Far as I know Special K didn’t have any other vocal appearances in the 80s other than what we covered in PART ONE and PART TWO*. However, there is one curious suggestion. On Louie Louie’s “Deadlier Than Ever” album in ’89 there’s a listing for Special K being featured on the song “The Funky Stuff”. Evidence suggests that it is supposed to be THIS Special K since Louie Louie did work his brother, T La Rock. Yet, on the song there are no vocals. Even on the back cover liner notes it says vocals on “Funky Stuff” by Special K, so maybe last minute the removed him from the song for some reason? Too bad, it’s a nice beat and I can picture Special K going for broke on it.
Oddly enough, the next thing that I can find Special K credited for had him coming to the Twin Cities to do some recording. He lent some work to the MC Skat Kat record on “Skat Kat’s Theme”. The main Rap vocalist working on the Skat Kat record is Derrick “Delite” Stevens who was a member of early Twin Cities crew Soul Purpose and is now a creative force over at 89.3 The Current. That was in ’91 and then things got quiet for a couple years.
When you see one of your favorite crews who have been missing in action for 10+ years suddenly doing a reunion project there’s likely a mixture of excitement and reluctance. I think that sentiment applies to any era and I’m not sure if these issues are the same in all genres, but it certainly is in Hip Hop. You wonder, will the artists try to fit the style of the day and forget what made them great in the first-place or are they lost in the past and doomed to make a project that is painfully outdated. Treacherous Three were able to mostly avoid leaning to hard toward extreme and found solid footing somewhere in the middle.
I first became aware of their reunion with their title track on the “Raiders Of The Lost Art” Compilation in 1994 (9 years after their last single, “Gotta Rock” in ’85). The song starts off with some quick vocal pass-around between the three MCs. Next, rather than taking it far back to the Old School with the harmonizing, they do some rhythmic rhyming in unison to build the intensity. The solo verses, which follow next, are focused on the potency of the lyrics. Special K sounds great. His voice and vocal stature have matured gracefully. He sounds like microphone royalty, as he should. He mixes some standard rhyme patterns with his unique approach. There are great moments where he picks up the speed to a fever pace with perfect precision. The best moment is when he hits the listener with a complex cadence, laced with a ill visual, followed by an unexpected rhyme scheme which puts it all in perspective, “Words are like missiles/Bombs aimed to hit ya/Split ya/So yo better be ready when you hear the sound of a whistle/Duck for cover, here comes a brother/That lives in quadruples and still does it youthful!” That’s right, past 40 years old and still blessing mics furiously… This had me hyped to hear more music from the newly reformed lyrical masters.
Around this same time, Treacherous Three’s DJ, Easy Lee, had secured a distribution deal through Ichiban/Wrap Records for his own imprint. For his first project he reunited the Treacherous Three to record the "Old School Flava" album. The production was handled mostly by newcomer, Ken Fambro, who later went on to do some bigger stuff (EX: Destiny’s Child, Big Boi, etc…). Other key names handling production are Ced Gee (of Ultramagnetic MCs, Clark Kent, T La Rock, Rahiem (Of Furious Five), and the group themselves. As the album title reveals, they are flirting with a bit of a throwback sound, but still fully showcase their advanced rhyme styles. L.A. Sunshine sounds his best ever on most of this album. Kool Moe Dee showcases he is still is a prolific writer and also a master of styles. The difference is that rather than inventing new styles, he is showing that he can effortless do the styles created by others over the last seven years or so. Unsurprisingly, Special K generally has the most individualized presence on the record. The album is good, but it came at a hard time for anything less than great to shine. 1994 is the year of “Illmatic”, “Ready To Die”, “Hard To Earn”, “Word…Life”, “The Main Ingredient”, “Dare Iz a Darkside”, “Stress: The Extinction Agenda”, “Boxcar Sessions” “Do You Want More?!!!??!”, etc… Not only where those amazing and/or groundbreaking albums, they also pushed the limits of styles, sounds, rhyme techniques, and/or just about everything else. “Old School Flava” had a better chance getting appreciated in ’93 when Hip Hop was lost in the “psycho” phase or maybe even ’95 where throwback Rap was coming into prominence, thanks to The Artifacts, Jurassic Five, etc…
Special K has three particular highlight moments on “Old School Flava”. On the quick-paced “The Mic Wreckers” he speaks on his lyrical legacy and flexes a delivery that’s a combination of aggressive and smooth. He references his “Individual style…” and “Unique delivery”, as he invites you to “Understand the ways of the Boogie Down Bronx King”. All the MCs snap lyrical on this joint, but the song suffers a bit due to a corny sub-chorus that I assume is inspired by Bell Biv Devoe.
As one might guess at a glance, the Ced Gee produced “Ain’t Nothin Changed” is the best beat on the record and the MCs respond accordingly. Special K utilizes a variety of different styles, deliveries and wordplay tactics to keep the verse engaging.
Each MC has a solo track on the album and Special K’s is my favorite, also possibly my favorite track on the album overall. His track, “Sun Is Up”, is self-produced with some help from his brother, T La Rock and Jasz (who I don’t know much about). Of all the songs on the album “Sun Is Up” sounds the most timeless. The vibe could be described as mechanics meets the mystic arts. The drums resemble the purposeful rhythm of factory machinery and are fleshed out with a female voice doused with heavy effects pronouncing the songs title. Vocally, there are a handful of moments that hint at current skill level, such as, “The rays of this sunbeam cut clean as a laserbeam/I gleam, plus seem (like I’m) sent by the lord of the unseen.” The best moments aren't necessarily profound quotes, often there is something about his poise and elegance.
These three moments on “Old School Flava” once again make me fantasize about how a Special K solo project might have sounded in the early/mid 90s.
Fours years later, Special K showed up working with Ced Gee again. These collaborations make sense, as I’ve mentioned previously, Kool Keith cites Special K as a key influence, it is likely that extends to Ced Gee also. In fact, you can hear it in Ced Gee’s early cadence and writing approach. Their joint track, “Impossible” is on the compilation “Connected” (3-2-1 Records). It’s a cool low-key Ced Gee beat with Doug E Fresh on the chorus. Ced Gee and Special K trade verses back and forth. It’s nothing groundbreaking lyrically, but it’s a solid and enjoyable track none-the-less.
Twin Cities legendary DJ/Producer/Music Historian, Freddy Fresh released a Treacherous Three & Spoonie Gee 7” in 2003 with the track, “Bum Bum Bum Bum (Rockin To Da Break Of Dawn) Remix”. I don’t know where the original version exists, but it’s seems this is definitely not a full version. The hook has all four MCs and even suggests that they all have verses, but the only rhyming on the track is from Special K and Spoonie Gee. It’s got a nice vibe and some quality production and focuses more on Old School Styled lyrical sensibilities.
Special K is one of those artists that I’ve hoped to interview for over fifteen years to speak on his Microphone Mathematics and fill in some other blanks, but he’s the one MC that I haven’t been able to track down. When I have previously searched online he’s also the one member of the Treacherous whom I never found any interview from or hardly any info about. After writing and posting Part One of this series I tried to dig deeper into more info. I found a lead in a bit of an unlikely place, Soundcloud. I stumbled upon a label Key Sound Reords that had some new music from Special K. Two of the tracks have a rock feel, but still show his still present creativity and signature sound. Particularly, the “Moonshine” track show his rhyme skills are still in tact. The third track is a straight up House Dance track. They are all snippets so you don’t get the full feeling. I’m curious to what else he has in the vault and for the future.
Listening to his music you get the notion that Special K is a very deliberate individual. His word choices and demeanor suggests he deals with logic and science. He prefers to speak when he has something particular to say. I even noticed that when I listened to several Treacherous Three live show recordings from the 80s, Special K hardly spoke in the mic unless was rhyming or singing. You’d always find L.A. Sunshine and Kool Moe Dee boasting, toasting, or interacting with the crowd heavily, but not Special K. Though I’m sure there most be some moments of him saying something, I can’t recall any, where as I can clearly remember several moments from both the others. Seemingly, Special K has been a mystery man from the beginning. Even though I recently established contact with the lyrical pioneer and verbal mastermind, getting an interview proved as elusive as ever. However, he’s still actively at work in his own laboratory on various experiments to share with the world. We need only stay tuned…
SPECIAL K/TREACHEROUS THREE MUSIC SAMPLER #2:
SPECIAL K KEY SOUNDS SAMPLER:
*He does have a few 80s production credits though. On T La Rock's "It's Your" the only writers given any credit are K. Keaton (a.k.a Special K) and Rick Rubin. T La Rock (a.k.a C Keaton) isn't even given writers credit. I'm not sure exactly to what degree Special K was involved but apparently he was a key part of this record. On T La Rock's second single ("Breakdown", "He's Incredible"), Special K is listed as lead producer, as well as a co-writer for both of those tracks along side T La Rock. In '86 the female crew founded by Fearless Four, The Main Attraction, had a single called "There's Nothing Good About Fronting" on PKO Records (The same label as Special K's "Knockout" single). It list Master O.C. a.k.a O.C. Rodriguez (Fearless Four) and Special K as the producers.
Written By Kevin Beacham