He Was a Rap Pioneer. Then He Forgot Everything

But T La Rock has reconstructed his life after a traumatic head injury
By Newser Editors,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 12, 2017 10:19 AM CDT
He Was a Rap Pioneer. Then He Forgot Everything
T La Rock is performing again after his traumatic head injury in the 1990s.   (YouTube)

Back in 1995, Tupac recorded a song called "Old School" in which he paid tribute to the rap artists who'd come before him. Among those he mentioned was T La Rock, whose single "It's Yours" in 1984—mixed in the dorm of Rick Rubin at NYU— became a seminal record and helped turn T La Rock into a "bona fide star," writes Joshuah Bearman at GQ. "Six months after it was recorded, the song had avalanched into a genre-defining phenomenon," writes Bearman. So why isn't T La Rock more of a household name today? That's probably the result of what happened in 1994. The rapper—real name Clarence Ronnie Keaton, though he often went by "T" as a youth—suffered a traumatic brain injury while trying to break up a fight in the Bronx. When he woke up in the ICU, he remembered almost nothing about his life.

The profile traces T's slow recovery, initially at a nursing home filled with elderly residents, as he slowly pieced his life back together with the help of his mother. He would stare at old photos of himself and listen to old recordings, and the memories came back in patchwork fashion. The story also looks back at how T came to find his place among the early rap pioneers in the first place. The good news is that T is once again performing, often in shows alongside other rap pioneers such as Kurtis Blow. Bearman describes one such performance in Newark: "When the song rolled to the edge of the verse, T didn't miss a beat. He knew all the words, and the crowd did, too. T looked out at his fans and grinned. Among the many things he had forgotten was that he was, in fact, remembered." Click for the full, fascinating story. (More Longform stories.)

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