Hip-hopping All the Way to the Bank

Halfway through a recent interview from his hotel suite in San Francisco, rapper Tone Loc puts the phone down and calls out to a flunky in his posse, "Tell this girl to put her clothes on and stop walking around naked."

Right. Uh-huh. Like there's really a naked person of the totally opposite sex within inches of Tone Loc. Yeah, just like it happens in the pop rapper's hip-hop hit, "Wild Thing"--instant naked women, appearing as magically as sea monkeys, sticking to him like static cling.

"You better believe it," Tone Loc insists. "She just likes my voice. You'd be surprised at how beautiful you become when you're making records. Now I'm cute. What a trip."

For those unfamiliar with the wacky and mostly half-believable story of 22-year-old Tone Loc, that's "trip" as in "What a long, strange trip it's been." And it's also "trip" as in "accident."

Because if Tone Loc hadn't suffered a certain mishap--having to do with, of all things, drinking scalding tea one day when he was a freshman in high school--he claims he probably would've never developed his dangerously sexy rasp. You know, the voice that, according to Loc, serves to get female listeners all hot and bothered and at the same time helps male listeners because it gets their mates in the mood. You know, the voice that recently sent "Wild Thing" up to No. 2 on Billboard's Hot 100 Singles chart, the highest a rap artist has ever taken a song. The voice that Loc figures will earn him so much cash in the next two years that Robin Leach will have no choice but to knock on Loc's mansion door to beg for a Lifestyles exclusive. And, perhaps most significant, the voice that's sold "Wild Thing" (which, by the way, is not a remake of the Troggs' classic) into double-platinum status--the first single since "We Are the World" to sky that high.

Of course, Loc can't quite remember how his voice sounded before he took a sip of the bubbling brew, but he thinks it "probably sounded like Mickey Mouse, like Mike [Michael Jackson]."

That all changed when Loc developed strep throat one day. His mother fixed him the magic potion--torrid tea spiked with brandy and lemon--and ironically offered these prophetic words: "This is gonna help you out, son."

From the tea incident, the rapper apparently learned at least two lessons: First, avoid drinking boiling fluids at all costs ("I never liked them in the first place. I'm sensitive. It burns the shit out of [my throat]"). And second, rely as often as possible on assistance from

others (as he relied on his mother to create his bionic voice) to steer his career in the right direction.

One listen to "Wild Thing" supplies all the evidence you'd ever need that Loc has mastered the second lesson through and through. The song masquerades as an original, Loc and his producers taking the writing credit; in actuality, Loc and his buds have nicked (Loc prefers the term "sampled") the guitar lines and tribal drum roll that create the song's ultra-funky hook from the 1978 Van Halen AOR hit, "Jamie's Cryin'." And if you're still trying to figure out where you heard the "please, baby baby, please" rap Loc lets loose with during the song, whip out your VCR and rent Spike Lee's She's Gotta Have It.

Tone Loc defends himself on the Van Halen rip-off: He says that he and his producers may have sampled the "wah-wah" on the end of the Eddie Van Halen guitar line, but that the rest of the guitar part is actually a new interpretation of Van Halen's work. "We just funked it up," Loc says, rapidly adding that "one thing that is very hard to do is copyright. You can use anything from seven, eight, nine bars. Once you get beyond that point, you get into trouble."

And besides, Loc says, even if he did borrow, uh, sample, and not give Van Halen writing credit, who's sobbing? Loc says "Wild Thing," which, incidentally, he prefers a whole lot more than "Jamie's Cryin'," has repopularized the decade-old song and has fans checking into the Van Halen catalogue. "They're certainly not poor by any means," Loc says of VH, the self-proclaimed rock monsters. "They're big squirrels with all the nuts. I'm just a little squirrel trying to get a nut."

But give credit where credit is due, says Loc. The rapper may not have come up with the phrase "Wild Thing" as a synonym for sex (Whodini and a gaggle of other rappers have used it in songs, Loc admits), but he's apparently the first hip-hopper to build an entire song around it.

As for the song's storyline of comic romantic irony, yeah, it's original, but not boldly so. A similar notion has reared itself in at least two raps by D.J. Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, "Parents Just Don't Understand" and "Girls Ain't Nothing but Trouble."

It may not be surprising that one of Loc's main influences seems to be Jeff and the Prince. Last year, the duo was easily the hottest commercial rap team on the market with its double-platinum mall-rap album, He's the D.J., I'm the Rapper.

Which is not to say there's anything particularly wholesome or mall-like about Tone Loc. The follow-up single to "Wild Thing" is a rap ditty called "Funky Cold Medina," a drink that in theory functions as an aphrodisiac. Not that Loc is any stranger to foreign substances. In an early single, "Cheeba Cheeba," the rapper rasps at length about the glories of marijuana, which Loc seems to use the way other hip-hopsters use rhyming dictionaries. "It gets you motivated," Loc claims. "You should hear the rhymes me and my homeboys make up [off] the top of our heads.

"It's not a hard-core drug. I'm not telling other people to buy it. I'm not ashamed of it. I never heard of anybody robbing a bank for a joint."

What Loc is into is putting money in the bank. Heaps of it, in fact. The rapper considers himself neither politician nor artist. He fancies himself as a sort of president of a one-man financial institution. The apolitical Loc would rather leave the raising of black consciousness and the critical acclaim to the Public Enemys and the KRS-1s of the world.

"I'm not politically oriented," Loc explains. "Mine is more just partying, more the experiences I've had. I was raised to take things as they go. We need political rappers. They're good at what they do."

And Loc brags that his good-timey rap notions have won him support from the kings of hard-core hip-hop, Public Enemy.

"I know I'm good friends with Public Enemy," he says. "They think what I do is fine. Chuck [D of Public Enemy] said, `You got this gig goin' on--take it as far as you can take it.'"

But just in case Loc's not able to take it all that far, he's preparing right now for an early retirement into the cushy real estate game. In fact, Loc's specializing at the moment in prime West L.A. turf.

"I'm into foreclosures. I don't need a broker, a middleman. I come in, make a few K, then sell it."

It is this bottom-line attitude that extends oh-so-icily into Loc's rapping.

"I never really intended on being a rapper professionally. I've been into the rap game for money, plain and simple. I never intended on being the best rapper--maybe the wealthiest, not the best. I'm a businessman pretty much. This is a foundation for me to make ten to twenty times as much money in one year than I would've made in ten years in another job.

"I mean, I wouldn't be doing it for free."

"I've been into the rap game for money, plain and simple.

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