June 11, 2013

Reader Review: The D.O.C. - Helter Skelter (January 23, 1996)





(Today's Reader Review comes from longtime contributor Sir Bonkers, who posts over at the Diggin In Tha Crates site.  He took on the thankless task of listening to The D.O.C.'s post-accident second album, Helter Skelter. You probably haven't read much about this album, and there's a good reason why. Leave your thoughts for Sir Bonkers below.)



For the uninitiated: The D.O.C. was the ghostwriter for half of N.W.A. who released a successful debut album, No One Can Do It Better, in 1989, slashed his vocal chords in a car accident, went along with Dr. Dre after he left Ruthless Records for Death Row, and coached both Dre and Snoop Doggy Dogg during the recording of their respective debuts, both of which turned out to be huge successes, all while never being properly compensated for his hard work: after all, his bosses were Eric “Eazy-E Wright, Jerry Heller, and later Marion “Suge Knight.


But back to that accident. It was believed that Tracy “The D.O.C.” Curry would never be able to rap again after the events that transpired. Still, somebody, probably Dr. Dre, wanted to feature him in one way or another on N.W.A.'s Efil4zaggin, his own The Chronic, and Snoop's Doggystyle, hence his “Don’t Drink that Wine” and “$20 Sack Pyramid” skits and his contribution to the hook of “Serial Killa” on those respective projects.


When I first listened to No One Can Do It Better, I could in no way have imagined that this was the same guy from those skits. The D.O.C. of “It’s Funky Enough” had a golden mid-octave distinctive voice that allowed him to be smooth and hard simultaneously. His post-accident voice is a thin rasp which, up until the release of his sophomore album, nobody had ever heard rapping, as everybody thought it unfit to do so.



After not being properly compensated yet again for his ghostwriting for Dre, The D.O.C. Allegedly took what he had written for the fabled Ice Cube / Dr. Dre collaboration album, which was supposed to be titled Heltah Skeltah, and brought it over to Irving Azoffs Giant Records to defy everybody’s expectations, recording a project with some cat named Erotic D helping him with the beats and keeping the title, albeit slightly altered, to piss off Dre and, just in case nobody got the message, including a few disses aimed toward the good doctor’s address.



Was The D.O.C.’s new voice comprehensible enough to help his rhymes come across? Did he and Erotic D produce some heat? Should you give a fuck about this album?



1. INTRO (FEAT. EDDIE GRIFFIN)

A car crashes while “It’s Funky Enough” plays in the background: I guess I should’ve seen that coming. After that, you hear The D.O.C.’s obituary in the news, followed by comedian Eddie Griffin ranting at what is supposed to be Tracy’s funeral. Not sure if this should be considered pretentious bullshit, as the crash thing really did happen. Three minutes of this is definitely questionable, though.



2. RETURN OF DA LIVIN’ DEAD

Incorporates elements from his breakthrough single “It’s Funky Enough”, including clips of his pre-accident voice. Kind of incredibly polarizing. On the one hand, The D.O.C.’s new raspy voice is not entirely without merit, and he flows well enough over the beat for someone who has his vocal chords cut in half. On the other hand, though, hearing both his old and his new voice on wax all at once makes it perfectly clear that the D.O.C. of No One Can Do It Better is, in fact, dead and gone, which makes me sad. The funeral part of the intro makes a lot more sense to me now.



3. FROM RUTHLESS 2 DEATH ROW (DO WE ALL PART)

Over the same breezy Isley Brothers sample also used by Thug Life’s “Bury Me a G”, The D.O.C.’s wounded voice explains his bitterness towards Ruthless Records, Dr. Dre, and Death Row, and in doing so showcases his storytelling abilities, which haven’t diminished. This track leaves a somber air over the listener due to the hard times Tracy went through, which was probably intentional. The scratched in “The D.O.C. & The Doctor” lyrics near the end also help cement the mood. I’m not sure that “enjoyable” is the word I’m looking for, but this was certainly a good song.



4. SECRET PLAN

The instrumental is kind of ominous in a “Murder Was the Case”-ish fashion, although it isn’t nearly as good as that classic Dr. Dre creation. D.O.C. spazzes out on all kinds of conspiracy theories here, pulling it off decently, and his raspy vocals fit the beat well and lend this otherwise rather uninteresting song some much-needed scariness. I don’t think the D.O.C. of 1988 could’ve pulled this off, which is a strange realization. Oh well.


5. KOMURSHELL (MO’ HAIR) (FEAT. MARIO LATRELL)
...


6. 4 MY DOGGS

Samples Dre’s “This is dedicated to the n----z that was down from day one” line from the intro to The Chronic, and then drops all pretense and becomes a balls-out Dre dis. The instrumental is bleh, but D.O.C.’s quoting of Dr. Dre hits he penned and his “You don’t rap no more because I don’t show you how” line was kind of clever. This was interesting, though musically not very good.



7. .45 AUTOMATIC (FEAT. MALLY G & PASSION)

Every time I hear an unknown female rapper over a G-funk beat, I find myself unconsciously comparing her to the Lady of Rage. That comparison never does these girls any favors, and Passion is no exception. The D.O.C and Def Squad b-teamer Mally G (the hell?) also sound dull. Of course, the rather generic twelfth-rate Dre imitation of an instrumental doesn’t help matters.



8. SONZ O’ LIGHT

Actually, most of the beats on Helter Skelter sound like poor The Chronic soundalikes. Although that can be said for a lot of rap music, it still doesn’t mean that this gets a pass.



9. BITCHEZ

This even imitates the hook of “Bitchez Ain’t Shit”, and poorly. Groan.



10. INTERLUDE (FEAT. VOODOO EINSTEIN)

Anyone who wants to hear a demented Tracy rant some uninteresting bullshit (à la “$20 Sack Pyramid”, “Don’t Drink That Wine” or this project's two skits), but this time over some of the poorest distorted guitar playing ever, dig in!



11. DA HEREAFTER

It’s becoming clearer per track why Dre was hesitant to use any of Tracy’s post-accident vocals except for on skits and the hook of “Serial Killa”: they mostly don’t sound very good and are often unintelligible.



12. EROTIX SHIT (FEAT. MALLY G & T-DOUBLE)

Although this isn’t very good either, it’s still nice to hear some vocals by other people for the sake of variety. The beat incorporates the exact same electronic belching noise as that piss-poor Benzino song “Boottee”.



13. WELCOME TO THE NEW WORLD

It’s frustrating that this vocal chord slicing car accident thing had to happen to a talented rapper. Why not Vanilla Ice instead?



14. KILLA INSTINC

Next!



15. KOMURSHELL

Dear God.



16. BRAND NEW FORMULA

It’s probably not very wise to constantly refer to far superior material from your glorious past on your terrible follow-up album.



17. OUTRO

We’re almost there, folks.



18. CRAZY BITCHEZ

And, yep, we’re out!


FINAL THOUGHTS: Helter Skelter shouldn’t be seen as being in any way related to No One Can Do It Better. Not only are none of the people who helped that project become a classic present on Helter Skelter, but also the D.O.C. rapping on here doesn’t sound a bit like the D.O.C. from that album. Rather, you should look at this as Death Row’s answer to Bad Boy’s Madd Rapper, a character best known for doing skits that wouldn’t make it though their respective labels’ quality control under regular circumstances. The reasons Helter Skelter doesn’t work are simple: Erotic D and our host can’t come up with any stellar instrumentals, The D.O.C.’s voice isn’t strong enough to carry an entire album’s length of music, and nobody worth mentioning came to his aid. It’s a brave effort for him to start his career over, though, and his lyrical abilities remain largely intact, Had the beats and guests been better, this might have worked, but what we ended up with is one long meh.



BEST TRACK: “From Ruthless 2 Death Row”; “Secret Plan”



BUY OR BURN: Neither. Just find the two above tracks.



-Sir Bonkers



(Questions? Comments? Concerns? Leave your thoughts below.)

7 comments:

  1. I literally had no idea this existed. I enjoyed parts of No One Can Do It Better, but I always felt it was overrated. This album seems to me another ugly, rusted nail in the coffin of the West Coast's glory days.

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  2. Poor D.O.C.

    Btw. Max, have you seen this?: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9TjuLUU7lcE

    Poor Cappadonna, I might add.

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  3. Man The D.O.C is one of the saddest stories in hip hop. This guy could have been right up there with the Rakims, BDK, and Kool G Raps of the world in the 80s if it wasn't for the accident, and if you dont know please listen to No One Can Do It Better, which still has a handful of songs that are freakin awesome

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  4. AnonymousJune 12, 2013

    Great review! Sad album. Somehow D.O.C. managed to make one more "post-mortem" album and as I slightly remember he ain't rapping there at all. I don't know how technicaly it was called D.O.C. album, but I remember beats there were much better version of Dre (2001-Dre this time) interpretation. Overal it was much better listen. Would be glad if maybe one day you will write about that one too.

    andrewfrumrusha

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    Replies
    1. The first two D.O.C. album reviews on the blog were both reader submissions, so I'm sure someone will eventually sit down with his third album for closure's sake.

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  5. AnonymousJune 12, 2013

    Thanks to Sir Bonkers for this album review. The D.O.C. is my favorite rapper ever and i consider his fate as one of the worst in music. i like to shock people when i occasionally put on music at a houseparty - blending from "It's Funky Enough" to "Return Of Da Livin' Dead" and telling 'em that that's actually the same guy rapping.

    i don't think that Doc is overrated... rather underrated. he left a mark in this game which might easily be overseen, and that's a sad thing for sure.

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  6. the d.o.c's debut has to be one of my favourite albums ever, entertaining start to finish(that michel'le skit aside... ). i havent listened to this album properly but to me, it just seems.... sad. still, he has one classic album to his credit

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