Schoolly D Reflects on Creating Gangsta Rap With 'P.S.K.' on Its 30th Anniversary

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Schoolly D photographed on Harrow Road in London circa 1986.

When Schoolly D returned to Philadelphia in the early '80s after living in Atlanta, he was a couple years away from truly kick-starting his music career. "I had to work my ranks up," the man born Jesse B. Weaver Jr. recalls.

Weaver released his first two 12-inch singles in 1984 and 1985 before finding his stride with a third, "P.S.K. What Does It Mean?", a track now commonly regarded as the first gangsta rap song ever recorded. Ice-T took Schoolly's lead and flipped the style -- a bobbing, sing-song cadence -- into "6 'N The Mornin'," a direct influence on Eazy-E and N.W.A's breakout in 1988.

"P.S.K.", a hyperlocal anthem that resounded nationally, was Schoolly's big break. A few months later he'd release his debut full-length, Schoolly D, one of a handful of early hip-hop LP's in an era of 12-inch singles.

Earlier this year, Straight Outta Compton tinkered with and cemented gangsta rap's origin myths for a mass market: N.W.A burst onto the scene in the late '80s and stirred up controversy with their offensive but reflective lyrics. The group became the face of the gangsta rap movement. Schoolly, by contrast, missed the boat. He was already onto other things.

Speaking with Billboard, Schoolly explains how "P.S.K." and his self-titled debut album came to fruition 30 years ago in cottage industry fashion. There's no strict release date to celebrate, because Weaver was self-releasing his records, but with a 30th anniversary reissue of "P.S.K." out now, he probably said it best himself in 1985: "Lookin' at my Gucci, it's about that time."

Before "Gucci Time" and "P.S.K." what was your experience releasing music like?

It was a bit frustrating because I knew I had something. I come from a musical family so I knew I had to say something, I knew I was gonna do something my whole fucking life. It was almost out of frustration.

I had just moved back from Atlanta 'cause I would go back [and forth between] Philly and Atlanta. And hip-hop in Philly was kinda like, "Pow! What the fuck." Being away from Philly for a couple years, they just looked at me as a country boy. I'm like, "I'm the same motherfucker!" So I had to work my ranks up. It was fucking magic as hell, but nobody could see it. Just imagine when John Coltrane used to walk into the studio, like the same as blue and green, he would see music in colors. Nobody believed him, but his music was -- this is John Coltrane. Imagine me watching all these sparkles. Like I seen these fucking sparkles and these sparks, and all this energy. I could actually see it. And nobody fucking believed me except for a handful of people…They was like, "As soon as you find your voice. You just have to be patient."

So watching other cats always rapping, me being on the sidelines, knowing I was better than the twelve guys before me. It was hard. Again, you know what? Patience. It was frustrating and magic at the same time. I don't know if you've ever seen girls do double-dutch. And they're waiting to get in, waiting to get in, waiting to get in. Once I got the fuck in it was just a wrap. It was a done deal.

Where did the exaggerated echo on the drums come from in "P.S.K."?

We recorded those records in classical studios. So these rooms were like fucking huge rooms. We'd go in and they would make us put tiles on the piano 'cause it was recorded right on the piano. It was definitely picking up sounds from the piano because it had like real reverb. I remember putting the mic in one of those rooms. And the thing is -- the special thing is -- everything was recorded live. I rapped and operated the drum machine live, [DJ] Code [Money] scratched live. I think it was all of that in our voices, hitting on the one. It just melded into one.

That's just us smoking tons of fucking weed, saying, "more reverb." Like you know the fucking "more cowbell [SNL skit]?" I swear to God it was like that. "More reverb. More reverb." As the night went on it was like, "More reverb." At that point I used to like it dry as hell. I liked the echo machines but I never liked the reverb when I was out doing block parties and shit. [The song] made people be like, "Really, Schoolly? Reverb?" But that's what God did to you. You hated something and God made that your shit!

So what was the immediate reception to that record?

It was immediate. People didn't even know "Gucci Time" was on the other side 'til days later.

"Gucci Time" was the A-side originally, right?

No, "Gucci" was the B-side -- I don't know, it was fucking 30 years ago. I think I switched it from time to time. I think [Uncle Luke from 2 Live Crew] actually told me I should flip it.

What were people saying about "P.S.K." when it was released?

It was immediate. I got home, Code dubbed the tapes and he handed it out to everybody in the neighborhood. I was asleep, I woke up, I put on the radio. I was like, "Shit, I gotta go to the studio and take out some of this fucking reverb."

I swear to you. I swear to you I thought I was elected fucking mayor. I walked out the house, the whole neighborhood -- the whole Park Side -- was out playing that song. Disco Len [Linn Stevens], his eyes were like, "Dude, you did it. You fucking did it." And I whispered to Linn, I was like, "Dude, I'm about to go take some of this reverb out." Linn is about 6'6", 280 [lbs.]. He was like, "Motherfucker, if you take this fucking reverb out I'm gonna fucking kill you myself. Leave that shit in!"

So you're self-releasing all this stuff. You mentioned that Code Money put out the tapes. When did the record get pressed initially?

I already had everything set up to get pressed. I would do the recording and then take it down and get it pressed up. The only thing, the only fucking thing I just forgot to do, and we did record instrumentals to "P.S.K." and "Gucci Time," totally forgot to put [them on the record.] There was so much energy, everybody wanted it out. I took tapes down to Chino [Mena] and Sound of Market, Funk-O-Mart. They were like, "Dude, fuck that shit! You gotta put it out today, right now!" Even the pressing plant was like, "Dude, this is the shit. Put this shit out right now." Disc Makers [was the pressing plant]. I winded up using the mob to do the rest of the pressings. But everybody wanted it out right then and there. Thirty years later, now that I understand -- it was catching fire. You catch the fire, you ride the magic wave, you get on the fucking unicorn, smoke a fucking blizzy.

I was talking to some younger cats, and the whole thing about hip-hop: the money. Like how it is now. Kinda like, "Shit, we're trying to get paid. N---as need to get money." Do y'all motherfuckers realize that if we had that attitude hip-hop would've died in 1984? "P.S.K." and "Gucci Time" wouldn't have been made if I was thinking about radio, thinking about getting a deal, thinking about crossing over, thinking about being on TV.

"P.S.K." was anti-radio, right?

It was anti-radio! It was anti-establishment. It was anti-everything. That's the fucking difference. I remember some cats, like, all about the radio. Like, what the fuck are you talking about? What about our fucking history? What about doing something for doing it? I made those records -- especially those first four records -- for the love of music and for the voice of my homies and my neighborhood. And for my city. That's why "P.S.K." and "Gucci Time" was made. I think of myself as an artist first. My father always taught me: "Art first, money second." Or: "Work first, money second." Then you don't run into the possibilities of being a fucking bitch-ass sellout. Every now and then you do stuff for money, but you feel slimy. "P.S.K." had to be made the way it had to be made.

With the benefit of hindsight, we look back and "P.S.K." is stamped the first gangsta rap record. I wonder when that label and title became apparent, and also what it was like for you to see the influence of this record take shape out West.

Well, John Leland, he was writing for Spin, he was doing the Spin article on Yo-Boys in Baltimore, he discovered it first, how gangs around America, that was their anthem. Just like on the West Coast. That's all they listened to it. I remember being in Baltimore a lot, and being in Florida a lot. Like every other weekend I was either in Baltimore or in Miami. I knew something was going on, but then again, I was everywhere and nowhere. It drove people crazy. If I made enough money that week, I just stopped fucking working. [Laughs] I was paying attention, but not paying attention.

I remember Will Smith coming back from the West Coast, 'cause we had the same lawyer at the time. He came in and said, "Them n---as out there love you! They love you, love you." And I was on my way off to go to do the Big Audio Dynamite tour, in the U.K., and Ice-T called me up, like, "Dude, I been trying to fucking call you." Because back in the day if you really wanted to find me, you'd call my mom. That was the industry standard. And that stayed up until like mid to late '90s. My mom would give me a call, "Jesse, would you please call Ice-T." [Laughs] No lie.

I finally called him, he was like, "Dude, I'm not releasing this fucking record unless you hear it, I don't want you to think I'm biting your style, but it's like you're influencing cats out here." So he played it for me over the phone. Halfway through I guess he heard me yelling "that's the shit!" I'm like, "I'm on a plane, I'm going to the U.K." He was like, "Well, I'm gonna set up a gig for us when you get back." I saw Too Short. I saw cats looking like me, sounding like me. I'm like, "Whoa, what the fuck." It wasn't until [Uncle] Luke and I were partners in business, he introduced me to these Cubans and shit that would press records. We would talk business and he would always say, "Schoolly, I'm telling you man, you an influence. You influencing cats." But being an artist and thinking about Saturday Night!, the next 12-inch and the next album, it was kinda like looking backwards for me. I wasn't really paying attention. And my influences on Saturday Night! was like real hardcore funk and punk rock. "P.S.K." for me was in the can.

There were a few different things that those rappers were borrowing from you, but really it seemed like the cadence. Ice-T still talks about it to this day, that he was respectfully jacking your flow.

I was seeing it but the thing is, like I said, there was still only a few rappers outside of New York. I come from the whole gang mentality, even if it was like from the South, even if it was from the West Coast, even if it was from the U.K. If this was our gang and this was our voice, then this was our voice. I know everybody today got the lawyer mentality. The lawyer mentality is: well you should get paid for that. Or you should stop people from using it so they don't get paid. Who would do that?

So basically, today -- again, none of this shit would have happened because people would have been thinking about themselves. I wasn't thinking about myself. I was thinking about, "These guys wanna put their art out just like I wanna put my art out." If I influence their art, it's because  somebody influenced me. I wasn't thinking anything. But by the time that cadence blew up I was making movies with Abel Ferrara. So I didn't really capitalize financially or become the face and the voice of it. Ice-T and Eazy and those guys took the face and the voice because they kept making records for radio while I was making music for film.

How did you end up releasing Schoolly D the album? It didn't take much time for the singles to snowball into a full LP.

I got inspired by Run-D.M.C.'s album. Everybody was saying, "Oh there's never been a whole rap album, just rap 12-inches." I was like, "Yeah!" I'm a big fan also of all the Funkadelic shit, and their albums. Sitting there, they got the art. It's gotta be a whole package. I want people to sit -- back in the day, people used to roll their weed up, used to get seeds in that shit. I watched my older brother. They would hand me the album cover of the Funkadelic and I would sit there for hours looking at that shit and reading that shit. They'd listen to music, smoking weed. All that shit played into it. I was like, "Man, I wanna make an album so people could see the art so they could read it, so they could listen. And it should be a complete concept."

How important was it that you were self-releasing your records?

Again, that's something I learned from the '60s. And "Gangsta Boogie," recording that in '82 -- again, being naive, which I love being naive. Being naive enough, taking it to [rapper and radio deejay] Lady B, thinking that they was gonna play it. She was like, "What are you talking about? I can't fucking play this." I'm like, "Well, why?" She was like, "You really don't hear it?" I'm like, "No, is it bad?" She's like, "No, it's the shit, but you're talking about..." I was like, "Soo?" That's my mantra. "Soo?" 'Til this day, nobody could answer that question [when I do something vulgar]. "Soo?" So that's when I knew, and she was like, "You're gonna have to put this out yourself." I simply went home, told my mother, "Well I'm gonna start my own record label." She was like, "What? What do you mean you're gonna start your own record label?" See, back in the day we had something called the Yellow Pages. And the Yellow Pages had everything. I found a place to press the labels, I found distributors. There was like 40 record stores in Philly that we all knew, and they'd be like, "Well, if you press a record we'll sell it for you."

It was pretty hard doing some of the things I did to get the money, but it was pretty easy once I had the money. I already had the relationships. It was pretty hard getting the guys to put your records out front. It was like a spot at the record store, like a Top 100, or Top 50, or Top 10. But once I got it there it was pretty easy. Back in the day,  people would walk into the shop and say, "Yo, Chino, what's the new shit?" And Chino would say, "You gotta buy these five records." And you'd buy them. So that was pretty easy.

And you're doing your artwork on all these releases.

I knew in my heart since I was three I was gonna be an artist. So it didn't surprise me. I promised my mother I would always draw and paint no matter what I did. She'd say, "Ok, as long as you draw and paint." It sounds funny, but back in the day, no matter how hardcore you was, all somebody had to do was say, "I'm gonna call your momma." That's not the case today, but back in the day that's how it was.

What are you excited about these days? You're still painting, you did the Aqua Teen Hunger Force theme song back in 2000, obviously.

I'm most excited about getting back to painting. Putting it all together. Putting all the magic together. I did Aqua Teen, but now I'm doing my characters on my cartoon. My painting. My sculpting. My music. It's like now I can do all of it, putting the same type of vigor into all of it before I die. Like have everybody [realize], "Oooh, that's what he was doing." You know what I'm saying? It's like, "Ooh, now I get it."

Your records are some of the most sampled hip-hop records by hip-hop artists. Earlier you were talking about not being litigious and not having that lawyer mentality. Do you get paid for the samples? Like when Puffy sampled "Saturday Night" for "Finna Get Loose" earlier this year?

I get paid. I get paid, and some stuff I just look the other way. If it's indie -- if the lawyers wanna go after they do, but I don't. But if it's something like Puff or it's a big industry thing where they got tons of money, I give somebody a call and make sure motherfuckers is paying. But if you're from North Philly, or South Dakota, or East St. Louis, I'm not [suing] 'cause I did that shit. But if somebody is making a lot of money off it, then yeah.