December 10, 2009

Reader Review: The D.O.C. - No One Can Do It Better (June 16, 1989)



(Today, A.R. Marks returns to bring us another review, this time for N.W.A. affiliate The D.O.C.'s No One Can Do It Better, an album that has been hovering near the top of my stacks for quite some time now, even though I constantly find other things to listen to instead. Well, at least somebody got to it. Enjoy!)


Hearing The D.O.C. rhyme on records made in the mid-to-late 1980's is akin to discovering the missing link connecting all of Dr. Dre's protégés together in one sonic package. Before he severely damaged his vocal chords in a car accident, Texas transplant Tracy Curry. was the legendary producer's go-to guy for edgy, mesmerizing, adrenaline-pumping music. His somewhat obscure status as N.W.A.'s in-house writer-slash-lyrical pinch-hitter only serves to illuminate the shine he did manage to get. Sure, he rarely appeared on the N.W.A. records and was never considered an actual member, but he was as integral as anybody else in the crew, and much more so than the group's DJ, Yella. Together with Ice Cube, he crafted lyrics that made even Eazy-E sound good behind the mic. When Cube left the group, D.O.C. stepped up his game, contributing verses for Eazy and Dre (MC Ren crafted his own rhymes). Even after he lost his ability to truly rap himself, he was instrumental in the founding of Death Row, where he convinced Dre to record The Chronic, and continued to write for Dre while coaching a young Snoop Dogg in lyrical style.

But the most telling thing about his importance to Dre's style of music was that he became the second artist from the camp, right after label head Eazy-E and ahead of even Ice Cube, to get a Dr. Dre-produced solo album. No One Can Do It Better might as well be considered an official N.W.A. spinoff; its experimentation was a key stepping stone in the expansion of Dre's sound between the first and second N.W.A. albums (it actually featured the first leanings by Dre toward his Chronic-style G-Funk) and it was the first album that Dre fully produced alone, without the help of DJ Yella, Scott Storch, Mel-Man or Mark Batson.

1. IT'S FUNKY ENOUGH
The lead single. It's not the greatest song, but it's definitely better than a rap album intro. D.O.C. does a decent job playing around with a strongly-metered flow, but his endless boasts are ultimately a novelty. Certainly not the best track on the album, but it's only upward from here.

2. MIND BLOWIN'
From the second the hard piano hits in the song's intro, you wonder why it wasn't the first one on the album. It quickly evolves into a funky piano backdrop, using the low notes to create a nice hardcore effect while D.O.C. speeds up his flow and twists up his wordplay into something much more effective than the previous track.

3. LEND ME AN EAR
Drumming up a very east coast-ish sample of continuous funk synth whine, backed by subtle but integral samples to drive the beat along, with plentiful switch-ups that color the music nicely. D.O.C.'s highly-impressive flow and delivery continue, while he raps engagingly (and convincingly) about his own prowess on the mic.

4. COMM. BLUES (FEAT MICHEL'LE)
A bluesy interlude that features Dre's then-squeeze Michel'le on vocals, with a drunken homeboys-assisted commentary that would shape many of the skits from Dre's early work. It's not bad, but it doesn't really recall authentic blues, and the drunken guy act wears thin.

5. LET THE BASS GO
Another slow-tempo track, this one is very similar to the sound from Straight Outta Compton, a more hypnotic, continuous groove. D.O.C.'s flow is also more fluid and thus more engaging than on “It's Funky Enough,” creating an infinitely more impressive effect.

6. BEAUTIFUL BUT DEADLY
D.O.C. prudently crafts his only song concerning ladies on the entire album over a heavy-metal-influenced backdrop that sounds a lot like early Rick Rubin production (Dre was supposedly very impressed with the production on Licensed to Ill, furthering my conviction that Rick Rubin is actually the most influential producer in hip-hop, as well as heavy metal and modern rock, and therefore the most influential producer of our time). Far from a repetitive ripoff, the heavier guitars swipe the classic loop from Funkadelic's “Cosmic Slop,” with higher guitar solos layered over for the bridge, hard-hitting drums that sound perfect, and D.O.C.'s mood-perfect tale of a controlling gold digger.

7. THE D.O.C. & THE DOCTOR
The song that D.O.C. proclaims (on a short skit before the song) to be his favorite on the album (despite Dre's first pick being track 2, apparently). Sonically, this song is proficient, but nothing as enthralling as what we've heard on the record so far; the drums are nice, but there's a complete lack of melody except for a brief guitar sample over the chorus, which seems weak next to the guitar work from the previous track. For his part, D.O.C.'s lyrics are nice, but his flow seems too fast-paced and irregular for such a precise tempo.

8. NO ONE CAN DO IT BETTER
The title track of the album. An early precursor to Dre's “Dre Day”-era G-Funk; it's hard not to see the likeness, but the beat (albeit pleasant, with a nice bassline) is never really built upon, but is instead repeated over and over, with some slightly-ineffective scratching low in the mix. The expert DJ cuts and perfectly-timed samples and switch-ups from the best parts of the first album are largely absent, but D.O.C.'s lyrics are good enough and hype enough to rescue this song from mediocrity and put it back on the side of above-average.

9. WHIRLWIND PYRAMID
One of the album's best tracks and a highly-entertaining song, “Whirlwind Pyramid” is probably D.O.C.'s second-most impressive performance on the album; his speed-flow is perfect, his delivery is confident and clear, and his wordplay is amazing over Dre's high-energy funk.

10. COMM. 2 (FEAT MC REN)
Another commercial skit, which features MC Ren bigging up D.O.C.

11. THE FORMULA (FEAT DR. DRE)
I feel “The Formula” is one of Dre's high-points beatwise, and this is my personal favorite beat on the record. Its slow, “Lil' Ghetto Boy”/“Let Me Ride”-esque groove interprets Marvin Gaye's “Inner City Blues” perfectly, creating one of the smoothest beats Dr. Dre has ever done while D.O.C. tears the hell out of the song.

12. PORTRAIT OF A MASTERPIECE
A sped-up sample (some kind of jazz) creates a bit of an experimental, spaced-out and sped-up track that doesn't quite come off as hardcore as it could—but that's forgivable, because this is without doubt the D.O.C.'s most impressive lyrical performance on the album. His perfect, super-high-speed-but-precisely-timed flow brings you into the quick refrain and spacey jazz samples of the beat, and it becomes clear that this song (with its break, toward the end, for the star rapper to allegedly catch his breath) inspired Ghostface Killah's performance on “Beat the Clock,” from The Pretty Toney Album.

13. THE GRAND FINALÉ (FEAT ICE CUBE, EAZY-E, DR. DRE, & MC REN)
This classic posse cut is the least the members of N.W.A. could do for D.O.C. after writing a good amount of material for their first record without even being christened a full-on member. Unfortunately, unlike their other collaboration, Dre doesn't rhyme on here, instead opting to call in the members one by one for their verses—and, of course, providing a suitably Compton-esque hardcore funk backdrop for them to destroy.

FINAL THOUGHTS: Lyrically, The D.O.C. could be (and has been) considered the west coast Rakim; No One Can Do It Better does a good deal to cement that claim, in a wholly good way. There may be one or two missteps, and the subject matter gets repetitive, but the album almost always impressive and never not entertaining to listen to. All in all, Dre does a fine job at catching up with Eric B. at his own game of genre experimentation, turntablism and fine grooves; while No One Can Do It Better owes much to their work, Dre moves on to create a more cohesive hip-hop atmosphere than Eric could conjure up himself. The D.O.C. runs rampant over the shifting moods and tempos of the music, weaving tales and tongue-twisters in a way that would have given Rakim or Big Daddy Kane a strong run for their money in the day. Listening closely, one can hear elements of Ice Cube's hardcore delivery and confidence, Eminem's edgy rebelliousness, Snoop Dogg's ear for melody and timing, Lady of Rage's emphasis and wordplay, Busta Rhymes' varied but adept flows and over-the-top persona, and even The Game's bravado, all elements that would inform the basics of Dre's ear for lyricists for the rest of the producer's career.

BUY OR BURN: For the love of obscure but underrated, ultimately era-defining hip-hop music, buy this shit!

BEST TRACKS: "Mind Blowin'," "Lend Me an Ear," "Beautiful But Deadly," "Whirlwind Pyramid," "The Formula," "Portrait of a Masterpiece," "The Grand Finale"

-A.R. Marks

(Be sure to leave your comments below. If you feel that HHID is missing a review of your favorite album, or if there is a project you bought that sounds awful and you want to steer people away from it, you can contribute your own Reader Review by e-mailing me at the address posted on the top right of the page.)

11 comments:

  1. ah yes, the d.o.c.

    you know else was a ghost writer on the chronic?

    MF GRIMM
    WHERE ARE THE MF GRIMM REVIEWS, YOU'RE SLEEPING ON A MAN WHO DOESNT DESERVE TO BE SLEPT ON

    ReplyDelete
  2. Timeless. This album is great, lyrics, production.. all of it.

    Great Hip Hop. Those terrible artists out there need to go back and listen to the classics and remember what hip hop is.

    ReplyDelete
  3. "And with the help of di dr.dre!!!!"

    Ya'll ready for this... this album definitley has some classics, but i cannot beleive "It's funky enough" did not make it to reccomended tracks on this review! That's considered a west-coast classic itself! This guy could have had a promising career if it wasn't for that crash! And prolly would have helped re-define west-coast lyricism but wut the heck, that's why we have the Doc.. well the other one ;)

    More west-coast hip-hop reviews on the way i hope, but i'm suprised there hasn't been a "Love Below/Speakerboxx" review yet! peace.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Beautiful But Deadly is fucking insane!

    Brilliant song; top 20 hip hop songs

    ReplyDelete
  5. "Dre make the funky hip hop music so checkit"...go buy that shit if you don't have it

    ReplyDelete
  6. When I hear 'It's Funky Enough', I lose my fucking mind :)

    ReplyDelete
  7. This album is timeless!

    Anyways, where's some LL Cool J reviews (his early albums) or even more 2 Live Crew (preferrably one of their first three albums).

    Oh and you need to review Kool G Rap & DJ Polo's other two albums (apart from Road to the Riches).

    ReplyDelete
  8. do you know who was the dj of the album?

    ReplyDelete
  9. thanks nice info!!!! :D

    ReplyDelete
  10. "do you know who was the dj of the album?"
    Dr Dre, as is very often pointed out in the album...
    and Max, you ever heard any of the tracks of "Helter Skelter"?

    ReplyDelete
  11. Downplaying "It's Funky Enough" as a great rap song is straight up blasphemy. I'm unsure of this review's age, but I was in my late teens when this dropped and let me tell you, this was playing every damn where you went. It's still a banger to me and one of thee best songs on this entire album. But, that's just another fan's two pennies.

    Just-Ice

    ReplyDelete