In 2009, a company named WideAwake purchased Death Row Records for $18 million. Despite the label not being prominent in a decade, the catalog alone was worth the money. Access to Dr. Dre’s classic debut album, The Chronic, albums by Snoop and Tha Dogg Pound, and a mountain of unreleased material seems like a sweet deal.
We’re in a new generation, though, so the release of previously unreleased material by some of the greatest artists of all-time somehow failed, likely because the releases just didn't carry the same weight without the artist's support. The Chronic Re-Lit sold the most units out of all the re-releases and was a great body of work which featured a DVD and four bonus tracks, but we largely already had that album. Instead, the real prize to come out of the acquisition was Snoop Dogg’s The Lost Sessions Vol. 1.
A collection of unreleased music recorded between Snoop’s Doggystyle and Tha Doggfather, The Lost Sessions Vol. 1 is full of gems. Sorting through the timeline of when each song was recorded isn’t too difficult as the project basically progresses from earlier works to later. There’s a mix of truly never-before-heard records, demos and alternate versions of existing songs, such as “Eat A Dick” as the early version of “Serial Killa.”
The original intro for his debut album is glorious. If they had used this title track to kick off the festivities of Doggystyle, it’d have the same effect as The Lady Of Rage’s version. Lady might not have seen the path she went onto, but Dr. Dre’s production is everything G-Funk represented, and the track doesn’t sound outdated even in 2016.
Nothing screams “why wasn’t this on your debut album?” more than “Fallin’ Asleep On Death Row.” Doggystyle was full of records that made the D-O-double-G sound hungry, and this is one record that falls under that category. At only two minutes, it sounds more like a rapping interlude than a complete idea. There’s no hook. Just Snoop putting Dre’s stellar production into the passenger seat and riding through Long Beach.
The Lost Sessions Vol. 1 isn’t perfect, hell, it’s barely an album. You can see some work was done with the ordering of the track listing, but the music is essentially just an unedited collection. It's not so much an album as a playlist of unheard records, and most playlists have flaws. Tracks like "Funk With Ya Brain" and, as much as I love Uncle Charlie, "Caught Up" needed to remain on the cutting floor... forever. Just because you can release a record doesn’t mean you should, and that’s the case here.
Having Vol. 1 in the title felt exciting because it teased fans that there was more to come. Sadly, volume two became one of those music videos that reads “to be continued” and never actually gets an ending. Unreleased material from Tupac, which had reportedly included “Hit ‘Em Up Pt. 2,” was never released. Anything Tupac-related is bound to have a ton of legal issues, so that explains why nothing ever materialized.
My efforts to track down the original head of WideAwake, John Payne, didn’t pan out how I’d hope. His Linkedin account shows that he departed from the company in early 2013. Who runs the show now? Is it even an active company? Did that Death Row purchase backfire?
If nothing else, this short-lived resurgence of Death Row releases is a reminder of how much quality is left sitting in a vault on a hard drive somewhere. Imagine getting into Cash Money’s unreleased stash. What about Roc-A-Fella?
One day, these songs might be heard by the public. Or they could be "lost" forever. As a fan of classic hip-hop, I’m praying for the former.