When it comes to real G’s the west coast scoops up all the credit for one of the more popular and enduring sub-genres of the art form—gangsta rap. But even though the Crips and Bloods originated in the City of Angels, gangsta rap really traces its roots back to the east coast during the 80s.
Take Ice-T for instance, whose fourth studio album was even titled O.G. Original Gangsta (Sire Records, 1991). The rapper born Tracy Marrow came straight outta Newark, New Jersey, and spent much of his early years there. After both his parents died from heart attacks—his mom passed when he was only in third grade—Marrow, at age 13, was sent to live with his aunt in the View Park-Windsor Hills neighborhood of South Los Angeles. His first encounter with real gangs came while attending Crenshaw High School in South Central. Though never a gangbanger himself, he was cool with them because he read the books of Iceberg Slim, the pimp, and could recite his pimp rhymes word for word. “Kick some more of that Ice, T,” they used to egg him on, thus giving him his nickname. Later on, while serving in the army, he was introduced to hip-hop and met a real pimp, who taught him the game. But when Ice was discharged he turned to robbery to earn a living, while hip-hop was his hobby. Eventually, the music won him over and he started the Rhyme Syndicate, releasing his debut album Rhyme Pays (Sire Records) in 1987. Tracks like the crime story “6 ‘N the Morning” provides an early example of gangsta rap.
Meanwhile back east, another frosty character from the Castle Hill section of the Bronx--Just-Ice--was making a name for himself. Born Joseph Williams Jr., Just-Ice was a Five Percenter with a body like Mr. T., a grill full of gold-teeth, and a tough rep on the streets. His debut Back to the Old School, produced by Kurtis Mantronik, came out on respected rap/dance indie Sleeping Bag Records in 1986 and featured a cut called, “Gangster of Hip-Hop.” That title was no idle boast considering the rapper was charged with the murder of drug dealer Ludlaw DeSouza that same year, but later acquitted—an incident that got him on the TV show America’s Most Wanted. But aside from being hard as hell, Just-Ice could kick some hard rhymes like he did on the stand-out “Cold Getting’ Dumb,” from his classic debut.
Also in NYC around the same time, Nathaniel Thomas Wilson, better known as Kool G. Rap, was coming up on the tough streets of Corona, Queens. “Nigga started selling drugs at a certain point, and all that shit. It’s what was goin’ in the streets” he told The Source in 1995. After getting down with the legendary Juice Crew he released two singles, “It’s a Demo” and “I’m Fly” with his DJ Polo before appearing on the posse cut “The Symphony” produced by Marley Marl. Then on his first full-length, Road to the Riches (Cold Chillin’, 1989), he debuted the mafioso-rap style credited with influencing all other gangsta rappers who came after him. Still, no one could do it like G. Rap, who sealed his rep later on with The Giancana Story (Rawkus, 2002).
Beating all these guys to the punch, however, was Philly’s own Schoolly D (aka Jesse Bonds Weaver Jr.), on whom I did a solo post earlier. His self-titled debut, released on his own label in 1985 spun off the underground hit, “P.S.K.” (for Park Side Killas, the street gang he was down with). Giving him the ultimate compliment, Ice-T, in his autobiography, Ice: A Memoir of Gangsta Life and Redemption, from South Central to Hollywood (Random House, 2011), said:
The first record that came out along those lines was Schoolly D's "P.S.K." Then the syncopation of that rap was used by me when I made “6 ‘N the Morning". The vocal delivery was the same: "...P.S.K. is makin' that green," "...six in the morning, police at my door." When I heard that record I was like, "Oh shit!" and call it a bite or what you will but I dug that record. My record didn't sound like "P.S.K.," but I liked the way he was flowing with it. "P.S.K." was talking about Park Side Killers but it was very vague. That was the only difference, when Schoolly did it, it was "...one by one, I'm knockin' em out." All he did was represent a gang on his record. I took that and wrote a record about guns, beating people down, and all that with "6 in the Mornin'."