By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
From his seventh-floor loft office just south of downtown, The D.O.C. can see his grandmother's house in West Dallas, just behind the Lew Sterrett Justice Center. From here, he can see it all. The city is his personal model train set. Reunion Tower looms close enough to palm like a basketball. Through his floor-to-ceiling windows, the view is straight out of a Dallas Visitors Bureau brochure, a wish-you-were-here postcard. Here, The D.O.C. is Big Tex. He is J.R. Ewing. He is the 1992-'93 Dallas Cowboys. He is the king of Dallas.
That's what he wants to be, anyway. He's wanted it since he moved back to town in 1997. Actually, he's wanted it since he was 17 years old, trading rhymes with his partners in the Fila Fresh Crew. Every morning, when he looks out of those windows, he gets inspired all over again.
"I want Dallas," he says, smiling, spreading his arms out in front of him as he walks toward the window from the kitchen, looking out on his kingdom. "I want that. That belongs to me, and I want it."
Soon enough, The D.O.C. will get another chance to take it back--along with as much of the rest of the world he can get his hands on in the process. Backed by a talented crop of local MCs (including Six-Two and Uptight) and a new label (Silverback Records, the imprint he started with business partner Vernon Norris), The D.O.C is set to release Deuce--his third album and first since 1996's Helter Skelter--in February. Featuring guest appearances by heavyweights such as Ice Cube, MC Ren, Xzibit, Nate Dogg and Kurupt, along with his new local stable, Deuce is The D.O.C.'s return to the national stage, the last stretch of a long road back. The album is, as he says, a mix of the work he did with N.W.A. and Eazy-E and his first solo album, 1989's No One Can Do It Better, continuing to dig at the ground he broke back then. It's a party record. And this time, everyone in his hometown is invited.
"For the most part, man, it's a new day in Dallas," D.O.C. says. (His birth certificate reads Tracy Curry, his albums say The D.O.C., and everyone calls him Doc.) "I don't know if anybody else sees it, but I see it. It's a new day in rap music. It's a whole new game. I'm in the position to hold a lotta cards. I may not be holding 'em all, but give me a minute. I got real strong business people in my corner these days, and we're making good decisions. I ain't falling short. There ain't gonna be no shortcomings, no sad stories from here on out. We're gonna do it the right way now."
D.O.C.'s had his share of sad stories so far. A decade ago, he didn't know there was a right way. Or, rather, he didn't know the right way was any different from what he was doing. It didn't really matter: All he wanted to do was write rhymes and make records. He was so unconcerned with the business side of the music industry that he traded his songwriting royalties for a gold necklace. He was cocky back then, and he had a right to be; when he released his debut album, No One Can Do It Better, it was a statement of fact. D.O.C. met Dr. Dre (then in N.W.A.) while Dre was a guest DJ on KKDA-FM (K104), and soon after, his writing skills could be heard all over such hip-hop landmarks as N.W.A.'s Straight Outta Compton and Eazy-E's Eazy-Duz-It, both released in 1988. And the Dre-produced No One Can Do It Better lived up to its title and then some; songs such as "The Formula" and "Mind Blowin'" are just as good today as they were then. He was a hip-hop legend in the making, one of the first artists whose record played on both coasts.
Right now, he's more Tracy Curry than D.O.C. Still sweaty from a morning workout, he turns from the window and returns to the task at hand: cooking lunch. Lean in his sleeveless T-shirt and Air Jordans, he looks younger than he did when No One Can Do It Better was released. He's living healthy these days, running upstairs to the gym every day, eating right; at the moment, he's seasoning a chicken while swigging apple juice. It's a lifetime away from where he was just over a decade ago: in a hospital bed, in a coma, with a crushed larynx, the result of a few too many drinks and an ill-timed nap behind the wheel of his Honda.
When he woke up, he couldn't speak; he wouldn't regain the use of his voice for a few months, and his vocal cords are permanently damaged. But there was a record to promote, shows to play. No one seemed to care that a rapper without a voice is little more than the punch line to a bad joke. So D.O.C. got back onstage, against his better judgment. "I'd just lost my voice, and they was trying to have me lip-synch onstage," he says, remembering his last performance in Dallas more than 10 years ago. "And I did it, you know, but I had to get real drunk in order to get onstage. Because I'd lost my presence, you know? At least in my mind, I couldn't do it. And, I mean, the show was probably real sloppy; I don't even remember it. Tom Joyner went bad on me on the radio the next day. My mama called him and cussed him out. She'll do that; you gotta watch her." He laughs.
You can't help but think of what could have been, listening to him speak, sitting with him here in his office. Just past the front door is an oversized reproduction of No One Can Do It Better's cover; it's maybe four feet tall and an even bigger reminder of past glories. And D.O.C. carries a much more permanent memento: His voice, once as hot and smooth as liquid steel, is now a high rasp, the echo of his old self dialed in on a broken transistor radio. He sounds like a three-packs-a-day smoker struggling through his last days.
D.O.C. doesn't worry about what might've been. All he cares about is what could be. He doesn't look like a broken-down man; he's in fighting shape, bouncing in anticipation of Deuce's release, barely able to contain himself. And the more you listen to him speak--both in person and on the record--it strikes you that his new voice is just as powerful as the old one. He doesn't completely believe in it yet, not the way he used to, but he's coming around. "Shit, I still ain't got it," D.O.C. admits. "I still haven't been onstage and felt like myself. I haven't done it yet. But I feel it just in being around other people. Like, I feel like myself. I feel pretty confident about everything. Whereas, for the past 10 years or so, I felt more comfortable just being in the background. Staying out of motherfuckers' way."
Though he didn't return to the studio for almost seven years, D.O.C. didn't go away completely. You can probably hear a song he had a hand in on the radio every day. As with N.W.A., he was one of the main writers behind Dr. Dre's solo debut, 1992's The Chronic, and one of the main reasons the record exists at all; Dre credits him in the liner notes for "talking me into doing this record." And he was a strong influence on Snoop Dogg, mentoring him during his first years on Death Row Records, showing him how to write songs, hit songs, on 1993's Doggystyle. He was always there, and never around. You could see him riding shotgun with Dre in the "Nuthin' But a G Thang" video, but for the most part, you never saw, or heard, D.O.C.
Not until 1996, when he released Helter Skelter, a dark, troubled album about secret plans and Armageddon dreams. This wasn't the same D.O.C. who made "The Formula," not the same good-time rhymes and house-party beats. His voice was barely there, and he was in the middle of a lawsuit against Death Row. D.O.C. admits he wasn't himself then but says he had to record that album to prove that he could still do it. Of course, while it needed to be made, he's not really asking anyone to go hunt down a copy.
"When I made Helter Skelter, I was going through a lot of turmoil," D.O.C. says. "Inside myself, you know? That's why the record was so dark and apocalyptic. But that's never really been my music. It's always been happy, go-get-drunk, fuck-a-bitch music. That's what I do. Have-a-good-time music. Even though some of the shit, maybe, that we talk about is, you know, pretty hardcore shit, still, it's all in good fun. It's just records, you know? That's why I named this record Deuce: In my heart of hearts, this is really The D.O.C.'s second album. This is the follow-up to No One Can Do It Better right here."
While D.O.C. is anxious to show off his new record, to remind everyone who he is, to introduce Six-Two and Uptight and the rest of his new crew, there is no master plan at work. It comes down to only this: "I just wanted to make some dope-ass shit and put it out there."
"I didn't have any real issues about me," he says." What I've done, and woo-woo-woo and woo-woo-woo. Pretty much, people know. And I'm not tripping on that. It's a new day, man. The things that have been in the past, we're gonna leave 'em in the past. We're fixing to write us a new thing, and it's all about D-FW now. I love everybody else, but it's really about Dallas-Fort Worth being the shit. Now. Like Six-Two says in one of the songs, whoever goes next, we're not really concerned. But it's our turn right now. We want all our shit.
"There's always been a D-FW presence," he continues. "People have just never taken the time to look, I guess, or give a fuck about it. They'll just take it at face value and run with it. Which is the way, I guess, people are in general anyway. So you don't hate on it; you just do what you do. But like I said, now, at least in my mind, it's all about Dallas-Fort Worth. And I've got the perfect little team around me to really shake it up."
His business partner, Vernon Norris, may be the most important part of that team. Silverback Records is only part of the plan; the real idea is Silverback Entertainment, a company Norris believes can help Dallas become "the Hollywood of the South." They're dreaming big, and you can't fault them for that, since too often, no one in Dallas-Fort Worth dreams at all, still thinking that Los Angeles or New York is the only place it can happen.
For now, though, the focus is on the music, and D.O.C. can't say enough about the talent he has surrounded himself with. Fort Worth's Six-Two has already had a coming-out party, of sorts, appearing on two tracks on Dr. Dre's Chronic 2001 disc. But that was just a taste. D.O.C. thinks--no, he knows--that when Deuce hits stores, they will be in the position he was in back in 1989.
"Six-Two and Uptight? These guys are the future, kid," he says. "I haven't really even gotten off into their material yet. I got about three or four songs for Six-Two that nobody has really heard yet, and this guy says some shit that'll fuck you up. I ain't heard no niggas say the kind of shit that this guy is saying and the way he's saying it. This guy is great. And I look forward to Uptight being a real force in this industry. He's got that kind of persona."
But will it be enough to finally, after decades of false starts and broken promises, make Dallas-Fort Worth a viable commodity in the hip-hop community? Will Silverback do for D-FW what Cash Money and No Limit did for New Orleans, or Rap-A-Lot did for Houston?
"Ah, I hope so," D.O.C. says. "I think it will, because Six-Two is pretty much the best in the business right now. Without a doubt. He's the new school, and it'll only take America one time to hear this guy to be like, 'Yep. He's the man.' I look for his shit to go like bam! Which is cool. I'm used to it. I don't know how it's going to affect my young soldiers, but hopefully, they can learn from all my fuck-ups." He then delivers the line that is something of his motto now: "We can get it right this time."
D.O.C. turns to the stereo and begins playing Deuce again, bobbing his head and mouthing along as his newfound voice coasts on top of a sample of the Eagles' "Hotel California." Then he turns to the window again, looking out on the concrete canyons and asphalt arteries of his home.
"We're back!" he yells, arms raised in triumph above his head. "We're back!"