The video was
unforgettable, even though it looked as if it was made for a couple of
hundred dollars, a case of beer and an ounce of "cheeba cheeba."
Shot in stark black and white, the clip featured a handful of identical
dark-haired models sensuously gyrating in the background as a chubby, non-telegenic
but enormously good-humored rapper called Tone-Loc coolly unfurled a series
of horny rhymed couplets.
Casual observers contended that the video for "Wild Thing"--a blatant
rip-off/homage to Robert Palmer's much slicker clip for "Addicted to
Love"--propelled Tone-Loc's 1989 debut "Loc-ed After Dark" to the top of the
Billboard albums charts (where it followed the Beastie Boys' "Licensed to
Ill" as the second hip-hop album ever to hit those lofty heights).
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And in the wake of the disc's phenomenal success, critics and jealous
peers were quick to deride the MTV darling.
Tone-Loc was a joke--a cartoon caricature--they said. Much of the album
had actually been written by his labelmate, Marvin Young, a.k.a. Young MC.
And it was just "pop music," not "real" or "street" enough to be considered
All of this jealous sniping ignored two undeniable facts: 1) Tone-Loc's
hoarse 4 a.m. rasp and laidback-to-the-point-of-falling-over vocal style
made for one of the greatest deliveries in hip-hop history, and 2) Even if
he wasn't the prime sonic architect of the album's brilliant mix of rock
riffs and rap rhythms, the tracks would have been nothing without the
considerable force of the unique personality that he brought to them.
As much as anything else, it was the croaked "let's do it" at the
beginning of "Wild Thing" and the sarcastic "hasta la vista, baby" at the
end that made the song a smash hit. And it was refreshing to see that Loc
took it all in stride.
"I was just the average cool everyday kind of guy that I was, then the
next thing you know, I was up there making records," he told me while
munching down on a bag of Cheetos in 1991. "The only way my life has really
changed is that people recognize me. But myself, I'm still the same person,
I do believe. I haven't changed that much. I see a lot of celebrities that I
know, how they are and how they treat people, and it's kind of wack. I think
you should be real happy if you've been blessed enough to have any type of
success in this business."
A husky middle-class kid, Anthony Terrell Smith grew up playing soccer in
his native Texas before moving to Los Angeles as a teenager. There he claims
to have become involved in the violent subculture of street gangs, though he
never specified which gang he belonged to, and plenty of genuine gangbangers
doubted his story.
("Crips knew that I was probably one of them, but there are so many Crip
gangs that Crips fight against one another, as well as fight Bloods, so I
had pretty much everybody curious and wanting to know" he told me with a
smile, and without further elaboration.)
Rechristened Tone-Loc (a mon-iker that came from his nickname, "Anthony
Loco"), he was discovered by Matt Dike and Mike Ross and signed to their
Delicious Vinyl label on the strength of his unique, gravelly voice.
Alternating production chores with the Dust Brothers, Dike and Ross crafted
all of the 11 tracks on "Loc-ed After Dark." The most inspired moments
followed a pattern that had been set by Run-DMC's collaboration with
Aerosmith several years earlier, turning to hard rock guitar riffs to
provide the hooks over motivating if surprisingly minimalist breakbeat
The key lick in "Wild Thing" was sampled from "Jamie's Cryin'" by Van
Halen; the instrumental break in "Cutting Rhythms" reworked a riff from
"Band on the Run" by Paul McCartney and Wings, and L.A. session guitarist
Arik Marshall (later of the Red Hot Chili Peppers) powered "Cheeba Cheeba."
(The latter also featured a chorus sung by Atlanta native N-Dea Davenport,
later the vocalist in the Brand New Heavies.)
Ross and Dike shared songwriting credits with Loc and Young, but the
latter claimed to have done the lion's share of the work in writing the
album's biggest hits, "Wild Thing" and "Funky Cold Medina." The usually
affable Loc bristled when I asked him about that a few years later.
"First of all, 'Wild Thing' was like totally a Tone-Loc concept, and I
wrote half of it," he said. "The other half was too dirty, you know what I'm
saying? I couldn't really write that style that [Ross and Dike] wanted to
hear because it's for a cornier type person, someone who's a little bit more
nerdy, and [Young] fit the bill. He was perfect for that type of s---. The
lyrics on any of these songs are not really that great. I always felt that
it was the personality and the sound of the voice. He did what he did, but I
think he really took a bit more credit than what he really deserved, know
what I mean?"
Loc is right: Some of the lyrics are indeed corny, but in a good-humored
way that can be traced back to Chuck Berry's goofiest double entendres, or
to countless risque blues tunes before that. And the words benefit from the
fact that anything coming out of the rapper's mouth sounds funny.
"Funky Cold Medina" chronicles the woes of a lovelorn fellow who just
can't get lucky ("Cold coolin' at a bar, and I'm lookin for some
action/But like Mike Jagger said, I can't get no satisfaction"), until a
bartender turns him on to the aphrodisiacal qualities of the beverage in the
Unfortunately, the magic elixir backfires when he attracts the unwanted
attentions of a transvestite named Sheena. "This is the '80s and I'm down
with the ladies!" Loc maintains.
"Cheeba Cheeba" is both an homage to and a goof on unrestrained
pot-smoking. The down side to "just saying yes," as Loc sees it, is that you
get the munchies and things seem funnier than they really are. "We had so
much food, didn't know where to start/At the Haagen-Dazs or Kellogg's
Pop-Tarts," he raps. "Kickin' at the tube, watchin' none better/Than
the king of late night/Yeah, Dave Letterman/Not too hilarious, jokes kinda
plain/But everything is funny when you're smokin' Mary Jane."
Then of course there's "Wild Thing," a tune about--well, how much Loc
loves to do the wild thing. Men talking about how irresistible they are to
women is standard fare in hip-hop, but it's usually tackled via tedious
macho bragging. Loc is much more comical and subtle.
In one verse, a romantic evening is ruined when his paramour's mom shows
up and tries to elbow in on the action. In another, he thinks he's scored
with a beautiful woman in the bar, only to discover that she intends to
charge him for the night.
After the phenomenal success of his debut, Loc was in no rush to record a
follow-up. "I'm just laying back and livin' large!" he told me in '91. "Cool
Hand Loc" finally appeared later that year. It was another strong collection
of smart, funny, tuneful raps ("Freaky Behavior," "Mean Green," "Pimp
Without a Caddy"), but it didn't fare nearly as well.
Since then, Loc has concentrated on acting. He's appeared in B-grade
comedies such as "Ace Ventura: Pet Detective" and "Car 54, Where Are You?";
TV series such as "Thieves" and "Roc," and he's given voice to animated
characters in "Bebe's Kids," "Titan A.E." and "Ferngully."
But Hollywood's gain is definitely hip-hop's loss. Few artists have
brought as distinctive a voice to the genre, and none have had such a
positive and good-natured sense of humor.
"I'm silly, man. I'm a silly mother----er!" Loc told me. "If there's one
thing I like to do in life, it's just laugh, and I can never get enough
laughter. I think everybody in this world takes everything too seriously."
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