All the contradictions, all the ontological slipperiness concerning realness and criminality and theater that have shaped and undone hip-hop from the gangsta era forward—it’s all encoded in N.W.A’s DNA from the jump. They deal in painful, unvarnished truth and violent exploitation-flick fantasy. They’re black music’s Sex Pistols, simultaneously a scourge of hypocrisy and a world-class con job. In addition to being the bank, Eazy is a street dude with unassailable cred, but he can’t write rhymes—his “reality raps” are scripted by Ice Cube and MC Ren. They’ve succeeded in turning Eazy into an icon—the Ruthless Villain. But now they need somebody to get him on the radio, to write him lyrics whose every other word isn’t bitch or motherfucker. Cube is already writing for Eazy, but he isn’t going to smooth Eazy’s edges. Doc says that back then “Cube was always Cube. He was going to say, ‘I’m going to cut your throat and leave you in the Dumpster.’ That’s just what it is.” That’s where Doc comes in.
“I’ve always known how to talk to white people,” Doc says. “I knew if you made it funny and clever, it would be less threatening. You could say whatever you wanted as long as you let ’em know it’s a joke. Don’t take it to heart; I’m not really going to cut your heart out. But I might.”
A few days after Doc arrives in California, Dre drives him to a recording studio in Torrance, where most of N.W.A is waiting. Doc meets MC Ren and DJ Yella, and he meets Eazy. Eazy’s one of those guys. Not a star quite yet, but he already has a magnetism. “When Eazy was in the room,” Doc says, “you knew it. Even if you didn’t see him walk in. It would spread. That’s what kind of person he was.”
But even a matinee idol needs a script. Dre puts on a drum track—a big rubbery funk loop from the title track of Bootsy Collins’s 1977 sophomore album, Ahh…The Name Is Bootsy, Baby!—and says to Doc, “Can you write Eazy something to this?” In 10, maybe 15 minutes Doc has a lyric, and “We Want Eazy” ends up being the highest-charting single off Eazy’s solo debut, Eazy-Duz-It.
There’s a “We Want Eazy” video. Nobody asks Doc to be in it. He’s pissed, like “Damn, I wrote this fuckin’ song” pissed, but he doesn’t say anything, worried if he does they’ll tell him to fuck off back to Dallas. At N.W.A shows he’ll be out in the lobby, hearing people talking about Eazy, about how Eazy’s the greatest, off some songs Doc wrote. But there’s not much he can do. He isn’t a full-fledged member of the band. He’s a fifth Beatle. Around this time he starts going by “the D.O.C.” instead of “Doc-T.” He wants to associate his brand more closely with N.W.A’s. The letters in “D.O.C.” don’t stand for anything. He just wants his own acronym.
It didn’t help matters that his name doesn’t appear in the album credits. Sometime after “We Want Eazy” blew up, Doc gave Eazy the publishing rights to the song, accepting a gold chain as payment. He never officially signed anything, he says, but he also says he was never much of a businessman, that he would have signed whatever Eazy put in front of him. He didn’t expect Eazy to claim later that the gold-chain deal entitled him to all the songs Doc wrote during his tenure with Ruthless Records, from Eazy-Duz-It all the way through N.W.A’s second album, Niggaz4Life—but today he admits he probably should have.
“It’s not that Eric was a bad person,” Doc says. “But he was a dope man. Taking advantage of people is part of that territory. You can’t feel any kind of way about it.”
The chain has a gold nameplate with diamonds in it, just like the ones the guys in N.W.A were starting to buy, but smaller. I ask him to ballpark the chain’s retail value.
“About three grand,” Doc says with a tight, weary smile. “I don’t know if Eric knew he’d just fucked the shit out of me, but I imagine he did.”
There wasn’t time to worry about it. Things were moving too fast. N.W.A was going somewhere every weekend, doing shows. “It was nuts, on some Beatles kind of shit,” Doc says. “A zillion kids fuckin’ shaking the van because you sitting inside. Eazy-E fans, man. They wanted that little dude. And he was loving it. He took full advantage of the perks. Ended up costing him, though.” (Eazy died of AIDS in 1995, at the age of 31, after running through groupies as though he were keeping score by the pound.)
The shine finally started to trickle down. N.W.A’s first national tour opened in Nashville in the spring of 1989, with Doc doing eight minutes a night as an opening act. The crowds dug him. No One Can Do It Better dropped that June; within three months it sold 500,000 copies. By the end of the tour he was doing 30-minute sets. Radio picked up on “It’s Funky Enough,” a Dre production with way more commercial reach than, say, “Fuck tha Police.” Years later, when Rolling Stone asked Chris Rock to make a list of the greatest rap albums of all time, the comedian put No One Can Do It Better at number 11. “I was going to school in Brooklyn,” he wrote, “and the only time you could see rap videos was on a weekend show with Ralph McDaniels called Video Music Box. D.O.C.’s video for ‘It’s Funky Enough’ premiered, and D.O.C. had an L.A. Kings hat on. When I came to school on Monday, half the kids in Brooklyn had L.A. Kings hats on. It was official.”
By the fall of 1989, Doc is feeling like a star. He’s partying and drinking. At his side is Suge Knight. Suge had played college football, had suited up for the Rams a couple of times. Suge has ties to the Bloods, or finds it expedient to let people think he does. Suge is either a concert promoter or a security guy or a record executive on the rise, depending on who asks, and in the meantime he deals in physical intimidation.
“A lot of people called him my bodyguard,” Doc says, “because he was a 300-pound dude who beat people up after I made a mess. But no—he was just a buddy.” After a while no club in Hollywood would have them, Doc says, “because invariably I’d get drunk, slap some woman on her ass and start a fight. And he’d beat up a bunch of people, and then I’d get the girl and go home. He loved it. He’s a bruiser; that’s what he did.”
But Suge has ideas and connections. Suge and Doc talk about starting a label together. Suge knows Dick Griffey, founder of SOLAR Records—an old-school industry dude, one of those guys “who’s got enough nuts to get it done by any means necessary,” Doc says. “Griffey packed a gun every day in his little office. He’d pull it out and sit it on the table.”
The label is still coming together that fall when Doc celebrates the completion of principal photography on two music videos—including “The Formula,” in which Dre plays Frankenstein and Doc is the monster he’s bringing to life—by spending the following day driving around partying and chasing girls. Around 3:30 a.m. he leaves a girlfriend’s home in Beverly Hills. On Wilshire Boulevard a cop car flashes its lights at him. Doc tries to get away; he hits a couple of right turns, parks his Honda Prelude on a side street and gets low. A few seconds later, a cop taps Doc’s window with a billy club. Maybe because he’s still wasted, Doc jumps out of the car and starts performing for the cops right then and there, like the famous rapper he is. The cops laugh and give him a ticket. Doc has all his gold and platinum records in the trunk of the car; he takes them out and poses for pictures with the cops.
Thirty minutes later on the freeway, he falls asleep at the wheel and hits a concrete divider. He’s thrown through the window and smashes into a tree face-first. The cops have to pry his teeth out of the tree bark.
“Rap musician Tracy Lynn Curry of the D.O.C. was in stable condition after losing control of his car on the Ventura Freeway, authorities said.
“Curry, 21, suffered injuries to his face, including damage to one eye and his nose, said California Highway Patrol Officer David Grajeda. He was in stable condition Thursday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, said spokesman Ron Wise.
“Grajeda said Curry had alcohol on his breath after the accident Tuesday and was arrested but released before being booked so he could get medical attention.”—Los Angeles Times, “Rapper Injured in Car Wreck,” November 17, 1989
“The whole West Coast hip-hop movement changed direction the night I had that accident,” Doc says. “Everybody’s fortunes changed that night.”
When he arrives at Cedars-Sinai, Doc has so much stuff in his system the doctors can’t sedate him. When they try to intubate him, he thrashes around and the tube damages his vocal cords. He endures 20 hours of reconstructive surgery on his face. Amazingly, he comes through the accident without a single broken bone—but after the intubation his voice is destroyed. He can speak, but the golden voice is now a ravaged croak. Half his gift gone, just like that.
There’s psychological fallout too. His hits become a curse. “I couldn’t stand to listen to myself,” he says. “If I went to a club and they played my song, I’d have to leave.”