When reviewing Poison Clan’s “2 Low Life Muthas” there’s one song I specifically didn’t mention that I wish I had. The “Poison Freestyle” is a fascinating song for a lot of reasons, not the the least of which is the oversampled (but still fresh) “Knucklehead” by Grover Washington Jr. The lineup is the real kicker though — JT Money, Debonaire, Brother Marquis from 2 Live Crew and Tony M.F. Rock. Wait — Tony who?

If you don’t remember Tony M.F. Rock you’re not alone. During the days when Luther Campbell was trying to expand his fledgling 2 Live Crew empire, Poison Clan and Tony Rock were both signed to Skyywalker (before George Lucas made him change the name) and distributed through Effect Records. That makes the “Poison Freestyle” an all-star posse track of sorts for Luke’s label, although can you really call it that when 50% of the lineup aren’t stars? Marquis definitely was, and JT Money became an even bigger one after his Clan days, but even if you count Debonaire that still leaves Rock as the odd man out. Until now I didn’t even realize Rock got an album of his own on the label called “Let Me Take You to the Rock House.”

What’s even more astounding to me is that Rock had a handful of singles off this album, none of which I remember hearing back in 1989 or at any point in the intervening years between this review. If “Keep Dancin'” is a prime example his brag that “Tony Rock’s in +Effect+ and this is/another from the Skyywalker hit list” seems premature. It’s remarkable how unremarkable the song is. Production is credited to David Hobbs and Uncle Luke himself, and the nicest thing I can say is that it’s up tempo and has a few scratches that are aight. It’s certainly not a song to make people run to the dance floor. “Whatever needs to be done? Do it/You can’t dance to this, you blew it.” He’s trying so hard to make a crossover song that it’s comical. That’s nothing compared to “She Put Me in a Trance” though.

The song attempts to rip off and speed up “Looking for the Perfect Beat” and should have left well enough alone. Rock is clearly obsessed with being a party/dance rapper and trying to capture the same success rappers like Young M.C. did in ’89. He’s accused of “selling out for a female” on the song but that’s not the way it went down. A fly guy rapping about a fly girl is as old as time (other than rap music itself) so that’s not the problem — the fact that he’s signed with the trendsetting Uncle Luke but is chasing trends is the problem. His obsession with Afrika Bambaataa doesn’t even end here.

“Pump & Grind” shows that Tony Rock really wants to be Planet Rock. The longer I stare at his album cover with the stacks of money and the fat gold chain, the more I wonder whether Luke lent it all too him for the photo shoot and then promptly took it all back. This sucker is cornball and that’s from someone who was far cornier back then than him. Look — even a teenage Flash would have known this guy was trash. Why did Luke sign him? He’s riding on the coattails of everybody else that came before him without offering an original thought of his own. He even has a song called “Same Ol’ Thang” that summarizes him perfectly, even though he tried (and failed) to use it to call out other people for not being original.

I should be nice. Alright let’s say a few nice things about Tony M.F. Rock then. Breath control? Check. He’s not gasping for air every few bars. Can he keep the beat? Check. He’s not missing his cues or spilling words all over the beats. Charisma? Eh, I’ll be charitable and say yes. He’s milk toast bland but I can’t call him annoying vocally. He’s the kind of rapper who actually belongs on a posse song, because he’s the guy signed to the label drops a few bars between the bigger stars. You don’t care but you don’t hate it because the track’s got such a stellar lineup. The album is full of unintentional irony though with songs like “Don’t Go Out Like a Sucka.” That’s exactly what Rock does. There are at least ten songs that sample “Walk on By” I’d rather listen to — “Warning” by Notorious B.I.G. and “Hood Took Me Under” by Compton’s Most Wanted among them.

If you’re searching for 1980’s rap albums that slipped quietly under the radar, “Let Me Take You to the Rock House” is far from the worst thing you will come across on your journey. It’s also far from the best. Despite having a warning for explicit lyrics on the front, it’s so tame compared to his labelmates that it might as well be TV-PG. The album feels like a tax write off as opposed to an actual artist anyone intended to push. Apparently even Tony himself felt the same way because he abandoned his rap career and became a guitarist for a rock band named El Pus. I don’t think the story can get any weirder than that so I’ll leave you with an equally obscure song from their own career.

Tony M.F. Rock :: Let Me Take You to the Rock House
5Overall Score