Tone Loc ~ Loc-ed After Dark (1989)

Posted on July 25, 2012

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In the late 1980’s, as rap’s Old School gave way to the Golden Era, the artform became a lucrative commodity; mainly due to the irrepressible flavor of the records made during this time, and the stylistic diversity of the period’s most iconic acts. For instance, Long Island, New York groups like EPMD, Eric B and Rakim, and Public Enemy used sludge funk, sublime rhyme science, and progressive fury to endear themselves to rap fans; while Houston’s Geto Boys and Compton, California’s NWA employed shock-and-awe gangsterism to leave their marks on the game. While the aforementioned have received widespread acclaim over the years, a number of other acts broadened rap’s appeal and increased its media profile during the Golden Era, only to have their contributions forgotten or downplayed. One such artist was a gravel-voiced emcee from Los Angeles, who stepped off the streets of Hollywood in 1987, and in less than two years, became a pop culture phenomenon. His name: Tony Smith, or as the world would come to know him, Tone Loc.

Born and raised in West Los Angeles, Tony Smith gravitated to music in the late 1970’s: developing an affinity for both funk and rap as an adolescent, and rhyming to breaks lifted from the Ohio Players, Sly and the Family Stone, and Parliament-Funkadelic. Around the same time, Smith formed a trio called Triple A with his friends Wink Dog and Custom G; and in 1980, a parental mistake gave him the tool that would make him a star: a distinctively husky voice, birthed from burned vocal cords, after his mom gave him a hot tea-and-brandy elixir for strep throat. By 1987, Smith’s Triple A days were behind him, and he’d morphed into Tone Loc, a mercurial 21-year-old that flipped foreclosed homes, dabbled in computer programming, ran with the Rollin’ 60s Crips gang in South L.A., and continued to rhyme in his downtime. In the summer of 1987, Loc staged an impromptu phone audition for Matt Dike and Michael Ross, two L.A. disc jocks who’d founded a new indie label (Delicious Vinyl), and were entranced by Loc’s flow and vocal tone. After signing with Delicious Vinyl, Loc cut his first single “On Fire”, which became a notable radio hit by the end of ’87; and in the summer of 1988, when Delicious Vinyl secured national distribution with Island Records, Matt Dike and Mike Ross christened the deal with “Wild Thing”, a pulsating rock-rap hybrid performed by Loc, which burned the airwaves through the late summer and fall of ’88. The success of “Wild Thing” prompted Dike, Ross, and Loc to hit the lab and record an album; and in the winter of 1989, Tone Loc delivered one of the greatest West Coast rap albums ever made: his full-length debut: Loc-ed After Dark.

From beginning to end, Loc-ed After Dark is a lowrider classic, with a vibe that runs completely counter to its biggest hits. The rock fusions found on the album’s first two singles – “Wild Thing” and “Funky Cold Medina” – are polar opposites to the rest of the set, as Matt Dike and Michael Ross, along with L.A. production duo The Dust Brothers, give Tone Loc a battery of gangsta-funk tracks to get loose to. Throughout the album, Loc’s raspy baritone and the liquid instrumentals fit like hand in glove; and between its gangsta lean cuts and danceable chart toppers, Loc-ed After Dark keeps you moving for a solid hour. When the set’s first selection, “On Fire (Remix)”, starts to play, you’re invited to put on your Loc sunglasses and cruise the streets of L.A. This cut, an update of Tone Loc’s first Delicious Vinyl single, has a stone-cold mack feel; mainly due to its melding of the drums from Melvin Bliss’ “Synthetic Substitution”, and the tingling guitars and bass from Rufus and Chaka Khan’s “You Got The Love”. Not to be outdone by his production, Tone Loc eases into the track like a Coupe de Ville: dropping slick metaphors, displaying enviable wit and vocabulary, and playing the King of L.A. in the last verse, as he takes listeners on a trek across Los Angeles County. “Wild Thing”, the song that made Tone Loc a household name, is still the ultimate guilty pleasure, more than 20 years after its release. Built atop the drum tumbles of Alex Van Halen, and the crushed guitar riffs of Eddie Van Halen, “Wild Thing” channels the Van Halen hit “Jamie’s Cryin” and turns it into a pulsating ode to casual sex; where Loc enjoys hook-ups with random females, and recalls his escapades through verses co-written by Marvin Young, a.k.a. future Delicious Vinyl star Young MC. “Loc-ed After Dark” is the perfect soundtrack for sundown; a midnight creeper driven by the pimp groove from Edwin Starr’s “Easin’ In”, where Loc flows like ice water; coasts over Matt Dike and Mike Ross’ instrumental, and cleverly interacts with his DJ (Mark “M-Walk” Walker) on the outro, guiding M-Walk as his scratches pan from ear to ear on the fadeout. “I Got It Goin’ On”, the album’s third and final single, picks up the pace, and finds Loc turning the party out with braggadocio flair, over a vibrant track that interpolates Tom Browne’s 1980 hit “Funkin For Jamaica”; a track M-Walk finishes off with a brilliant spattering of scratches. And E.Z. Mike and King Gizmo, together known as The Dust Brothers, work their production magic on “Cutting Rhythms”; concocting an alchemic track from bits of Barry White (“I’m Gonna Love You Just A Little More Baby”), ESG (“UFO”), Steely Dan (“Black Cow”) and Gary Wright (“My Love Is Alive”), and giving Loc room to lamp and chill, and meld his ghostly flow to their groove.

On the second half of Loc-ed After Dark, Tone Loc continues to drift between the streets and the pop charts, and he does so effortlessly. “Funky Cold Medina”, the album’s platinum-selling second single, comes from the pen of Young MC, who scribes a sequel of sorts to “Wild Thing”, where a lovelorn Loc learns of a cocktail guaranteed to bring women his way, while Matt Dike and Michael Ross delve deep into classic rock; calling on Foreigner (“Hot Blooded”), The Rolling Stones (“Honky Tonk Women”), Bachman-Turner Overdrive (“You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet”), and Kiss (“Christine Sixteen”) to supply the driving instrumental. The Dust Brothers retake the mix board for the next three cuts, starting with “Next Episode”, a speed-switching body rocker that borrows from Slave (“Son Of Slide”) and Aerosmith (“Walk This Way”), and alternates basslines and melodies, leaving Tone Loc with little more to do than flow on cruise control, which he does with precision. The ultra-cool “Cheeba Cheeba” is perfect for rolling down the avenue in the ride, and rolling a joint to smoke in the crib, and features vocalist N’Dea Davenport (of the Brand New Heavies) singing the chorus, while Tone serenades his one true love: Mary Jane. “Don’t Get Close”, the next Dust Brothers production, is harder than granite; with jaw-tapping drum kicks, melodic smatterings from Parliament and the Ohio Players; and rugged verses from Tone Loc, who puts an extra sinister tint on his vocal tone, and throws haymakers at anyone in his airspace. On “Loc-in On The Shaw”, Tone Loc steps aside for a moment, while Matt Dike and Michael Ross take center stage, with a mysterious score that sounds as if it belongs in a crime thriller. In just over four minutes, Dike and Ross render a soothing yet suspenseful groove, and invoke images of late-night drug deals and murder plots from behind the mix board. And Tone Loc re-enters the fray for the closer “The Homies”, a decidedly lighter track than “Loc-in On The Shaw”, where Loc revisits his past; rocking to the regal drum clangs of The Meters’ “Hey Last Minute”, doing a harmonic reinterpreting of Parliament’s “Mothership Connection”, and reminiscing on his adolescence in West L.A., while an assortment of old friends chant and politic behind him.

Loc-ed After Dark was assembled in short order; written, produced, and recorded mostly in late 1988 to capitalize on the radio success of “Wild Thing”. But no one involved in its assemblage foresaw the heights the album would reach, or the historical impact its author would have. In the spring of 1989, Loc-ed After Dark reached number one on the Billboard 200 album chart; making Tone Loc the second rap act (after the Beastie Boys) and the first Black rap artist to reach #1 on the pop chart. As a single, “Wild Thing” would make history in its own right; selling several million copies, and becoming the second biggest selling single in recorded music history, after the USA for Africa humanitarian song “We Are The World”. Tone Loc, the fun-loving everyman from West L.A., became a pop immortal almost overnight, and though he’d record only one more album after this one (1991’s Cool Hand Loc) before unofficially retiring from music making, he would secure a permanent place in music lore. Tony Smith moved into other areas of entertainment in later years; becoming an actor and in-demand voiceover talent. But, those exploits aside, Smith may be eternally remembered as Tone Loc, the man that got Loc-ed After Dark, did the “Wild Thing”, and rocked the planet in the process.

To listen to Loc-ed After Dark, click here.

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