A New Perspective on a Hip-Hop Classic

The Three Theories of Tone-Lōc’s Lōc’ed After Dark

Tone-Lōc Lōc’ed After Dark, Delicious Vinyl 1989

As the 30th anniversary of Tone-Lōc’s Lōc’ed After Dark is a upon us, it behooves us to revisit its sample-heavy grooves and conduct a thorough investigation of its place in the canon and even its raison d’etre, if you will. To that end, I present to you three theories on such matters, one for each decade. 

Theory The First: Cleverly Stupid

Tone-Lōc “Wild Thing”, Delicious Vinyl 1989

If there is a “fine line between stupid and clever,” as those great British philosophers David St. Hubbins and Nigel Tufnel told us in Spinal Tap, then the most precarious place in art is the center of that line. This is the realm of such legendary works as, from the world of cinema, Animal House and This Is The End, or, from the world of song, Tommy Tucker’s “Hi Heel Sneakers” and Billy Squire’s “The Stroke.” These examples of the cleverly stupid should not be confused with their idiotic neighbors, the stupidly clever. Such movies as 50 Shades Of Gray and Ocean’s 13 or a song like Pharrell’s “Happy” might occupy this zone, providing certain satisfactions of their own as entertainment, but without the nutritional value of the cleverly stupid. 

Thus, I submit that Lōc’ed After Dark is one of the finest examples of the cleverly stupid as has yet been heard. The combination of super-funky beats, catchy hooks (“She love to do the wild thing,” “I’m on fire,” “I got it going on,” ad infinitum), Tone-Lōc’s gravelly drawl, and an almost strenuous lack of meaning make for an experience of almost pure pleasure, not to mention a deathless floor-filler of an album. 

Yes, I said “album,” as there is barely a hiccup across the 11 tracks on the original release. In one memorable – and hilarious – moment in the Beastie Boys Book (which I reviewed on this site last year), hip-hop A&R legend Dante Ross tells the fab three, of Paul’s Boutique: “It’s got like two songs on there.” He might have added, “Unlike Lōc’ed After Dark, which has, like, six or eight songs.” That’s a lot of songs!

Theory The Second: Hip Hop Hits Reset

Tone-Lōc “Funky Cold Medina”, Delicious Vinyl 1989

In the late 80’s, hip-hop started getting serious. On the east coast, you had Public Enemy, the “CNN for Black America,” talking about getting shot for DWB (driving while black). On the West Coast, N.W.A. was attracting FBI attention for their revolutionary rhetoric. And both groups assembled dense soundtracks of funk and soul samples beefed up to sound bulletproof and combined with all varieties of noise. Not exactly party music. 

But John King and Michael Simpson (AKA The Dust Brothers), who produced Lōc’ed After Dark with the late Matt Dike, co-founder of Delicious Vinyl, seemed more concerned with the medium than the message, seeing hip hop as an opportunity to show off their crate digging skills and ears for good beats. That narrow focus was just what the music needed at the time, the perfect thing to lighten the mood and get people ready to dance rather than fight. Tone Lōc himself was a non-threatening figure, a fact that no doubt broadened the appeal throughout constituencies who might have found voices like those of Chuck D and Ice Cube – and what those voices were saying – a bit too much. All of that makes the album a perennial crowd-pleaser with no chance of becoming too attached to one cultural controversy or another. 

Theory The Third: White Music Gives Back

Loc’ed on cassette

It’s almost hard to overstate how creative The Dust Brothers and Dike were when it came to selecting samples upon which to build their tracks. Sure, they had amazing taste in what we called “black music” back then, anchoring some songs in familiar but not overused (not yet, anyway!) samples such as “You Got The Love” by Rufus & Chaka Kahn, “FOPP” by Ohio Players or “Easin’ In,” a gritty groove from Edwin Starr’s Hell Up In Harlem soundtrack. But in what could almost be called a grand mea culpa for all the times white music ripped off the rich seam of blues, funk and soul from various African-American traditions, Dike and the Dust Brothers, infused the grooves of Loc’ed After Dark with some of the most caucasoid of sonics. 

No doubt, drum tracks from Led Zeppelin’s “When The Levee Breaks” or the aforementioned “The Stroke,” to name two of the most obvious, were long a part of the DJ’s arsenal as hip hop developed in the late 70’s. But Dike’s visionary approach led to a virtual cascade of sharply sliced segments from such rock classics as “Band On The Run” by Wings, “Love Is Alive” by Gary Wright, “Christine Sixteen” by Kiss, “Hot Blooded” by Foreigner, “Honky Tonk Women” by the Rolling Stones, and, among many others, perhaps the king of them all, “Jamie’s Cryin'” by Van Halen. Not only did these recognizable snippets immediately make people of all complexions comfortable with Tone Lōc’s style, the way Dike, Ross and Simpson brought out the inherent funk in some of these tracks probably opened some ears in what was then hip hop’s largest audience, namely African Americans. As Tone Lōc has noted, he himself was completely unfamiliar with the Van Halen song at the time Dike proposed it as the main element for “Wild Thing.”

And there could be no better example of hip-hop’s early promise to promote “peace, love, unity, and having fun” than getting a melting pot of people dancing to Alex Van Halen’s most righteous of drum rolls and his brother Eddie’s vintage pop-metal guitar growl while shouting “Wild thing” along with a slightly cartoonish rapper. Also, is there any surprise that Tone Lōc also found later success doing voice over in actual cartoons? But that was far in the future and no matter what else the man born Anthony Terrell Smith accomplished later in life, the fact remains that, in January 1989, when he and his crack production squad unleashed Lōc’ed After Dark on an unsuspecting world, they really DID have it going on.


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Jeremy Shatan

Jeremy Shatan is a dad, music obsessive, and NYC dweller, working to enable the best health care at Mount Sinai Health System. He’s also a contributing writer for RockandRollGlobe.com. Follow him on Twitter@anearful.

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