D.R.I. had only existed for about four months, in which time they practiced every night and played a few shows in the Houston area. Dirty Rotten was recorded and produced by the band in the Brecht's parents' home which had a room walled with egg cartons as soundproofing where the band practiced. The original cover was a photo of the back of drummer Eric Brecht's head. The record was originally released by the band on their own record label, also called Dirty Rotten. The original pressing was a 7", played at 33 RPM, titled Dirty Rotten EP.
The Dirty Rotten EP sold out quickly and has since then been reissued many times with various track listings and bonus songs. Later in 1983 it was released as a 12" LP (with the two upper arms of EP in the album's title hastily scribbled out to make it Dirty Rotten LP) with the help of R Radical Records, fellow Houston punk band MDC's label. It was later remixed and re-released with new cover art, and with the songs that originally appeared on side one appearing on side two and vice versa, these would become the track listing and cover art for most subsequent re-releases. This album would also be combined with all four songs from their 1984 Violent Pacification EP. The Dirty Rotten LP was re-released yet again in 2003 as the Dirty Rotten CD, with 22 bonus tracks.
The Dirty Rotten CD closes with two radio appearances by the band from around the time they recorded Dirty Rotten EP, when they were still known as U.S.D.R.I. In these appearances they discus upcoming shows with The Dead Kennedys and Chron Gen as well as play some of their demos. The CD ends with the band chiding the DJ for playing music that is "not thrash," while he puts on Einstürzende Neubauten.