At this year's Grammys, EMINEM thanked a long list of rap pioneers, but he left off one name who probably played a bigger role in his success than any of them: the D.O.C. In the late '80s, the Dallas MC and N.W.A cohort gave gangsta rap a nonviolent face, bringing singles to radio and granting the Compton crew access to suburban white kids, who would become rap's biggest audience.
In 1989, the D.O.C. (ne Tracy Curry) dropped No One Can Do It Better, a mesmerizing debut of full-throated lyrical boasts set to Dr. Dre's sample-heavy funk. Sadly, soon after he hit No. 1 on the R&B Albums chart, the D.O.C. was in a car accident that crushed his larynx, turning his slick baritone into a hoarse rasp and effectively ending his career as a rapper.
In the years that followed, he battled addiction and self-pity, releasing just one album, 1996's Helter Skelter. Now he's back with Deuce, a CD he produced that features West Coasters Snoop Dogg, Ice Cube, and Dre. ''If there's one thing that I have in this business,'' the D.O.C. croaks, ''it's respect.''
A visit from Dre in '86 launched the D.O.C.'s career. Dre was in Dallas recording with a local DJ, who brought along the D.O.C. When the producer heard the aspiring MC's tight flow and sharp elocution, he encouraged him to go to L.A. ''He told me that if I lived on the West Coast, we'd both be rich,'' the D.O.C. recalls. So the rapper flew to California, where he penned Eazy-E's ''We Want Eazy,'' the first track from an N.W.A member to make it on the radio.
''Even though it was coming from a guy who was supposed to be a gangster, the Fresh Prince could've rapped those lyrics,'' the D.O.C. says of the curse-free cut. ''The idea was to get a song on the radio and have white America love it, not be afraid of it.''
The D.O.C.'s own release, No One Can Do It Better, spread the gangsta gospel with frenetic singles like ''Lend Me an Ear.'' After his accident, the public forgot about the D.O.C., but Dre paid tribute to the rapper on his 1992 solo debut, The Chronic: ''I still remember the window of the car that you went through/That's f -- -ed up, but I'll never forget the s -- - we been through.''
While the D.O.C. praises Dre's latest prodigy, Eminem (''one of the top 10 MCs of all time''), he slams cred-obsessed rappers. ''What they call gangsta rap today is just bulls -- -. You work hard to get the things you want, and then f -- - it up because you're trying to prove a point to a gang of knuckleheads. Gangsta to me is the Black Panther Party. Gangsta is not Ja Rule grabbin' his nuts.''