At the risk of sounding like a middle-aged white guy character in a Mike Judge film, the improbable soundtrack to my life for the past two weeks has been Schoolly motherfuckin’ D. For whatever reason, I pulled out an old CD of his—maybe for the first time this millennium—to listen to in the car the other day and now I can’t get enough of it. Alone in the car I play “P.S.K. (What Does It Mean?)” at an ear-splitting volume that I’m pretty sure bounces my conservative European automobile like a low-rider with tricked-out suspension. I probably look like an idiot, I grant you, but I don’t really care. This shit is amazing. I appreciated it when it came out—I saw him live—but why it captured my attention so much again thirty years later I couldn’t tell you. It just did.
Probably the original original gangster rapper—even Ice-T admitted in his autobiography that he might’ve taken a bite out of Schoolly D‘s style—the Philadelphia native, on his self-released records at least, perfectly played the role of the scary black gang member/rapper, alluding to, cataloging and boasting about the nefarious activities of the “Park Side Killers,” the local posse of bad boys he ran with. Schoolly—real name Jesse Weaver Jr.—was backed by his DJ Code Money and rapped about violence, guns, raunchy sex, “bitches,” crack and “cheeba”—Salt-n-Pepa or Run DMC were never going to mention such things, or use the “N” word in their raps. Schoolly D shied away from none of these topics or that word.
He told the Philadelphia Citypaper about where his lyrical inspiration came from in a 2004 interview:
“A couple of guys I know, Abdullah, Disco Man and my man Manny, were like, “Why don’t you write a song about us, why don’t you write a song about Parkside Killers?’ It was one of the easiest songs I’d ever written. I wrote it sitting at my mom’s dining-room table, smoking some weed at 3 o’clock in the morning.”
Armed with his newfound inspiration and a large amount of weed, Schoolly hit the studio. Out of necessity he was forced into recording in a studio designed for classical music.
“They had these big plate reverbs, that’s why you got the “PSK’ sound because nobody used the real shit. We did everything live, and if you listen you can hear my fingers programming the drum machine. We just kept getting higher and higher and higher, and smoking and smoking and all of a sudden the song just took on this whole other life because we were just so fucked up. It just made this sucking sound like “boosh, boosh’ and we just looked at each other and were like, “Yeah, do more of that shit.’”
The “boosh” sound is what really made “PSK” stand out as something that, until that time, had never been done. The tweaked-out reverb bass caused a sensation.
“I got home and I put the tape in the tape recorder and I was like, “What the fuck did I do?’ Nobody had ever done something like that before, with all the reverb, nobody. And I was like, “I gotta go back and take some of that reverb out because this shit just sounds kinda crazy.’ But I didn’t know that everyone else was making tapes and passing out copies to everyone in Parkside, so by the time that I wanted to go back to the studio it was already out everywhere, and motherfuckers was going crazy, they was like, “That’s the baddest shit we ever heard in our whole fucking life.’”
It is. If you’ve never heard this one before, turn it up loud and pulverize yourself with it. It’s got to be LOUD. There’s no music video for “P.S.K. (What Does It Mean?)” or most of Schoolly D‘s best songs, but it would probably seen less threatening if there was something to watch, so enjoy this for the perfect “thing” that it is. Who needs a music video when you’ve got this?
The funny thing is, what seemed so “real” at the time, to be perfectly honest, does sounds in retrospect like two young guys getting fucked up and fucking around with a drum machine. The main beat was preprogrammed into the Roland TR-909 Rhythm Composer—you can also hear it in Siouxsie and the Banshees’ “Kiss Them for Me”—and the outrageous raps seem in hindsight to be more juvenile hijinks than anything else—which is not to take anything away from it. I think it’s more just describing it accurately. (They’re still pretty NSFW, even 30 years later.)
In the same Citypaper article, Weaver said that his infamous “Saturday Night” was about “my 17-year-old Saturday night” and that the song was not meant to be taken literally. He admitted that he “did come home once with a girl and I forgot my key and my mom was pissed off, but she didn’t pull a gun; she’s never owned a gun in her life.”
Below you can see pretty much the only live footage of Schoolly D in his youthful prime, shot at the Latin Quarter nightclub in New York in 1986. I was at this very show when I was 20 years old. My girlfriend at the time worked at a hip-hop label and she was hip to Schoolly D, pretty early on and played his records (and performed his raps) around our apartment all the time. She got on the guest list and we went. The Latin Quarter was a real “check your gun at the door” kinda place, which meant it had the perfect ambiance for a Schoolly D show. The set was shot for Big Fun In The Big Town, a Dutch TV documentary about hip-hop and I remember the camera crew being there because they ruined the intimidating mood I expected. In any case, seeing this footage so many years later, I’m glad in hindsight that they were there. Who needs memories when you’ve got YouTube?
In recent years Schoolly D’s been perhaps best known for his contributions to Adult Swim’s Aqua Teen Hunger Force and he’s performed as part of a hip-hop oldies package tour. He’s also a painter (he drew the self portrait at the top of the post). Abel Ferrara used his music to great effect in The King of New York.