Before the west coast was anointed Gangsta rap capital at the close of the 80s—thanks to the work of such luminaries as Ice-T and N.W.A.--there was West Philly’s own Jesse Bonds Weaver, a.k.a. Schoolly D, a true rap maverick. One of the few golden era greats not from New York, Weaver spent his high school years in Atlanta before winding up back in the City of Brotherly Love where he made history in his bid to break into the music industry.
Only 19 and in search of his own style, he released two forgettable 12-inch singles in 1984, “Gangster Boogie/Maniac” and “C.I.A./Cold-Blooded Blitz,” on his own Schoolly D imprint. Though the songs were all over the place—from the electro of “Maniac” to the conscious rhymes of “C.I.A.”—the fact that he established himself as an independent was a savvy business move that set him apart from other artists simply on the hunt for a record deal. Also, instead of following the advice of a local radio personality, who told him to stop talking about guns and drugs in his rhymes, he doubled down on his next 12-inch, “P.S.K. What does it mean?/ Gucci Time,” released in 1985.
As a member of a crew called the Park Side Killers, a loose organization of deejays, MCs and graf artists, who hung out at Parkside Avenue and Fifty-second Street, he was simply speaking about life in his ‘hood. In the first verse he talks about picking up a girl at a party who ends up being a prostitute. The second verse finds him at a house party, putting a gun to the head of another MC who sounds like him, but choosing to best him on the mic instead. Aside from lyrical content that was considered shocking for the time, that track made a huge impression with its gargantuan TR-909 beat, heavy on the hi-hats and bathed in reverb. Celebrated in the burgeoning realm of rap “P.S.K./Gucci Time” became Schoolly D’s calling card, a heavily bootlegged 12-inch that he estimates sold about 500,000 copies at the time. In addition to making a big splash in New York, the record found its way down to Miami, and, of course, the west coast.
According to Ice-T, an east coast rapper transplanted to Los Angeles: “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….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'." [from Tracy Marrow and Douglas Century, Ice: A Memoir of Gangster Life and Redemption—from South Central to Hollywood, Random House, 2011] Considered one of the first examples, of gangsta rap, “6 in the Mornin’” appeared on Ice-T’s major label debut, Rhyme Pays (Sire Records, 1987)
The massive buzz around “P.S.K.” propelled Schoolly D. to do an eponymous full-length featuring more of the same. Released in 1986, the album stood out with its mustard yellow cover and hand-drawn artwork reminiscent of Pedro Bell’s work for Parliament Funkadelic. Such a rough, DIY aesthetic applied to the rhymes and production as well, all competently handled by Schoolly D himself, while his deejay Code Money took care of the scratches. Hardly a fluke, the rapper/producer was able to catch lightning in a bottle again with his follow-up, Saturday Night! The Album (1986), upping the ante on his simple formula for success—booming drum machine programming and bodacious, potty-mouthed rhymes. That record was eventually picked up for re-release by Jive/RCA Records, who offered him a multi-album deal.
The moral of the story, according to Schoolly D, is, “Stick to your guns because you’re either gonna catch up to the world or the world is going to catch up to you. If you’re a true artist, just stick to your guns.” [from Brian Coleman, Check the Technique: Liner Notes for Hip-Hop Junkies, Villard Press, New York, 2005)].