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The Ghost in the Machine
  • March 28, 2013 : 17:03
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He’s learned that the hard way. In 2011, on Thanksgiving Day, Doc—who was on probation for DWI at the time—was at home with family and figured he’d have a beer. One turned into a six-pack; he blew dirty the next morning and ended up staring across the desk at a new probation officer, who looked at Doc’s file and said, “You’ve got a drinking problem.” Doc, with that tone he can take with people sometimes, said, “No, I’ve got an authority problem.”

She violated him back right then and there. Doc lucked out, though: He landed in front of a Dallas felony court judge named John C. Creuzot, who was near the end of his 20 years on the bench and had lately become a stalwart proponent of diversion programs, in which repeat offenders facing jail time are instead steered into rigorously supervised treatment and counseling.

Doc spent January through March 2012 in county jail—the Lew Sterrett Justice Center, here in Dallas—and then did seven months in rehab. He didn’t see his eight-year-old daughter, Puma, whose mother is the singer Erykah Badu, whom he’s known since they were both aspiring rappers hanging out in the same Dallas teen clubs. Didn’t see his own mother. Saw his manager, John Huffman, exactly once. But he got sober. On November 6, 2012 he was released from rehab; now, after 30 days of enforced curfew, he has started to rebuild his life.

He goes to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings where the older gentlemen in their slacks and good shoes remind him of Rudy Ray Moore in Dolemite, as though any minute Queen Bee herself is going to kick down the door. There are four things on the backseat of Doc’s car: Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book, a copy of The 50th Law (a Machiavelli-for-managers textbook co-authored by Robert Greene and 50 Cent), a three-disc bootleg mixtape entitled Love Justice: 90s Street Romance Music and a laptop bag that could keep a hot-air balloon anchored.

This morning, Duke drives him and Huffman out to a middle school in Cedar Hill, southwest of Dallas, so he can talk to a classroom full of at-risk kids about the importance of not squandering their potential, about how jail “ain’t where you want to be.” It’s the first time he’s ever done a speaking gig like this; afterward he tells me, “What you just witnessed was the first moment of my adult life.”

The next phase of his adult life, in the manner of many modern bids for redemption, involves a reality-TV show. A pilot has been shot, laying the groundwork for a show on which Doc coaches a handpicked cast of local Dallas rappers—Plaboi is one of them—and teaches them to deliver lyrics he’s written. They’re calling it I Got My Voice Back. Maybe it will be a premium-cable series. Maybe it will come out in snippets online. They’re keeping the concept loose as Doc figures out what to do next.

Surgery is now available that can fix what happened to Doc in that accident, surgery that didn’t exist back then. Surgery that doesn’t actually, technically, exist as an option in this country. There’s a doctor in Spain who, using stem cells, grew a whole new trachea for a woman who’d lost hers in an accident. Maybe the show will be about Doc exploring those options. He’s not sure yet. The surgery’s no joke, and he would do it only if he thought it could help change the laws regarding stem-cell research in this country.

“At this point, at 44, it’s gotta be for some other reason than for me to fuckin’ rap again,” he says. “It’s gotta be a bigger cause.”

What’s important right now is that he do something positive with this second chance he’s been given—even if it’s just putting Dallas’s hip-hop scene on the map a little bit.

“Houston had their chance,” he tells the kids. “Atlanta had their chance. Them boys in Louisiana had their chance. L.A., New York, Chicago—Dallas, we’re the only ones that haven’t had our shot yet. We’ve got some of the best young producers, some of the best young singers—everything they got, we got. Matter of fact, we might be better than them. I was.”

This is a story about two men who have enormous power over each other because they need each other. Doc has made two comeback albums since the accident, 1996’s Helter Skelter and 2003’s Deuce. Both of them have their moments, but neither featured Dre as producer, neither got his endorsement, and neither sold. And Dre has never finished a solo record without Doc’s help—whether Dre needs him as a lyricist, a sounding board or a good-luck charm is hard to say, but he needs Doc as much as Doc needs him.

Their creative lives have been entangled since the moment they met in Dallas in the late 1980s, sometime after N.W.A released their first single, the epochal outlaw manifesto “Boyz-n-the Hood.”

Doc and the Fila Fresh Crew had made a few records by then. When DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince’s ingratiating novelty-rap act started catching on, Doc wrote his own Will Smith–style goofy everyman song, “I Hate to Go to Work.” In the video he’s in a shirt and tie, groaning through a case of the Mondays, uttering no epithet stronger than sheesh. A few months later, when they heard “Boyz-n-the Hood” for the first time, they felt embarrassed. “Boyz-n-the Hood” wasn’t shirt-and-tie rap. It wasn’t put-upon-nice-guy music. It was matter-of-fact menace, realness über alles.

“The world was changing,” Doc says, “from ‘Parents Just Don’t Understand’ to kids just don’t give a fuck.”

Not long after that, Dre comes through Dallas. As a favor to Fila Fresh Crew manager Dr. Rock—they were both in the L.A. electro-funk group World Class Wreckin’ Cru for a minute—he agrees to produce some tracks for the group. In the studio, he sees Doc rapping, sees Doc coming up with rhymes and feeding them to Fresh-K, sees potential for him as a solo act—but he also sees a guy who could potentially help put words in Eazy’s mouth.

He takes Doc aside and says, “Come to California. We’ll both get rich.”

Nobody thought of L.A. as any kind of hip-hop mecca back then. Growing up in Dallas, Doc absorbed mostly East Coast influences. When he first heard rap music, it was Run-DMC, Fat Boys, LL Cool J. He had his mind blown the first time he heard Rakim and Slick Rick, rap’s first master of linear narrative.

Doc learned to love words by reading to his paternal grandmother—big books, way over his head. He’d sung at the arts magnet school. He loved Richard Pryor, wanted to be a comedian. His sixth-grade teacher, Mrs. Stevens, would let him do five minutes of stand-up at the end of class on Fridays if he had refrained from being a fuckup the rest of the week. This was probably the best year of his life, he says. His parents were together, living in the suburbs. The next year they split. Doc moved back into the projects in Dallas with his maternal grandmother. “She was a loving woman,” he says, “but her love was stern love. Her love had knuckle prints on it.”

Now for school Doc was bused way out to Highland Park, where the white kids threw the N word around freely and the imported ghetto kids ran in self-protecting packs. “I spent a lot of time inside,” Doc says. “It kept me alone, imagining the future, contemplating what I wanted to be.”

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read more: entertainment, Celebrities, music, issue april 2013


  • Anonymous
    DOC is a mad genius. He deserves his time to shine.
  • Anonymous
    Amazing! Props to Playboy for running this!