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Music January, 21 2014

What Does Dr. Dre Stand to Gain from Releasing ‘Detox’?

While doomsday prophecies come and go with each transition from one year to the other, there are certain descriptive adjectives that seem to be universally recognized as signifier of “the end” despite one’s belief in religious or purely scientific data. They include “change,” “heat,” and ultimately “redemption” amongst a bevy of other more sinister verbiage. While most think of “end of days” in terms of the ceasing of what we know to be true about the world in which we live, there’s the distinct possibility that “end” simply means retirement for a cultural supernova.

2013 passed with little mention of what Dr. Dre has called his last album. Of course, to even casual fans, Detox has taken on mythological status – a so-called musical unicorn of sorts whose powers have weakened thanks to a little (Beats by Dre) Pill. Many have resigned themselves to the notion that while Dre has made a promise that Detox will indeed see the light of day, even musical consorts like Snoop, 50 Cent and DJ Quik believe that despite his affiliation with Relapse and Recovery, Detox is no longer a must to rid his body of the musical “shakes.” Simply put, the hip-hop world wants the album more than Dre does. Or so it seems…

The only glimmer of hope we as fans have of getting Detox comes from the “out-of-the-blue” material we got in 2013 from the likes of Justin Timberlake and Beyoncé. Much like the aforementioned musical juggernauts, Dr. Dre doesn’t need a single or a music video to drum up anticipation for a project that has been gestating since 2001. Thus, despite there being the absence of idle chatter regarding mysterious recording sessions that may or not be taking place, there’s still hope.

Justin Timberlake’s The 20/20 Experience became the first album in 2013 to sell 2 million copies. Gone are the days when Eminem’s The Eminem Show and The Marshall Mathers LP each went 10x Platinum. To his credit, Dre’s last full-length project went 6x Platinum just as file sharing portals like Napster were starting to put a dent in sales. Let’s assume that Detox is the final feather in his cap – a collection of swan songs proving that age doesn’t incumber greatness in hip-hop – despite many who think just that on the strength of Jay Z’s Magna Carta… Holy Grail and Eminem’s The Marshall Mather’s LP 2. There’s no doubt that any full-length from him will transcend the boundaries that most hip-hop releases do – placing him in the rare demographic 16-65 age demographic where he’ll have both the urban and suburban marketplace in a stranglehold.  He can walk away from the “front man” aspect of the music business with an assurance that he can still command a million purchases at 48-years-old. With age comes wisdom…but it’s ego that keeps Detox alive.

“When I think of the future, I think a lot of Quincy Jones and how he is an inspiration. Look at the quality of his work over so many years. He didn’t even make his best record, ‘Thriller,’ until he was 50. That gives me something to look forward to. Nothing pulls you back into the studio more than the belief that your best record is still ahead.”

- Dr. Dre

Most musicians earn a majority of their money from performing live, followed by a not-so-close secondary income that is the actual tangibles sales of a project. After selling half of his portion of his Beats by Dre imprint in 2011 for $175 million (matched by Jimmy Iovine’s $175 million dollar take), they ultimately bought back a controlling interest from HTC (75 percent). Despite the back and forth which ultimately put his net worth higher than it actually was, he still takes home a cool 40 million a year according to Forbes – a figure that will surely skyrocket now that Beats has entered the live streaming realm as a major competitor to Spotify and Pandora. In terms of tour revenue, Dre makes more money doing nothing than Kanye West does even though the latter embarked on a 18 date North American tour in support of Yeezus where he entertained 283,241 show-goers to the tune of $25.2 million USD (not including the cost of production.). Essentially, global icon Kanye West – despite what you think of him – had to record an album and go on tour just to get a whiff at what Dr. Dre has set up for himself as a music mogul.

“If you know about Dr Dre, these headphones weren’t coming out until they were perfect, or else we would have had Detox five years ago.”

- Jimmy Iovine

It’s wise to remember that the proverbial wheels were in motion for the release of Detox as far back as 2010 when the good doctor released “Kush” with an assist from the now departed Nate Dogg. In speaking with Big Boy on LA’s Power 106 he said of the song, “”I see a finish line right now, I’m wrapping it up, I need about two or three more songs and hopefully I will start the mixing process at the end of next month and from that point I am about 30 days out, so I’m excited about it.” From there we were given another single in the form of “I Need a Doctor” which was released in February 2011 where it peaked at number 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 – becoming Dr. Dre’s second highest peaking song on the chart ever. For most, two songs released in a relatively common time frame indicates that Detox was actively being worked on…or so we thought. Despite the commercial appeal, neither song seemed to capture the adoration of those who had held out hope that Dre was going to deliver an instant classic. I’d argue that projects like Timberlake’s 20/20 Experience and Beyoncé’s self-titled album aid an artist as to how a project is received – where as we’ll gladly enjoy something we didn’t count on getting for the sheer surprise nature of it. What Dre has working against him is time – meaning anticipation will surely overpower content no matter how brilliant the material actually is.

In a perfect world, Detox will be a marriage of Dr. Dre the rapper and Andre Young the musical mogul/USC benefactor. While most looked at the Beats by Dre commercial as just that – a mere advertisement looking to empower the brand with an assist from Kendrick Lamar – one could deduce that he could kill two birds with one stone by using his album as a means to sell headphones, and his headphones as a means of introducing a younger generation to a man who used to make beats, not just sell them.

Consider this: an estimated 23.5 million Americans are addicted to drugs or alcohol – yet a Google search of “Detox” brings up mention of Dr. Dre before it does a definition of the removal of toxins from the human body. Who has the problem, us or him?

A great album creates a snapshot of a time and place. Ask anyone about their favorite album and they’ll probably drop tidbits about how old they were when it came out and the similarities or vast differences they’ve encountered since the first track spoke to them. We’re talking track one’s like “Nefertiti” by Miles Davis, “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning” by Frank Sinatra, “Gimme Shelter” by The Rolling Stones, “Immigrant Song” by Led Zeppelin, and “Let’s Go Crazy” by Prince & the Revolution. Immediately one knows that they’re in for a treat. This is what Dr. Dre is up against. How can Detox be anything but a let down – not just for us the listeners, but for a man who has spent his hiatus doing nothing but succeeding? A final album shouldn’t be planned. It’s not a business decision or an exit strategy.  Dr. Dre famously once said, “The only two things that scare me are God and the IRS.” I’d add Detox to that list.

Alec Banks is a Los Angeles-based writer who can be found @smart_alec_

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  1. Photography: Chris Floyd

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