TRIBECA 2022 | THE DOC Paints A Deeply Inspiring Portrait of a Hip-Hop Legend
Some of your favorite rapper’s favorite rapper, at one time or another, very well might have been the D.O.C. From the late 80’s onwards, the legacy of the D.O.C. in hip-hop is known, whether listeners fully realize it or not. Having essentially started his music career at the level of an all-star, The DOC is director Dave Caplan’s love letter not only to hip-hop, but to one of the most underappreciated people to ever pick up a microphone. Yet very quickly into his career, tragedy ensued that unfortunately stole the one thing he felt he was put on this planet to use: his voice. Fast forward to 30 years later, Caplan’s documentary finds not D.O.C. the rapper, but Tracy Curry the man, struggling to make a choice. With surgery, there is a possibility that Curry would have his voice repaired. As all-time legends of hip-hop speak on his legacy in music and the impact he has had on lives around the world, Curry grapples with the possibility of getting back to a life he thought was long gone. Yet as the documentary shows, it is no easy matter. Happily married with children and working with civil rights activists, Curry’s journey has come to a fork in the road, and The DOC invites viewers onto this intimate journey of both looking back at all that has happened, and importantly, all that will happen next.
Perhaps what Caplan’s documentary does best is that it only touches on the tragedy which affected Curry’s voice briefly. It provides enough information to those who may not have been aware of what occurred, but never treads too far into making the documentary solely about that. Instead, it uses the majority of its runtime as a celebration to hip-hop and to a seminal figure in West Coast rap. Without the D.O.C., some of the biggest rappers of all time simply might not exist; And when you see the number of individuals speaking on this, this statement is very clearly anything but hyperbole. To Snoop Dogg, one of the most iconic figures not just in music, but in pop culture, the D.O.C. is a mentor. To Dr. Dre, the first hip-hop billionaire and one of, if not the, greatest producer to ever live, the D.O.C. is a brother. To Eminem, one of the best-selling artists of all time, the D.O.C. is an artist whose penmanship that to this day, has still perplexed him. So much so, that Eminem practically begs him to break down a verse that he has clearly had committed to memory for decades. As all these artists come together to discuss the artform they are clearly so passionate about, Caplan’s documentary becomes a deeply moving piece about legacy.
Equating himself to the biblical Samson, whose hair gave him strength until it was unjustly stolen from him, Curry grapples with the devastating turn his life took at just 21 years old. Having known exactly what it was that he wanted to do from early on in life, how would anybody face the reality of it being ripped away in the blink of an eye? Curry, as well as his friends and family, discuss the sometimes dark paths he walked along the way, and how that affected both his career and his relationships. Still, even with this darkness, The DOC is proof that Curry had a tenacity to continue moving forward, even in the face of so much adversity. When he realized he could still write music for others, his focus shifted. “I can’t be the G.O.A.T., so you’re going to be the G.O.A.T.,” said Curry when bringing together the team that would go on to create Doggystyle and make up the bulk of Death Row Records. Dogg believes that while Curry was a pivotal reason for his success, working together in turn “gave his mentor a reason to live”.
So while the D.O.C. could no longer rap physically at the level he strived for, his shift towards other endeavors signals the ideals of a man unwilling to give up. Upon meeting and having a child with Erykah Badu, Curry became content with leaving his rapping life behind in light of a new purpose: being a father. Early on in the documentary, Dr. Dre discussed how bringing the D.O.C. from Dallas to Los Angeles created a notable shift in the sound of N.W.A. And if this documentary serves any purpose, it’s to indicate the necessary quality that is one’s ability to work within whatever life throws at them. For Curry, who has shifted himself to work best within the hands he has been dealt, it is clearly rough. Yet he continuously shows himself to be a deeply humble man who is willing to accept these shifts, now three decades removed from the accident. And now, when he is given the chance to perhaps make one final shift, his entire life comes into question about what comes next.
This has been “33 years of a path I had to walk”, says Curry, as he mulls over what should be done. Ultimately, the choice falls on him as to whether he should get the surgery that has a 60–70% chance of repairing his voice. Nevertheless, he still goes to his friends and family for advice on what to do. And speaking matter-of-factly, the opinions range, but one thing is for certain: they all sincerely mean it from the bottom of their heart. The last third of Caplan’s documentary are utterly heartwarming and tear-inducing as we are shown a man simply looking to his loved ones for advice. To have such optimism as Curry does even amidst all that he has gone through is deeply inspiring, and in that regard, The DOC is massively successful at detailing a hip-hop legend who worked behind the scenes far longer than he ever did in the limelight. As Curry speaks to children at the school he first performed at, it’s clear that whatever choice he decides to make, it will be his own, and he seems to be most grateful for that opportunity more than anything else.
The DOC celebrated its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival. Tickets for screenings and more information on the film can be found right here.