The D.O.C.'s Return To The Stage Was Epic — Although Not For The Reasons You Maybe Thought.
Although The D.O.C.'s influence in hip-hop has been largely and unfairly left out of conversations about the genre since a near-fatal car accident left his vocal cords damaged, his return to the game at Saturday night's Straight Outta Dallas show at The Bomb Factory showed just how much he's really been missed. Fittingly, following the rapper's 20-year hiatus, the night turned into a grandiose celebration of the city’s hip-hop culture.
In fact, it was even a red-carpet affair: Out back, by the venue's smoking patio, each of the night's performers stopped by a welcoming mat rolled out by KSOC Boom 94.5-FM for a quick photo opp and short question-and-answer sessions. Inside, this same stacked lineup represented both the diversity and the continuation of the Dallas sound.
The new-school was illustrated by an opening set from Buffalo Black and an amped-up performance from A.Dd+ that saw such contemporaries as Blue The Misfit, Sam Lao, Bobby Sessions, -topic and Koolquise joining them on stage. The slightly older-school set was represented by the radio hits from such area luminaries as Big Tuck, Mr. Pookie, Lil Wil and Dorrough.
Thrilling as those offerings were, though, this crowd was clearly most excited at the prospect of welcoming The D.O.C. back into the fold — to the point where it really didn't matter if his actual show ended up being any good. It ended up a being a solid offering, although the premise upon which this show was promoted turned out to be a fairly false one.
That narrative insisted that sometime last year The D.O.C. realized that, when he yawned, his powerful old voice — as opposed to his sandpaper-raw current one — seeped through and that he's since used that discovery to recover his old abilities. That turned out to be not quite as true as advertised; instead, the rapper's voice was turned way down in the mix, his gravelly tone only popping up intermittently over his old vocal tracks. (Between songs, his mic would be turned back up, allowing for him to proudly shout such crowd-pleasers as “I love my city!” and so on.)
The D.O.C. probably knew he was engaging in a bit of a bait-and-switch, which is why, following a tease of N.W.A. standby favorites to further rile up the audience, The D.O.C. walked onto the stage while looking a little nervous. Any real apprehension on his part was soon visibly calmed by the crowd's warm reception, though. The fact that he was joined on stage by so many others — a just-out-of-jail Scarface; Marlon Yates Jr., who portrayed The D.O.C. on screen in Straight Outta Compton; a handful of local hip-hop heroes from years past; and even some random fans — surely helped, too. So too, one imagines, is the fact that his old hits, including the set-opening “It's Funky Enough,” are bona fide classics that the audience was just happy to hear let alone see performed. It's tough to say how many of them even noticed the mic level differences through their glee.
As the set went on, though, it became clearer — particular at its end, as The D.O.C. performed two unreleased, rather dark tracks (one of which included a hook from the late, great Nate Dogg) at the end of the night. Influenced by the bass-and trap-heavy sounds of today rather than the era in which The D.O.C. first rose to prominence, these songs also placed The D.O.C.'s grainy vocals far closer to their front-and-center.
And y'know what? They sounded pretty good! After losing his voice and the hope to ever rap again, that he even still retains his current, low, bumpy vocals should stand as a triumph to his spirit, as opposed to a reminder of what he's lost. If these new songs' similarly warm welcomes from the crowd were any indication of D.O.C. fans' undying support — and they sure seemed to be — then people will still ride with him under this new direction, too.
Perhaps that's the big thing The D.O.C. will take away from Saturday's event — that, and perhaps the fact that his recent revamped support for the local scene is a two-way street.
She's perhaps a little more invested in the matter than most, but Badu's elevated DJ set that followed The D.O.C.'s return stood as a testament to how such an involvement in the local goings-on can prove beneficial. Under her DJ Lo Down Loretta Brown banner, she spell-bindingly played everything from Hall & Oats and classic soul cuts to a handful of her own songs that she sang over into her set-up's microphone. This included a tease of some new material, as well as a take on her recent, Zach Witness-produced “Hotline Bling” re-imagination. Badu very much gets that the local love you give is equal to the local love you get: Following “Hotline Bling,” she dropped Post Malone's “White Iverson” and then made a point to announce that he too “is also from Dallas.”
In the end, it was these moments of the night — the ones in which it felt like a celebration of all things Dallas hip-hop — that shined brightest. And, in that regard, it was a fitting tribute to The D.O.C., a figure to whom the local scene is inextricably indebted. That's why Dallas' hip-hop elites were all in the building, either on stage or not — to show their thanks.
It was a wholly satisfying and uplifting thing to witness. Because there's strength in numbers — and, on this night at least, there were some signs of encouraging real hope for the future of this thing we call Dallas hip-hop.
Not bad considering most people entered the building to celebrate that scene's past. Not bad at all.