Recently, Global Music Group, a Tennessee-based independent label has acquired Death Row. Susan Berg, the label’s owner purchased the historic Hip Hop label and now, the Death Row vaults have been open. This year we saw the re-release of Dr. Dre’s “The Chronic (Re-Lit and From The Vault)”, the upcoming release of Snoop Doggy Dogg’s “The Lost Sessions Vol. 1″ and a brand new release from 2Pac Shakur in 2010.
So instead of waiting for all these releases, I decided to open my own vaults and share my rarest Death Row material. The following music is unreleased Death Row material from the 92-97 era complete with track descriptions…
2Pac ft. Dogg Pound, Method Man, Redman and Inspectah Deck
Got My Mind Made Up (Original Inspectah Deck verse)
When you press most anti-West Coast fans to name a Death Row song they actually like, this track is typically the answer. Obvious, what with the Method & Red feature and distinctly east coast feel. But there was always a mystery as to why Inspectah Deck’s signature could be heard at the end of the track without him kicking a verse or being listed officially on All Eyez On Me. The answer was that the song wasn’t originally made for the album. While in LA for promo, Meth, Red and Deck were scooped up from their hotel by Kurupt and taken to Daz’s home studio. A couple of smoke sessions later and “Got My Mind Made Up” was born. Both Daz and Kurupt were excited at the prospect of featuring the song on their debut album, Dogg Food, believing that the presence of three of New York’s hottest rappers at the time would help offset any of the tensions exacerbated by other joints on the LP, such as the provocative “New York, New York.” Unfortunately when it came time for the mastering, the song was nowhere to be found. Daz had allegedly lost the reel on which it was recorded. Dogg Food was released without the gem and “New York…” helped spiral the East Coast-West Coast conflict out of control. A few months later, 2Pac was out on bail, fresh outta jail and working on his first Death Row album. As was the mentality with all Death Row projects, material was submitted by committee. If an artist had something hot, they generally had to give it up for whatever album was next to drop. For All Eyez On Me, 2Pac was offered “California Love” and “Cant C Me” by Suge (much to Dr. Dre’s chagrin and another factor that would seal his decision to depart the label). After finding the lost reel, Daz offered up “Got My Mind Made Up.” Inserting his own verse, ‘Pac removed Deck’s, possibly because he felt the track would’ve been too long or perhaps he was mindful of what happened to Sam Sneed. The decision to cut Deck rather than Meth or Red was likely taken as out of the three, he had the least promotional appeal. Now that we know how the verse sounds, it makes the choice that much more grating. I certainly don’t want to get all Royce/Renegades with this (i.e. pretend that just because something was unreleased and then bootlegged that it suddenly supersedes the original when it really doesn’t) but there’s something to be said about leaving the best verse off the entire track. I guess someone didn’t want to get outshined.
2pac ft AMG and DJ Quik – Late Night (Original)
Originally just an unused cut from the 2Pac and David Blake All Eyez On Me sessions, this track was revived for Death Row’s Chronic 2001 compilation. Refitted with an extra 16 from ‘Pac and a couple Outlawz verses, it’s probably best remembered for its Donald Byrd “Wind Parade” sample and the poignant “club was poppin’ so I’m stoppin’ at the Fat Burger/ Look through the papers it’s another black crack murder” lyric. I’m actually feeling this version more than its successor for a few reasons. 1. This one includes better beat switch ups. 2. AMG and Quik rapping >>>> Outlawz. Feel like it’s a recurring theme with this list, but this really should’ve made it on the final album pressing.
Dogg Pound – Can’t C Us
Produced by Dr. Dre, this was originally supposed to be a marquee track for Dre and Ice Cube’s much hyped reunion album Helter Skelter. When the project fell apart, mostly due to Dre’s displeasure with how Death Row was being ran and impending departure, Dogg Pound were there to pick up the pieces. After recording the song for 1995’s Dogg Food album, Daz had second thoughts. He was particularly pissy at what he percieved as Dre cheating him out of his production credits on the Chronic and Doggystyle albums. With this in mind, he decided to limit Dre’s involvement on Dogg Food to strictly mixing, effectively placing “Cant C Me” back in limbo again. Upon his release from prison, Pac picked up the beat (along with “California Love” which was initially supposed to be the lead single for Dre’s sophmore Death Row album The Chronic 2: Poppa’s Got a Brand New Funk) and created “Cant C Me” for his All Eyez On Me opus.” I’m a big fan of both, but slightly prefer the Dogg Pound version, complete with the George Clinton scat (nh). Unfortunately since it never made the album’s final cut and therefore Was never fully mastered, this is the best quality we have.
Dogg Pound ft Nate Dogg and Big Pimpin’ Delemond – Big Pimpin’ (Original)
Back in ‘94, when Dogg Pound was nothing more than an undefined collection of Snoop’s ever expanding entourage, they recorded this classic for the Above the Rim soundtrack. Uploaded is a first session recording of the track which includes verses by Daz and Snoop with alternate lyrics. It also features an intro by Big Pimpin’ Delemond, a street poet Snoop had befriended in Long Beach. The intro was actually just a snippet of longer recording which would later be used for “Big Pimpin’ 2″ on the Dogg Food album.
Dr. Dre – Rat Tat Tat Tat (Original)
Along with “The Hoe Hopper,” this cut made its way onto swapmeet bootleg tapes around the same time The Chronic dropped. Unlike “Hopper” however, “Rat Tat Tat Tat” actually made the album, albeit in a reworked form. The original version carries a more up-tempo rhythm and looped production. Since Dre didn’t use this beat for the final version, step-brother Warren G would revisit the Don Julian “Janitzio” break a few years later on his debut with “And Ya Don’t Stop.”
Dr. Dre – The Hoe Hopper
An unused track from Dre’s legendary Chronic LP, “Hoe Hopper” is an extension of the themes found on the rest of the album. Pimpin’ hoes, gettin high and flossin’ the whip, Dre’s laid-back delivery floats over the playful production. Penned by Snoop, the first verse would be later used for his rhyme on the classic “Big Pimpin’” from the Above the Rim soundtrack. At the end of the mp3, you can hear the intro to “Let Me Ride.” Whether “Hoe Hopper” was simply recorded on the same reel as “Let…” or was originally going to appear on the album right before is debatable.
J Flexx and Sam Sneed – Lady Heroin (Original)
Once upon a time Sam Sneed and J Flexx were being touted by Dr. Dre as the future of Death Row. Then 2Pac got signed, Sam Sneed got the sh*t beat out of him by Suge’s boys and Flexx became convinced that Dre was holding him back. Still, enjoy this joint as a representation of what could have been. Dope lyricism, fantastic metaphor usage and even a Wu Tang sample. A reworked version appeared on the Gridlock’d soundtrack, minus Sam Sneed but featuring a new beat and tight verse from Lady of Rage. One of the more artistic songs to come from the Death Row catalogue.
J-Flexx – Stayin’ Alive
A protégé of Dr. Dre, J-Flexx filled in as the doctor’s personal ghostwriter after Snoop blew up. Penning hits such as “Natural Born Killaz” and “California Love” while co-producing “Keep They Heads Ringin’,” the Dayton, OH native was one of the most valuable behind the scenes assets for the label. Unfortunately, Dre leaving Death Row put him in a difficult position. Should he set aside feelings of being under-credited for his work and follow the super-producer to a new home, or stick it out with Suge and hope for his unreleased album Billboard Dreams to see the light of day. He chose the latter, but not before writing “Been There, Done That” which would end up being Dre`s first single on Aftermath and an anti-gangsta rap anthem. To help his artists rebound from Dre`s defection, Suge flew them all out to the Bahamas to work on the Death Row: Greatest Hits compilation. With Suge in his ear instigating with insinuations that Dre had deliberately held him back and stolen not only his credit, but his publishing royalties, Flexx recorded the scathing “Who Been There, Who Done That.” Admonishing his former mentor for essentially fu*king him over, he trumps Dre at his own game by jacking the beat and flipping it with some G-Funk. While “Who…” describes Flexx’s relationship with Dre during the Death Row days, “Stayin’ Alive” paints a much larger picture of the rapper-producer’s life, from his enlistment into the army to his split with the doctor. As it was with many of the artists who signed to Death Row, Flexx’s debut album never did get a release. He went on to score productions for TV and partnered up with Shaq for charity initiatives.
J-Flexx And Dr Dre – Street Scholars
Upon his arrival at Death Row, one of J-Flexx’s main tasks was to assist Sam Sneed in writing for his Street Scholars album. Set to feature the best talent that the label had to offer at the time including Snoop, Dre and Rage, the LP was also geared towards introducing a new crop of talent. There was Flexx, riding high off penning “Keep They Heads Ringin’” and “Natural Born Killaz,” producer Mel-Man and Queens lyricist Drama. Due to relations between Sneed and the label irreconcilably souring, the album was put on the backburner shelving some pretty good music in the process. Mel and Drama would depart alongside Dre with the latter ghostwriting Dre’s verse for Blackstreet’s “No Diggity” single. Mel-man went on to become one of the prominent architects behind the 2001 sound before splitting from the legendary producer under acrimonious circumstances. The title track from the Street Scholars album is a fairly good indicator of the direction Dre was hoping to take Death Row musically. Synthed up G-Funk with a much darker groove than that of the playful Doggystyle.
Kurupt – 40z and Bud
A nice little back-and-forth joint between Kurupt and a homie (Maybe Roscoe P?) over the Mtume “Juicy” break. Possibly just a warm-up joint on a session reel as it never received a release.
Kurupt Feat. Jewell – I Dont Bang No Mo’
Unknown to some, Kurupt was actually developing a Death Row solo album on the sneak that was supposed to drop sometime in early 1997 after Snoop’s Doggfather. One of the tracks created for the LP was this little gem, featuring Jewell, the resident songstress of the label. Kurupt kicks a semi-story of a gangbanger trying to leave the lifestyle alone but who falls back into trap. The track interpolates Michael McDonald’s “I Keep Forgetting” break, most famously used by Warren G for his “Regulate single.” Unfortunately, when Kurupt left the label, none of the music left with him, hence his instantly forgettable Kuruption debut.
Kurupt Feat. Snoop Doggy Dogg and Nate Dogg – Every Single Day
Listed as a Kurupt solo track, I’d imagine this was more a Dogg Pound crew joint showcasing the Philly transplant. Snoop uses his early Death Row freestyle form, referencing lines from “Nuttin But A G Thang (Rmx)” and “What’s My Name” which chronologically places this track in and around 1993. It was later released on the Death Row’s 2002 mix of unreleased Dogg Pound material, but with an alternative beat, different vocals and without Nate Dogg.
OFTB ft 2Pac and Big Syke – Better Dayz
One of Suge’s personally signed acts during Death Row’s heyday was Operation From The Bottom, a Blood-affiliated group representing Watts’ Nickerson projects. Likely best known for “Crack ‘em” from the Above the Rim soundtrack or the shoutout on 2Pac’s “2 Live and Die in L.A.,” the crew at one time were working on an album for the label. As was the case with all of the non-core acts, the LP never saw the light of day, although a portion of it was digitally released in 2007 under the title The Missing DR Files. According to OFTB, “Better Dayz” was originally the lead single for their Death Row debut. A strong opening salvo, what with the memorable feature from 2Pac and melodic beat from Johnny J (RIP). The verse by ‘Pac was so good that when the label began ransacking his acapellas and unreleased work they simply wiped out everyone else on the track and based a double album around its theme. The final release version would feature extra verses from 2Pac and a Ronald Isley hook. No OFTB and no Big Syke. The relationship between Syke and ‘Pac was an interesting one. Both seemed to live vicariously through the other with the rapper craving a gang-like sense of belonging and the street cat desiring the prosperity of rap. Interesting, but perhaps fatal for one of them.
Prince Ital Joe, Snoop Doggy Dogg and 2Pac – Street Life
Celebrating the close of Snoop’s ‘95 murder trial, “Street Life” is one of the few collabos between the Long Beach rapper and 2Pac. I’d imagine this one dates somewhere around early 1996 as ‘Pac references his beef with Bad Boy (a feud which Snoop would distance himself from as the year progressed). The hook samples Randy Crawford’s stellar song of the same name. Featured is Prince Ital Joe of Marky Mark fame. Joe tragically lost his life in 2001 due to injuries sustained from a car crash.
Sam Sneed ft Snoop Doggy Dogg – Blueberries
Taken from hiss prospective Street Scholars album, this lead collabo matches Sneed’s east coast orientated lyricism with Snoop’s syrupy Long Beach flow. The track is a microcosm for what Dr. Dre wanted Death Row to be – a powerhouse label that took music from all corners and put a G-funk twist on it (a concept Snoop happily co-signed). Sadly, Suge had other plans. Such as having Sneed brutally beaten for giving too many cameos to New York rappers in his videos. It was this lack of vision that ended up tearing the company apart while Dre went on to become the driving creative force behind arguably the two biggest rap brands post Biggie/2Pac.
Snoop Doggy Dogg – Do You Remember
Consensually considered an outtake from the Doggystyle sessions, this unused track made the Swapmeet rounds on bootleg cassette in the mid-90s. For a few reasons, I tend to chronologically place this joint slightly earlier than some other heads. Firstly, Snoop’s style doesn’t seem as polished as it was on his debut and is a lot more reminiscent of his work on The Chronic and “Deep Cover.” Secondly, the track features looped portions of Funkadelic’s “(Not Just) Knee Deep” including extensive vocal samples. Why just sample the vocals if you could have had George Clinton come in and customize them himself during the same recording sessions that spawned “Doggystyle”? Dre, ever the perfectionist, surely would have opted for the latter. Such production methods are much more in line with The Chronic’s recording techniques. Or perhaps Dr. Dre isn’t the song’s producer at all. On the third verse Snoop clearly says “This how we do it in the Nine-Ace,” i.e. 1991. This could mean the track pre-dates Dre working with Snoop, leaving Warren G and Cold 187 as possible producers. In the same verse, Snoop spits “I need bass, like Dre used to make/ When NWA was in the mothafu*kin’ place.” Does that sound like something someone would say while in the studio with Dre himself? Maybe, maybe not. Indeed Cold 187 used the same break and similar working for “Never Missin’ a Beat” on Above the Law’s Black Mafia Life classic in 1993. However, another telling lyric is “pop goes the weasel/ For tryna play me in the paint, like Shaq Diesel.” Shaq wasn’t drafted by the Magic until the summer of 1992, right slap bang in the middle of The Chronic’s recording sessions. When did the LSU grad harness the Diesel moniker and would Snoop have been aware of him pre-drafting? Enough to give him a shout-out? Eitherway, Dre would revisit the P-funk sample on the intro to Doggystyle. If he did infact produce “Do U Remember,” then it’s unlikely he’d prominently use the same sample twice on the one album, nevermind use such a similar working of it with close proximity to the Black Mafia Life album’s release.
Snoop Doggy Dogg and Lady of Rage – It’s On
Possibly the oldest unreleased joint from the Death Row vaults, this track was originally auditioned for the 1992 Deep Cover soundtrack. Produced by Dre, it features Rage and Snoop trading rhymes back and forth over a sparse bass line. One of the more notable lyrics is Snoop’s “Is it Rage, is it Dre?” which he would later donate to his producer for “Let Me Ride.” This was back when Rage was supposed to be the number 3 artist on the Row behind Dre and Snoop. After continuous shelvings, her debut Necessary Roughness hit stores in 1997 to little fanfare. By that time, Death Row was a sinking ship and any non-2Pac releases saw little to no promotion.
Snoop Doggy Dogg – Doggystyle
Another unused track from the Doggystyle sessions, this one has George Clinton all over it, both influentially and literally. Heavily sampling Funkadelic’s “Oh I” throughout, this is how G-Funk should sound. Smooth, lush and thumpin’. No idea why this one never made the album as it’s not only dope as fu*k, but would have fit the theme perfectly. I doubt there were any sampling issues as Clinton was a huge supporter of Dre’s work. File this one right beside “Gz Up, Hoes Down” as some of Snoop’s best work which unfortunately never saw a mastered release.
Snoop Doggy Dogg ft. Dr. Dre – The Next Episode
Initially slated as the follow-up to “Nuttin’ Like a G Thang,” this joint actually appeared on the tracklisting for the first pressing of Doggystyle. Mysteriously though, the song was nowhere to be found on the CD. Ever the perfectionist, Dr. Dre felt that the vibe didn’t match the rest of the album and since the artwork and final recordings were turned in at two separate times the mistake was fairly glaring. It’s a common misconception that this is the original version of 2001’s “The Next Episode.” In truth, they share only the song title. Why the recycle? On “Nuttin’ But a G Thang,” Snoop closes each verse with “so just chill… to the next episode.” Since this track was projected as the first post-Chronic rap collabo between the pair, it assumed the title. Due to its failure to make the final cut, and with no Snoop/Dre duet on the album, the title was passed on to Dre’s 2001 album. Much like the situation with “The Hoe Hopper”/”And Ya Don’t Stop,” step-brother Warren G reused the Les McCann & Eddie Harris “Go On And Cry” loop for “Runnin’ Wit No Breaks” on his debut. If it sounds like a recurring theme, it’s because part of Dre’s production process was accepting samples from Warren and Daz to base his soundscapes around. Therefore when one of them didn’t work out, Warren would scoop up the pieces and use it himself.
Please feel free to ask me for re-ups if the song links go down. I will continue the unreleased Death Row theme throughout the week, featuring Snoop Dogg’s Demo Tape, a rare 213 tape, and an unreleased 2Pac post.