hot, peanut butter is made from peanuts, and his staggeringly delayed album Detox should be considered officially dead and buried. 

It was a big moment for hip-hop history but, bizarrely, it was a big moment for me personally. I never intended to become the Detox guy, but for the last three years now any Detox-related news has caused my Twitter notifications to explode

I've received countless "secret" emails from people swearing they had just been in the studio with Dre, been pulled aside at parties to hear the latest conspiracy theory. It felt like my fate and the fate of Detox had become inextricably linked, and I only had myself to blame. 

It started as an inside joke, a way of telling someone it was time to give up on a project. That interview a publicist had been promising would happen for four months? That freestyle an artist swore they'd get to you "this Tuesday," only "this Tuesday" was now eight Tuesdays ago? You were being Detoxed. It was time to splash some cold reality on your face, stop chasing the dream and move on.  

That was the spirit of the Detox Isn't Dropping shirts. They weren't really about Dr. Dre or the album, not entirely, they were about knowing when to cut your losses and move on, which was fitting because seemingly no one needed a dose of Detox Isn't Dropping more than Dre. 

By all accounts—and believe me, I heard every account there was—it seemed like the album had become any creative person's nightmare. Given an unlimited budget and no deadline, could you spend the rest of your life locked in a perfectionist's jail, constantly terrified that the music you'll make next will be better than the music you've made so far, each passing day only becoming further justification to take your time, the pressure of expectation becoming suffocating until one day you realize decades have gone by and you're even farther away from the finish line than when you started? You seemingly could, and Dr. Dre was living proof. (See also, Andre 3000)

So I never blamed Dr. Dre for not releasing Detox, I never felt entitled to it, at a certain point—let's say 11 years into my wait—I barely even felt any real anticipation for it. I only wanted Dre to say what seemed so blindingly obvious, that the album was never coming out, so he could start over and make a different great album and all the people who had written me, telling me that I was going to feel so fucking stupid when the album dropped*, vowing that their cousin's best friend's boyfriend had actually just sent in a reference track for the album and it was coming soon and I didn't know shit**, could move on with their lives and focus their energies on music that actually existed. And this week—I can barely believe I'm typing these words—it happened. 

This is not a victory lap. While I'll admit to feeling vindicated—and I won't lie, vindication feels pretty goddamn good—I'm by no means happy we'll never hear Detox. I would have gladly been wrong if it meant an amazing new hip-hop album was in the world. Instead, I want this to be something more like a eulogy for a friend you'll miss but had been suffering for years and on a deeper level you're relieved has passed on.

So with that in mind, let's take one last look at the long, long, long, staggeringly long and complex history of Detox, one last glance in the rearview mirror as we watch Dre's what-if masterpiece grow smaller and smaller until, finally, we can no longer see it. Goodbye, dear friend, I hope you're in a better place now.  

The "Detox" Timeline (Updated from the original)

1999: Common misconception because of the title, but Dr. Dre's last album, 2001, actually dropped in November of 1999. For those of you who aren't handy with a calendar, that means it's now just shy of 16 years. There are high school sophomores who weren't born the last time Dr. Dre dropped an album.

2000

2001

2002: Dr. Dre goes on record for the first time about Detox, saying the project is going to be a concept album. "...what I decided to do was make my album one story about one person and just do the record through a character's eyes," Dre told MTV. "And everybody that appears on my album is going to be a character, so it's basically going to be a hip-hop musical." He also went on to say Detox would drop by the summer of 2003. "It's probably going to take me like a year to get it all the way together." It's rumored that Denzel Washington will be narrating the album.

December 2002: Dre pushes the release to late 2003 in order to focus on Ice Cube’s upcoming album (which never materialized).

Fun side note, he also said he was busy in the studio producing for Truth Hurts, Rakim and Shaunta, which is essentially a one sentence edition of "what happened to?"

2003

March 2003: Dre tells XXL that he gave the "cream of the crop" Detox beats to 50 Cent for Get Rich or Die Tryin. Interscope continues to suggest that the album could drop by the end of the year. 

January 2004: Aftermath confirms that the now "late" (Dre first said it would drop summer of 2003) album will actually drop at the end of 2004. Scott Storch, who worked extensively on the album because in 2004 having Scott Storch produce a large part of a mega album was a thing that totally happened, said that Detox will be, "the most advanced rap album musically and lyrically we'll probably ever have a chance to listen to." Additional collaborators are listed as Mary J. Blige, Eve and Game, along with Denaun Porter, Nottz, and Hi-Tek contributing production.

August 2004: Dr. Dre announces that he's putting Detox on hold to focus on producing for his own artists, most prominently focusing on Game's debut album, Documentary, as well as Eminem, Busta Rhymes and Eve's projects. (Oh yeah, Busta and Eve were signed to Aftermath, I almost forgot.)

November 2004: Eminem’s Encore dropped. On the title track, Em says, “And don’t worry ‘bout that Detox album. It’s coming. We’re gonna make Dre do it.” Dre changes his mind and says Detox is back on. On Game's "Higher," released shortly after, he publically announces that we should "look out for Detox."

2005 - 2007

July 2006Scratch magazine runs a cover story on Detox, call it “hip-hop’s unreleased masterpiece… coming soon?” In the piece producer Focus... is quoted as saying, “We were doing psychedelic Sixties rock music with dark chords," and producer Imsomie “Mahogany" Leeper says the theme was similar to the 1998 movie Very Bad Things, saying"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.’” It's revealed that The Documentary, Obie Trice’s Cheers and Usher’s “Throwback” from Confessions all originally were intended for Detox.

September 2007: Dre tells the L.A. Times that he's now eight years deep into Detox, saying, "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.” Later, in an interview with Power 106, he says that new protege Bishop Lamont will be heavily featured. Lamont is believed to take the role of Snoop on Chronic or Hittman on Chronic 2001. (Lamont later confirmed his split from Aftermath/Interscope in January 2010.)

2008: Now seven years since Dre first threw out a release date, and four years since his last announcement that the album was back on, many have started doubting that Detox will ever drop. But in a Rolling Stone interview, Snoop insisted otherwise. "That record is real, it’s coming. 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.” Dre says that “in a perfect world, I’m shooting for a November or December release" and confirms that Nas, Jay Z, and Lil Wayne will be on the album.

2009

February 2009: “Topless” featuring T.I. and Nas leaks, along with “This Is Detox” featuring T.I. and Kobe.

May 2009: The first official Detox release is played during a Dr. Pepper commercial, Dr. Dre confirms that the album will be coming out in 2010, now that he's finished producing Eminem's Relapse and 50 Cent's Before I Self Destruct. Holy shit, THIS ALBUM MIGHT ACTUALLY COME OUT.

In separate interviews, 50 Cent says said he’d heard eight records and that Dre has under a dozen finished, Eminem says, “There’s probably 10 records.” Anthony Hamilton and Drake are rumored to be featured on the project. 

October 2009: Dre tells ABC News he had been working on Detox for 10 years, and that he wanted to get it done by the end of the year to release it in 2010.

2010: Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine jointly announce that the first official single from Detox, "Under Pressure" featuring JAY-Z, will be coming soon. The song leaks and they drop it from the album, but the interest around "Under Pressure" appears to motivate Dre and Interscope. They drop two more official singles ("Kush" and "I Need a Doctor") complete with official videos and launch a million dollar marking campaign (I still remember the Detox billboard in LA). 

"I Need a Doctor" goes double platinum and he performs the song at... HOLY SHIT THIS ALBUM ACTUALLY SERIOUSLY IS GOING TO COME OUT!

Side Note: I just realized "Under Pressure" was co-produced by Scott Storch. Does that mean that beat was originally made during the original 2004 sessions?

Side Note No. 2: Kendrick drops "Look Out for Detox."  

2011

A number of prominent leaks hit the web, including “Syllables” featuring Eminem, Jay, Dre, 50 and Stat Quo, which we later found out was recorded in 2007 for Detox. In addition, “Mr. Prescription” featuring. Sly, Nikki Grier, and Slim Da Mobster leaks, “Chillin” featuring Swizz Beatz leaks and Ludacris' “OGs Theme” reference track leaks.

May 2011: "Die Hard" featuring Eminem premieres during an episode of Fight Camp, is possibly Detox' third official single. 

November 2011: Dre announces that he's taking a break from music after he wraps up producing for Kendrick Lamar's GKMC and Slim the Mobster (who's no longer even on Aftermath). "I feel like I’m gonna take a little bit of a break. I’m never gonna stop music, it’s like air to me. So I’mma take a little bit of a break. Enjoy some time with the family til I get that itch to get back in.”

2012

March 2012: DJ Quik tells The Herald Sun he doesn’t think Detox is ever dropping, becomes an instant icon of pragmatic realism. 

April 2012: Dre and Kendrick release “The Recipe,” producer Scoop DeVille tells Whoo Kid that it was originally intended for Detox. In another interview, 50 Cent says Detox might only be an EP, says he doesn’t even know if Dre is excited about the album anymore. 

Side Note: "Word to Dr. Dre, Detox is like a mix away." - ScHoolboy Q

2013: I launch the "Detox Isn't Dropping" t-shirts. Crazy people email me to say I'm wrong.

2014

June 2014: Marsha Ambrosius talks about working on the album in an interview with RapUpTV, said she had gone to Hawaii before the end of 2013 for a few weeks to work on “so many things” including his upcoming album. Says the project is no longer called Detox, doesn't reveal a new title.

September 2014: Aftermath in-house producer Dawaun Parker says that Detox has been scrapped and they're now working on a new project but doesn't reveal a new title. Says he's heard as many as 300 beats that had been created for Detox, but few had vocals recorded over them.

2015

April 2015: Rapper Big Pooh talks about the experience of going into the studio with Dr. Dre and writing for Detox on the Combat Jack Show, says he introduced King Mez to Dre and now Mez has been in the studio with Dre for months. 

March 2015: Dre tells L.A. radio DJ Big Boy that he is working on the soundtrack to upcoming NWA movie. 

June 2015: In an interview with yours truly, Fashawn talks about going into the studio with Dre around 2010 and writing for Detox

July 2015: Ice Cube says Dre’s third album will be dropping August 1, and that it is NOT Detox.

August 2015: Dr. Dre officially confirms that Detox is dead, says he never released it because he just "didn't like it." Fair enough. Thirteen years after it was first announced, Detox' journey has finally come to an end. Anything is possible. ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE!!!!!!!!!!!!!

So yes, I've clearly become what most psychologists would diagnose as clinically obsessive, but now that Detox is no longer, it really is worth noting that this was a huge moment. Over the years Detox has become the most long-awaited album in hip-hop history, a project that has taken on mythical proportions, and with good reason. In addition to launching several of the biggest rappers of the last two decades—Snoop Dogg, Eminem, 50 Cent, Kendrick Lamar (no, not you Game)—Dre's first two headlining albums, The Chronic and 2001, were classics. It was completely reasonable to be excited about Detox until it was completely insane to think it would ever drop. 

And now I'm walking into this new era filled with hope for the future, feeling like a weight has been lifted from my shoulders, ready to embrace the new, free from the weight of the past. 

I hope Dr. Dre feels the same. R.I.P. Detox; never has so little meant so much to so many.

* Shockingly, none of those people have come back around to say, "Turns out you were right, sorry about calling you a fucking moron."

** Those people were the hardest to deal with. They were convinced that their lives were about to change and at first, I pointed out that they were about the 477th person to work on Detox only to be disappointed, but that felt a lot like stomping on someone's dreams. So eventually I adopted a purely positive, "That's awesome, good for you, I hope you're right" stance when talking to them.

Related