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Forgot about T.H.E.M.: revisiting Dr. Dre’s forgotten proteges

For decades, Dr. Dre has played hip-hop kingmaker, introducing the likes of Snoop Dogg, Eminem, The Game and Kendrick Lamar to worldwide audiences.

But for every hit, there have been plenty of misses from the Aftermath boss. In the years before he co-founded money-printing headphone company Beats, Dre would repeat a predictable cycle: crown a new protege, get a signature on the contract, secure a feature on one of his productions, and then watch as another career descended into limbo.

While Snoop and Eminem have maintained a death-grip on rap relevance (or at least stayed in the conversation), most of Dre’s proteges have not been as lucky. Here’s a look at the Doctor’s patients over the years, many of whom would encounter the same delays and inaction that have made the long-promised Detox such a musical punchline.

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California rapper Bishop Lamont’s first release was a mixtape called Who I Gotta Kill To Get A Record Deal?. Apparently the answer was “no one” — Dre signed Lamont to Aftermath in 2005, with promises of being featured all over Detox, in the role that proteges Snoop and Hittman had previously filled. While his debut album, The Reformation, never materialized, Lamont dropped a steady stream of controversy-courting street albums with a taste for cover art depicting him in religious imagery, or in the case of the N***r Noize mixtape, wearing a KKK hood.

Dre’s discomfort with Lamont’s posturing kept The Reformation on the shelf, and in 2010, Lamont left Aftermath with rights to the more than 700 (!) songs that he had worked on while on the label. “Dre is still my big bro, but after five years of just sitting there, it is kind of unfair to the fans and my family and myself that the release date has changed when all these people are waiting,” he said at the time. Three years later, and Lamont is still waiting to drop The Reformation.

Fun Fact: In 2007, Lamont released the collaborative Caltroit mixtape with Detroit’s Black Milk, but due to legal issues with Aftermath, he couldn’t be credited as an artist on the retail release.

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Dawaun Parker isn’t so much forgotten as he is purposefully positioned behind the scenes. On graduating from the prestigious Berklee College of Music, the young instrumentalist almost immediately got the call from Dr. Dre’s people that they needed someone on the keys and dropped everything to fly out to L.A. He signed to Aftermath and quickly ended up producing for Eminem, Jay-Z, 50 Cent, Busta Rhymes and his childhood hero Raekwon.

Sadly, Parker’s solo career wasn’t quite so successful – after 2010 single ‘Lost’ (which was co-produced by Dre, no less) flopped, his album was canned and he appeared to take a step back for a minute to lick his wounds. Fast-forward three years though and Parker has a brand new project in the works, and it’s not even rap related. All or Everything (or AoE for short), is a collaboration with fellow Berklee grad and Masshole Phil Beaudreau and we get the sense there’s much more to be heard from Dawaun Parker.

Fun Fact: Parker co-produced Kendrick Lamar’s Good Kid, M.A.A.D City bonus track ‘Black Boy Fly’.

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It’s hard to think of Dawn Robinson as a Dre protégé, as she had so much success prior to any Aftermath involvement, but it’s important to remember that she was still totally unproven as a solo artist. Being a member of En Vogue and Lucy Pearl is one thing, but transitioning from that into a successful solo artist is harder than it looks. Talking about her relationship with Dre, Robinson says that while they had a “very amicable break,” he didn’t really know how to handle an R&B artist at the time. Dre was “overwhelmed with projects,” and it’s not too surprising that her solo album eventually ended up being passed off to Atlantic Records where it subsequently tanked.

Fun Fact: Earlier this year, she spent some time as part of reality show R&B Divas: Los Angeles.

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Brian “Hittman” Bailey was one of the first signees to Aftermath and seemed tabbed for the spotlight after appearing on nearly half of Dr. Dre’s 2001. But after it was clear that his debut album would never see the light of day, Hittman left the label in 2001. “It was just that me and Dre saw different creatively,” he explains. “He’s the boss, and if it ain’t to his liking it ain’t gonna come out.” Some of the material would eventually surface on 2006’s Hittmanic Verses, but aside from a handful of forgotten singles, Hittman’s career was assassinated long ago.

Fun Fact: Discogs maintains that Hittman is an acronym/backronym for: “Highly Intense Tongue Talents Make All Nervous.”

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Long Beach’s Knoc-turn’al first appeared on Dre’s 2001, bringing an off-kilter flow to ‘Bang Bang’ and manning the chorus on posse cut ‘Some L.A. Niggas’. He shined on the Dre-produced single ‘The Knoc’, featuring both Dre and Missy Elliott, and he looked to be a complete package: a lyricist who could also handle a hook. However, despite signing with Elektra rather than Aftermath, Knoc couldn’t escape the curse of Dre: would-be debut album Knoc’s Landin was eventually released as an EP after it was bootlegged within an inch of its life, and eventual first album The Way I Am was undercut by label incompetence. Knoc returned from a half-decade hiatus with 2011’s Knocs’ville, and last we heard, he was — wait for it — working on Detox.

Fun Fact: His birth name, Royal Harbor, is undoubtedly a better rap alias than the creatively spelled and punctuated Knoc-Turn’al.

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In the mid-90s, Philly’s Jamal “The Last Emperor” Gray (who took his moniker from the Bernardo Bertolucci biopic of the same name) made waves at open mic mecca The Lyricist Lounge, and his demo ended up in the hands of Dr. Dre, who promptly signed him to his then-fledging imprint. As Gray tells it, he came to Aftermath during a period of turmoil: the label’s first compilation had not sold as Interscope was hoping it would, and Dre’s attentions turned elsewhere. “Slowly but surely I began to feel neglected,” he says, “and the passion [Dre] had for the project in the beginning wasn’t there.”

After about a year at Aftermath and some time on Interscope, the rapper (who was shocked that the major label game “wasn’t about finding music that complimented my style but about moving units”) decamped for the indie world, eventually signing with Rawkus… just as the lyricist-friendly label was trying to go mainstream. His debut would eventually see the light of day in 2003, but apart from backpackers who buy Raptivism records, The Last Emperor was mostly forgotten, his brief Aftermath dalliance remaining a head-scratcher.

Fun Fact: The Last Emperor is responsible for a single so 1997 it hurts: the comics-versus-rap lyrical fest ‘Secret Wars’.

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This one pre-dates Dr. Dre’s Aftermath days: the squeaky-speaking R&B singer born Michel’le Toussant first hooked up (musically and then romantically) with Dre at the tail-end of his run with World Class Wrekin’ Cru, right before he would turn his focus to NWA full-time. He would go on to produce the majority of her self-titled debut, including her New Jack Swinging ‘No More Lies’ and quiet storm ‘Something In My Heart’, and she was featured on several Death Row productions before ending her relationship with Dre in 1996. As can be expected, her 2010 comeback album I Understand was Dre-less.

Fun Fact: Earlier this year, she spent some time as part of reality show R&B Divas: Los Angeles.

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Slim’s story is a familiar one – picked up by Dre in 2008, he eventually signed a complicated three-way deal with Aftermath, Shady Records and 50 Cent’s G-Unit, and it didn’t end well at all. After putting in work on Dre’s long-delayed Detox (he co-wrote 2010’s ‘Kush’) things looked hopeful for Slim, but then everything started to slow down. Despite being consistently talked up by Dre, the rapper split from Aftermath, and the previously scheduled S.O.O.N. (Something Out Of Nothing) disappeared from sight. A year later it still hasn’t been released, and a very public beef with 50 Cent can’t have helped Slim’s cause. We’re guessing it’s probably not the best idea to piss off one of the richest guys in the game by calling him out for stealing his songs, being a snitch and being a “steroid junky.”

Fun Fact: Slim is the nephew of legendary former drug kingpin “Freeway” Ricky Ross.

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Atlanta rapper Stat Quo was spotted by Eminem in late 2003, who quickly passed his discovery onto Dre. Stat was signed to Aftermath and Shady Records, but while his debut album proper Statlanta was supposed to follow soon after, by the time it got to 2008 (a massive five year delay) the rapper decided enough was enough and went independent. Whether the entire mess was due to usual record label bureaucracy or a misunderstood joke on Eminem’s part, as Stat suggests in ‘08s ‘Dear Summer Part 2’, we’ll never know for sure, but Statlanta eventually hit the shelves in 2010 to very little fanfare.

In the three years since, he’s founded a record label called The Firm (not to be confused with the Aftermath supergroup of the same name) with fellow Aftermath alum The Game, and managed to raise almost $30,000 in crowdfunding for his new album, but with no release date it’s hard to know when (and if) it’s actually going to surface.

Fun Fact: In 2008 he told HipHopDX that he left Aftermath with “300-400” Dre tracks and “about 100” Eminem beats, and that “all that shit coming out.” We’re still waiting.

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Shari Watson was initially a songwriter, but after a fruitful meeting with Dre, she eventually signed to Aftermath, despite claiming that she had no intentions of ever being a solo artist. It was Dre who picked the moniker Truth Hurts (she was initially supposed to be called The Truth) and before long Watson had a bona fide international hit on her hands with the fantastic ‘Addictive’. It was a prescient pop standout that balanced on an old Bollywood sample long before Missy Elliott and Jay-Z had taken a bite, but her success didn’t last long.

Her subsequent album Truthfully Speaking flopped, and the situation wasn’t helped by a $500 million lawsuit over the uncleared Hindi sample. She walked away from Aftermath (“I chose to leave”) and while a 2004 album followed, she disappeared from the public eye swiftly afterwards. Last year Watson teased comeback single ‘Nothing Lasts Forever’ but while it was teased last December, there’s been no news since.

Fun Fact: Earlier this year, Watson appeared on a remix of Nigerian singer Waconzy’s ‘Club On Fire’. Don’t worry, we hadn’t heard of it either.

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