Philly Blunt: Schoolly D

Hey, remember 15 In Philly? MAGNET’s 15th-anniversary survey of our hometown music scene apparently left a lot to be desired in the variety department. It made our friend Rocco DiCicco ask, “Youse guys listen to anything but india [sic] rock?” (He didn’t actually ask that, but it’s always a good time stereotyping Philadelphia’s Italian-American community.) Every once in a while, Rocco tells us about a Philly artist you need to know about.

Jay-Z has called Schoolly D a pioneer. The Notorious B.I.G.’s “Big Interlude,” from his iconic Life After Death album, is a direct reinterpretation of Schoolly’s 1985 single “PSK.” Ice-T (mistakenly considered by many to have created gangsta rap) acknowledges that “PSK” was the first gangsta-rap song ever, stating, “Here’s the exact chronological order of what really went down: The first record that came out along those lines was Schoolly D’s ‘P.S.K’. … When I heard that record, I was like, ‘Oh shit!’ and call it a bite or what you will, but I dug that record.” Soon after Ice-T came across “PSK,” a then unknown rap group named N.W.A was calling a young Schoolly in Philadelphia, asking if he would fly out to Los Angeles to work with them. Schoolly’s influence on the burgeoning genre of gangsta rap became more and more significant, and he released a slew of records and toured the world countless times, blindsiding the international community with this unique, raw, aggressive new American art form.

But the Schoolly D you’ll talk to today isn’t interested in rehashing the old days. He is aware of his impact as a Godfather of gangstra rap but never stops to rest on his laurels, constantly juggling a slew of new projects across various forms of media. He has composed music for a number of films by distinctive director Abel Ferrara, including Bad Lieutenant and King Of New York. He is responsible for the explosive theme song that opens Aqua Teen Hunger Force and often provides narration and voiceovers for a variety of characters on the wildly popular Cartoon Network show. In fact, his own animated series, Chocolate Spider, is currently in the works. He has continued to make in-your-face music all along and is currently working on a new EP. Oh, and he’s also working on his first book. Schoolly’s chameleon-like skill set is awe-inspiring, and his history of defiant independence (particularly from record labels) points to a trailblazing and entrepreneurial spirit that is at the crux of everything he does.

Any time you spend with the 44-year-old Schoolly is an experience. His seemingly unlimited store of ideas makes you wonder if he ever sleeps. His positive energy is infectious and keeps him looking and feeling younger than artists half his age. He is a riveting and hilarious storyteller, whether he’s sharing something that happened to him that day or dishing on backstage shenanigans from his tours with 2 Live Crew. Perhaps most importantly, he welcomes everyone he meets as if he’s known them all of his life, never letting on his status as one of the few creators of what is possibly America’s most popular musical export of the last 25 years. That’s because, like most Philadelphians, Schoolly D is real. He doesn’t sit still to bask in his legend, and he doesn’t put himself on a pedestal, even though he has more of a right to than just about anyone in the history of hip hop.

MAGNET:What artists that you were coming up with did you respect the most?
Schooly: It was mostly underground rappers like Funky Four Plus One, Just-Ice, Mantronix. These were the cats that I was performing with most. We formed a hardcore underground base. It was more exciting than it is now. Now grandmas are rapping.

What are you seeing going on out there in hip hop right now?
Niggas are still broke and still shooting each other. Only difference is niggas are now white kids. [Laughs] Some of these new guys, I like their enthusiasm. Peedi Crakk I really enjoy.

How did your getting involved in scoring films for Abel Ferrara come to be?
He was doing King Of New York, and he was a music cat. He always wanted to be a musician. Turns out someone handed him my Saturday Night tape. Abel loved it. He thought it was the real shit. He didn’t want what they were playing on the radio. He wanted the real hardcore underground that the kids were listening to. So, he called me up. I was recording Am I Black Enough For You? at the time. I must’ve turned him down about 10 times. I was into my whole blackness thing then. First thing I said was, “Is you white?” Before he could answer, I hung up. [Laughs] But he was persistent. He contacted Jive (Records). Jive kept sending him stuff that I was working on. So, I was scoring the movie without even knowing it.

What did you think about how it turned out?
Abel called me up and was like, “I took a big fucking chance on this. You better like it.” [Laughs] I loved it. He showed me that I could be a film composer. So, I started working with him right away. He knew the problems I was having with record labels. I hated record labels. He asked me what I wanted to do, and I said I wanted to write songs, make money on them and sell them. He told me I could do the same thing with movies and own my publishing. So, I said, “Fuck it. Why not?”

So that’s when this chameleon-like thing of you jumping between music, film, animated TV and all sorts of other things started? Was this when you first realized that you could really do whatever you wanted as an artist?
Well, I was always taught that I could do whatever I wanted. I came from a big family, and I was always the smallest, including my sisters. So, it was a fight and struggle from day one to even to get a fucking piece of French toast. I’d have to stab my brother in the throat with a spork. [Laughs] But I came up in the era of the ’60s and ’70s with people saying, “Little black boy, you can be what you wanna be.” I believed that shit. So, I figured I could have the most beautiful woman in the world. I could have children who loved me. I could hold my balls and cuss. Why not? For real, why not? We all get old, we all slow down. We all wanna have great memories. When we look back like three seconds before we die and say, “What the fuck did I do?” you wanna be really satisfied with what you did. I know I’ll be satisfied and that my family and friends and the people close to me will be satisfied that I said all the things I needed to say.

You definitely come across as someone who lives for each moment and realizes that life is short.
Well, I get frustrated, too. Artists get frustrated on a whole different kinda level. Some shoot heroin, some write a great song, some paint, some design homes. That frustration can affect you really negatively or really positively. I’m in one of my positive modes right now.

What keeps you motivated?
The thing is, I look at everything as an opportunity for change. I drive people crazy. Sometimes, my girl wakes up and I‘ve rearranged all the furniture in the house. That’s the type of person I am. It can drive a management company crazy, ’cause I’m always thinking in five different ways. That’s normal for me. Those types of people have told me I need to focus. That is focus for me. You don’t wanna see me not focused. I’d be a lazy fuck on the couch, watching Law And Order for 12 hours with a bag of Fritos.

So where is the focus now?
The focus is on my EP. Also, I’m working on a book I’ve have the idea of for years about lifestyle, food, sex, love, music. It probably will be more than one book just because I have so much good information. It’ll have soul-food recipes, remedies like hangover cures, anecdotes, near-death experiences, why should you eat buffalo rather than cow. Shit like that.

Are you still working hard on Aqua Teen Hunger Force?
Man, these cartoons take a long, long time. I’m signed up for the next three years. Warner Bros. owns all of Adult Swim (the programming block Aqua Teen airs on) except for a few shows. So, I’m more focused on developing my own cartoon for Chocolate Spider. People seem to dig it, and that’s something I can own.

How far along is that?
We’ve got at least 10 episodes of completed voiceovers. Erik Horvitz is working on the animation, which he does all himself. It takes sitting in front of the computer for 20 hours a day for like months. That’s no fun.

When you look back on your career, what has been your biggest realization in making a life out of art? What were some of your biggest fuckups?
I would say the biggest thing is to not fall into other people’s version of the American dream. The bullshit of that has been proven over the last five years. The 2.5 kids, the million-dollar house—that shit is just a whole different kind of slavery. I’ve lived most of my adult life not involved in it. The second I get tricked into it, and I have gotten tricked into it, I can’t believe it. Ya know, the trillion-dollar mortgage, living in a tax bracket that’s close to God. God laughing at me like, “You paid that much for Earth? I gave it to you for free.” So, I would just say, “Don’t buy into all that stuff. Just have a good quality of life.” I believe in quality of life. Even when I’ve been down, I make the best of it. Like, “Hey, we can still dance to James Brown.” It drives some people nuts. What else? I’ve kept my youth, and that’s been really important. Young people see me and are like, “Damn, do you ever stop?” Um. And I really love women. I love sex, and I’m still good at it, so I hear. [Laughs]

You look really young.
Yeah, I feel young. People say you can’t turn back the hands of time, but you can. It all comes from inside you. I’m still that kid hangin’ at the junkyard lookin for that special little something. Take it home and shine it up real nice and fix it. I’m still that kid that does all kinds of crazy shit, and that insanity keeps me sane.

What do you regret?
Well, I wish I hadn’t blown so much money on drugs and bullshit. I wish I had gotten the lesson a year into it, not five. [Laughs] Most people stay in that game too long, but I’m lucky. I got friends who were in it like 15, 20, 30 years. Some of those people came out of it all fucked up, and I’m thinking “Wow, what are they gonna do for the next 30 or 40 years?”

What does Philly mean to you? What do you love and hate about it?
Philly’s like the mob. You can try to get out, but you know they’re gonna come stab you in the head and sleep with your girl. Ya know, chop your head off and throw it in the Schuylkill. [Laughs] You know that shit! But you still keep comin back because it’s familiar. And it’s fun. It’s like a crack high every 12 minutes. You’re always in some danger or some love affair. But I do wanna move abroad eventually. I toured all over the world a bunch of times. I loved Ireland, Amsterdam, all kinds of places. Getting overseas is the only way to look back on America and realize how fucked up we are. You can look back and say, “Wow, we really did that? No wonder people hate us.” Oh, by the way, what I love is the women in Philly right now. They’re fine as hell in Philly right now.

I just moved back to town. What neighborhoods should I be keeping an eye on?
Everywhere. I’m telling you. Well, you might not wanna go lookin in the hood. Stick to the main arteries.