The D.O.C. – “Portrait of a Master Piece”

Don’t mind me, I’m just thinking about how different rap would be today if The D.O.C. hadn’t lost his voice.

For a brief, shining moment in the late ’80s, Dallas emcee Tracy Curry emerged as one of rap’s very best wordsmiths, and with the backing of Dr. Dre and the The World’s Most Dangerous Group, he was on the edge of a total takeover. Remember way back when I said that Rakim was standing on Mount Everest? Well, The D.O.C. was gunning for that peak, and for a moment he was at the apex.

A little backstory: Previously known as Doc T, Curry got his start with the Fila Fresh Crew. Their sole record, 1987’s Tuffest Man Alive, is notable for 2 things: 1) The baby boy on the album cover in a slick tracksuit and rope chain, and 2) The production on several cuts from a producer out of Compton named Dr. Dre.

Yup, that Dre. Dr. Rock, another member of the Fila crew, had connects with N.W.A., and even featured on their oft-forgotten debut. Dre helped the group land their record deal.

Curry and Dre became fast friends, and the emcee, now going by The D.O.C., became an unofficial member of N.W.A., ghostwriting for the group after Cube and kicking some guest verses on their legendary ’88 release, Straight Outta Compton. That next year, D.O.C. and the Doctor teamed up for his debut.

No One Could Do It Better is a legendary debut, a perfect synthesis of one producer, one emcee. Dr. Dre’s production, while sounding a bit dated now, is full of crisp digital drums and synths. It’s also very East Coast-inspired, with cut up samples and speedier tempos. And The D.O.C.? Wellllllll….

The D.O.C. was extremely fucking good at rapping.

Curry’s technical skills was a cut above most. His rapid-fire delivery, his nimbleness with complex lines and rhyme schemes, and his raw Texan timbre was unlike any other rapper out there. His skills were elite, and a total revelation for me hearing him for the first time in my teens. When you hear him go at it on a track, you’re hearing some of the very best rhyming ever put on wax. Simply put.

I’ll be honest, it was surprisingly difficult in narrowing down just one song for tonight’s post, so I might as well briefly talk about the ones I didn’t feature tonight.

-“It’s Funky Enough” – The album opener and The D.O.C.’s big hit. My intro to the rapper as it was included on the GTA San Andreas soundtrack. It’s funky for sure, though the faux-reggae accent D.O.C. employs throughout is a bit shaky. Also his opening line, “Y’all ready for this?” took on a second life at every sports event in the ’90s and beyond over this sample.

-“Lend Me An Ear” – Honestly, I’ve lost count how many times I’ve listened to this song in my early 20s, and until maybe 20 minutes ago, it was my pick! It’s still a banger, especially at how fast and nimble D.O.C. is on the mic. Also, one of the few times on the record he swears (for someone affiliated with N.W.A, he rarely swore on this album!). Dre switches up his production to match the breakneck pace, kicking off for the producer a brief period of faster tempos in his beats (see also N.W.A.’s “100 Miles & Runnin'” from 1990), until he began slowing things wayyyy down for his G-funk revolution in ’91 and ’92.

-“The Formula” – The record’s smoothest track. I love Dre’s interpolation of Marvin Gaye‘s “Inner City Blues” for the beat here, as D.O.C. lays it down with authority and cool.

Not quite a full song, but far from an interlude, “Portrait of A Master Piece” won out tonight because…I mean, listen to it! Right here The D.O.C. comes for his crown, outright rhyming his ass off at top speed for over 2 minutes. This is elite-tier rapping, and The D.O.C. is just having fun with it. Hell, even the bit towards the end where he “loses his breath” serves as a moment for you to pause and think about how fucking good he is at this. Just a great listen.

It makes it all the more tragic that his career was sidelined not long after this record. In late 1989 The D.O.C. was in a serious car accident which severed his vocal cords, permanently damaging his voice. After he recovered he continued to write for N.W.A. and Dr. Dre, but the accident put an end to his rap career for years. Only recently has he gotten his voice back. It’s a damn shame, but his debut is still a bonafide classic every rap fan needs to hear.

Be First to Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.