Tales of tragedy turned into triumph are glamorous enough to warm even the coldest of hearts, and this Saturday night in Dallas, The D.O.C., né Tracy Lynn Curry, played the protagonist in such a tale. The rapper, who rose to national prominence in the late eighties during the ascent of the West Coast rap movement, was the headliner for a concert at the Bomb Factory, marking the first time he’s performed in his hometown of Dallas since 1989, the year he was involved in a tragic, near-fatal car accident.
One early November morning in 1989—during the hours when everybody who is up is up to no good—The D.O.C. got into his car after he had been drinking. He fell asleep at the wheel on the Ventura Freeway in Los Angeles and crashed. He didn’t have on a seatbelt, so there was nothing to prevent him from flying out of his Honda Prelude’s rear window, face-first into a tree. The result of the accident was severe damage to his vocal chords, his prized possession.
At just 21, The D.O.C. went from having the world at the throat to the world snatching his. At the time, The D.O.C.’s debut album, No One Can Do It Better, was climbing the Billboard charts and getting rave reviews. Following the accident, which more or less destroyed his rap career, The D.O.C. became a major player in the West Coast hip hop scene as a ghostwriter. He penned lyrics for Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, and more, his most notable contributions being, “Nuthin’ But a ‘G’ Thang” and Chronic 2001. His role was so pivotal in the creation of the album Straight Outta Compton, he was in the movie of the same name.
On its surface, the concert Saturday night was a bit rough to take in. The D.O.C.’s voice is back, yes, but only if you put an asterisk, footnote, and clause behind that statement. If he concentrates, he can make his vocal chords operate smoothly. For a short amount of time, he can speak clearly, hum, and harmonize. For periods longer than a few moments, however, his voice becomes grating and rough, almost robotic and mechanical. When he raps, it comes out as a deep hoarse tenor; think Rick Ross with the flu. Nobody wants to hear The D.O.C. perform his old songs that way, especially when it’s such a departure from the masterful and nimble style of the late eighties-era D.O.C. For the most part, he lip-synced his songs. And it was kind of disappointing. However, given the implausibility of the concert happening in the first place, lip-syncing or not, it was still a once-in-a-lifetime type of event.
Hundreds of fans—seasoned and new, young and old—watched and danced as The D.O.C. ripped through his classics like “It’s Funky Enough” and “The Formula.” Even Scarface graced the stage. He didn’t rap a word; he just jumped around, playing the hypeman. The D.O.C. performed two new songs live, one of which, he told me after the show, is about social justice and law enforcement that’s “over the limit and out of control.” Of course, this song is inspired by a number of news stories, though the incident with the barrell-rolling, teen-girl-slamming McKinney cop is one of the primary influences. “That job [of being a cop] should be a sacred job,” he said.
Ultimately, the show was a celebration of Dallas hip-hop—maybe even more so than a celebration of The D.O.C. Local legends like Dorrough, Lil Will, Fat Pimp, and Mr. Pookie all hit the stage and performed a few of their more recognizable cuts from the past decade like “Crook For Life” and “Ice Cream Paint Job.” Erykah Badu, the Queen of Neo-Soul and the mother of one of The D.O.C.’s children, Puma, closed out the night with a DJ set.
Despite some of these flashier elements—which also included a red carpet and an appearance from Marlon Yates Jr., who played The D.O.C. in the movie Straight Outta Compton—the most electrifying moment of the evening was a set from promising young Dallas talent. A.Dd+, a duo that’s received its fair share of local love, brought out a handful similarly celebrated local acts in Sam Lao, Blue, the Misfit, Bobby Sessions, and -topic to perform. It was the one glimmer of the future in a night that trafficked so deeply in nostalgia.
It’s easy to look at this whole ordeal cynically, to view it as a thirsty move for a payday. After the Straight Outta Compton movie, The D.O.C. received an amount of attention that he really hasn’t seen in over two decades, then announced that his voice was back—which has actually been public information since a Playboy interview from about two years ago. (Also, there’s the whole caveat that the voice ain’t really back.) He told me that thanks to a warm reception at the concert, he might release a new project in the near future.
Maybe more than chasing a few dollars, he was chasing some sort of glory that eluded him in his younger days, back when he was headed down a road in which he could have possibly ended up one of the greatest rappers of all time. On Saturday he finally had his shot to be the star, the Dallas hero, among hundreds of adoring fans. This is all despite the tragic accident, three DUIs, and struggles with alcohol. As he told me on the night of the show, “They finally said, ‘You’re the guy’.” But if there’s going to be a comeback in Dallas, no one can do it better.