It seems that T La Rock’s writing proficiency was highly influenced by the subject matter. When he spoke on subjects regarding technology he had a tendency to elevate the lyricism. This was witnessed on his examination of the song making process on “It’s Yours” and then revisited on his analysis of Louie Lou’s DJ skills in the final verse of “Breakdown”. He describes the mental process as, “His technique will astonish those who attempt to do his skill/You are free to inquire as to how he will reveal/His continual perennial mastermix/His precision on decision of the record that he picks.” In the final verse his description of how records are mixed and scratched explodes with vivid detail, “Some find it hard to comprehend how two records can blend/That’s when he’ll try to simplify and mix ‘em again/The records he will switch and then slow down the pitch/With precise ingenuity his fingers will twitch/Causing the record to move back and forth/The fader east and west, the record south and north/His finger now attached to the record like a latch/The new sound well developed better known as a scratch!”
The appreciation for Louie Lou continues on to the B-Side with “He’s Incredible”. T La Rock sparsely toys with the style of flowing to the drums without rhyming, a technique pioneered on wax by his brother Special K on “Gotta Rock” (by Treacherous 3). Ironically, the best rhyming about Louie Lou takes place on “Breakdown” and the best rhyming on “He’s Incredible” is about the skills of T La Rock. It would seem that it would have made the most sense to rearrange some lyrics between the two songs (which have rather similar beats anyway) to maximize the topics. In any event, the lyrical highlight on “He’s Incredible” occurs in the third verse, “I’m sending you a message double-dunked in bass/Feel it so deep the voice won’t erase/Mediated thoughts powered by the mind/Every verse is guarded by a patent design/I’m musical artist with a visual image, reaching and searching for a musical scrimmage line/Shielding myself with ???/Weak and unprotected, but enough to intervene/Counting the seconds living day by day/Expressing myself in a musical way/Power and wealth are important for a goal/My expressions are mirror reflecting my soul/Physical drive harnessed by restraint/Able to revive or cause a person to faint…” I think that is one of most slept on verses of T La Rock’s career and one of the best Rap verses of ’85, but it probably got overlooked being buried smack dab in the middle of DJ dedication song. It’s also one of the first Rap songs that really makes the attempt to be philosophical and elevate to different forms of thought.
He digs a little deeper into the philosophy and spiritual side of things on the single’s third track, “A magical magician from a magical place/Where you ears hear the treble and your feet feel the bass/Where there is no Adam, there is no Eve/How you were born is how you believe/Take a man and a woman, make them husband and wife/Take the dead and the buried and bring them to life/I walk…never tire, run a mile and won’t perspire/With the powers I possess I can recreate fire!”
Essentially, this track sounds if T La Rock was just sharing some spare rhymes in his notebook. I don’t mean that to suggest they are lacking in quality. Any true MC from this era had stacks of notebooks with rhymes. Not every verse written was for a specific song or concept. Often they may have just been hit with a creative spark and so they delved into it. In this case T La Rock is exploring different sides with each verse. There are battle rhymes, party rocking call and response, a Fearless Four-esque rendition of “It’s Magic”, step-by-step instructions on how to become an MC, and it ends with a guy-meets-girl story that is somewhat in the vein of Grandmaster Caz’s “Yvette”.
The “Breakdown” 12” was produced by T La Rock along with his brother, Special K, but enlisted Mantronik’s assistance for mixing/engineering. This was a connection that would fully blossom on the next single, which is produced by Mantronik and yields two of the greatest complete songs in the T La Rock discography. The production on both tracks is phenomenal! There’s Heavy Roland TR-808 beats crushing the eardrums with a slight airy gated reverb effect, supported by some random samples that appear and disappear at will and of course, the studder-style machine gun edits that were a Mantronik standard at the time, courtesy of Omar Santana and Chep Nunez.
The heavy ringing tones on “Breaking Bells” give it a pretty undertone, but it has a more prominent heavy touch of ruggedness injected in the formula with the beats and especially the rhymes. T La Rock offers to the competition, “What I invent I intend to intimidate you/It will be a slam dunk on your said virtue…” Not long after that he reveals his perceived conclusion to the encounter, “When I finish I diminish then I laugh in your face/Try to build up your ego, put it in the right place!” “Breaking Bells” is probably the better overall song of the two, but “Bass Machine” edges it out fairly significantly lyrically.
The first thing T La Rock seeks to establish on “Bass Machine” is his new found alliance with Mantronik. He praises Mantronik’s “Innovative Mind” and refers to him as “Beat specialist, a master on effects/Originality is what he projects/Song-like rhythms on top of the beat/Differentiates my records from the ones on the streets/The name Mantronik now world renown/As the king of beats, the master of sound!” However, the best compliment might come in the form of his suggestion that the sophisticated musical approach of Mantronik might help the Hip Hop genre break down barriers with some of the music’s non-appreciators, “For those that are weary of adjusting to Rap/I have a premonition you will soon adapt!”
However, it’s on the second verse were he drops the next T La Rock literary treasure as he accurately describes his writing process and crisp delivery, “My voice permanently is now disclosed/My disciple colo-nated since the day I arose/I’m audible in speech, not hard to discern/I edit mistakes to relieve your concern/Discharge your negativity and listen good/Have you ever heard rhymes so clear and understood/No is the answer you must reply/I invested loyalty so it will never decline/And for you diabolical malevolent ducks/Who continue to imitate and won’t give it up/It should be understood that if I could/Give you a whole lifetime you’ll never write this good!”
The next T La Rock and Mantronik collaboration was “Back To Burn”. In many ways it brings in the best parts of “Breakin’ Bells” and “Bass Machine” and maximizes the effect. T La Rock lashes out at those “biters, imitators who have bitten my style” with out mercy. The second verse is yet another classic from the "The ultimate Challenger...Super-Rapper, T La Rock, The Undisputed MC" and also contains one of my favorite T La Rock lyrics ever, “I’m encouraging you to take that step/And submit your soul to this concept!” That is one bold request! One must be teeming with unearthly confidence to ask the listener to submit their soul to your rhyme concept…Mr T La Rock I certainly considered it. A great thing about this 12” is that back cover includes a print out of some of the lyrics. Printed lyrics were not common at the time, specifically on a 12”**. That is just another testament that he knew that he was and continued to be a pioneer for lyricism in Hip Hop.
Later the same year of the “Back To Burn” release in ’87, my local college radio station WNUR 89.3 started to play a new T La Rock song. I couldn’t find the single in stores and I had no idea where it was from. I kept trying to catch a dub from the radio, but always missed the first part and it comes in with an essential T La Rock acapella intro. It was probably a few years later that I learned that the song, “Nitro”, was an exclusive track on a Fresh Records compilation called “The Rap Pack”. Based on the sound of the beat and the last two T La Rock records it was easy to assume it could be a Mantronik beat, but actually it was a early, perhaps the first, QD III production***. Overall the song is solid from the beats to the rhymes. It isn’t the highest caliber rhyming in T La Rock’s arsenal, but it was still engaging, as he out writes Shakespeare and baffles Mark Twain. There is one particularly highlight, which QD III enhances perfectly with a beat switch-up, as T La Rock drops this rapid-fire gem, “Dance to the rhyme because it’s time to swing/I’m on time with the rhyme because I’m the Lyrical King/The evolutionary, vocabulary-user Rapper....” It’s not so much a great quotable as it is nicely stylistic in the way he says it, plus it throws out the first teaser to his upcoming full-length album, “Lyrical King”!
“I can verbally hypnotize, materially immobilize/Rap I have advanced, Hip Hop I have epitomized”-T La Rock (“Nitro”)
I suppose this is as good a place as any to address the LL Cool J situation. Some time in the late 90s I connected with Percee P and he put me in touch with T La Rock who had just started to get active again after a traumatic head injury. T La Rock and I exchange phone calls for about a year until my life got crazy and I disappeared off the scene a bit. You can’t even imagine how lucky and unreal it felt when my Mom would yell down to the basement, “T La Rock’s on the phone for you!”
One of the most memorable talks we had was about LL Cool J. He told me about a night in a club circa ’84 only a few days or so after he had recorded “He’s Incredible”. While at the club some young teenager came up to him to tell him how much of a fan he was of his work. He was talking about how much he loved “It’s Yours” and went even further to say he loved “He’s Incredible”… T La Rock was a bit stunned. How did he know “He’s Incredible”? He had just recorded it and only a few people had heard it….people such as Rick Rubin. T La Rock & Rick Rubin were still discussion if his next 12” would be a Def Jam project. The young kid told him that he was Rick’s new artist and Rick had played it for him. He told him his name was LL Cool J…
Here are a few things to consider in the importance of T La Rock to LL Cool J. First off, if you listen to that “Radio” album you can hear the T La Rock influence blatantly. You don’t need any investigation or proof to recognize that, it is perfectly obvious. But, there’s more. It’s often said that the first song that Rick Rubin and LL Cool J recorded together was “He’s Dangerous”, a song about LL’s DJ. Ya know, much like “He’s Incredible” a song about T La Rock’s DJ, recorded days after LL heard that demo. I hate to speculate, but it seems that Rick Rubin and/or Def Jam may have decided they found a younger version of T La Rock with LL Cool J and thought he had more marketing appeal. Beyond that, one of the most famous tapes you can find of a young LL are of him rhyming pieces of “The Original Rock The Bells” before it released over the “It’s Yours” Instrumental. It’s a fair assumption that the admiration didn’t stop after LL found success with “Radio” and “B.A.D” as he had a song called “Nitro” on ‘89s “Walking With A Panther”, two years after T La Rock’s song of the same name.
T La Rock told me that many years later (the 90s I assume) he ran into LL again at some industry function or what not. It was the first time he saw him since that initial meeting I think, but not sure about that. Anyway, LL came up to him and once again was singing his praises for T La Rock’s lyrical legacy and how influential he was to him. T La Rock just had one question for him, “If that was true how come in interviews he never mentioned that?” In most of LL’s early interviews he always listed his influences as Cold Crush Brothers, Treacherous Three, and groups from that early era. I have no doubt that LL was a fan of those days of Hip Hop and they helped inspire and shape him as a Rap Fan and an MC, but clearly his direct influence and vocal approach derived from T La Rock. He said LL didn’t really have a good answer, but a few weeks later T La Rock received an envelope in the mail from LL Cool J that was, shall we say, very generous****…
MONDAY we’ll conclude the T La Rock lyrical trilogy with discussion about the “Lyrical King” album and some bonus gems!!
Written By Kevin Beacham, A Student and Fan Of The Lyrical Genius Of T La Rock
*At the same time I also got a dub of DJ Chuck Chillout show on 98.7 Kiss FM also and he was cutting up “He’s Incredible”. I feel like I witnessed that regularly in my limited 98.7 Kiss experience, Red Alert would be on the A-side and Chuck Chillout would be on rocking the flip…
**Although, “Back To Burn” was not the first Rap single to print the lyrics. It had been done previously by Fearless Four (“Problems Of The World Today”), D.st (“Mean Machine”), Gary Byrd (“The Crown”), and maybe some others.
***In the same year QD III also produced T La Rock’s younger brother, Special K, single also, which includes the excellent rhymed, but uninspired-ly titled “Special K Is Good”.
****LL Cool J has been accused by a few artist of heavily borrowing from them. Besides T La Rock, similar comments have been made by Mikey D and The Jaz a.k.a Big Jaz. I’ve been working on an article about some of that…soon come.