Sunday, August 30, 2015

The D.O.C., Even Without a Voice

So, if you missed it, The D.O.C. just - finally - got his voice back! Or, actually, he apparently got it back a year ago, while he was locked up, which we won't ask about. But, still, the moment we fans have been waiting with baited breath for literally decades has come... I remember when this heads kept talking about when he'd return.  And when we pretty much gave up.  But before he makes whatever kind of comeback he winds up making, I thought I'd take a look back at when he returned without even needing his voice, in 1996 on Giant Records. This is "Return Of da Livin' Dead."

One cool thing about this 12", definitely, is that it harkens back to his earlier singles, where his album was amazing, but his singles still replaced them with even hyper, sicker remixes. In one sense, the two songs on this single were the best parts of his second album. But on the other hand, they were a little derivative, playing it safe, and needed a little kick in the butt, which this 12" mostly provided.

Let's start with the B-side first, 'cause that's the track that probably sold a lot of these copies. Like its title implies, "From Ruthless 2 Death Row" was going to dish all the dirt and answer all the questions fans had about his career and the whole Dr. Dre story up to that point. The album version and first version of the single sample the very often used "For the Love of Her" by The Isley Brothers, which has only been used a thousand million times before and since. A lot of people in '96 associated it with 2Pac's (technically Thug Life's) "Bury Me a G," but I think he might've used it because Slick Rick had recently used it on his last single. D.O.C. is really channeling Rick's style here, and even quotes his lyrics from "Children's Story" in the third verse, so it's a deliberate reference. But the point is, it sounded good, but it was pretty played out by this point. In a vacuum, the original version sounds better, especially complimenting D.O.C.'s Slick Rick homages, but during a time when we were getting pretty sick of hearing the same g-funky riffs on record after record, the fact that this 12" is an exclusive remix was a real plus.

Everything on this post, the original versions and the remixes, are produced by Erotic D. He was probably a new name to most heads at the time, but he actually came from The D.O.C.'s original group, The Fela Fresh Crew, although he didn't really get on board there until the D.O.C. had already left. He's kept producing over the years, even doing tracks for the Insane Clown Posse of all people; but he's still primarily associated with The D.O.C.

Anyway, the remix is still pretty unoriginal, too, basically just adding some gangsta rap sound effects over "Eric B Is President." I don't know if Erotic D's thing has ever really been digging and discovering breaks, but he makes it sound good and at least it wasn't a tune we'd heard a dozen times that year this time. So this was probably more exciting in 1996, but it still sounds pretty dope today. So back then the remix was easily my favorite, but now in 2015, I probably like both versions equally - they're both old school beats we've heard tons of times before, and they both sound cool as soundbeds for these Slick Rick-style one man dialogue exchanges. The scratch breakdown at the end of both mixes is really fresh.

But as much as everyone (including myself; I'm not gonna front) was into hearing the drama at the time - getting excited over lyrics like, "Eazy-E said, 'yeah oh yeah,' so I took it. Forgot the paperwork; the money made me overlook it." - we want to hear our favorite MCs make masterpieces, not dish dirt. And that brings us to our A-side. "Return Of da Livin' Dead." It takes its title from the Dan O'Bannon classic film Return Of the Living Dead, but otherwise there's no connection. And I don't just mean because there's no zombies in the song (lol), but the film is a classic blend of dark and light tones, horror and humor while this song is just very straight forward. It's a remake of his classic, pre-vocal damage "Funky Enough."

This was a bad idea. The idea was to show that he could rock as hard post-accident as he could pre-, but it's nigh impossible to make a knock off that's as compelling or better than an original masterpiece. So while this song is good, there was no way it wasn't going to pale in comparison. I guess it got him a little extra free publicity/ attention that he wasn't just coming back, but remaking this classic; but I don't think it really netted him that much more than just his comeback in general did. And it certainly wasn't worth the cost of an unflattering comparison being your first new impression.

Which is why this 12" is so good for having another exclusive remix. And this time there isn't any old school instrumental at all. It's more g-funky, and there's no question that Dre's original "Funky Enough" beat is better than this new Erotic D beat. But this new track allows "Return Of da Livin' Dead" to be a new, original song and stand on its own legs instead of remake that should never have happened.

And The D.O.C. sounds pretty good on the mic. His voice is super ripped, of course, and anyone looking for him to sound anywhere near his first album are going to be disappointed. But he showed he could still make a solid record; he just sounded like somebody completely different. It was a little strange, and you wouldn't want a lot of MCs rapping like that, but as the only guy with that sound, he made his own little niche. He could still work a mic better than most of the weed carriers these guys surrounded themselves with.

So I was surprised when Deuce came around and he barely rapped on it at all, using it as more of a compilation than a genuine D.O.C. album (especially considering how it was titled and marketed like the one, true follow-up to No One Can Do It Better. I guess that's largely because the Giant album stumbled, and people chalked up what sales it did get to the Death Row drama. But I think he showed he had the potential to make good, if not as good, records with his damaged voice. If anything, the switch from Dre's production to Erotic D's has held him back more than anything from the accident. So hopefully whenever D.O.C. does whatever he's going to do next with his fresh, old voice, he'll get Dre behind at least a couple of tracks. With all of that, and rhymes and delivery just as good as he's already doing on this record, it'll be a lock.

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