“The Adventures of Schoolly D”
I’m not an expert on old school rap but I’ve heard a little Run DMC and Public Enemy and I can dig. One of the most interesting things about old school rap is how much it differs from the “hardcore gangster” image that many modern rappers project.
Many semi-wise music sages point to NWA and their early 90’s “Straight Outta Compton” album as the birth of gangsta rap. This is true, in a basic way as it popularized the genre and neutered the more “fun” oriented Run DMC as well as the more “serious” approach of Public Enemy.
A wiser rap sage would point to Ice T as the original gangsta rapper (the “OG” if you will, and Ice T sure did). Songs such as “Six in the Morning” create a fully realized universe of gansterdom that is still followed by rappers to this day: a misogynist outlook that glorifies violence while simultaneously pointing out the pitfalls of such a lifestyle.
One can always dig deeper, of course, and when one does some more research, they find that even T had a musical inspiration: he points out Scholly D as being one of his primary influences, stating he believed D was the first gangster rapper of all time, pointing out “PSK” as the first song about and glorifying gang violence in America.
Schoolly D (Jesse B. Weaver Jr) is these days best known for providing the hilarious (if strange) theme song for “Aqua Teen Hunger Force” or for being mentioned in a song by Primus. As a result, many people tend to think that Schoolly is simply a goofy rapper or even focused entirely in humor.
Humor is a big part of his approach but it’s unfair to paint him as a simple “gag” rapper. In fact, his early work (compiled on “The Adventures of Schoolly D” which is what I’m reviewing now, in case you couldn’t tell) is some of the rawest, dirtiest, most basic rap I’ve ever heard in my life.
Musically, D worked with DJ Code Money. Code Money’s beats are…well…basic. Often, they consist entirely of a simple drum machine beat and basic, basic scratching. A few simple effects (such as phase) are sometimes employed as are a few instances of one or two overdubbed voices. Other than that, it feels live and raw.
The best example of this approach is the tune that originally turned me onto Scholly D: “I Don’t Like Rock and Roll.”
It opens with a simple high hat drum beat, scratched loops with Schoolly proclaiming “Yo, yo, what’s up man, this ain’t Prince man, this ain’t Prince…this is Schoolly…we RAP.” Astute ears spot the record Code Money is scratching is “I Love Rock and Roll.” Perfect.
Schoolly is obviously setting up a rap manifesto and contrasting it with that rather awful ode to rock and roll. The first line of the song says it all: “rock and roll living is the thing of the past/so all you long haired faggots can kiss my ass.”
Later, Schoolly explained that it wasn’t exactly rock and roll in general he had a problem with but what it had become in the 80’s i.e. the corporate rock, hair and glam metal nonsense. Naturally, using the word “faggot” is a bit of a no-no these days but isn’t (unfortunately) uncommon in the rap world.
Schoolly isn’t exactly the cleanest or most fluent rapper on these early cuts but he is an excellent wordsmith and story teller. I actually love his sometimes awkward way of spitting out rhymes: it adds to the murky, weird atmosphere of the songs.
“Saturday Night” is something like a “gag” song in that it features a drunk Schoolly bringing home a “fat bitch” and getting chased around the house by his mother with a shot gun. Misogynist as all hell, of course, but it sets the tone for further misogyny in rap music. Which makes it influential but unfortunately so.
And then there is “PSK” which is probably the earliest highly detailed description of gang violence in rap music. It’s a bit antiquated these days especially boasts about “knocking em out” but it’s a truly precedent setting tune who’s influence can be seen in dozens, if not hundreds of songs.
Other moments that stand out include Schoolly’s freestyle rap on…”Freestyle Rap” (much of his stuff was totally improvised) as well as the rather strange space instrumental “It’s Krak” which loops Steve Miller synthesizer effects to create something more spacy and interesting than that unengaging piece of garbage ever did.
Sorry I hate Steve Miller with a passion.
There are problems with the record, however. As influential as it is and as much as I like the atmosphere and approach, it simply gets wearing. The album is as DIY as it comes, basically recorded in a bedroom, but it’s lo-fi approach makes the songs sound too similar and hard to differentiate.
And then there is the obvious negative influence it has had on the rap world. While Schoolly is obviously rapping with a big grin on his face and Ice T could rap about these gangster cliches intelligently, too many horrible, horrible rappers have been influenced by this music. It also created a violent rap subculture that has led to the deaths of too many people.
However, one cannot shove too much shame Schoolly’s way: after all, influence is influence but music is music. And Schoolly definitely stands above his influence to simply become highly engaging and entertaining music.
Songs to Youtube:
Find the official video for “I Don’t Like Rock and Roll.” It’s a lot of fun.