Every now and then, you’ll hear from someone who’s been in the studio with Dr. Dre who claims to have heard parts of Detox. Invariably, they tell you two things: 1) that it’s brilliant, perfect, and amazing in every way and 2) that Dr. Dre is a perfectionist who won’t let it go. That used to be pretty interesting stuff, but now I wonder, does anyone really care?
At this point, Dre’s last album, 2001, came out in 1999. That’s still less time than it took between Guns N’ Roses’ Use Your Illusion album and the much anticipated Chinese Democracy. By the time GNR finally dropped Democracy, the album had cost 13 million dollars and took 17 years from their previous album to release. But the reviews were middling to positive and it sold well under expectations. People moved on.
Maybe even Dre has moved on: he’s introduced Eminem and 50 Cent under his umbrella, spent a bunch of time in the gym
and sold Beats headphones like crack in the 80s. (The pair I own, received as a gift, have been disappointing sonically. I wrote a letter to Monster, maker of Beats, but I never received a response).
Or maybe Dre hasn’t moved on. Maybe he looks at Chinese Democracy as a lesson: maybe he thinks that when you’re gone for too long, you’d better stay gone. Maybe he’s been so successful that he doesn’t want to risk failure. Maybe he remembers that while he’s a great producer, he’s never been a great lyricist, nor does he have an incredible flow. Maybe he remembers the team of ghostwriters, producers, and musicians it took to pull 2001 off, and he’s not so sure he can pull the trick again. Maybe he realizes he’s 47 years old (forty-seven!?!?!) and is worried that he’ll embarrass himself. Maybe he thinks he doesn’t have it in him. The pressure may just be too much.
If he’s thinking any of that, he’s wrong, by the way. Dre can absolutely release, by now, three or four albums of great material from the Detox sessions that will be well-received. He’s got nothing left to prove. And nobody who likes Dre ever thought he was the best lyricist or had the greatest flow. We like Dre because we like Dre. That’s it.
But will anyone care? People who were sixteen when 2001 came out are about thirty now. Some time ago, I pulled up to a friend’s house bumping The Chronic. He was standing outside with another friend of his, who immediately turned to him and said, “Is he from the West Coast or something?” The implication was clear: it’s two-thousand and something–why is he playing that old Dre? In other words, riding around playing Dre these days requires an explanation. It’s not a good place to be, Dre–especially if you’re sitting on music. Don’t miss the moment is all I’m saying. Detox has become a joke, a stand in for things we’ll never see. “Sure man, I’ll pay you back. Right after Detox comes out.”
I don’t care if there are a million and one features–it’ll be like 2001. Those beats, that production quality alone will push music forward. Kanye West has admitted he’s just bit the drums off Xxplosive. 2001 made the ukelele an important part of a beatmaker’s tool kit. The intro recreated the THX sound and as I understand it, without sampling. There’s no doubt that if Detox drops it’ll be great. But no one’s waiting in any real sense. We’re doing other things, thinking about other music. A new Dre album is in the same category as that new Lauryn Hill album that I heard about a few years ago: we’d love to hear it, but we’re not holding our breath. The album I’m waiting for more than any other is the James River album, or whatever D’Angelo decides to call it. I feel like it’s close. Questlove says it’s close. I feel it in my soul that it’s close. And ultimately, given their respective track records, the D’Angelo album will probably have a bigger impact on society and my life. I find myself thinking about what it will sound like, imagining Sly and Prince and Marvin and Al all rolled up into one entity that can transcend them all. I think about how Voodoo is the one album I would take with me if I could only take one album with me and I wonder, what will this next, next thing be? When I think another album from D’, the overarching emotion is gratitude and appreciation. Dre doesn’t occupy any such space in my mind.
But it would be nice if we could get Detox, too. No pressure, Dre. And I mean that.