There’s no way around this: Tone Lōc’s 1989 debut, Lōc-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! Lōc-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, Lōc-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 Lōc’s constant egging on of his DJ in what is an oddly seductive fashion (check out title track, in which Lōc 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 Lōc’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 Lōc-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 Lōc’s gravel-road voice than the other nine tracks, nearly all of which concern Lōc’s considerable abilities in the field of party-rocking.)
Lōc-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.