No One Can Do It Better
The DOC’s debut, No One Can Do It Better, though billed as a solo, is really the work of a duo, as much Dr. Dre’s opus as DOC’s. The content of the album might be puzzling to those whose introduction to DOC came through his association with NWA. The narrative world created by NWA was vast, like the real-life Los Angeles they drew from, populated by small-time thugs, bitches, gangs, and crooked cops. No One Can Do It Better, on the other hand, creates a universe that exists almost entirely inside the recording studio. The songs alternate up-tempo, late-eighties fast rap styles with mid-tempo tracks that provide a preview of the West Coast G-Funk aesthetic that would develop shortly afterwards. DOC uses his hoarse but still imposing voice to good effect, and his rhymes are consistently dope, though not mind-blowing. The album’s thesis becomes clear in the skits and interludes, during which the listener gets numerous glimpses of the interactions between DOC and Dre. The album tries to convince the listener of its spontaneity through staged presentation. Further scrutiny of the lyrics only confirms these suspicions: DOC mostly raps about rapping well over flawless drums provided by Dre. The only time he really leaves the studio is to describe a treacherous vamp over badly aged wailin’-ass guitars and eighties rock drums on “Beautiful But Deadly.”
Most of the other songs have held up better over time, and some, such as the title track, feel fairly modern, but the album is far from timeless, irrevocably reflecting its own period regardless of its futurism. The beats are mostly programmed drums with replayed riffs in the place of samples. The prevalence of interpolations could have been a business decision that resulted from Dre’s unwillingness to pay sample clearance fees, but there was clearly also a desire to have a clean, spare sound. Where there are short samples used, on the hooks of songs like “Funky Enough,” they stand out for their impreciseness. Even if the idea to the aptly-titled “The Formula” came to Dre in a dream, as DOC claims, it was truly a mathematician’s fantasy. This deliberate aspect is really where the album stands out from the exuberant improvisations of many of its contemporaries. Although DOC has claimed that the songs were recorded without an overarching plan in mind, there is none of the carefree straight spitting that characterizes albums like Lord Finesse’s debut from the same year. Like many quests for perfection, this album narrows its focus, and while there are few overt missteps, its mechanism holds it back. This is not to say that there is no fun to be had here – the chemistry between the protagonists is undeniable, and the result is good music and a near-classic album. In the incoherent world of rap, however, DOC and Dre are actually too coherent, too focused, and their creation sometimes feels more lifelike than live.