0403: “P.S.K. What Does It Mean?” by Schoolly D

When Ice-T released “6 in the Mornin'” in 1986 as a B-side, it began the slow turn in the West Coast scene from disco- and techno-inspired and disco-looking hip hop to an entirely new genre, gangsta rap. “6 in the Mornin'” begat N.W.A. and the rest is pretty much history. What you may not know is what begat “6 in the Mornin'” and the answer is “P.S.K. What Does It Mean?” by Schoolly D which was released a year prior, and came from the far-removed-from-California part of the world known as Philadelphia.

Ice-T openly borrowed Schoolly D’s cadence and vocal rhythm from “P.S.K.” to make “6 in the Mornin'”; he’s admitted as much in interviews over the years since. Schoolly D laid the blueprint down for how to write and rap about the streets and its drug dealers and gang leaders, but more importantly he created a sound on “P.S.K.” that was so ahead of its time that it seems utterly commonplace now. One can listen to this song now and it will sound like it’s about thirty years old, yet at the same time it still sounds unique. The record scratching, the drum beats, and the cymbals: they all sound almost… psychedelic. It definitely sounds street in a similar way to how Run-D.M.C. stripped down their sound, but also if you listen to this song loud enough you might feel kinda stoned (even if you’re not) in much the same way Pink Floyd’s “Pow R Toc H” or Eno’s “Blank Frank” can. Dust music is what Ice-T or Russell Simmons once referred to it as. If you heard “P.S.K.” back in 1985 you would be able to see what hip hop’s tea leaves were saying and pointing to. You probably would’ve never guessed that it would ultimately point to Los Angeles, but hip hop, like all great art, thrives on social commentary and reporting regardless of how it is fashioned. A track like “P.S.K.” took regional storytelling (it’s about the Park Side Killers in Philly) that could be applied to the entire U.S.—especially cities, where the police, and the policies that guide them, are often acting on purely racist impulses. This is a groundbreaking song that helped further mold the last musical genre our country has created.

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