Through the years, when it comes to gangsta rap, hip-hop often pays homage to the Ice-T’s, Ice-Cube’s and N.W.A.’s for pioneering the gangsta sound. Rightfully so, as they all played a major part in helping the sub-genre advance and making it commercially viable, opening the flood gates for a sea of other gangsta rappers and emcees to make their mark and money. But if you ask Ice-T who the o.g. (no pun intended) of the style is, he’ll give you one name: Schoolly D.
Schoolly D was born and raised in the streets of Philly and became a part of the Parkside Killers gang as a shorty. Around the same time, Schoolly started rapping, and in 1985 he recorded his self-titled debut project and released it independently, which at that time was a rarity. After releasing his debut album and its follow-up, Saturday Night! – The Album, on his own label, Schoolly started to make some regional noise, which would lead to him signing a deal with Jive. Jive would eventually re-release his first two projects and Schoolly would also record two new albums for the label (Smoke Some Kill in ’88 and Am I Black Enough For You? in ’89). Neither of the two new albums lived up to the buzz his first two albums created, and he and Jive would soon part ways. Schoolly’s next stop would be Capitol, where he would release his fifth album and the subject of today’s post, How A Black Man Feels.
Like all his prior albums, Schoolly D would hold down the production duties on How A Black Man Feels. The album would render three singles, with none of them making a peep on the charts. How A Black Man Feels received poor reviews and I’d be willing to bet my right arm that it didn’t even go wood.
Though I’m aware of his name, I’m not really familiar with Schoolly D’s music. Come to think of it, the only song I’ve ever heard of his is the biggest hit in his catalog, “P.S.K. What Does It Mean?” off his self-titled debut project, which Ice-T has openly credited as the template for his gangsta classic “6 ‘N The Mornin'” (side note: Biggie actually paid homage to “P.S.K. What Does It All Mean?” by remaking it on “B.I.G. Interlude” off the Life After Death album). I’ve had How A Black Man Feels in the tuck for a while, and the time has finally come to dissect it. So, let’s get into it, shall we?
Run – The album starts with a snippet taken from the cult classic movie, The Warriors, then an instrumental built around a guitar riff drops and Schoolly spits two verses. He spends most of the song threatening to shoot a “shoeshine nigga” with his “git-gat”, and ironically (or hypocritically), voices his frustration with brothers choosing the street life over education (“I’m gettin’ tired of every other brother in the ghetto, gotta sell a little yayo, because a brother didn’t have enough knowledge, didn’t know because he didn’t go to college”). Schoolly let’s an uncredited guest jump on the song’s final verse, but he doesn’t add anything memorable of quote worthy to this mediocre opening track.
Your Worst Nightmare – After a short skit that features a dude getting shot and murdered for his 8-Ball jacket (remember those?), Schoolly drops a mid-tempo backdrop that he uses to recall his former days as a young gangbanger (he also manages to sneak in another “shoeshine nigga” and “git-gat” reference, which makes him sound super old and corny). He kind of steers off course during his second verse, bringing up all kinds of randomness, including a slight diss to his fellow Philadelphian, Will Smith’s tv show, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Schoolly renders the final verse to another uncredited guest rapper, who uses his opportunity to discourage brothers from taking the gang bangin’ path. I respect his guest’s message, but this shit almost put me to sleep.
King Of New York – Schoolly uses this one to spin a tale from the perspective of a drug dealer looking to become a drug kingpin. He starts this one off with arguably, the most hi-lariousy bad opening bars in the history of hip-hop: “Muthafucka it! I get straight to the point, you don’t dig what I’m saying, then fuck you!” (You have to hear it for yourself to get the full impact of its corniness). Even after the opening bars, Schoolly keeps the chuckles coming, as he refers to his dick as his “wee-wee” and once again makes reference to his “git-gat”. The instrumental wasn’t terrible (towards the end of the song he briefly brings in some of the elements from the “PSK” instrumental), but not strong enough to give this song any replay value, unless you’re looking to get a good laugh from Schoolly’s bars.
Original Gangster – Over a reggae-tinged backdrop, our host adapts a really bad Jamaican accent to spit his verses and declares himself the O.G. of gangsta rap. KRS-One stops by to lend a helping hand with the backdrop (which might explain why the instrumental sounds so similar to “100 Guns” off the Edutainment album) and holds down hook duties. I was hoping for a KRS-One verse, but not all dreams come true. The instrumental was pretty decent, though.
Die Nigga Die – You have to love (or laugh at) some of Schoolly’s simple song titles and hooks. There’s a dope bass guitar break that comes in between verses, but other than that, not much to see here, folks.
Where’d You Get That Funk From – Another question posed in a song title with no question mark to punctuate it…moving on. Schoolly builds the backdrop around the same Parliament loop Ice Cube used for the “Dumb Shit” instrumental off the Death Certificate album, as he and his anonymous guest take a break from all the gang bangin’/drug dealing talk that has flooded the album to this point, to boast, and encourage the listeners to vibe to the funk groove. The unnamed male vocalist provides a catchy hook, and you can’t really go wrong with this Parliament loop.
How A Black Man Feels – The title track finds our host on some black militant shit. Schoolly apes Chuck D’s delivery and is focused on killing the white man for his transgressions against the black man in America over a poor man’s Bomb Squad instrumental. He even includes snippets from a sermon talking about the black scientist, Yakub (who the Nation of Islam believes created the white man that they also believe to be the devil), to help drive his point home. I couldn’t really get into this one.
Just Another Killer – This one begins with a snippet from the 1977 film, Short Eyes (a movie I’ve never seen, but I have listened to the Curtis Mayfield produced and performed soundtrack, and it’s got some fire sauce on it), then Schoolly drops a dim soulful groove, as he reminisces on his days as a Parkside Killer in the mean streets of Philly (I found it hi-larious to hear him respond to being asked his name with” Suck my dick, tell your mother do the same”). The pimpish pace of the instrumental works well with Schoolly’s simple slow rolling flow. This is easily the best song on the album.
Peace To The Nation – I appreciate the message (kind of), but this song is trash…sorry, Sway.
Sometimes It’s Got To Be That Way – Schoolly D’s rhymes are all over the place on the last song of the evening, as he talks about going to make a dope deal and getting robbed, living in the ghetto, smokin’ and drinkin’, and…brothers buying cats? And if our host himself didn’t provide enough randomness, the song ends with another uncredited guest tacking on an additional aimless 8 bars. Schoolly’s chill mid-tempo instrumental was decent, but he and his guest’s rhymes do nothing to make it shine brighter.
The Schoolly D that shows up on How A Black Man Feels sounds nothing like the Schoolly D I remember hearing rap on “PSK”. Yes, I know “PSK” was recorded and released six years prior, and artist are allowed to evolve, but this new overly aggressive Schoolly D, who sounds like he can’t make up his mind on whether he wants to stay in the streets and shoot “shoeshine niggas” with his “git-gat” or be Malcom Farrakhan, has nothing on the old smooth laidback one-track criminal minded version we were first introduced to in ’85. Unfortunately, Schoolly’s flow and delivery didn’t evolve and both sound stuck in 1985, making his repetitive gangsta rhymes hard to digest for the length of an entire album. And if Schoolly’s contradicting mundane content wasn’t enough to sabotage the album, when you combine it with his lackluster production, this project comes crashing down, quickly. And that’s how this black man feels.