He has one of the most tragic tales in hip-hop, but after 33 years of 'hell,' The D.O.C. is on the rebound

Photo by Elizabeth Lavin
The rapper and Dr. Dre/Snoop Dogg songwriter reveals to Yahoo Entertainment that he attempted suicide in the years after a 1989 car accident that took his voice. (Photo: Elizabeth Lavin)

It’s taken 33 years, but The D.O.C. has finally come to terms with the horrific accident that changed his life, his career and maybe even the entire face of hip-hop.

The Dallas-born rapper and songwriter born Tracy Curry was on top of the world in 1989. He’d been recruited to Los Angeles by Dr. Dre as NWA introduced the world to West Coast rap, contributing lyrics to their seminal genre-shaping album Straight Outta Compton. On the 1st of August that year, he released his first solo album, the landmark LP No One Can Do It Better on Eazy-E’s Ruthless Records, to immediate acclaim, with famed singles including “It’s Funky Enough,” “The D.O.C. & The Doctor” and “The Formula.” His immaculate flow felt all-world, a panoptic representation of America’s exploding '80s artform: developed in Texas, inspired by New York rappers like Run-DMC, Rakim and KRS-One, fused with the budding “gangsta rap” stylings of South Central, L.A.

Then one night in November, an intoxicated Curry — drunk, high and done in from a day-long bender that included an ecstasy-fueled threesome with two women and a traffic stop in which a pair of Beverly Hills cops pulled him over and then let him go after posing for pictures — fell asleep at the wheel while speeding down the 101 highway. His car crashed into the center divider, and Curry was launched out of the back window into a tree. He woke up in the hospital without his teeth (those were lodged into tree bark) and worse, soon suffered permanent damage to his vocal cords.

Curry was spared his life at age 21, but after 21 hours of surgery repairing a crushed larynx, lost the tool that gave him his livelihood.

The now-54-year-old rap icon’s reconciliation with that tragedy was not gradual over these past 33 years. Not in the slightest. He struggled with being grateful that he was alive when he felt cursed by an accident that left him with a deep, gravelly voice.

“Bro, I just got to the grateful part,” Curry, a.k.a. “Doc,” tells us in a new interview. “Those 33 years was f***ing hell. It was really a beast. And I did every foul thing that you could do to yourself to try to get outta here. Cause that pain was tough.

“For me, it was 33 years of some really horrible pain that I had to work my way through. And in 2020, there was a revelation… And in that moment, I got released from that pain. I also got word that all of these great things are going to start happening again. And so I'm just blessed and grateful at this point to still be here to do this and say these things.”

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As for what that revelation was, it’s bit of a long story. A close, longtime friend of Curry’s confided in him. He’d had a dream in which God told him that Curry needed to let go of his pain. “He said that it wasn't yours, that you didn't do it, that I did,” Curry recalls. “And that there was a purpose for it. And now you're about to start realizing that purpose.”

Part of his purpose, Curry now believes, is sharing his story. It’s why he agreed to be the subject of the upcoming documentary The DOC, which premiered at June’s Tribeca Film Festival.

The gripping and insightful documentary on Curry offers the most comprehensive retelling yet of the tragic twist of fate that derailed one of the Golden Era’s most promising rising stars. But it also makes a compelling case for what any old school hip-hop head knows: That Curry, who went on to write verses for Dre and Snoop Dogg on the instant classics The Chronic (1992) and Doggystyle (1993), among other venerated records, is one of genre’s most unsung heroes.

But to Curry, “Doing the documentary felt like it was more about showing people what healing looks like, more than showing them what a great rapper I thought I was, or what I did with this person or that person,” he says now.

Not that it was easy for Curry. “Who wants to air out their dirty laundry? Who wants to show their f***-ups? And how the decisions that they made caused such turmoil,” he says. “But it was important for me to do it so that people can see that no matter what your situation is, there's a day after that. You just have to get to that day. Like I said, it took me 33 years, but I'm here today, a different man than I was as that 21-year-old boy. And I'm still pretty damn good at what I do. But along the way, I've had a chance to make some really incredible music with some really incredible people, and make some really incredible friends.”

Those include Dre and Snoop, the latter of whom Curry mentored in his earliest days.

“Snoop ends up being the personification of what I really wanted my voice to be in this art form,” he says. “I got a chance to live it through him, you know? He went from a guy that was afraid to look into the camera as he rapped to a guy that's an icon today. I can't walk out the house and not see him. He's on billboards on my freeways when I go grocery shopping. He's in the damn store. He's freaking everywhere. And it just makes me feel good to know that I even had a small piece of that meteoric rise.”

Rapper and producer Dr. Dre (Andre Romelle Young), Laylaw (Larry Goodman) of Above The Law, (rear) MC Ren (Lorenzo Jerald Patterson), Eazy-E (Eric Lynn Wright), Ice Cube (O'Shea Jackson) and DJ Yella (Antoine Carraby) of N.W.A. poses for photos with rapper The D.O.C. (Tracy Lynn Curry) (front) after their performances during the 'Straight Outta Compton' tour at the Mecca Arena in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in June 1989.  (Photo By Raymond Boyd/Getty Images)
Rapper and producer Dr. Dre (Andre Romelle Young), Laylaw (Larry Goodman) of Above The Law, (rear) MC Ren (Lorenzo Jerald Patterson), Eazy-E (Eric Lynn Wright), Ice Cube (O'Shea Jackson) and DJ Yella (Antoine Carraby) of N.W.A. poses for photos with rapper The D.O.C. (Tracy Lynn Curry) (front) after their performances during the Straight Outta Compton tour at the Mecca Arena in Milwaukee, Wis. in June 1989. (Photo: Raymond Boyd/Getty Images)

Curry’s also stayed incredibly close with Dre, who helped guide him through his darkest days over the past three decades that have included a stint in jail and two underperforming records (1996's Helter Skelter and 2003's Deuce). While it’s not mentioned in the documentary, twice during our interview Curry revealed that he even attempted suicide as he struggled.

“Those guys carried me for 33 years,” he says of Dre and Snoop. “Monetarily, mentally, spiritually in a lot of ways. I leaned on those guys really heavy in a time where I couldn't carry myself. And although I give all that credit to God, those guys were really important to me lasting, because it was really difficult. And I don't mind saying that the depression led me to try to get outta here a couple times. I didn't put that in the [film] because… there was so much more that could have been said, but we only had an hour and a half, and you're talking 33 years."

The documentary also follows Curry as he explores an experimental surgery that could help restore his voice, though some of his closest confidants caution him against it.

It digs into his new humanitarian journey, too, as he travels the country speaking to youth groups alongside longtime Dallas civil rights activist Reverend Peter Johnson. He plans to build a school in Dallas. He now preaches against the kind of gun violence that groups like N.W.A. were accused of glorifying. “If you want peace and you want prosperity, you want them dollars, you want that bag, then you have to think about economics and get in this game together,” he tells them.

Curry’s even gotten to address his favorite football team: the Dallas Cowboys, of course. (Curry donned a #4 Dak Prescott jersey during our interview.)

“I went and spoke to those young men, about where they are in their journey and how they should focus in on the three P’s: prayer, perseverance and purpose. You know, living your life on purpose and also getting out there and getting me that Super Bowl, which is what they gonna do. And it was really cool, man. Most of them are way too young to know me, but now they've sort of adopted me. I heard [star linebacker] Micah Parsons say, ‘I don't know who he is, but I like him.’"

Hollywood likes him, too. Ever since his friend’s prophecy, Curry has launched a successful acting career, too. He appeared in the Bruce Willis-Luke Wilson action film Gasoline Alley earlier this year and also costarred alongside Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s Imam in HBO’s hit series Winning Time. He recorded a song with NOFX punk rocker Fat Mike’s new band The Codefendants that’s inspired him to make a new album, one that leans into his bassy new voice.

“It was tough, but that was a path that I had to walk for me to be this man that I am today,” Curry says of his journey.

“But I'm still Doc, right? And this voice is still one of the coldest voices in rap. I think it's just meant for something else now.”

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, call 911, or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 or 1-800-273-8255 or text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.