Little T and One Track Mike are Famous
by Jason Kundrath

As the five members of Little T and One Track Mike file into my cold, cramped basement, they're quick to inform me that this is the first interview they've ever done together as a band. I'm delighted. Actually, I'm honored. But what's the fuss about? Who are these guys anyway?

Well, first of all, they're famous. Famous as hell. At least that's what they've been telling us since they formed a little over a year ago here in New Brunswick. Even before they performed their first gig, every flyer boldly proclaimed their fame. Their self-produced first album was quaintly titled Little T and One Track Mike Are Famous. Their first single - the song that opens nearly every show - is a lovely ode to modesty entitled "Little T and One Track Mike Are Famous." It might come off as a bit ego-maniacal. Hell, have you heard their names? Besides the two guys on the marquee, the group is rounded out by J-Ride, the Shank Bone Mystic, and the Savior.

The Savior!

These are the names by which I know them. Pretentious? Absolutely. But after watching them perform for about five minutes, you're glad to know them by any name. You're just happy to be there.

The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

An early landmark performance at the Budapest Lounge in New Brunswick proved how quickly word of Little T and One Track Mike's self-proclaimed fame was spreading. Outside, people waited in the cold to see a band they had never heard. All they knew was that these guys were supposed to be famous. Inside, there wasn't a question about it. The room was packed wall-to-wall as people stood on barstools to catch a glimpse of the magic occuring on the stage. Old-school hip-hop collided with classic rock tones and brilliant pop sense.

And you could definitely dance to it. One after another, they unveiled a series of instant hits. The crowd was sold. Even then you could hear the fuse burning. These boys were set to explode.

The fuse is burning much louder now. As our interview begins, everything is officially "hush-hush." Too many people knew already. But with five mouths in the band, it was bound to leak out sooner or later. How could you blame them? This is big news. Undoubtedly, the biggest news of each of their lives. It was a done deal. Little T and One Track Mike had been signed.

Okay, okay. You're skeptical. Truly, with the hundreds of smaller, independent labels out there, what does "getting signed" mean anymore? That sentiment is understandable. But understand this: we're talking "getting signed" in the classic sense. Back when a record contract stood for FAME. Guaranteed. Or at least a damn good shot at it. Whether or not the world wants to get to know them, they're about to be introduced to Little T and One Track Mike.

The band has signed a two-record deal with Lava, a subsidiary of Atlantic Records. You may have heard of some of their label mates: The Corrs, Sugar Ray, Matchbox Twenty and the ubiquitous Kid Rock. Like them or not, relentless promotion in magazines, radio and television has made these artists inescapable. Now this machine is working for some of our own. "Everything you've seen happen to everyone who's absolutely fuckin' famous right now is what is planned," Little T explains, his tone equal parts excitement, fear and reverence.

Blowin' Up

Despite all that has happened to them, these are still the same five college-age misfits who found each other at Rutgers University not too long ago. In fact, the interview begins to the sound of several loud, proud belches. Other assorted flatulence follows throughout. But I remain fascinated by all of them.

The Shank Bone Mystic - AKA Dan Sacks - is the comedian of the bunch, inciting hysterical laughter on several occasions. Unfortunately, the band deems most of his contributions unfit for print. The Savior - AKA Jesse Saul - remains mostly quiet and reflective throughout, while J-Ride - AKA Justin Riddle - is well, just quiet. Apparently, he had taken a nasty spill down a flight of stairs in his rush to get to the interview, and complains of a sore ass several times. I'm stricken with guilt. Yet, the experience turns out to be a positive one for J-Ride, who at times seems to be meeting his bandmates for the first time. "I'm learning a lot," he admits.

Meanwhile, One Track Mike - AKA Mike Flannery - sits relaxed on the couch, the businessman of the crew. He claims to be undaunted by the prospect of future stardom, having recently left Rutgers to concentrate on his career more fully. "We're just lookin' towards what's next," Mike states definitively.

Little T, however, sits on the edge of his seat, intense. The front man onstage, Little T - AKA Tim Sullivan - is also the outspoken, philosophical leader off-stage. When he speaks, he has everyone's full attention.

"I'm scared," Tim says with a bashful smile. "I mean, I know we're not supposed to say stuff like that in articles, but yeah! What happens if it all works out? If we're in a tour bus - all over the country, all over the damn world?"

The rest of the band seems to tense up as they ponder along with him. "That kinda stuff you don't think about," Tim adds, much to everyone's relief. "Like right now, all me and Mike are thinkin' about is writin' dope songs, and occasionally we look at each other and we're like 'Oh, shit!' But I shake it off. No more fear."

"We got lucky," he says. "That should be the headline."

The Dawn of Fame

But how did this all begin? Although details are sketchy amidst jokes, half-truths and straight-up lies, it seems that the band came together in Rutgers' own Demarest Hall, where One Track Mike, who spent his early years in various orchestras and jazz bands, crossed paths with aspiring hip-hopper, Little T.

Born Tim Sullivan, Little T grew up in an all-White community where Black culture and Black history went all but ignored. "In my town, they didn't celebrate Martin Luther King Day," Tim says. "They didn't tell us about him. They told us about slavery. Those were the only Black people in my textbook. It was a hard place to be."

His salvation eventually came in the form of hip-hop music. "My mom told me not to listen to it while I was asleep," Tim says. "So every night before I went to bed, I turned it on and it invaded my brain." Suddenly it begins to make sense. "I was livin' in the middle of nowhere, and I was a complete oddity for liking rap," Tim says. "I was an oddity for wearin' my hat backwards. An oddity for usin' words like 'dope' and 'ill.' It didn't go over so well in high school. I caught many ill stares, many threats."

Yet, as he immersed himself in hip-hop culture, he was turned on to Black culture. Studying books on Black Nationalism and Afro-Centrism, he remained separate from his peers until he found a place to nurture his intellectual pursuits: Rutgers University.

Having found each other, these two very different young men went on to record an album's worth of material. Mike's instrumentation and Tim's rhymes fused to great effect, as if they had been working together for years.

Soon the disc began to find its way into people's hands. At the urging of Rutgers alum and local musician Chris Pierson, Mike decided to put a band together. With a moderate amount of searching, One Track discovered keyboard player, human beatbox, and furious rhymer Shank Bone Mystic, multi-instrumentalist the Savior, and jazz drummer J-Ride.

Some might have found the transition from studio perfectionist to live powerhouse a bit difficult. But such was not the case, and in the basement of Demarest Hall, they became a band. "It was stinky and fun," Little T recalls. "It smelled really bad, but we had this dope connection."

Only slightly over a year later, anything is possible. "We're in a position where we are able to call shots," Little T says. "People are callin' us for jobs: managers, accountants, and producers. It's crazy."

Big Pimpin'

Yet, as much as Little T paints the band as reluctant, there have been few local acts who have ever displayed such a drive towards success. From the very begining, their self-promotion was relentless and furious. With Tim serving as art director, they emblazoned their name on everything from T-shirts to women's underwear, using little more than a permanent marker. And now they've hit the big time. "We're real independent cats who are signed to a real non-independent label," Little T explains. "It's a blessing that they're gonna let us do this album on the independent tip, but it's gonna blow up in a not-independent way."

For starters, they'll be making some music videos. "We're talkin' MTV, BET, VH1, TNT, PBS, CMT country music television, no doubt!" Tim proclaims.

"If you sit back and think about exactly what's happening and what could happen, it's a ridiculous idea," the Shank Bone Mystic adds. "It's incomprehensible, it's funny, it's daunting, it boggles the mind. So we have no choice really but to ask, What's the next step?' You know, should we leave school? Should we write songs, or should I pack a bag?"

"Should we get one bus to be a movie theater and the other to be a bowling alley?" Mike jokes, seemingly unphased by their recent leap towards stardom. He's confident. And why shouldn't he be? The president of Lava records is certainly confident in him, having signed his band based on the quality of demos recorded on Mike's computer. In fact, Little T and One Track Mike are slated to self-produce their debut album a practice virtually unheard of in the major labels.

"Basically, I said that I'd feel more comfortable producing myself, and I'd be able to produce a better product that way," Mike recalls. Now they're on their way to owning their very own studio, complete with new and improved gear for all.

"We got the equipment to make the record ourselves, so we ain't gonna have a whole lot of sticky fingers fuckin' with the music," Tim explains.

"Straight from my brain to the tape," Mike adds. "No middle man. The way they see it, we already have a couple hit songs so they're pretty much sure they'll be able to sell our first record." Apparently, the record execs heard the fuse burning as well.

Turning the Beat(box) Around

"I want [Little T and One Track Mike] to be a group that everyone can agree on," Mike says. "Right now music is split up into all these genres that everyone has to adhere to to be somebody, and everybody's facing off... Well, y'know, everyone can listen to us... and like it."

Tim also believes in the universal appeal of their music. "We make our music for the world," he says. "We could strictly market Hot 97; we could focus on race, but that's not what we're doing. We're gonna try and market this shit to everybody. We wanna sell as many records as there are people in the United States, as there are people in the world."

It sounds easy enough, right?. But what are they going to bring to the table to help them rise above the thousands of other new artists?

"Having positive songs - songs that are somewhat thoughtful or intellectual right now is a statement, especially given the bankruptcy of any messages," Shank Bone says. "Its either one side is just offensive and the other side is just sorta bland. Our songs are about something. They've got some depth, some lyrical character. That alone is challenging the hip-hop world - the music world right now."

"Ditto," adds J-Ride.

Little T has similar ideas. "I want to be the Febreze of hip-hop," Tim says. "I'm just gonna come along with some refreshing shit and spray it all over everything and everybody. That's where I'm comin' from lyrically and musically. But the show - that's my favorite part. When I go to hip-hop shows - on the real - I'm bored. A couple guys rhyming over a DAT tape with a bunch of their boys up there showin' off the clothes that they couldn't afford. But we put on a show."

Truly, these five lads are more than merely musicians; they're performers. The mass of energy they bring to the stage always threatens to consume the venue. Somehow the audience survives, time after time. "The way I look at it, we've got something that's extra special," Tim explains. "You go to these shows and you see Britney Spears and all these people and they're great because they have dancers around them and they have big lights, and they have all this other stuff, but the thing that seems to be lacking in all of this is genuine, motherfuckin', downhome charm. Genuine love for the audience. Genuine love for the music - that exchange of ideas - like, when a motherfucker yells at me onstage, I'm gonna yell back and we're gonna have an exchange and it's gonna be positive. It's just gonna be quirky enough to turn shit around. I'm not claiming that we're gonna change the music industry, but we're gonna have fun. Real fun. Not just big lights, but like a real fun show where people know we're havin' fun and it's not just a job. We're gonna trademark fun."

Yet, no matter what happens, it's more about the music than the fame. "I love being in the band, and I love makin' music and if people wanna hear it, that's great," One Track says.

In fact, the band is imploring their fans to come out to Maxwell's in Hoboken this Friday for what may be their last live performance for a long time as they are to begin work on their new album, tentatively titled, Little T and One Track Mike Are Famous. And now, for all of their tongue-in-cheek posturing, Little T and One Track Mike is facing the prospect of classic, storybook fame. Whether or not they're prepared is not important. The world, however, is waiting.

This article orginally appeared in the Daily Targum on January 25, 2001.

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