T La Rock is certain to befuddle Hip-Hop conspiracy theorists. The Boogie Down Bronx-bred rapper isnt often mentioned when it is time to pay mainstream homage to heroes of the genre. It almost seems like an overt snub by the powers-that-suppress. Yet, the man born Terry Keaton finds himself in one of the best positions of his stellar, history-making career. Despite the ignorance, both Bad Boy mogul (and part-time actor) Sean Diddy Combs and movie producer Bonnie Timmermann are interested in retelling T La Rocks life story in an untitled film project, which has already been penned by Antwone Fisher.
But, the man who deemed himself the super rapper, is as influential to Hip-Hop aficionados as any rapper you can name. T La Rock was the first act Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin worked with on their fledgling Def Jam imprint with the iconic Its Yours. His wordplay influenced their young upstart LL Cool J and he never had to worry about rappers challenging his incredible skills when he was at his peak in the 80s. Heck, his brother is Special K of The Treacherous 3 and he introduced the world to an intense, intellectual approach to hardcore lyrics. Then, there is the tragedy that made headlines in the mid-90s. But, that is a tale only T La Rock can tell with some help from friends in high and lower places. Just maybe, the conspiracy theorists can momentarily put their mind at ease as one of their idols gets his just due.
AllHipHop.com: You have a situation where people like Sean "Diddy" Combs have expressed interest in a movie on your life.
T La Rock: Diddy is not 100% secured, but he's further along that anybody else besides the main producer Bonnie Timmermann. Diddy is almost locked it.
AllHipHop.com: What "sells" them on this story? People are obviously interested.
T La Rock: There's a number of reasons. Of course of who I am - T La Rock. I have several huge records. Everyone from Diddy to people in the movie that barely listen to rap know who I am. And the other part of it is the injury that I suffered back in 1995, which had a whole lot of press. Everybody from the Daily News to the New York Times to CNN [covered it].
AllHipHop.com: I read that New York Times story and I found that very interesting. The details that capture that moment...
T La Rock: ...Which I don't too much a recollection of. The people around me are actually telling that story, because I don't remember much about it. That's going to be about a quarter to about half of the story. It may even go back as far as when I was 15 years old. As far as the injury is concerned it's the people that were around me - like my mother - and people like that that's going to fill in those parts. Now way later on, as I started to regain my memory, I'll start to fill in some of those parts. That's why I barely talk about that, because I it would be guess work and it was so long ago. It's not like this happened last year of the year before. The injury took place in 1995.
AllHipHop.com: When you talk about the aftermath, the rehabilitation and recovery. Do you remember any of that?
T La Rock: No. I have no recollection of what happened. What I was told is that I was on my way to the recording studio. A friend of mine or somebody I knew was in trouble and I intervened to help the person or separate them or something. When that happened, I was struck one time [with an object] and that was it.
AllHipHop.com: I read a interview on you and you said you had no influences so can you explain that a little bit?
T La Rock: Well actually the question was did I have any influences within the Hip-Hop community. And I had said, no not really. I mean I come from a family of educators. And people in the family are into entertainment and, the actual, if I were to give any credit to anyone who, inspired me as far as rhyming would be two people that would be Muhammad Ali, and a white comedian actor named Danny Kaye. Now as far as Hip-Hop is concerned that would probably go, directly to Kool Herc.
T La Rock - Its Yours
AllHipHop.com: Aside from "Its Yours," one of my favorite records was well, "Breaking Bells," which we thought was a diss to LL Cool J who had "Rock The Bells." Can you get to the truth behind that?
T La Rock: Which record is that?
AllHipHop.com: "Breakin Bells."
T La Rock: OH yes, yes, well the reason why people looked at it as a diss record to LL, was because LL had a record called "Rock The Bells." And my record just happened to have the title "Breakin Bells." And it was really about the bells that was on the record which me and [DJ] Louie Lou played. Cause that record was actually produced by me and my DJ. And as far as the lyrics go, that was just . I was just actually just flowing with beat and showing skills it wasn't really aimed at any particular rapper. It was also, to catch the ear of certain rappers. But it was never intended to be directed as a verbal assault against LL Cool J.
[Editors note: LL Cool J was also the first artist to release and album on Def Jam, whereas T La Rocks Its Yours was the first song for the brand.]
AllHipHop.com: Do you think rappers in general were a little leery about approaching you since you were so lyrical at that time?
T La Rock: Oh of course, oh my goodness. I mean these are rappers, I don't know if I should say their name they might be embarrassed, would actually walk up and stand next to me and after a while I would get so tired and I would just turn around and say what's up and a sigh of relief would come on their face. You know I don't mean to sound cocky or anything but the truth is the truth.
AllHipHop.com: You can say their names if you want.
T La Rock: Excuse me?
AllHipHop.com: I said you can say their names if you want.
T La Rock: I know you're dying for me to but I'm not. (laughs) I mean I can name a few, there were, like put it this way. KRS-One, for example his DJ (Scott La Rock), who was a very good friend of mine his name was Scott, he actually lived right in my neighborhood. I knew his mother, me and his cousin were best friends his cousins name was Dwayne Burgess and Scott, he was into playing basketball and those things but he was also a counselor. And he wasn't really into Hip-Hop but he liked Hip-Hop. And I remember him telling that he said there's a person that he wanted me to meet that he met where he worked. That was sin a shelter and that persons' name was KRS-one. And I remember when I first met KRS-One, you know nice guy. I can't remember where we were going, but I know we were on the subway. We might have been coming from record I'm nor sure. And me and KRS one were actually. I wouldn't say battling but were free styling for quite a while. And we were (inaudible) with each other.
AllHipHop.com: You were both what?
T La Rock: Impressed, you know by each other's style and our way of rapping. So when I was, it was, I would call it a friendly battle you know what I mean? We didn't start with, "I'm better than you, no I'm better than you," so you know. And another one was Big Daddy Kane. Me and Big Daddy Kane would be on the phone just rhyming literally for hours.
AllHipHop.com: Wow, that's incredible.
T La Rock Goes Home
AllHipHop.com: I heard the rumor that you were in litigation with Rick and Russell over "Its Yours."
T La Rock: Yeah that actually, with that, we kept running into a dead end with that until finally you know. And then it also turned out that, it wasn't really Rick and Russell. Wound up beating, I mean, I have some pretty powerful attorneys, see I wasn't handling things the street way like a lot of these rappers do. Like you don't get anywhere to go down there huffin' and puffin' and making threats. You know I did it in the legal way and it turns out that as far as that record is concerned, it was umm Warlock Records. Warlock records actually held the "It's Yours" master for years. And you now but like I said it took a whole for me to really start seeing the real money from "It's Yours". It was worth the wait, even up to today. Royalties is good, publishing is where you get the big checks.
AllHipHop.com: Now, do you have people out in the field looking out for your interests as far as samples are concerned?
T La Rock: Yes. I have that. It took a while because actually over the years, there are organizations now, where that's actually all they do. I mean that's their job to track samples and track you know remixes and that type of thing. So I've been getting quite a few checks over the years.
AllHipHop.com: Speaking of Lyrical King Sleeping Bag records. That album is classic bonafide classic.
T La Rock: Right, cause I was surprised, not surprised as in "Wow that album's not that good", but I was surprised on you know just how it fell in that category.
AllHipHop.com: Man that album is serious man, that was one of my favorite albums of that era.
AllHipHop.com: Why didnt you sign to Def Jam though? That's has always been a weird like nobody really, it never connected to me.
T La Rock: Like I said I just didn't' like he way "It's Yours was handled It wasn't a middle finger type thing it was both people, not Russell, I never had a problem with Russell. I didn't really have a problem a big problem with Rick either. It's just that when "It's Yours" had such a long run I just thought we weren't handled properly. Or I wasn't. Now Jazzy Jay wasn't too worried about it. He actually went ahead, me and Jay were working on another record but I kind of shied away from it.
AllHipHop.com: Ok, now lets discuss the state of Hip-Hop. What are your thoughts on how Hip-Hop is these days, both overall and the emcees?
T La Rock: Well nowadays the emcee - wow. Especially a lot of the mainstream rappers, and I don't really feel comfortable saying names but you'll probably figure out whom I'm talking and they probably know it themselves are not realty using any lyrical content now. Just on the mic just talking. And it's so watered down. I mean there some there's still a few real emcees out here. But the really talented ones that'll rally come across as products of the real Hip-Hop, you would have to listen to underground stations or that type of thing to hear them.
AllHipHop.com: Now after, the 2 or 3 albums you kinda stopped recording. Most artists of your stature might keep on going or either about recording or some have ruined their legacy, doing sub par material.
T La Rock: Yeah I stopped recording back in maybe 92' or 93'. I just stopped. And this was right after Sleeping Bag records. Cause I had said I was gonna take a break for a while and I just got comfortable. But I was ghostwriting for a lot of people also producing for a lot rap artists. A lot of people don't know that and every time I say they say, "C'mon just tell me who." But I'm loyal, it's like I honor, you just can't. Some people like to brag about that you know "Well I wrote!", and I just don't do that.
AllHipHop.com: You know I thought about it. You know you were so ahead of your time, I'm thinking the world might just be catching up right about now.
T La Rock: On myspace, I get so many messages that go into my inbox, I'm blown away. And it's like some of the peoples are hearing these records for the first time. I'm talking about rap's new generation. They may have heard about me by word of mouth and when they listen they're blown away.
T La Rock Breaking Bells
T La Rock and Mantronix are credited as the first artists to use the 808 bass drum on a rap song.
T La Rock and the Treacherous 3 - '85 Live at Hempstead - Part 1