Schoolly D - Original Gangsta
by Andrew Emery, 1997
From his early days on the streets of Philly to becoming recognized as the inventor of Gangsta Rap, Schoolly D has always been on the edge. Now heís in the UK, being lauded as a big beat hero and soundtrack specialist. HHC checks he still knows the scoreÖ..
Schoolly D. He was in Hip-Hop connection number one, he was in Hip-Hop Connection 100 and now, lucky fella, heís in Hip-Hop Connection 110. So, whatís the occasion? Well, with living legends there need to be no occasion although thereís a loose one, the Schoolly D work on the indie-auteur Abel Ferraraís latest slice of the dark life. Fittingly, given the apocalyptic content of Ferraraís oeuvre, weíre in a plush yet naff London Hotel, a thousand staff floating about to no particular effect, a grand piano stands idle and the air is filled with the sound of fake, piped birdsong, supposedly emanating from the stuffed exhibits in the fake aviary in the centre of the room. You want pre-millennial angst played out against laughable post-modern sterility? Abelís your man. Or rather, Schoolly D is, contributing six new songs to the score of the Blackout While also proceeding apace with work on his own millionth LP.
Basically, Schoolly remains the only b-boy that has maintained any kind of longevity in a field of Johnny-come-latelyís-and-disappear-earlies, consistently releasing new material, originating whole sub-genres and not only creating gangsta rap but also being the only person ever any good at it. Relaxed, affable and thoroughly cool, Schoolly takes us careering through his life, records, mum, projects and days offÖ.
How did you start out in emceeing and who gave you your first break?
I did. I got turned onto rap in the scene way everybody got turned onto rap back in í79. You didnít know anybody that rapped but it was just the Sugarhill Gang record. Then came the Grandmaster Flash record, but what me really want to rap was when I heard the Funky Four Plus 1, I think that was the turning point that made me feel like we all could do it. In the beginning there was nobody in the íhood who was saying, I got some equipment, come overí. It was nothing compared to today, you either had the love for it or you didnít. You had talent as a writer or you didnít.
"Iím an artist anyway and I was gonna live out my life as a creative person, so I guess rapping came along and saved a lot of young black youth just like when basketball came along. It was a vehicle for us to be creative and show off our talents and get a gig other than being a janitor."
What was your first release?
"My first release was on my own record label because nobody would put out ĎGangster Boogieí and ĎManiací because I was talking about weed, getting high, pistols, snatching gazelles and it was told to me that nobody wanted to hear that. I was convinced that if I wanted to hear it then at least some of the people in my Ďhood would want to hear it too, so I went out and pressed the records up my damn self."
If you were influenced by the likes of Funky Four what made you take a different direction with your own career?
"When youíre an artist as opposed to an entertainer I donít think you choose the way you go, I think you just go in that direction. My direction chose me, even today as a seasoned producer of 14 years I can go to the studio and cut tracks like Puffy and LL, but even if I wanted to it wouldnít come out that way, I would come through somehow. Schoolly D would shine through somehow. I donít attempt to guide myself, I let my creativity guide me."
Do you think people recognize you as the creator of ĎGangsta rapí?
"In the beginning yeah, you had to recognize it was me. Even now, if you listen to the music and records that I did that survived years and years of all these other guys coming along and saying. ĎIím the king of Gangsta rapí. The thing about gangsta rap is that I didnít go to the studio and think, ĎIím gonna create gangsta rapí, it just came out that way. When the ball was rolling and I helped change the direction and they start making money, of course they are gonna give me my props. Every time I did go out to the West Coast they showed me love and they knew where it came from."
Did you know back in the mid-Ď80s that you were very popular over in the UK?
"Yeah, Ďcos Mick Jones brought me over to do the first thing with Audio Dynamite, and I came back over to do some gigs and a tour. Back then, being a kid and just starting out and making all this money, I didnít really have time to think about it."
Did you find being a rapper difficult not being from New York?
"Nah, I didnít know what the fuck I was doing anyway. Thinking about my first recording sessions, the only thing had to go on was that I was always fascinated by music documentaries about the Rolling Stones, James Brown or BB King, watch those guys in the studio, so that was my influence. Those were the things that taught me what to do in the studio."
Did you rap with anybody else before you made solo records?
"Yea, I rapped in a group, when I first got into the group there were like ten other rappers and I was the last emcee to get into the group Ė they didnít even want me. They were like, ĎGoddamn man, thereís already ten of us so what the fuck is one more person gonna sayí and I nearly blew it not being myself. I actually signed one of them to my label, Royal Ron. He was the one who basically said, ĎYouíre not Kurtis Blow, youíre not Melle Mel, youíre funny and youíre hardcore, why donít you do that?í
When I started doing that it just exploded, just doing block parties and it went from 11 emcees down to eight, down to six, down to two. Ron grew as an emcee and I grew as an emcee, he had his style and I had my style, even down to the time when we were supposed to go and record the record and he never showed up. Nobody showed up. They were afraid, we didnít know how to run a record company, weíd never been to the studio, weíd never done any of that shit before. Thatís when I learned, you have to learn to do a bit of everything because you never know what position youíll be in."
How did the hook-up with Code Money come about?
"That was an accident. We grew up in the same neighbourhood but he was more than a few years younger than me and still in high school. Iím just sitting on my step, just chilling and heís like, ĎI wanna be your deejayí. I was looking at this kid like, ĎWhat the fuck? First of all I donít know you, do you live around here?í He said ĎYeah, I live around the corner. Come to my momís house and Iíll show you that I can Deejay.í So I went around the corner and his mom had a big stereo. He just put a record down, put the needle on and started scratching. Iíd never seen shit like that before, it was just raw energy and ignorance, and nothing but art is going to come out of that. I figured that he was like me, creative in his own way. I would say that ten days after that we wrote and recorded ĎPSKí."
A lot of your early material sounded improvised.
"Just because it was. I donít think I really started writing rhymes down until maybe the fifth album. A lot of these songs and verses were written down as ideas and I still do a lot of that today. I write more down today, but thatís because I canít remember as much. Youíre getting older, youíve got more things to think about."
"Smoking weed for 20 years just affects your memory. I recently realised that I hadnít been high in two months and I was remembering all the old songs, which I never usually do. It just proves it. I never really believed that shit about weed and memory loss, but that shit is true. When Iím gonna do gigs I just donít get high."
How did you first hook up with Abel Ferrara and get involved with King of New York?
"At first I didnít want to be involved, he was kind of wacky, calling me up at the house. Iíd seen MS 45 and a couple of his other movies, but I wasnít aware that he was the director. So he pretty much went over my head straight to Jive. They sent him a bunch of my music and started putting it in the film any-fucking-way. I was recording ĎAm I black enough for youí at the time and as soon as they got the tapes they sent the tapes over to him. They didnít even tell me until the film was done, they gave me a call and there was a special screening in New York."
"Musically, he trusts me a whole lot more now because Iím writing more for his films directly, but I still get the same feel. We hang out every now and then and itís a blast. I know who he is and people ask me all the time how heís so high-strung and Iím so laidback how do we get along. I think thatís the beauty of it. Could I deal with another laidback motherfucker in my life? Probably not. Could he deal with another high-strung motherfucker? I donít think so."
Do you get to see the films before you write the music?
"With the last two projects I got to see the scripts first and then we started talking about music even before heís got all the actors. The last two films I worked on I also happened to be there while they were filming, so I got to see a lot of the work that went on."
Are you working towards a new LP for yourself?
"Yeah, if I can find the goddamn time. I have six songs done so far, I have to do another five. Actually, itís gonna be me with my new band so itís not just gonna be Schoolly D. Itís gonna be Schoolly D & the Funk Mob. It definitely has my mark on it but I wanted to do some new shit. Itís not like Iím going off in a new direction that will scare motherfuckers, like Iím doing some classical music or some Billy Joel shit. Itís just am extension of what I want to do any-fucking-way. I think as an artist dealing with the public, if you present something different you have to give them a totally package."
"As far as Ďthe Blackoutí, thatís different. The songs just popped out from fucking nowhere Ė itís beautiful when youíre working like that and you can just sit here and feel like shit is just floating over here. All of a sudden it just pops into your fucking skull and you start writing. You just do it. All but one of the songs was first take, the vocals were first take, whatever I felt like saying and it came out. The music was the same way, I guess it was like that because I had the script so long and I was actually on the set of the film."
Has Abel Ferrara ever tried to make you act?
"We did a lot of the score on the set Ďcos Iím actually in it too. Itís cool. You hear the shit all the time, itís long hours, itís hard work, itís fucking sweaty. It is what it is but itís cool. It was simple Ďcos I was just being myself, just being me. I play a guy who plays bass in a band at Dennis Hopperís club, so basically it was me being me. I also did some acting in a new film called The Substitute 2. I think after those two things I would love to do more acting. I donít know about acting in Abel Ferrara films per se because itís like trying to take direction. If I was just an actor I can see that it would be easy for me, but since weíve a personal relationshipÖÖ.
"For me something major I might want to act with somebody Iím not friends with, so when they do scream at me and weíre about to throw fucking punches, you dig what Iím saying?"
Your career changed direction to a more conscious style of rhyme with the ĎAm I black enough for you? LP. Why did you choose to go that way?
"From where I grew up as a standpoint everybody was political, even the pimps and players. I was a young growing artist and it wasnít like I chose to do that, it was just the album that came out of me. I think thatís the beauty of that period, from like í84 to í90 I donít think rap artists really knew, they didnít take direction because there was no direction to take. Run DMC couldnít copy Run DMC because they were Run DMC. I couldnít copy Schoolly D because I was Schoolly D and so forth and so one. There was nobody at the top for record companies to say, ĎBe like thisí. A lot of these groups were either self-produced and I figured this should be my next record because thatís how I felt anyway."
"To say youíre one-dimensional, to say that youíre only a player or only a family man or only straight-up and down- youíre a fucking liar. I have all these things in me, as long as people continue to buy Schoolly D records, itís always gonna be Schoolly D but itís always gonna be something different."
What did you mum think of her depiction on the ĎSaturday nightí cut?
"I think after ĎGucci timeí she just didnít play any of them. She was in one of my videos when I was doing work for Ruffhouse. I didnít even know she listened to the fucking lyrics, and now that I listen to the lyrics, Iím offended. I just think, shit, if it offends me sometimes I know it offends her, but I kind of explained to her ĎYeah, itís your son speaking, but a lot of times itís artists speaking through your son. Donít look at me as the little kid with the snotty nose. When you think of Schoolly D heís not even your son."
How do you feel about Rockíníroll these days?
"Rockíníroll these days needs some soul. Rockíníroll comes from great soul bands, guys like Wilson Pickett. Rockíníroll used to have a beat, you used to dance to it, it said something, it meant something. Now is there any Rockíníroll left? The Rockínírollers today are 50 and 60 years old. Itís still the same fucking bands that were around in the Ď60s and Ď70s. Who would you consider a new Rockíníroll band? Rockíníroll used to touch everybody."
Is it true that to get out of your Ruffhouse contract you held a gun to an executiveís head?
"Ruffhouse was easy to get out of, but it was just as easy to get into. Nah, I just said I donít want to work with you guys any more and the feeling was mutual. Out of all the contracts I ever got out of it was just that simple, there was no big lawyers, it was just me walking in."
How do you feel about people sampling your music and have you been paid for it?
"I think thatís what publishing was invented for. When I started out I didnít really understand publishing to that extent, I started to get it around six years ago when Siouxsie & The Banshees sampled ĎPSKí. I had a co-publishing deal so I owned it all myself. I had the feeling that somewhere down the line McDonalds and whatever were going to use some of that work. How do I feel about it? I donít get too happy, I donít get too sad. I sample, I get sampled, I pay, they have to pay."
"The Chemical Brothers? I havenít seen the cheque yet. The first time I heard the Chemical Brothers was at home, sitting watching the NBA play-offs and they begin to show the programme and I hear, ĎBack with another one of those block rockiní beatsí. Iím like, ĎWhat the fuck, turn that shit upí. I rang my lawyer and was like, ĎTurn the goddamn finals on!í. They were just in the states end I spun at their gig in Philly."
Is it true you were going to sue the Beastie Boys for sampling ĎGucci Timeí?
"I was going to but that was just talk. My manager wanted to. What the fuck for? I was morally, ĎHow the fuck can I go and sue the Beastie Boys when like James Brown, George Clinton, Bootsy, Aretha Franklin should be knocking on my motherfucking door?í. So how could I go do some shit like that? Lawsuits are no fun because I was sued by Led Zeppelin and that wasnít a prettysight."
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