If the news of Tone L?c’s hit debut album L?c-ed After Dark turning 30 this past Wednesday (Jan. 23) is a shocker to you, consider how off-guard it caught the Los Angeles rapper/actor when he was informed of the anniversary on that very day.
“My oldest son hit me up with a text this morning,” he tells Billboard. “And it said, ‘It’s been 30 years since your album was released, Pops. Congrats!’ I didn’t even know that today was the day. I was like, Oh man!”
Originally released on Jan. 23, 1989, L?c-ed After Dark was a feelgood alternative to the burgeoning gangsta rap movement emerging from the streets of L.A. through such classic LPs as N.W.A’s Straight Outta Compton and Ice-T’s Power. Even so, the man born Anthony Terrell Smith was hardly unfamiliar with that life.
“The name L?c, a lot of people don’t know, is a gang name,” he explains. “It’s a Crip name. So by me adopting that name, and my records not necessarily being gangsta, I was still kinda up in that realm because I used that name. But only people from Los Angeles would know that. The Bloods knew it, and that’s probably the wildest and craziest thing I had ever done, taking that name, because you could have Crips coming at you and Bloods at the same time. But luckily it was all cool, because that lifestyle was recognized but I didn’t have to go around saying it nonstop. I was trying to be a rapper, and looking to entertain and make people dance. I lucked up into this shit.”
L?c-ed After Dark yielded two massive hits in “Wild Thing” and “Funky Cold Medina,” both of which very much were unavoidable on MTV and top 40 radio in 1989 (they peaked at Nos. 2 and 3, respectively, on the Billboard Hot 100), as L?c further demolished the barrier between hip-hop and the mainstream while the ’80s drew to a close. And for the new dad, that good fortune couldn’t have arrived at a better time.
“I had taken custody of my first son right after the album had come out,” the now father of six explains. “A lot of people don’t know this, but I was a single father during that whole time. The funnest (sic) times of my whole life, and nobody knew I was taking care of a baby. I was taking care of my mom around that same time too, because she was sick.”
And just as Run-D.M.C. and Beastie Boys (whose longtime cohorts Mario Caldato, Jr. and the Dust Brothers got their start on L?c-ed) did on the East Coast, the album was instrumental in continuing to strengthen that inevitable bridge between rap and rock music through the use of samples by Paul McCartney & Wings, Steely Dan and Montrose on the LP. L?c attributes the deep dive into the AOR crates to the album’s primary producer, Matt Dike, the recently departed co-founder of the influential West Coast hip-hop label Delicious Vinyl, who was instrumental in crafting the overall sound of L?c-ed After Dark.
“If it wasn’t for Matt, that shit would not have blown up,” L?c admits. “He had a great ear for rock n’ roll. I never heard ‘Jamie’s Cryin” or anything like that; I heard of Van Halen, of course, and heard certain songs, but didn’t know about that tune or that guitar riff. So he just blended it so perfect. That dude was a helluva DJ. He had crates and crates and crates and crates of albums at his place. It got to a point where the landlord downstairs started complaining, because the records were literally starting to come through the ceiling! So I listen to rock n’ roll and I’d check out Rodney on the ROQ, but I’m not hip to every single piece of rock n’ roll. But Matt, he knew how to blend these worlds together so well.”
Of course, the most famous (or infamous) instance of rock sampling on L?c-ed existed on “Wild Thing,” a song which in and of itself had already contained a couple of varying winks towards rock n’ roll, from the lampooning of Robert Palmer’s “Addicted to Love” in the Tamra Davis-directed music video to sharing its song title with The Troggs’ 1966 hit single. But it was Dike’s utilization of the aforementioned “Jamie’s Cryin'” that served as the defining element of the song’s crossover edge. And while VH and L?c settled out of court over compensation for the use of “Jamie’s Cryin'” in the song in a civil lawsuit, a chance encounter between the rapper and guitarist Eddie Van Halen was anything but amicable.
“I ran into Eddie Van Halen one time,” he recalls. “He was uptight and a little tipsy, claiming that I took money from him. I don’t think he really believed that, but maybe he did because he was tipsy and you say what you feel when you’re in that zone. Maybe he didn’t get the proper royalties for it. I don’t know. He’s lucky I didn’t sock him in his jaw, but I was chillin’.”
One other song on L?c-ed that continues to endure is the album cut “Cheeba Cheeba,” one of the first hip-hop tracks to openly celebrate marijuana, which is basically legal now in his home state of California.
“It’s kind of cool for me, because if whoever I deal with is not on top, I can just go to the dispensary,” he laughs. “But my point to that is I always had someone bring that shit to me. If not, I’ll go to the dispensary. There’s one like every few blocks now.”
L?c recorded a follow-up — Cool Hand L?c — that was released in November 1991, but Smith eschewed furthering his career in hip-hop to focus on acting. And while he can be seen in such films as Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, Poetic Justice and Blank Check, his biggest rise to prominence on both the big and small screens has been through his distinctive voice in animation, where he can be heard on such shows as King of the Hill, Uncle Grandpa and Chowder.
“A lot of people who were little kids when Ace Ventura or Bebe’s Kids or FernGully was out, they might not recognize me from ‘Wild Thing’ but rather be like, ‘That’s that actor dude,'” he explains. “That’s when I started to really realize we all getting a little old, man, when people are considering me an actor first because of the movies and cartoons. That’s why I just call myself an entertainer.”
After pioneering West Coast rap on the Billboard charts (“Wild Thing” peaked at No. 2 on the Hot 100 in February behind Paula Abdul’s “Straight Up”), Tone L?c is happy keeping it as a part-time gig these days, performing the summer nostalgia circuit as part of the I Love the 90s Tour, helping bring joy to the masses while playing the hits that first made him a household name.
“It’s been fun,” he states. “The I Love the 90s tour has been going on for three years, and I think it keeps going because everybody gets along so well backstage. There’s no problems and it’s all very friendly between like myself, Coolio, Kid ‘N Play, Salt-N-Pepa, Vanilla Ice….We’re like the new Temptations, man (laughs).”
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