MCing in mid to late 70s was mostly about finesse, voice, and delivery. There was a decent-sized collection of catch phrases that key people originated and would picked up by just about anyone who rocked a mic through out the New York area and beyond. Of course, there were some people being more original than others, but if you listen to any number of recordings from the earliest days of Hip Hop you are sure to hear a lot of language, phrases, and even verses being repeated or reinterpreted. In a sense, it was less about the words and more about how you sounded using them. Not completely, but to some degree at least.
In the early 80s, as the art of MCing rose into prominence in Hip Hop Culture, a few key pioneers started to hit their strides and innovate key lyrical advances. To name a few; Kool Moe Dee developing styles and exquisite use of vocabulary, Grandmaster Caz mastering story-telling, and Mele Mel zoning out with shockng visual imagery and advanced writing techniques. This opened the door for the Mid 80s to be ripe and fertile for the birthing of forward thinking and inventive new styles of rhyme. Among the first to emerge and make a global impact from this movement was T La Rock.
The story of how he landed his record deal has been fairly well documented in history. T La Rock is the older brother of Special K of the Treacherous Three (which also included DJ Easy Lee, LA Sunshine, and most famously, Kool Moe Dee). When Rick Rubin caught the bug and wanted to produce a Hip Hop record Kool Moe Dee was his top choice lyricist. Unfortunately, contractual agreements with Sugarhill Records prevented this from happening and so a like-minded MC named T La Rock was suggested.
From the moment that T La Rock speaks his first words on his debut single, “It’s Yours”, it is perfectly clear that it is necessary to set his skills apart from a vast amount of the competition of the time…nearly all of them in fact*. It’s really hard to completely gauge since he only had a limited amount of released material in this time, but it’s certainly arguable that between the years of ’84-’86 T La Rock was among the greatest and highly elite rhyme writers of that period. At the very least, it is an inaccurate debate to not include him as a possibility in that discussion.
On “It’s Yours” he begins, “Commentating, Illustrating. Description giving…adjective expert/Analyzing, surmising (?) musical myths/Seeking people of the universe this is yours…It’s Yours!” The first thing one might notice is his use of a larger vocabulary, but that isn’t the writing technique that resonates the most with me. At this time, Hip Hop lyrics were all pretty literal for the most part, there wasn’t much that I previously had to pause and think, “What exactly are they saying to me?” For example, what exactly was he analyzing? The notion is given that T La Rock has a lot on his mind and he’s just trying to summarize this mass of thoughts in a quick introduction of his talents. This leads to him stringing together thoughts without all the usual conjunctions that we are accustomed to. He doesn’t need to say, “I’m great at describing things because I’m a adjective expert.” Just grabbing the key pieces and placing them side by side with the proper spacing makes the point and simultaneously gives it style. Speaking of which, the other shining character noticeable here is his use of eloquence. What other MC would be saying something such as “Seeking people of the universe” at this time? Ultimately, the next couple verses are much like a warm up. They are short, but concise. He theorizes on the idea that “some musical rhythms can mess with your head” and he sketches out music formula’s, “Sound + Rhythm done up with finesse is equivalent (=) to the adjective…BEST!”
After an extended a break of Roland TR-808 mastery and the able hands of Jazzy Jay on the turntable, T La Rock returns to inform the listeners and MCs alike about the new dawn of lyricism**, “Common talk deserves a walk, the situation change/Everything said from now on has to be pre-arranged.” I assume he’s referring to what I mentioned in the intro. He’s calling for an end to MCs relying on the same old rehashed lines and routines created by Cowboy, Coke La Rock, DJ Hollywood, Furious Five and other party rocking pioneers. There was a time when the average MC could go rock a show without spending too much time writing. You could just take hold of the microphone and piece together routines from the standard source material and hopefully some of your own previous creations. As long as you could command the crowd and keep the party moving then constant updates to your rhyme book weren’t as essential to some Rappers. T La Rock felt that time had come to pass. It was now the era to sit down and put some additional thought into your writing, organize your thoughts and when you next grab the microphone you should aim to blow people’s minds with something “Pre-Arranged”.
If this concept was too abstract or complex for you to catch, he was ever so kind to elaborate on the concept in the final verse, which is perhaps the best of the song from a technical writing aspect, “Computer programmed with just one finger/Made complete for the chosen singer/Once lyrics are finished, the picture is done/The difference is this picture has no sun/But there’s plenty of bright kaleidoscope lights/No color supersedes because the balance is right…” I honestly don’t for sure exactly what he is saying here. A few different ideas come to mind and I’ve debated myself over it many a time. I assume the “computer programmed” part of the first line relates to the beat being laid down on a drum machine and then presented to him as the “chosen singer”…or MC in this instance. Perhaps the reference to the picture is connected to the idea of “a picture is worth a 1000 words”, so maybe he’s saying that adding his lyrics helps give the song definition and visual impact. I’m also assuming the “kaleidoscope lights” is in reference to the lights on the mixing board and the fact “No color supersedes” is representative of them not going to far into the red because the engineer has properly mixed everything so that the “balance is right”. The lack of certainty in the decoding of the lyrics speaks volumes of T La Rock’s liberal use of poetic phrasing and abstract thought process. This song was quite simply a game changer, musically and lyrically. From the rhyme side, T La Rock’s refreshing and cutting edge style influenced a rising population of MCs and opened new doors for lyricism for artists such as Rakim, Just Ice, Kool G Rap, MC Tee, etc…T LA ROCK SAMPLER SET:
Tomorrow in Part Two, T La Rock starts to build his team with DJ Louie Lou, Greg Nice The Human Beatbox, and Mantronik. Plus he has a interesting run in with a young, newly signed LL Cool J….
*This debate would need to consider these factors; ’84 is also a highpoint for Mele Mel. ’85 is the year Kool Moe Dee reached the next plateau of his constantly rising skill level, plus you also had Slick Rick making his debut with "La Di Da Di". Then in ’86 you have the addition of Rakim, Just-Ice, Ultramagnetic MCs, Kool G Rap, and KRS One, so that is a critical year for lyrical advancements. Often overlooked MCs of that time period who should also be part of this discussion are MC Tee of Mantronix, Fruitkwan of Stetsaonic, and U.T.F.O. And, yes you have to include LL Cool J in this discussion, but we’ll speak more on that tomorrow…
**At least I assume that’s what he means by that verse. I truthfully didn’t think of it that way back then or for many years. It just sounded fly. It’s only in the last 15 years or so that I started to analyze this song and further to try to extract different meanings from it.
Written By Kevin Beacham, an Audio Student of the great T La Rock