Man I had this big post to go about T-Rock’s new one & then Serg had to go & post about it first. Oh well here’s more thoughts on T-Rock.
I wanted to post this awhile ago, when Noz uploaded that great A-Town Rap & Bass comp awhile back. T-Rock is kind of another missing piece of the Atlanta rap puzzle, in that every person I’ve ever talked to about ATL rap has cited him as a kind of local legend, but he doesn’t have the profile outside of the South of even a Pastor Troy, who seems to have risen around the same time.
I first posted about T-Rock back in ’04 when I didn’t know much about him, but I was kind of right I think — Mr. Washington Story is supposed to be a kind of landmark record but I found the beats pretty rough (rough meaning bad not rough meaning good). His large profile debut record came out back when Three-6 was hoovering up every big rapper into the hypnotized camp & as such it doesn’t really sound anything like the classic Atlanta sound from that era (thinkin So So Def Bass or on the flip, Organized Noize-type shit). It is, though, pretty great. It’s amazing how fully-formed his rap style was even back then, but it is kind of a weird record for the debut of such a significant rapper. It’s called Rock Solid / 4:20, and it has some serious joints on it, but it’s sort of an anomaly in his catalog, never mind HCPs. If you’re looking for what T-Rock does best, it’s hard to think of a much better record than his latest one. It helps that he’s got this guy Mossberg on the beats, because I still agree with my old criticism that his beats are kind of blandly gothic circa Washington. Mossberg’s work is pretty much all the highlights; the marching band-style anthem “Let’s Go,” the simmering organs on “As a Youngsta,” & my favorite song, the title track. It’s a lot of similar themes to a rapper like Z-Ro — same lone rider paranoia, a depressive personality, same double-time technical skill, and a tendency to wear his vulnerability & honesty on his sleeve — albeit tinged w/ an edge of desperation, vocals distressed with urgent anxiety:
a lotta skeletons in my closet forgot to bury
aint gotta friend alive, i ride solitary
its like im livin off in a personal prison with no one given a fuck or a dollar to a niggas commissary
but now i got my original right hand man back everybody should give me a handclap
stand back, we gonna ransack and leave em bloody red just like a tampax
Z-Ro’s started to get some recognition nationally & with rap cognoscenti, which is as it should be; a lot of times the Pac-derived emotive & expressive rappers don’t get the same kind of national respect, like a failure to fit into the detached Illmatic-era Nas street narrator template or billboard-focused pop star. T-Rock certainly deserves the same kind of respect & burgeoning street rap legend rep that Ro’s developed in the last couple years.
I’m doing some not-particularly-researched theorizing here when I suggest that maybe T-Rock’s influence would have been pretty evident in T.I.’s classic double-time verses & the method of blending supreme craft & raw emotion; a lot of times in rap it seems like you have to sacrifice one for the other, that developing character comes at the expense of skill & technique (of course there is ‘technique’ in developing ‘character,’ & obviously ‘rapping fast’ is only one v. small side of technique, but im talking about technique as an intentional affect itself). There is a certain strain of artists nationally who might sell pretty big numbers but never make much of a pop music dent bcuz of this imbalance, that they are expressing a unique perspective & have a skilled, influential approach but still seem to struggle when trying to trouble the pop charts; think Tech N9ne, Trae & Z-Ro, Twista pre-Kanye, etc. And of course T-Rock.
It’s easy to forget the period where Bone Thugs were the biggest rappers out, but while that tongue-twisting earnest vulnerability probably peaked in the popular mind around then, based purely on my own anecdotal experiences growing up in the midwest (I swear everyone had a tech n9ne cd in their case logic cd wallets) plus the solid sales, that this style of rap was, for a huge % of folks out there, what they thought of when it came to ‘underground rap’ in the late 1990s — it wasn’t as much about labels or whatever, but an uncompromising blend of post-Pac sincerity & honed-craft technique.