Friday “Flashblack:’ Gone But Not Forgotten: MC Trouble, Motown’s First Lady of Hip Hop

 

From September 9, 2011, On The Rise Magazine

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Before Nicki Minaj became the First Lady of Rap for Universal Motown, there was LaTasha Sheron Rogers, better known as MC Trouble, the First Female Rapper signed to Motown Records in the late 80’s-early 90’s; an amazing feat considering the legendary label’s apparent reluctance to embrace the genre of Hip-Hop, seeking instead to re-create the musical vestiges of the past.

Signing Trouble was a huge step for the label and a bold one made by then President, Jheryl Busby.  Not only did Trouble’s addition to the label affirm Hip-Hop’s standing in American youth culture—after all, Founder Berry Gordy did brand the Motown “The Sound of Young America,” it also symbolized the cracking of what remains a largely intact glass ceiling in Hip-Hop.  Her first single, “(I Wanna) Make You Mine,” from the album Gotta Get A Grip reached #15 on Billboard’s (at the time) Hot Rap Singles chart.  With this success in hand, the label released a series of singles on MC Trouble and commissioned a follow up album that she had been working on at the time of her death.

Many of her peers regarded her as a multitalented lyricist, who had she lived, would have grown more skillful in her craft and possibly even enjoy crossover success.  If one questions the impact she had on Hip-Hop and R&B at the time, s/he need only look at the number of artists who sent shout outs to her in heaven after her passing: A Tribe Called Quest (“Vibes and Stuff”), Nefertiti (“Trouble In Paradise”), and Trouble’s label mates, The Boys (“The Saga Continues…”).  There is so much to be said about Trouble’s talents, but her death had an even bigger impact on Motown Records in the early 1990’s, bigger than many even know; an impact similar and ironic, compared to one that occurred some 20 years before her untimely death in 1991 while on the verge of imminent success.

It was reported that MC Trouble died in her sleep, suffering an epileptic seizure brought on by complications from a pre-diagnosed brain tumor.  This bit of historical information really speaks to Trouble’s commitment to her art in that despite her health issues, she continued to record and perform without the public having true knowledge of her plight.

MC Trouble was not the first female talent at Motown of the verge of success whose life was cut too short, too soon by a brain tumor.  In 1970, the very year MC Trouble was born, Motown’s “Sweetheart,” Tammi Terrell, died from complications associated with a brain tumor as well.  Tammi’s death had a rippling effect through Motown.  Very few people inside or outside the Motown family knew of Tammi’s illness, but they did know that despite being gravely ill, Tammi continued to record and work as often as she could between surgeries.

When Tammi died, artists like Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder no longer wanted to sing about love and innocence when the very friend who personified both was gone.  From “What’s Going On” in 1971 to “Hotter Than July” in 1980, Motown’s flagship artists spent an entire decade singing about social justice and the human condition in the U.S. and around the world.  They sang far more passionately about love and life, and were open to experimenting with the gamut of musical sounds and messages available to them.

MC Trouble’s death, too, had a similar impact on Motown (then owned by parent company MCA) artists.  Just as Marvin and Stevie had sought more independence and artistic freedom in the 1970’s, in the 1990’s groups like The Boys and newly signed group, Boyz II Men, also wanted to evolve as artists and produce their own material; just as their predecessors—Tammi’s contemporaries— had.  Like Tammi, as Motown moved into a new era, Trouble’s music and memory within the label was put to final rest.  Like Trouble, Tammi had remained an obscure part of the label’s history, her catalog all but discarded, until Tammi’s sister, Ludie Montgomery and Motown biographer, Vickie Wright, wrote a very honest biographical account of Tammi’s life, which breathed new interest in a talent many have dubbed “the forgotten child of Motown.”  To date, no one has written such an account about MC Trouble.  

MC Trouble died in an era where with the death of male rappers due to violence or disease (as in the case of Easy E) gain them notoriety, the death of a female MC goes largely unnoticed because the contributions of female MC’s, save for a few, go largely unnoticed.  Make no mistake if it weren’t for women, lyricists or not, these dudes wouldn’t have a thing to rhyme about.  Therefore, we should honor the memory of one who may not have had a long impact, but did have an impact and died so suddenly, not at the hands of another or a disease that many people care to acknowledge as serious in the African American community (African Americans are far more likely to die from brain tumors than other racial groups), but because she died, she was talented…and she was loved by all who knew her.  And in her memory, we also honor another, Tammi, who also just died, was talented and equally loved.

In November of 2010, MC Trouble was ranked #21 in a list of #25 rappers who were “gone too soon” by UGO.com.  That same month the Tammi Terrell complete collection of solo recordings, Come On And See Me, was given several five –star reviews in various music trade magazines and websites.  Thank goodness some of us do not forget!

 

Watch MC Trouble on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JHOZz-oms7I&feature=list_related&playnext=1&list=AVGxdCwVVULXd_vNRTOZ0-56amNP4nc7ed.

Read My Sister Tommie: The Real Tammi Terrell by Ludie Montgomery and Vickie Wright, Bank House Books, 2005.

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