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FROM THE DORM FLOOR TO THE OUTKAST TOUR

Little T and One Track Mike
make the most of their college education

BY CHRIS STRAUSS

Last year at this time, Tim Sullivan and Mike Flannery were making songs in their Rutgers University dorm rooms and beginning to stage shows at bars around the New Jersey college town of New Brunswick. Since then, the two have only managed to sign a major-label contract with Atlantic Records, record and release their debut album, Fome is Dape, appear as the opening act on Outkast’s Stanklove Tour and have their first single, "Shaniqua," blow up on MTV’s Total Request Live. While most of their classmates spent the past year watching reruns of The Real World as they prepared to enter it, the duo now known as Little T and One Track Mike was all over the country completing their internship in the art of being famous.

"What happened?" Little T responds in mock disbelief when asked about how quickly the past year went by. "Every day I wake up and think I got to go to class, that I’m in school." One Track Mike agrees with his assessment. "It went really fast. I left college with a semester left to go make the album. Now all hotel rooms are starting to look the same."

Little T and One Track Mike’s initial acquaintance was based upon the same premise that begins many residence hall friendships… cool stuff. An aspiring rapper from rural Northwest Jersey, Little T was writing lyrics and needed to find someone with the tools to give them a beat. After learning about the lanky kid on the next floor with the computer and four-track, he decided to make a new friend.

"I had a loop I wanted a beat for ("Season of the Witch" by ’60s hippie songwriter Donovan)," recalls Little T. "I introduced myself and kind of bugged him until he helped me find it."

The result of that encounter ended up being "Sammy," a key track on Fome is Dape and the recognition that they were on to something. Despite Mike’s classical music background and T’s hip-hop predilections, the two began teaching each other new tricks and came up with their own sound in the process. The pair started playing a few local shows around New Brunswick and wrote an entire record in a week the following summer, most of which was the basis for Fome is Dape. After passing recordings out around campus and gaining a significant following by the fall of 2000, they realized that they needed to assemble a live band. Going back into the dorm, they pulled out Mike’s roommate Jesse Saul (The Savior) on bass and percussion, J-Ride (Justin Riddle) on drums and their own jack of all trades, Shankbone Mystic (Dan Saks) who croons on several tracks as well as backing up any instrument as needed.

Finished with school, Little T got an apartment in New York City and the band started playing more gigs there. A big break came when the group hooked up with the Lyricist Lounge, a showcase for unsigned underground rap artists. Boasting alumni like Mos Def, Jurassic Five and Eminem, it was their performances with the Lyricist Lounge that led to their audition and eventual signing with Lava/Atlantic Records. After signing the deal, English major One Track Mike was forced to postpone his study of King Lear in favor of a lesson from "The Ruler."

"About a month before we started recording the album, I found an old Slick Rick album in the garbage," laughs Little T. "I thought it was a sign."

After persuading the old school rap legend to guest on Fome is Dape, the band prepared to welcome Slick Rick to the Jersey Shore beach house they were recording in by rolling out the red… couch cushions?

"We got Slick Rick to come down to the beach house and had the record company spring for a stretch limo," recalled Little T. "We stole some couch cushions and padded them against the wall in a side room and called it the ‘vocal room’ where he laid down his part."

The end result was "Guidance Counselor," a standout track where Little T and Rick trade verses in their respective roles as an aspiring hip-hop pupil and the experienced advisor. While no longer advising students to "Treat Her Like a Prostitute," Slick Rick’s rhymes meshed well with the Outkast-tempoed beat laid down by One Track Mike.

"That beat wasn’t made with anything in mind," explains Mike. "I was figuring out how to use some new equipment and the way I did it was to make a beat. I was going to throw it out but everyone liked it and Rick liked it."

Another development on the album was the emergence of Shank Bone Mystic as a vocal presence. Singing lead on "A Little More," the track is a slow, R&B flavored jam that emphasizes his soulful capabilities as well as the multitasking styles of the group.

"Our live show gets pretty hectic," said Little T. "For a while, I’d need a break and he’d do a slow jam. People were loving the song and we recorded it for the record. The kids need a little bit of love."

While Fome is Dape transcends several musical genres in its musical background, a hip-hop flavor dominates the album. While several songs on the album, most notably "Sammy" and "Sycamore Trees," have a traditional instrumental feel, the majority utilize computer or drum machine generated beats to match Little T’s hyper lyrical flow. The element where Little T and One Track Mike are able to showcase their genre-encompassing ability is on the stage.

Utilizing his musical background, where he learned guitar, ukulele, banjo and other instruments, Mike’s versatility rubs off on Little T during the live shows as he’s progressed from strictly rhyming to holding a note or two. While the live band provides an amazing backdrop from which T’s rapid lyrics can fly into the crowd, it has also given him a strong foundation that allows him to experiment more than the average MC could. Much like Lyricist Lounge alumnus Mos Def, Little T also brings influences from other genres to the stage and can now feel as comfortable singing a traditional pop song as battling other rappers. At a recent show in Hoboken, New Jersey, Little T and One Track Mike performed a brief acoustic set which showcased new tracks from the album as well as a number of well-delivered covers, highlighted by a dead-on version of Prince’s "Starfish & Coffee."

While the band’s live show has won over Outkast fans across the country and a growing population along the East Coast, don’t expect to see Little T & One Track Mike headlining any shows in the Southland in the immediate future. Unless the band snags another opening slot on a major nationwide tour, they plan to build on their success closer to home as they look to headline small venues across the Northeast for the next few months.