Filed under: Announcements,Bronx Bombers,Interviews,Newest Latest,Not Your Average,Print Work,Speaker Smashers,Steady Bootleggin',T La Rock Special,Tape Vaults
Written by: Robbie Ettelson
Continuing my talk with “Super Rapper” T La Rock, we discuss the origins of his name, working with Mantronik, bootleggers and unreleased recordings. T is currently developing a biopic called ‘The T La Rock Story’ with “a very powerful producer from Hollywood” named Bonnie Timmerman (who was the Casting Director on Man On Fire, Carlito’s Way and State of Grace to name a few) as well as working on new music.
What’s the story behind your name?
T La Rock: That’s the thing, I was asking my brother about that. I’ve been ‘T La Rock’ for so long that it escapes me. I try to think real hard, ‘What made me say La Rock?’ I was ‘T La Rock’ when there was only three MC’s that was with Flash, put it that way. [laughs] There was only two ‘La Rocks’. People ask me was I the first ‘La Rock’ and I say, ‘It’s a toss-up’, because there was one other ‘La Rock’ – and this is way before Scott La Rock, ‘cos you know Scott La Rock actually got his name from me. We knew each other – in other words, I knew Scott, I know Scott’s brother, I know Scott’s mother, I know Scott’s cousin – so I knew him. He just was hanging around me all the time and one day he just added the ‘La Rock’ and said, ‘You got a problem with that, do you?’ I said, ‘Nah! Ga’ head’. Not many people know about that.
Who was the other ‘La Rock’?
There was another one who was with Kool Herc, and his name was Coka La Rock. But the thing that was funny about it is his name was pronounced two different ways – ‘Coke La Rock’ and ‘Coka La Rock’. We didn’t know each other. The way I came up with the ‘La Rock’ had nothin’ to do with emceeing. That was from breakdancing…well, dancing, rather. We didn’t call it breakdancing back then.
How did you get introduced to Kurtis Mantronik?
He had just signed with Sleeping Bag too around the same time and he had just done ‘Fresh Is The Word’. Actually, I wanted Kurtis to come in and mix some of the songs [for the ‘He’s Incredible’ EP] with me, but it didn’t happen. He told me he always wanted to work with me, but it was too late for that record. That’s around the time when hip-hop was big, but dance music and Freestyle music was the music that was hittin’ at that time, so Sleeping Bag focused all their energy on Mantronik. So I got pushed – but not as much push as Mantronik got – so ‘He’s Incredible’ kinda slipped through the cracks a little bit. Me and Kurtis would hang-out a lot outside of the whole music thing. I went to his house a lot, I would be going to his shows. Even when he was recording Music Madness, I remember MC Tee getting writer’s block and I kinda helped him out and gave him some rhymes and lyrics. A friendly thing – nothing like charging him or anything. We just started playing around with some beats one night at his house, and I said, ‘Sounds good!’ I remember when we did ‘Bass Machine’, which was the b-side to ‘Breaking Bells’. I produced ‘Breaking Bells’ and mixed it down with Louie Lou.
I didn’t know that. Mantronik is credited for the record, wasn’t he?
That’s what’s so funny. Do you know that the only thing that Kurtis Mantronik did with ‘This Beat Kicks’ was mixed it down with us? ‘This Beat Kicks’ was produced by me and Louie Lou. The record was written for Kurtis Mantronik, but he only showed-up to the studio once, and didn’t come back until the record was finished. Me and Louie Lou finished the record. The reason why people think Mantronik did it, because in the rhyme I’m sayin’, ‘The name Mantronik now world renown!’ The record was written for him even though he didn’t show up to the session. I could’ve changed it but I didn’t.
Mantronik was a real technology head. His studio must’ve been pretty crazy.
He’s a trip, man. Kurtis was such a nut…I don’t know how he did it, but Kurtis would be able to call your house and have a McDonald’s restaurant on a three-way – without dialing the three-way call! I don’t know how he did it. He used to rig things up. Kurtis was the type that would have a porno movie playing and have your voice over the porno movie! [laughs]
You also helped MC Serch get on?
Serch was one of my best friends at one time. He lived in Queens, I lived in the Bronx. Serch used to drive from Queens to The Bronx every other day to hang out with me. I was getting Serch in all the clubs, he was able to walk-in with me and he started networking and meeting people. There’s a song on the Lyrical King album called ‘Tutti Fruity Judy’ and Serch is on that record too. Talking at the beginning – that’s Serch and Greg Nice.
Apparently Serch would be the only white kid at places like Latin Quarter?
The clubs like The Roxy, The Funhouse, Roseland – all of those clubs, if you wasn’t V.I.P. like I was – there would be lines, especially at The Roxy, I kid you not. There were lines about a hundred feet long! So Serch didn’t have to wait on that line, I would walk him in through the front door. ‘You’re with me. C’mon’ and just walk right in.
Who else did you used to run with?
There’s another rapper from The Bronx named Deshawn [who appeared on Showbiz & AG‘s ‘Represent’]. He’s another one of those Kool Keith-type rappers that has a bunch of different names. He was ‘Sunkiss’, he was ‘Deshawn E. Thunder’, he was ‘Bald-Head Assassin’. He was so nice. When I hooked-up with him he was only fifteen years old. He used to go to Harlem and battle Big L and all these rappers like that, and go around the Bronx battling. We went to a club together one time, and me and him battled ten rappers at the same time, and I took a break and he kept goin’! I didn’t have to take a break, I just did because somebody wanted to do an interview or something. I left and came back and he was still battling. He was like, ‘I got this’ and he took out the next three. So all together we took out like thirteen MC’s in one night.
Is there any particular performance of your that really stands out to you?
There’s actually two. One was in New York City in a club called The Roxy…no, there’s actually two clubs in New York – one called The Roxy and one called Roseland. The other one that really stood-out for me was in Amsterdam. One thing I wanna make clear – I can’t think of one show that I did where the crowd wasn’t excited and it got amped and it wasn’t live – but these shows I’m naming were just more explosive. Believe me, throughout my career I think I’ve done about a thousand performances. That’s before I turned professional and after. Since I’ve gotten into hip-hop I’ve done about a thousand performances worldwide. I’m asked all the time to do performances and I turn them down. I’ve done it for so long I’ve slowed down a little bit, so it really depends on where it is and how I’m feeling at the time.
Do you have a lot of unreleased tracks that never came out?
Yeah I have a lot of those, they’re all over the place. I’m actually gathering them now, just for my personal collection. I have quite a few. There’s about fifteen unreleased songs that I have – that I started recording and were not mixed and mastered – that I recorded with Sleeping Bag Records that were not released, ‘cos I would go in the studio and record a whole bunch of songs and just pick ten to go on the album. But here’s the problem – finding them! Some of the copies I have somewhere, probably in a box.
Were these songs you produced yourself or with Mantronik?
A lot of ’em I did myself, a lot of ’em I did with Louie, some of ’em I did with Mantronik. One or two I did with Mark The 45 King, ‘cos I used to go to Mark’s house all the time.
The idea of a T La Rock/45 King song is mind-blowing to say the least.
Yup, it’s out there somewhere! The way it was set-up is…Mark is like me – we’re breakbeat collectors. Mark just came down to the studio and bought some breaks with ’em. We just started doin’ the record and that was it! I wonder if he even remembers that? It was so long ago – we’re talkin’ 80’s, so you know it’s a classic!
A lot of those songs must been before DAT tapes. Are those old reel-to-reels harder to track down?
I was the type that every time I was in the studio, no matter whether we started the record or whether it was mixed, I’d always leave with a cassette tape of it or a CD of it. I might actually have some formatted songs that are recorded, not necessarily mixed down. There was also a demo tape that I had did back in the days of Sleeping Bag Records, and back in 2000 I met this guy named Sean Ritchie, and he was asking me the same thing you asked me, ‘Is there any unreleased songs you have that you did?’ And this is on a cassette – third, fourth generation – a copy of a copy of a copy. He says that he had a record company and distribution and he knew some people, and he says that he actually wanted to put it out – go in the studio and re-record the songs. What he did was, he took the tape that I gave him and pressed it. Mastered the songs off the cassette and called it ‘The Lost Tapes’! I couldn’t believe it. I still haven’t found that guy yet! [chuckles] The songs weren’t bad but the recording just wasn’t that good. If you like T La Rock you’ll like that stuff, but it wasn’t a record that was mixed and mastered in a studio. The thing about it is, this guy who I’m talkin’ about – Sean Ritchie – I was with Percee-P and someone else, we was in the studio hangin’ out and he had a guy with him with a camera was just taking pictures. You know, a bunch of people just hangin’ out, takin’ pictures. Guess what he does? One of the pictures he took of me – he actually put it on the cover to make it look official! And then, to get himself out of it – you can probably hear the anger in my voice – he puts on the back of the credits, ‘All songs Produced and Mixed by T La Rock’! Nothing’s mixed by me! That’s another one of the ‘highlights’ of my career. That’s sorta like a warning to all the other artists out there – you gotta be careful, there’s a lot of shady characters out there. Coincidentally, who comes out with an album years later? Nas – The Lost Tapes. I was like, ‘Oh boy’.
Was that your only copy of the tape?
That’s the other thing. That’s the part of why I’m so angry – I only gave him the tape to listen to it. So he actually had my copy of the cassette, so I’m left with nothing. So I was really angry. Any artist you speak to will tell you, that’s not only memorabilia, that’s something that you keep with you. Unless of course I come across another tape! He has the original tape and everything, I never got that back.
Back to Part 1.
T La Rock – ‘Breaking Bells’
T La Rock – ‘This Beat Kicks’
T La Rock – ‘Live In Hempstead 1985, Part 1’
T La Rock – ‘Live In Hempstead 1985, Part 2’
T La Rock – ‘Verbal Assassin’ (demo)
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