“No One Can Do It Better” is an album that is great on several levels. It’s completely produced by one of Hip Hop’s all time greatest producers, Dr. Dre. It’s a perfect showcasing of Dre’s attention to detail. This is just one year after the groundbreaking “Straight Out Of Compton” album by NWA. Yet Dre gives “No One Can Do It Better” a noticeable different sound, one to match The D.O.C’s B-Boy braggadocio style. The only “Straight Of Out Compton” track that might sound at home on this album is “Quiet On The Set”. Vocally, D.O.C’s greatest strengths are his voice, virtually perfect delivery, and charismatic, yet brash presence. Finally, I’m not sure exactly why, but this album invokes several personal stories for me, some of which I’ll outline below.
“It’s Funky Enough” was the first single and became a bit of an unlikely hit. It features a drunken D.O.C flipping stylish lyrics while frequently donning a fake Jamaican accent. It’s said that they were joking around in the studio and then later decided to run with it as the final mix. Some of the exaggerated accent on the dialog in the breaks is downright silly, but still they were able to pull it off without being tagged a novelty. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the beat is magnificently programmed with this playful, but also driving rhythm that just commands your attention.
The B-side is the album title track “No One Can Do It Better” and is without a doubt one of my favorites. Actually, back then I couldn’t believe that people were riding so hard for the A-side when this was present on the same piece of vinyl. You already know from the dramatic introduction that something ill is about to go down. It drops into a minimal but cleverly programmed Roland TR-808 topped with an assortment of bright sounds effects and quick riffs. All leading to the perfect set up for D.O.C to make good on the claim set forth in the title. He sets the tone perfectly from the opening verse, “This is to listen to, so ask not a question/Not to be taken as a simple suggestion/But a warning, to whom it may concern/If knowledge is the key then I think it’s time you learn/But there is not the problem/Some leaders are acknowledged, I don’t follow up em…”
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STORY #1: One day in ’88 I’m riding the bus, less than thrilled about heading to work. Then I look up and low and behold, sitting front of me is one my idols, Doc Rock a.k.a Shakespeare The One Man Riot of His Majesti. He had moved away to LA two year previous with no plan other than to make it in Hip Hop. He had achieved that goal with a record deal on Egyptian Empire and was home visiting family. We talked and he told me about his many adventures in LA, including; getting his record deal, doing shows, battling Dr. Dre’s old group, The Wreckin’ Cru*, and attending a very special music conference. He told me at that conference he heard about three upcoming artists that I HAD to keep an eye/ear out for; Chill Rob G, Ice Cream Tee, and The D.O.C.
D.O.C did an artist showcase and he told me he came out raw with this ill beat that used the drums from Whodini’s “Friends”… That song would be “Mind Blowin” and it’s the first time you witness that immaculate flow that I referenced early. I don’t even know how to describe this, quite simply, he is styling on you! He is clearly on a mission for lyrical supremacy and here’s the proof. In the last verse he drops a jewel that hints at his determination to break free of all chains and obstacles, “My brother tried to play me like a kid, so I dismissed him.”
[audio:http://www.fifthelementonline.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/02-Mind-Blowin.mp3|titles=02 Mind Blowin']
I don’t think many people knew that this wasn’t his first time on record. As a part of the Dallas, Texas based Fila Fresh Crew, which featured his brother Fresh K, he was featured on the N.W.A & The Posse EP in ’87, which lead to a crew album, “Tuffest Man Alive” in ’88. The record is mostly a novelty record with silly stories and cliché concepts. The true lone shining moment was the D.O.C’s solo outing, unsurprisingly, the title track. Based on D.O.C’s comment in “Mind Blowin”, Fresh K was his older brother and possibly wasn’t to thrilled about his younger brother being the star. Mind you, that’s just my theory…
Getting back to “No One Can Do It Better” album… Arguably, the best examples of his delivery are when he picks up the tempo. Quite often it directly results in him being more focused and deliberate with his writing, as proven on “Lend Me And Ear”, “Whirlwind Pyramid” and “Portrait Of A Masterpiece”. Truthfully, “Lend Me An Ear” is more of vocal warm up and there’s nothing specifically flashy about it, just a solid cut. “Whirlwind Pyramid” is one of those titles that I remember reading when I first saw this album in the stores and I already knew that was going to be a favorite from the title alone. Upon finally hearing the track I was not disappointed. Dre does a great job of using a barrage of breaks and tricks, such as layering & flanges, which give the beat a heavy and urgent feeling. However, off the three, “Portrait Of A Masterpiece” is the best, as well as the fastest and most intense. A lot of times MCs get fast tracks and use a variety of illusions and styles to handle the tempo, not the D.O.C. His words per minute match the beats more minute, sometimes surpassing it. It’s a special moment of picture perfect rapping. My only critique of this song is after about 2 minutes of straight lyrical bombardment he abruptly stops to, “Catch my breath”. Mind you, this is understandable, the rapping ability displayed in that time frame is nearly inhuman. However, it’s one bar after he says, “Never will I stop…” and when he restarts after a heavy breath I was ready for another two minutes, but it drops off after about 20 seconds… Basically, he set the bar too high for himself…definitely not the worst problem on a Rap album.
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I feel like “The Formula” was the biggest single from the album. The video/single version was a remixed version that maintained most of the original, but the added elements were a notable enhancement. The foundation is a simple but effective use of Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues” and the Roland TR-808, particularly great use of the Cowbell, giving it that classic LA driving music sound. The D.O.C doesn’t let the mellow nature of the beat allow him to get lazy with the lyrics. Instead he laces it with some his best writing, resulting in several memorable moments that support his claim, “Shaping up to be one of the top vocalist/Lyricists and when you’re hearing this you shouldn’t choke this”. He expresses his love for the craft with his promise, “…Making each record that I do better than the last one”. Perhaps the line most engrained in my mind is his overly stressed proclamation of his music as, “Rhythmic American Poetry”. I admit I didn’t get it right away that he was creating the best acronym for R.A.P to date. I don’t know if he coined that phrase, but that’s where I recall hearing it first. I used to think we should adopt it as the official meaning… Of course, I know it’s more of a universal concept, but it was just so perfect at the time. Although the Remix version presents a more engaging take on the vibe, the original has a handful of exclusive lyrics that really make the difference in picking my preferred mix.
“Let The Bass Go” sort of carries a similar vibe as “The Formula” with the heavy 808s and smoothed out vibe. It also has one of the better quotes on the album, “Success relies on the individual/I feel successful when receiving a residual”, which acts as a follow up to his previous verse closer, “Happiness to me is like a positive cash flow…”
“The D.O.C & The Doctor” takes a more rugged approach. With the rough drums of Funkadelics’s “Good Old Music”, some guitar riffs and some nicely placed sonic stabs. The slowed tempo lets him flaunt some style. The reoccurring theme is giving props to Dre, but he also slips in some gems such as, “And I don’t understand the misconception/Thinking if you make it you’re going one direction/When you’re in flight you gotta fly high/But so you were born, so you die”.
“Beautiful But Deadly” is the oddball track on the album. As he demands in the beginning, “We need some guitar that rocks!” The beat is heavy on said requested instrument and essentially is a rock track thru and thru. Eventhough it’s the only track I used to skip back in the day, besides the “Commercials”, it’s not really a bad track…just out of place on this traditional B-Boy sounding album. Plus I never understood why you would make a crossover song like this, put it on your album and then not even push it as a single. It just seems that if you are going to do all of that you might as well try to get the mileage out of it. I suppose they could have tried to send it to more Pop/Rock radio and didn’t get enough response to feel comfortable pushing it that hard. I suppose it’s also possible that the D.O.C had entirely different reasons for making the track rather than make it a crossover hit. Just at a distance it seems like a missed opportunity.
The album closes with a track forecasting its greatness, “The Grande Finale”, which features N.W.A (MC Ren, Ice Cube, & Eazy E) on guest vocals and narration by Dr Dre. Ice Cube starts it off and delivers what is probably his best ever battle type verse. Quite honestly it sounds like a D.O.C verse, suggesting he definitely had no intention of being out-rapped on this song. MC Ren is flipping his trademark swift flow, but there is nothing grabbing me with the content. Eazy E is just the typical Eazy you would expect; profane, offensive, and unapologetic. The D.O.C closes it off, flexing a variety of styles and patterns, but isn’t really bringing the content level where we know he is capable to and this is the song that would have been perfect to do that. Never the less, it serves as a great album closer.
Unfortunately, it’s virtually impossible to think about this album without immediately reflecting on the tragedy that soon followed its release. The D.O.C made an explosive impact on the scene with this album. All signs pointed to him being well on his way to being considered among the most respected lyrical elite of the time. However, the path was derailed by a horrible car accident that left permanent damage to his voice.
Personally, I find it hard to believe that is merely coincidence. Sure, a dangerous accident is bound to inflict injuries, but when the only injury is to what is considered by many as your most valuable asset, you need to at least consider that there’s an underlying message. What that message is/was I don’t know. What I do know is that the man with the Golden Voice and high-paced ascend to the top was rerouted. However, that was not before dropping this album, which is pretty flawless and even where it is lacking it remains interesting***.
*At that time The Wreckin’ Cru had a MC called Shakespeare so Shakespeare The One Man Riot of His Majesti wanted to challenge him to battle for the name. They had some sort of battle, my memory is vague because the following stories left a bigger impression. I seem to remember him saying the Wreckin’ Cru was doing choreographed moves and all that and he was just coming with lyrics…ha. I don’t think was Dre was with them at that time, but not for sure. I gotta hit him up for that story…
**STORY #2: My most vivid memory of this song is in the late 90s and I’m at venue in Chicago hanging out with a visiting Bobbito Garcia and one of his friends in town shooting a movie (He Got Game I believe), Rosario Dawson! I admit I didn’t even know who she was. I hadn’t seen Kids yet and that was her biggest thing up to that point. I just knew she was beautiful, down to earth, super-cool, and loved Method Man! We were all three just hanging out, talking, and dancing to the music of DJ Jesse De La Pena. I often like to describe this as the “night I danced with Rosario Dawson”, but the real truth is I was more dancing next to her while we talked about Rap, than dancing “with” her, but hey that’s good enough for me. Anyway, at some point Jesse De La Pena played “Portrait Of A Masterpiece” and I was stunned when Bobbito asked me what it was. When I told him, he let me know that he had never heard the album. It was then I was reminded that New York at large had predominantly ignored Non-East Coast Hip Hop until well into the 90s, even Hip Hop that was very East Coast in nature.
***My only issue with the reissue is that I wish it also included the 12” mixes and maybe some bonuses like instrumentals and acapellas.
Written By Kevin "Rhythmic American Poet" Beacham