Russell Simmons To Make A Film About Def Jam’s Unsung Hero: T La Rock

Before LL Cool J and the Beastie Boys, a fledgling Def Jam Recordings had another MC in mind for its legendary path: T La Rock. Brother to Treacherous Three MCs member Special K, the Manhattan-born, Bronx—raised MC (aka Clarence Ronnie Keaton) would work with Rick Rubin and DJ Jazzy Jay (pioneering BX DJ and producer) on 1984’s “It’s Yours.” Although the single became a 12″ Rap trailblazer, T La Rock was never afforded a Def Jam album—while LL, Beasties, and many in their path reached platinum success. Released on Party Time Records and produced by Rick Rubin (later pressings included the Def Jam logo), La Rock was front-and-center for the game-changing union of Rick and Russell Simmons. It was Ad-Rock’s vocals in the background of the single.

Thirty-three years later, Simmons confirms that he is taking T La Rock’s life and adapting it to film. The All Def Digital founder and entertainment mogul confirmed to The Hollywood Reporter that film rights have been optioned to 20th Century Fox. “T La Rock has always been an inspiration to me and many in the Hip-Hop community,” Simmons said in a statement. “This is a man who was literally beaten to within an inch of his life at the height of his fame. How he regained his memory and recovered from his coma while being cared for and surrounded by the most unlikely group of therapists and friends is the kind of hope-filled and hopeful true story that will appeal to everyone, whether you love Rap music or not,” Simmons said. The deal was prompted by a GQ magazine article this month, “The Man Who Forgot He Was a Rap Legend” by journalist Joshua Bearman.

On April 1, 1994, T La Rock suffered a near-fatal injury that remains shrouded in mystery. Special K found T outside his West Bronx apartment building, with blood on the ground. “His brother and mother say T must have tried to break up a fight and been hit on the head several times with a blunt object,” reported The Times two years later. The MC admitted to having suffered incidents that landed him in the hospital before. Throughout the ’90s, T La Rock’s speech was slurred, as he recovered in facilities.

The GQ piece explores T’s family dynamic, including six children, with two professional rappers and one brother who was murdered. At 14, Keaton watched Hip-Hop in its earliest days, attending DJ Kool Herc’s groundbreaking parties in the Bronx. At home, his mother slid him texts by Mark Twain and William Shakespeare—expanding a young vocabulary before his Rap career was defined by this skill-set. It looks at Hip-Hop and New York City in the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s, respectively—all intersecting with T La Rock’s life.

Although he would release albums on Fresh/Sleeping Bag Records (1987’s assertive Lyrical King (From The Boogie Down Bronx), T La Rock did not enjoy the fame that appeared promised to him in 1984. His biggest hit was sampled by Nas and Public Enemy, strongly referenced by Wu-Tang Clan, and covered by Mystikal. La Rock worked with Nas later on, in addition to collaborations with Greg Nice, Kurtis Mantronik, and others.

In 1996, Rush described T La Rock’s significance to Hip-Hop and Def Jam to The New York Times. “[‘It’s Yours’] was big; big in the underground. T [La Rock] started the trend and a new direction in Hip-Hop. He used 40-letter words. He created a special poetry. LL Cool J was the second release on the label. He borrowed ideas and attitude from T. LL would agree.”

As Roxanne Shanté’s often-understated Rap contributions, N.W.A.’s game-changing rise, and other 1980s Hip-Hop narratives come to film, T La Rock may finally get his.