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The D.O.C. Finds His Own Voice : Pop Beat: A 1989 auto accident could have ended his career but today the rapper's back with a new sound.

October 21, 1995|JERRY CROWE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The D.O.C. was riding high, literally and figuratively, as he drove his brand-new sports car west on the Ventura Freeway toward his Calabasas home late one November night in 1989.

Only a day before, the promising rapper with a seemingly limitless future had completed work on a video for his just-released debut album, a work that would eventually sell more than 1 million copies. Celebrating, he had spent the night partying with a girlfriend.

"I was the [best]," the D.O.C. says. "And then, \o7 boom!"\f7

The D.O.C., who acknowledges that he had been drinking, fell asleep at the wheel, his car veering wildly off the freeway. The rapper, who was not wearing a seat belt, was thrown out the rear window, slamming face first into a tree.

A blossoming career seemed finished almost before it had started: The accident severed his vocal cords, turning his once-forceful voice into a tortured wheeze.

Six years later, however, rap fans will be surprised to learn that the D.O.C., 27, has resurfaced with a new album, "Helter Skelter," which will be released in January on Giant Records.

A single from the album, "Return of Da Livin' Dead," is due in stores on Halloween, which seems appropriate because the rapper's voice has a spooky essence, lending an eerie feeling to the futuristic-sounding "Helter Skelter."

"It's different, it's weird, it's crazy," the D.O.C. says of his voice during a phone interview from his home in the Atlanta suburb of Alpharetta, Ga.

"But it's \o7 cool.\f7 It's real dark. I like that. That's the part that makes it cool because you don't really have to act. It's all natural. You get sort of a natural vibe that almost makes it feel like it's \o7 always \f7 Halloween."

What do his friends think?

"I've heard some say they love it," he says, "but I've heard others say they'll never be able to get used to it. I know they're going to love the album, though. . . .

"Most women will probably say, 'I like it, it's sexy.' I get that a lot. That's actually what kind of helped me decide to rap again--after all the women started . . . stroking my ego. Because I had really lost a lot of confidence in myself."

Confidence wasn't the only casualty of the near-fatal accident.

"My face was really [messed up]," he says. "Apparently, it was the size of a big ol' watermelon. That's what I was told."

His injuries required 21 hours of plastic surgery, and he spent 2 1/2 weeks in the hospital. He couldn't speak for about a month.

"I'd be lying if I said I wasn't [messed] up," he says. "I went through all the mental anguish."

Friends and colleagues told him that because his voice was so ragged, he should forget about ever performing again.

They advised him to concentrate on the songwriting skills he had developed while working on several of the seminal albums in gangsta rap history, including Eazy-E's "Eazy-Duz-It" and N.W.A.'s "Straight Outta Compton."

And for several years the D.O.C., whose real name is Tracy Lynn Curry, took them to heart.

"I thought it was over," he says. "I thought my role had been defined--I'd be in the background. I'd write for people and help them do the [recording]."

Eventually, though, vocal training helped him regain what's left of his voice, and he continued to work with Dr. Dre. The respected producer had discovered the Dallas-born D.O.C. when the rapper was only 18, inviting him to Los Angeles to make records.

After the accident, the D.O.C. worked on Dre's "The Chronic" and Snoop Doggy Dogg's "Doggystyle."

But he ended his association with the pair last year. Relocating to Atlanta, he hooked up with a young producer from Texas, Erotic D, and convinced himself that he should make a comeback album.

"The [stuff] I was writing wouldn't sound right coming from anybody else," he says. "When you write for somebody else, you've got to write from their standpoint. You can't really write from your own point of view."

Still, the D.O.C. was nervous about making the album.

"I wasn't absolutely, positively sure I could do it without Dre," he says. "I never really felt apprehensive because of my voice because after a while I'd gotten used to it, so I figured it would only be a matter of time before everybody else got used to it."

It's not easy. On "Helter Skelter," the D.O.C. at times makes Tom Waits sound like Sam Cooke. Listening to his scratchy voice, you find yourself craving a lozenge.

"To be honest, when I first heard him rap, I was thrown off," says Erotic D in a separate interview. "I heard other people saying, 'The lyrics are the [best], but his voice is [awful].' I didn't look at it like that. I looked at it like, 'This is going to be a lot of work.'

"At first, you couldn't catch a lot of the words because he was feeling sorry for himself. He wasn't really trying to work his vocals. He was pampering himself."

But after a few weeks in the studio, the producer said, the D.O.C. regained his confidence.

With the album completed, the rapper now regards his trials and tribulations over the last several years as a message from above.

On the cover of his first album, "No One Can Do It Better," the D.O.C. was pictured standing next to a statue of Jesus. The lettering under the statue reads: "King of Kings and Lord of Lords."

"When the kids saw that on the album cover, they thought I was referring to me," the D.O.C. says. "And then, after awhile, your record is [a hit] and everybody loves you and so I started saying, 'Well, maybe I am the King of Kings.'

"And I think God was like, 'Hold on, son. You're getting a little before yourself. Sit down.' And he took the vocal cord because he knew that's what would make me sit the [expletive] down for a minute and really think about things."

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