Microphone Mathematics: Special K Of Treacherous Three Part Two Of Three (The Sugarhill Years + Solo Years)!!

Posted on September 14, 2012 by Kevin Beacham | 1 Comment


READ "MICROPHONE MATHEMATICS: SPECIAL K OF TREACHEROUS TREE PART ONE HERE!! 

After doing five singles for Enjoy Records Treacherous Three moved to a new deal with Sugarhill Records. This was a common practice for the most successful groups on Enjoy. Treacherous Three actually  did more records with Enjoy than any other Rap group. In any event, on Sugarhill they further developed their skills and Special K definitely continued to push the limits...

The solo parts on “Yes We Can” (1982) are short and buried at the end of the song. Here Special K details a skill that he has only hinted at previously, his ability to maximize a lot information with minimal wording. At a glance it might appear that he is just bouncing around from topic to topic, but each line directly reflects a consequence of the line preceding it, “The cost of living’s going up, wage increases going down/Reganomics and atomics messing all us around/While the rich get richer, the poor get poorer/Mother Nature plays a roll which you can’t ignore/When it’s cold outside and you got nowhere to go/Think the Army’s your way out, but you just don’t know/There’s a new policy that now exist/A diploma’s necessary to be able to enlist!” In the end, he doesn’t just leave you with questions and problems, he firmly states that a High School Education is at least the minimal tool to have at your disposal to widen your options.

“Get Up” is perhaps the most under-appreciated track in the Treacherous Three catalog, I never hear anyone really speak about it or play it for that matter. It has an explosive intro, great production, and besides “The New Rap Language” and “Gotta Rock”, it’s the most skill-based song in their 80s catalog. Special K attempts to enter your mind with a healthy serving of wit while simultaneously motivating you on the dance floor, “I know some of you people may be religious/But something like this is so prestigious/That it just can’t be labeled exempt/So just rock it on time and keep it on Temp-O/The way I walk and the way I talk/You can tell I was born in the state of New York/I got an Uptown accent with a touch of slang/Which I use on the nights I feel I wanna hang/Girls grab a guy and just rock with em/Keep it on time to the bass and the rhythm/Remember this, because here’s the catch/You not only have to be fresh, you have to be treach!” Admittedly, it’s a touch top heavy leaving the best application of technique in the first-half of the verse, but in that short amount of time he lightly touches on many of his strengths.

“Action” isn’t really a stand out for any of the three MCs solo verses, except L.A. Sunshine. It’s actually one of L.A. Sunshine’s best moments on record up to this point. Special K does have a couple highlights . He dabbles in some Abstract Thought with his comment, “using something is known as a rhyme complete”. He has a nice Multi-Syllablic usage (the only one in the song) when rhyming “Numero Uno” with “Something you know”. Then his final line nice closes things off with flavor, “The Rhyme Sayer, not the Mayor like…Ed Koch!”

A couple of the Treacherous Three tracks (“At The Party”, “Put The Boogie In Your Body” & “Whip Rap”) left little or no time for individual verses, except for maybe quick 4-bar introductions and the such. These songs focused on the crew rocking in unison, highlighting their great routines. Then there’s “Turn You On”, which is my least favorite Treacherous Three song and it’s more about the song concept than the lyrics. There’s nothing particularly special about the MCing on there, but that's OK because the best was yet to come...

“Gotta Rock” is the last Treacherous Three record (until they reunited nearly a decade later in the 90s) and in terms of raw MCing it is their absolute best. On previous songs mentioned in this series Special K touches on concepts, he toys with being different, and he pushes the envelope with vocabulary, but here he sounds completely free of any constraints or industry-imposed expectations. He leaves the multi-syllables to Kool Moe Dee (for the most part) and the Offbeat/On-beat styles to L.A. Sunshine, as he’s already had his time with those methods, in fact, for much of the verse he abandons the concept of rhyme all together or twists the schemes in a way that one might miss where they intersect if not paying attention. Full verse: 

“I wanna be in position like Simon, cause what Simon says to do, you do/Even the pessimistic respond in a manner of blind obedience/As if obligatory, not so… fastidious, its dictatory(?)/(???) just facilitated orders, carried out/I wanna be a combination of many things/My conscious intention is to make you shout/I’ll conceive a cybernetic evaluation of a raw sensation/Coordinated strength comes in the rhyme/Every measure of beat designed to be on time/Soaked(?) with style, coated with an element/Stronger than steel, for real/And in a battle of wit I always win/Cause I’m charged with the energy of 50 men/My Rap is never wack cause I take the time/To prove to people who might want me, I’m not nickel and dime/I might do it for free or do it for a fee/Either way it’s going to be a delight to see/I have unlimited courage, deliberate moves/A voice to enlighten, comfort and soothe/My mind once fetal, now sharp as a needle/Knowledge is pungent and nourishing to me/I can say for sure excitement is a law/And wherever it’s at, that’s where I’ll be/Cause I took this job, now I’m committed/It was perfectly fitted and I’m glad I did it/As far as I’m concerned I’m a brilliant vivacious man that decided to be self-made/I’ll make you shake and shiver, I’ll always deliver, I’m a prominent person in the music trade”. 

In terms of a specific rhyme reflecting an MCs style being truly unique for its time, I think this is among the most inventive verses  in Hip Hop. I quite simply can’t find anything to compare it to in1985 or the years preceding. Perhaps he knew it was his last record with the Treacherous and so he zoned out and became completely fearless of being outside of the box…he relished in it. I've also began to wonder if being in the group stifled his artistic expression in some ways. In the context to the songs Treacherous Tree were making perhaps he couldn’t be as abstract and far-reaching as he would have liked. Being in the group definitely limited his mic time to showcase his talents. Perhaps it just took time for his skills to fully develop and in 1985 on “Gotta Rock” they hit a new plateau. Whatever the case, it’s a shame that we didn’t get to hear too much more from him in this time period. My mind explodes when imagining a Special K solo project in 1985/1986.

There’s a B-side to “Gotta Rock”, but Special K and L.A. Sunshine aren’t on it. At the time, there were group disputes about how they should handle their unsatisfying contact with Sugarhill. In an interview on the infinitely informational and amazing www.ThaFoundation.Com,* Kool Moe Dee suggests that is two partners were unmotivated to record at this point due to the situation at the label. L.A. Sunshine opted not to show up for this studio session and Special K was there and laid a verse, but Moe Dee erased it because it was “sloppy”. It makes me curious as to what Special K laid down. Maybe, it was just too bugged out for Moe Dee…ha. What if he went even further with the style on there, unfortunately we will probably never know. 

That wasn’t that last we would hear from Special K in the 80s  though. Two years later he showed up solo on a new label, Public Records, working with producer QDIII who was just launching his career and in the same year also worked with K’s brother, T La Rock on “Nitro”. The A-Side track is like Special K's official anthem. The production is rugged with a high-tech touch. The heavy drums are furiously hit with a barrage of cuts from DJ Danny Dan. The must exciting of those cuts being the intro of "Gotta Rock", "Party on the dance floor, party people want more/Time hear some from the Treacherous...", but instead of the "Three" coming in, Danny Dan slices up "Special K"! It's an excellent means of reflecting on his past, but stating his present situation. Verbally, Special K isn't quite as obscure in context or unconventional in form as "Gotta Rock", but he finds a impeccable balance in subtly sourcing from both. 

From his opening words he sets the tone for superior lyricism, "Very, very extraordinary, lyrics are my own/(in)tonation is perfect when I'm on the microphone/Inside me like religion, Blessed and true/Description is tailored, I'm a unique as a "U"/I'm timed rendition of a momentary mission/Never missing a beat, I'm a perfect treat/Trust, it's kinda rushed, my rhymes are cold crush/I can get as tough as an elephants tusk!" He uses a nice run-on sentence rhyme technique with how he connects that "own" to "tonation", creating a nice pattern. My favorite part is how he describes himself as being different, noting that his "Description is tailored"... I don't know exactly what a "timed rendition of a momentary mission" means, but it sounds serious...ha.

The second verse he slightly pulls back a little bit and dabbles in some of his party rocking skills, but does slip in this skillful and advanced rhyme pattern near the end, "My name is Special K, my mission is clear/I want the whole party without the fear/Of being guided by weak speaking Rappers still seeking, creeping, sneaking biting rhymes by peeking/I pick up a mic, with my rhythm (I) start freaking/With my lyrical wit, I keep the parties peaking and on the weekend..." I never really noted it before, but that is as good a place as any to look for a precursor to the twisted patterns Kool G Rap would pioneer just a year later with the lyrical masterpiece, "Poison"*

In the third verse, after a light-hearted Special K cereal punchline, he turns his attention to more serious matters, "Skill for the needy, non-void for the greedy/Rappers of the world, here's my treaty/No bone rattling, microphone battling/No more negative tall tale tattling!" So much style!! Then he ends it off very matter-of-factly, "Rap is an art/And you know that I played a very big part!"

In the fourth and final verse, he starts off flaunting punchlines and standard braggadocio, even teeters a bit on the edgy side with a few comments. The highlight moment is enhanced by a drum breakdown, "An expert on poise, neo-surgeon on noise/Statements validated, recording will gated/I'm mom and pop made, an African aid/A blade sharp as a razor in a neutral colored blazer/A plan mapped and charted, common sense a guard it(?)/You can catch my drift even if retarded/Started for a reason, the end result pleasing/In the middle, devastation, a while needed creation/And I'm good((((....and you know it(((/...I'm nick-named the last poet!"

For the last minute or so, QD III is asked to "Let the beat rock", leaving time to reflect on the high caliber lyricism that has transpired. In that time, I was reminded that I always found it amusing that he's using all those mind-bending techniques and styles, but simply titles the track as "Special Is Good"...

The B-Side is not of the lyrical craftsmanship as "Special K Is Good" and I all but ignored it in '87. Strangely, it's really more of an "A-Side" type song. It's the track that has an instrumental. It has an upbeat tempo, R&B Singing and is going for a club feel, complete with a Teena Maria sample saying, "Everybody get up!" It's titled "Let's Rock" and definitely has a Pop Rock feel. Listening to it now with out all those expectations after just hearing "Special K Is Good", it doesn't sound as much of a let down as I remember. It somewhat in the vein of a party-styled Treacherous Three record. He hasn't sacrificed the skill level drastically. He's still being true to his style and showing some swift flows, but it's obvious he's trying to make this song more accessible to a larger audience. 

I only know of one other Special K record and that's 1988's "Knockout" 12" and it's been quite elusive to track down. I was able to score a MP3 of the A-Side a few years back. I hoped it would be in reference to a lyrical knockout, but it's the direct opposite known usage. It's about a woman who's a knockout and has Special K spilling his heart to this special lady. 1988 is a time when the trend of Hip House was becoming near standard, but Special K doesn't completely fall into that trend, he goes a step further and creates a track that falls more into the Freestyle/Hearthrob zone (a la The Cover Girls). I was definitely disappointed when I first heard it, but again, now that I'm over my own expectations I can listen to it differently. It's actually not that bad of a "song". Special K is doing more singing than rhyming and this made me reference back to the Treacherous Three harmonizing routines and there are definitely some moments where I can hear Special K's voice most prominently, so he potentially was the best singing voice in the group. The single has two other tracks, "Have Fun" and "What Wendy Wants, She Gets" and I never been able to hear either, but would guess neither is a lyrical masterpiece. However, it's a rather safe bet that if he had an album at this time he had some more heavy ammunition on the vocal front to unveil. 

It would be several years before I would hear the voice of Special K on record again and when that time came I learned he still had his skills in tact, as well as steadily enhancing his production skills. We'll visit that in Part Three, with songs with Ced Gee, Freddy Fresh, and the Treacherous Three reunion!!!

Written By Kevin Beacham, post 20 recent hours of Treacherous Three studying, on top of the 32 years of collective listening...

-Editor's Notes:

*READ THE FULL KOOL MOE DEE INTERVIEW HERE as well as a wealth of other mind-blowing history pieces!! 

**Kool G Rap has credited Silverfox of Fantasy Three for influencing that style, but not from his rhymes on records. Just street tapes and freestyles, which I've never seen any of those surface, I'm definitely interested to hear. Special K is the only early example of it on wax that I know of off the top of the head, as I just thought of it right now.

OTHER MICROPHONE MATHEMATIC FEATURES INCLUDE: T La Rock, Mele Mel, and Slug of Atmosphere! Read them HERE!!

Posted in Microphone Mathematics, RedefineHipHop


1 Response

Phill Most
Phill Most

April 14, 2013

It’s good to see that there are people out there who understand just how important Special K (as well as the whole Treacherous Three) is in the lineage of rap lyricism. Kevin, do you have any of the Treacherous Three’s live tapes from the early to mid 80’s? There are some good ones out there with rhymes that never made it to the studios. One of my favorites is a show at the Hoe Ave Boys Club (circa 1981 I guess) that Moe Dee didn’t make it to and DLB from the Fearless Four took his place… since Moe wasn’t there I think K really spread his wings and got extra busy. Some of the mid 80’s tapes are good too, really showing where the next generation of great lyricists (Kool G Rap, Rakim, Kane etc.) got it from.Fearless Four tapes from this era were highly influential as well.

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