Happy Gangster Story: Schoolly D Returns

Written by Richard Byrne on . Posted in Posts.

Schoolly D

Reached by telephone in
Philadelphia recently, Schoolly sounds more philosophical than pissed off about
the fact that he hasn’t reaped the full credit for his innovation and influence.
"The winners write history," says Schoolly. "Whoever’s making
the most money can fool the public and say that they created it themselves."
Schoolly adds that thereal irritation for him is that "artists like Prince
or Chaka Khan or jazz artists give props. Some of these guys don’t. That’s
what’s wrong with hiphop." Acknowledgment via sampling, Schoolly observes,
is the real payback. "It feels good in my pocketbook," he notes dryly,
adding that when rappers use his early stuff, "there’s always evidence.
It has a unique sound. Shit, I can’t even recreate it anymore. I know they

Not that he’s sweating
it too much. "I just do my own gig," Schoolly argues. "I don’t
have time to sit around and think about this kind of shit."

The first call on that time
is Funk N’ Pussy. Schoolly says the title and inspiration came from
a North London club night ("Funkin Pussy") that London’s Time
says is a mix of "ol’ school funky breaks, hip-hop and P-Funk."
Schoolly says he hung out with that crowd on his trips to London, played there
with his band and eventually ended up recording a record that’s closer
to his roots. "When I played it for a friend," Schoolly continues,
"he just said, ‘That’s that Schoolly D shit.’ It’s
about what’s going on with me–smoking, drinking, hanging out, y’know?"

There were vice and hijinks
to spare in Schoolly’s early work. His first three records–1986’s
Schoolly D, 1987’s Saturday Night–The Album and 1988’s
Smoke Some Kill–married dense and sprawling sonic landscapes crafted
by Schoolly and his DJ Code Money to laconic and deadpan raps. Listening back
to tracks like "Gucci Time" and "Do It, Do It" and "Mr.
Big Dick" across a hiphop timeline littered with Too Short and the Geto
Boys and Eminem, there’s a humorous and almost innocent quality to much
of Schoolly’s music. The important elements of the gangsta palette (drugs,
bitches, guns, conspicuous excess) are there, waiting to be exploited, but Schoolly’s
touch with them is defter and lighter than what followed in his wake. (Schoolly
followed those albums up with the massively underrated 1989 album Am I Black
Enough for You?
, an album that mixed gangsta moments with a bit of Sly Stone-era
political funk, and two less well-received and now out-of-print efforts, 1990’s
A Gangster’s Story and 1994’s Welcome to America.)

The other calls on Schoolly’s
time are a variety of film and tv projects, including a new RuffNation film
called Snipes and an as yet unnamed project for Cartoon Network. Most
notably, he’s worked with Abel Ferrara, scoring the director’s 1998
film, New Rose Hotel, and he’s involved as a composer and actor
in a number of productions, (Schoolly D’s "Signifying Rapper"–with
its hook from Led Zeppelin’s "Kashmir"–was used to great
effect in the original theatrical release of Ferrara’s Bad Lieutenant,
but it was dropped from the video when the Zep complained that it had been used
without permission.)

"When I met Abel 10
years ago," Schoolly says, "he told me that if I took the lyrics out,
my music would be perfect for film." When people doubted his move into
film music, says Schoolly, he’d just bring up Quincy Jones. "The same
thing happened to him," he continues. "People told him he was crazy,
and he told them, ‘I’m gonna be 50 one day.’"

When I ask Schoolly about
the Cartoon Network gig, I remind him that he was one of the first people to
be interviewed by Space Ghost on Space Ghost: Coast to Coast. "One
of the producers is a big Schoolly D fan," he says. "When they called
me up and asked if I wanted to be interviewed by Space Ghost, I said, ‘Damn
right I’ll be there. I watched Space Ghost when I was a kid." The
new cartoon that he’s writing music for, he says, is about some soft-boiled
detectives who want to be tough guys. "My girlfriend and I were in bed
watching it," Schoolly says, relating the program’s harder-edge vibe,
"and we were saying, ‘I can’t believe this is going to be on
Cartoon Network.’"

I tell Schoolly that it
sounds like his own gangster story is finding itself a happy ending. He corrects
me quickly: "I don’t know about happy ending, man. But it’s a
happy transition."

Schoolly D plays Thurs.,
Oct. 19, at Nix, 6 E. 32nd St., 3rd fl. (betw. 5th & Madison Aves.). Tickets
are available at Other Music (477-8150) and Fat Beats (673-3883).