The legends of late eighties and early nineties gangsta rap, guys mostly working out of Southern California, still loom large: There’s the near-billionaire rapper/producer Dr. Dre; there’s the baddest-man-alive-turned-family-filmmaker Ice Cube; the national treasure/forbidden photo subject Snoop Dogg; the complicated fallen leader Eazy-E; the quixotic Ice-T, who wrote “Cop Killer,” and has also spent eight years playing a police detective on Law And Order: SVU; there’s the actual violent criminal Suge Knight; and the list goes on. But one name that isn’t mentioned very often is The D.O.C., Dallas native Tracy Lynn Curry. And—for the past few years—the monuments to the D.O.C.’s contributions to hip hop have been behind the counter at a Plano pawn shop.
As the Dallas Morning News’ Robert Wilonsky reports, the five platinum records he earned for his work with N.W.A, Eazy-E, and Michel’le were lost while Curry spent time in jail following a DWI conviction:
The D.O.C. says he hasn’t seen [the platinum records] in five years – “when I got in trouble with the city of Dallas for drinking and driving.” At the time of his arrest, he says, he was working with a North Dallas filmmaker on a documentary about his life’s story, which includes a 1989 almost-fatal car crash that crushed his larynx and left him with a deep, raspy growl of a voice. The D.O.C. says he gave the filmmaker the records to use in the movie.
“When I got back home, the guy was gone,” he says “I couldn’t find him. For all intents and purposes, the plaques were just gone.”
The D.O.C. couldn’t believe it.
“How do you pawn someone else’s memorabilia when they’re f– locked away?” he says. “That’s some of the rattiest s-.”
The pawn shop had the records for years, but only put them on display in January, after a remodel—and a fan of the D.O.C.’s quickly spotted them and notified the rapper via Twitter. The manager of the store, Taylor Packwood, quickly removed them after a member of the D.O.C.’s camp made contact.
Packwood says he’d kept the records stashed in the back, and brought them out for display-only purposes after a recent remodel. Not long after he hung them up, he says, an N.W.A. fan saw them and tweeted to The D.O.C. about his discovery. His manager called Packwood to ask about the records.
“And he goes, ‘Well, how much will it cost for us to get them back?'” Packwood says. “I told him, ‘If they’re really Tracy’s, there’s no price. I want to get them back to him.’”
That’s a happy ending to a frustrating story, and it comes at a good time: The official hagiography of the early years of gangsta rap, Straight Outta Compton (producted by Dr. Dre and Ice Cube), is scheduled to be released in August. That film tells the story of N.W.A., a group that Curry was almost an unofficial sixth member of—Curry earned his platinum plaques as a lyricist for the group—and served as something akin to the Billy Preston to N.W.A’s Beatles. In the movie, he’s portrayed by Marlon Yates Jr., and between that and reclaiming the trophies, now seems like it might be a fine time to reassess Curry’s role in the history of one of popular music’s most revolutionary eras.
Curry’s career as a solo artist was derailed shorly after the release of his 1989 debut, the Dr. Dre-produced No One Can Do It Better. The D.O.C.’s debut is considered a seminal album (five mic’s in The Source!) that came just before the rise of the G-funk era that made superstars out of Snoop Dogg and Dre. Five months after the album was released, Curry was in a serious car accident that scarred his face and permantly changed his voice.
Instead of continuing his career as a rising solo rapper, Curry turned his focus toward ghostwriting. Ghostwriting in hip hop is a big business—rappers like Nas, Jay-Z, and Eminem have served as uncredited songwriters for other artists in their careers—and Curry became the doctor that other artists would call in for help with their rhymes. On the two definitive albums of the G-funk era, Dr. Dre’s The Chronic and Snoop Dogg’s Doggystyle, the D.O.C.’s imprint is heavy.
Ghostwriting is largely uncredited in hip hop, and the most famous song Curry is responsible for doesn’t have his name on it—but he did ensure that his name is mentioned in the lyrics, according to an anecdote he relayed to L.A. Weekly in 2012 about “Ain’t Nuthin’ But a G Thang,” the single that introduced Snoop to the world and cemented Dre’s position as a hip hop kingmaker:
“When ”G’ Thang’ was created, I was living in Agoura Hills, and Snoop and Warren G were living with me. In 1990 me and Snoop each took the beat to different parts of the house to write. Snoop went upstairs, I stayed downstairs, and we met back up in an hour. When he came back downstairs I said, ‘Let’s take this piece and put it here.… This doesn’t really work there.’ It’s really just like a jigsaw [puzzle]. And then I said, ‘For the last line [of Dre’s verse], let’s put my name on there,’ because otherwise I wouldn’t get to be in the song. That’s why Dre says: Like my nigga D.O.C./ No one can do it better.”
As a lyricist, Curry’s responsible for one of the all-time classic party jams in “G Thang,” whose chorus famously instructs the listener to “chill / ‘till the next episode.” Proving that the rapper thought about the long game, fans were finally released from their “chilling” obligations seven years later, when Curry wrote the single “The Next Episode” for Dre’s long awaited follow-up album, 2001 (which was confusingly released in 1999).
We’ll probably never know every song that the D.O.C. was brought in to ghostwrite, but the list of songs we do know includes hits from Dre, Snoop, Eazy-E, N.W.A., and more. He’s respected enough in the game that even rappers who were years away from beginning their careers at the time No One Can Do It Better was released shout him out on their records, and the possibility for a comeback still exists: At the time Wilonsky spoke to Curry this week, he was in the studio with Dr. Dre, working on new material. There’s likely to be a lot of interest in the golden age of gangsta rap following the release of Straight Outta Compton, at any rate, and that means that Dallas’s most famous rapper—reunited once more with the symbols of his importance to that era—could find himself back on the charts. A sixth plaque may be unlikely, but when it comes to representing North Texas in hip hop, no one can do it better.
(Photo Credit: No One Can Do It Better cover photo by David Roth.)