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Tone-Lōc – Lōc-ed After Dark (1989)
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There’s no way around this: Tone Lōc’s 1989 debut, Lōc-ed After Dark, is COMPLETELY ADORABLE. The elementary, dubious and occasionally tortured rhyme scheme (“lax-adaiscal’ with “that’s the way to go,” “night” with, uh, “tonight”)! The sustained reports about how skilled a rapper one can be without actually rapping anything! The neurotic reliance employment of the first four break-beats in the history of the world! Lōc-ed After Dark may be the only album with the word “motherfucker” in it you sort of feel like you could play for your kids.

Compared even with the nascent gumball-rap of the time, Lōc-ed — recently reissued in a remarkably inessential “Deluxe Edition” with a couple of recycled remixes and instrumentals — is like an, um, super-chewy gumball. It’s dated like Def Leppard-drummer jokes and lousy with lines that’d seem wacky even in the Camelot Music-era context — mall-shopping, Stroh’s beer, Fila wear (brought up often enough to convince you they kicked in for the studio time) — to say nothing of Lōc’s constant egging on of his DJ in what is an oddly seductive fashion (check out title track, in which Lōc requests the fella to “scratch his back for me,” while he moans, provocatively). Danger is only hinted at; the bad words come infrequently enough to seem like tiny hugs. Even Lōc’s obsession with pot (“Cheeba Cheeba”) comes with caveats both psychological and economical: “It’s not harmful like heroin, and also, it’s cheaper.” See! You’d be silly not to smoke this stuff!

Tellingly, the two best parts of Lōc-ed After Dark — “Wild Thing” and “Funky Cold Medina” which are superior enough to make you feel a little sad for the other songs — were co-written by Young MC, whose own Stone Cold Rhymin’ is another semi-legendary cornerstone of that budding cornball-rap genre, along with whatever the Fresh Prince was doing at the time, which I think was trying to beat Mike Tyson. “Wild Thing” has been spun in enough halftimes and movie trailers to secure it novelty status for the rest of eternity, but it’s a pretty ridiculously great single anyway. “Medina” actually fares better, though to ensure their survival both songs had to come with accessible enough final-verse punchlines to make them OK for public consumption in a year when rap was still considered Satanically terrifying by most of the ‘burbs (though the self-awareness of the time is welcome and kind of hilarious — try to imagine Kanye discovering at a crucial moment that the girl in his room is a dude).

(Actually, that’s a lie — the title track [download], one of 4,500 songs in 1989 to use that Edwin Starr sample — is pretty great, the dark-night beat a better match for Lōc’s gravel-road voice than the other nine tracks, nearly all of which concern Lōc’s considerable abilities in the field of party-rocking.)

Lōc-ed was preceded at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 by Debbie Gibson’s Electric Youth, and I’m pretty sure a good chunk of mallgoers in my little Indiana hometown proudly owned both tapes, which was how it went at the time. Dark is rap made of those building wood-blocks with serif letters; you can build towers with them, but they’re gonna look like kid things, which, of course, does not necessarily mean you’re not a little proud of the builder.