Filed under: Bronx Bombers,Great Moments In Rap,Interviews,Not Your Average,Print Work,Speaker Smashers,Steady Bootleggin',T La Rock Special,Video Clips
Written by: Robbie Ettelson
T La Rock is so entrenched into the history of hip-hop that he actually attended Kool Herc‘s first parties. After nine years of deejaying, breaking and emceeing locally in The Bronx, as well as introducing his brother Special K of the Treacherous Three to rap, T finally decided to take the next step and begin his recording career. The result was a song that would prove to be one of the most influential b-boy records of all time.
Robbie: When did you get the bug to have a piece of wax out there with your name on it?
T La Rock: Around 1983 is when I decided to go professional, when I hooked-up with Rick Rubin. My brother Special K was the one that actually introduced me to Rick. He was supposed to record a record with Rick Rubin but he couldn’t, because he was signed with Sugarhill Records and Treacherous Three. So my brother told me about this guy Rick Rubin, says he wants to put out a record, he wants to start-up a label, so I was like, ‘OK’. I met Rick Rubin, he was in NYU. He hadn’t gotten with Russell [Simmons] yet. When we first did ‘It’s Yours’, Def Jam wasn’t even a label yet. I think he was actually runnin’ ’em out of his dorm room. It was ‘Def Jam Recordings’ – almost like a production company. It was still a record company but it wasn’t that official yet.
It was on Streetwise first, right?
That was later on. After we recorded it we hooked-up with Arthur Baker. I think we initially started-out with Streetwise to try to get distribution, and wind-up actually putting the record on there. Everybody gets confused and they say, ‘How come everybody keeps saying LL Cool J was the first record on Def Jam when I bought ‘It’s Yours’. That was on Def Jam!’ It’s just that Def Jam wasn’t a full label yet. If you have an original copy of ‘It’s Yours’, you will see ‘Def Jam Recordings’ on it.
Is it true that you had a falling-out with Def Jam and they tried to get LL to take your spot?
No. What happened was – here’s a record I made, ‘It’s Yours’…huge! One of the biggest records ever. I’m doing two or three shows a week, making anywhere from $800 to $1000 a show – which was a whole lotta money back then. I still kept my job working at the pharmacy when ‘It’s Yours’ was on the radio, getting’ airplay. Now after a while ‘It’s Yours’ finally dies down, I knew nothing about royalties or anything like that. I’m new to the music business. So everybody’s sayin’ to me, “Wow, T. I know you made a lot of money’ and I say ‘Yeah’. I’m thinking they’re talking about from the shows, but they were talking about from record sales! So I went to Streetwise and said, ‘I want a royalty statement’. They gave me a statement – you’re gonna love this – saying that we owed them money! [laughs] In other words, tryin’ to say the record didn’t make sell enough to recoup to make back the money! So that was like a complete, total turn-off, and I had gotten a little mad with Rick because at the beginning I never knew what deal went down. Keep in mind, this is my very first record deal. I knew nothing about the business.
Had you actually signed a contract with Rick?
I think I might’ve signed something – I don’t know. I didn’t have a lawyer, I didn’t have anything. Even me and Jazzy Jay started working on another demo, but then after that, I’m the one that said…I think it might’ve been a mutual thing, because I didn’t feel comfortable anymore. Def Jam, they was getting’ tonnes and tonnes of demos, and here comes this demo tape that comes through with this guy that sounds really good. He sounds like another T La Rock – which was LL Cool J. So they decided to produce him, so it was like both of us deciding we weren’t goin’ to work with each other anymore. I never had any type of falling out or anything with Russell. I didn’t really have a ‘falling-out’ with Rick. Only thing I had with Rick was me saying, ‘Hey! Shouldn’t I be gettin’ a check?’ That’s about it.
From the very first time I met LL he did nothing but show me love. This was at a club in Queens and I was doing a show with Kurtis Blow and someone else, so it was a lotta people around, and this light-skinned guy runs up to me, ‘Yo T, man. How ya doin’?’ Shakes my hand, ‘You have to hear me! I sound just like you!’ But one thing he said caught my ear, and it didn’t dawn on me until a little bit later on – he says to me, ‘What’s up with ‘He’s Incredible’?’ The next day I was talking to my brother K and I say, ‘You know, I met a light-skinned guy at the club last night and he asked about ‘He’s Incredible’. ‘He’s Incredible’ was still in it’s demo stages. Do you remember that EP with ‘Breakdown’? If we would’ve recorded a album with Def Jam, those would’ve been some of the songs on the album. That’s what we were recording for Rick before the little fall-out happened. So can you imagine that this guy outta nowhere, in the middle of a club, is screamin’ out the name of your record that nobody’s supposed to know about?
Jazzy Jay actually did the music for ‘It’s Yours’, didn’t he?
No, Jazzy Jay didn’t do no music up there. Rick Rubin did that. I’m a break beat collector, I have the original beat that ‘It’s Yours’ was made off of. I can’t speak too much on what Jazzy Jay did – all I know is I saw what Rick Rubin did in his dorm room. Jazzy Jay tried to say the same thing and I couldn’t vouch for him. Unless I saw it, I can’t vouch for it. The only one I saw with the drum machine was Rick Rubin. I didn’t see Jazzy Jay programming any beats. That’s not to say he didn’t, but when I was there I didn’t see Jazzy Jay program any beats. One day it was me, Louie Lou and one of the Beastie Boys in Rick Rubin’s dorm room, just playing around. That’s why on ‘It’s Yours’ you hear the fills – the middle part of the break. So even one of the Beastie Boys had their hands in on that track! I can’t remember which one of them it was, ‘cos they were just hanging around at that time, they didn’t have a record or anything. They were just hanging around Rick’s dorm room.
Here’s the thing that a lot of people don’t know – when we were doing the demo tracks in Rick Rubin’s dorm room, DJ Louie Lou was doing the first scratches. Louie Lou was deejaying with me way before ‘It’s Yours’. We had another group and we were called The Unstoppable Crew. What happened was, one night we were at Rick’s dorm room, rehearsing ‘It’s Yours’. Rehearsing scratches and vocals and things like that. We left, and there was one cassette tape with a demo on it. I brought my brother K with me – I wanted the tape too – but Louie said he should have it so he could practice and come up with some more ideas for scratching, which made sense to me, and I said, ‘OK’. But my brother, he wanted the tape also. So Louie Lou and my brother got into an argument over that cassette tape. A big argument! So big that they almost got into a shoving match! The end of the night, we tired and it ended with K and Louie going, ‘Well eff you!’ ‘Well eff you!’ I’m thinking, ‘OK children, calm down!’ The next day we were going down to Rick Rubin’s dorm room, and my brother says to me, ‘Don’t bring Louie!’ You’ve gotta keep this in mind – this is my best friend Louie Lou on one hand, and my brother on the other hand. So of course I had to go with my brother.
That’s when Rick Rubin said, ‘Well I have somebody in mind…’ Now I knew who Jazzy Jay was – I just knew Jazzy Jay from being around Bambatta – and I think Jazzy Jay had a little half-an-hour radio show on KISS-FM at that time. We had to get this record done, so Jazzy Jay was supposed to just do the scratches. That’s it – because Louie Lou couldn’t come around anymore. This is the part that is so funny – I can’t tell you how it went from Jazzy Jay doin’ the scratches to it becoming the group ‘T La Rock and Jazzy Jay’. How did that happen? I don’t know. [laughs] In other words, if it wasn’t for that fight with Louie Lou and my brother – Jazzy Jay would not be on ‘It’s Yours’. I’m not saying that if I woulda went to the practices with Rick Rubin he wouldn’t have said to me, ‘Hey! I have a DJ mind – Jazzy Jay!’ I’m not saying that wouldn’t have happened, but as it went, the first couple of practices in Rick Rubin’s dorm room was with me and Louie Lou. I still speak to Louie Lou up to today, and he still has the original demo – he teases me me all the time – with his scratches on ‘It’s Yours’. It worked out really well for Jazzy Jay because he was in a big group. It was Jazzy Jay, Bam, Soulsonic, all of ’em. With me, it was just me and him, and he was a happy camper. In other words, he was a happy guy with me because I was actually paying Jazzy Jay half of my money. No other artist was doing that. Maybe Eric B. & Rakim, I’m not too sure, but hardly any other group…whenever there was a show, the artist got paid and the artist paid the DJ. I was giving Jazzy Jay half of whatever I made. Jazzy Jay made more money with me than he made with Soulsonic doing shows.
‘It’s Yours’ was so different from everything else that was coming out.
Oh my god, I was credited in so many different ways because there was not one other record nothing like ‘It’s Yours’ out at that time. ‘It’s Yours’ changed the face of hip-hop during that period. People had to step-up their rhymes – even with the scratching, DJ’s had to step-up their game.
It’s also been credited with starting Bass music.
That too. The whole Bass thing, because there weren’t that many records out with that bass sound, which is from that Roland 808.You know what else is funny? We were in the studio mixing down ‘It’s Yours’ and I just kept on saying, ‘More bass! More bass! More bass!’ I was like LL Cool J was when he recorded ‘Mama Said Knock You Out’. [laughs] There’s a beer called Olde English 800 beer – malt liquor – and I had about two of ’em. I think LL had about four! [laughs] The reason why I say with LL, because I think he was drinking a lot of beer – you know, get that fiery energy. But me, I wanted to hear so much bass I just kept saying, ‘More bass!’ and the engineer was looking at me like I was crazy. Like, ‘How much bass do you want?!’
That would have been the first record that sounded incredible in a car after all the stuff with the Sugarhill sound.
Yeah! ‘It’s Yours’ was just that raw essence of a b-boy type record. It was no guitars, no strings, no nothing. There was just straight beats and scratches…and rhymes…and crowd participation. Ask and demand.
Who did all those crowd parts?
[laughs] Wow, you’re giving me flashbacks! You hear all those people on ‘It’s Yours’ going, ‘Yeah!’? There’s about five people. We used a machine where you can overlap the voices.
Did you have any concerns that your vocabulary might go over people’s heads?
Nope, not at all. That was the point of doin’ it – something different. I didn’t want to do anything like anybody else was doing. When I heard the beat to ‘It’s Yours’, if it would’ve sounded like everything else I probably wouldn’t have done it.
What about ‘It’s Yours Part 2’ with the Fatlace guys?
This guy reached out to me – Dan Greenpeace – and I did a record with Charlie Brown from Leaders of the New School. He did most of the hook on the song.
You did an updated version [‘Butterfly Style (It’s Yours 93)’] for Funkmaster Flex later as well.
Oh, I forgot about that! Flex called me up one day, and I was actually writing a song for somebody – can’t tell you who – and Flex is like, ‘Why don’t you come down to the studio? I’m doin’ this record’. I’m like, ‘Ehh…OK. For what?’ He goes, ‘Nah, just come down’. So I know Flex – he’s gonna want me to do somethin’. So I went down there and he was doin’ that – you know how Flex does those mix things? ‘Get your hands up!’ One of them type of records. He says, ‘Why don’t you say some rhymes up here?’ I was like, ‘Flex, you so slick, man’. So I just said a verse and did a record with him, and then it turns into a remix. The thing that was kinda crazy about the Flex situation was that everything happened in one night! The label was Nervous/Wreck, and Flex wanted me to do this thing so bad he had the guy come down there with my money – to pay me in the studio! In other words, Flex didn’t want me to have time to go home and change my mind and not do the record! [laughs] I gotta give him credit though, ‘cos that was a smart business move.
You did well to even get paid, since Black Moon had all those problems with Nervous.
I got paid for the work I did, but then the same thing that happened to me happened to Black Moon and everybody else. Almost like the first record! Even though it was a remix that Flex was doing, that was all I got paid. As you can imagine, that was another turn-off. I was like, ‘That’s it! I’m done!’ I was living off royalties I got from Sleeping Bag records and shows and stuff like that, but I kinda hung-up my hat. I said, ‘That’s it! I’m not recording anymore’ and left it alone.
T La Rock – ‘It’s Yours’
T La Rock – ‘It’s Yours’ (Scratch Death Party Mix)
T La Rock feat. C. Boogie Brown – ‘It’s Yours, Pt. 2’
T La Rock – ‘He’s Incredible’
An unofficial video for ‘It’s Yours’ from Henry Chalfant’s All City documentary (at 3:18):
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