Schoolly D Is Living the American Dream

A gangster rapper looks at 50.

 

I walked into a bar with the rapper Schoolly D not long ago. It was a new place on 21st Street, so new that it still had the name of the old establishment­ on the door. Schoolly had recently begun deejaying here as part of a series of famous Philly DJs, but tonight he wasn’t working. He was trying “to get into some trouble,” he told me. He flashed a toothy grin.

Do you know Schoolly? No? Well, have you heard of Jay-Z? Kanye West? Ice-T or Ice Cube? Any rapper at all, really? You probably wouldn’t have, if not for Schoolly D. Exactly 30 years ago, Schoolly, whose real name is Jesse Bonds Weaver Jr., wrote the world’s first gangster-rap anthem, a tune he called “Gangster Boogie.” He did it right here in Philly. Many people are under the impression that gangster rap is originally a Los Angeles phenomenon, or a New York one. But it was Schoolly, the Philadelphian, who became the first rapper to make bitches and hos, drugs and guns, his exclusive lyrical territory. He was the first to channel the lives of hustlers, gangsters and pimps—people who sold dope and sold sex and broke the law because there were no other options for economic advancement­ in their neighborhoods­—into a new kind of street poetry. He was the first to fashion a motif of the word “nigga.” (Once, he rapped about walking into a bar and seeing a sucker-­ass nigga tryin’ to sound like me. Put my pistol up against his head. I said, Sucker-ass nigga, I should shoot you dead.) He was also one of the first to slow down the cadence of rap from a fast babble, a faucet of words, to a drip, so that you could hear every word with beautiful, terrible clarity. Like Langston Hughes before him, Schoolly was a black man writing a letter to America about a particular slice of the black experience.

Anyways, as soon as Schoolly and I walked into this particular bar, Schoolly spotted a young blond woman near the door. She was tall, with wavy hair. He walked toward her. Schoolly is sprightly and muscular and has a smooth, unlined face. Wikipedia says he’s 45. He looks 30. He’s actually 49. On this night, he wore a light gray Kangol cap with skinny black jeans and black leather Steve Madden boots. He put his hands on the blonde’s hips and twirled her around 360 degrees. Then he spun off of her like a tailback and lurched into the darkened main room of the bar, where he bear-hugged another, different blonde, who happened to be a former top 100 finisher on American Idol. Her name is Erika Schiff. Schiff is lithe and plump-lipped and trying to launch a music career. I followed in Schoolly’s wake with a pen and notepad, awkwardly interviewing the women he had engaged, asking the first blonde how she knew Schoolly (“Schoolly?” she said, confused. “No, I don’t know him at all”) and getting a quote from the second blonde, from Schiff, the Idol girl. “Schoolly’s not just the gangster,” Schiff said. “He has these other sides. He’s sweet.” Then I sat down at a table in the corner next to a heavyset guy with bulging eyes, and I watched Schoolly and the Idol girl start to dance. I took a sip of beer and looked up, and he was kissing her. Not amorously. Not exactly. Just a peck on the lips. Then another peck. She was laughing and throwing her hair back.

After a time, the heavyset guy next to me, who was drinking a vodka on the rocks, and who had been silent up until now, started to talk. It was late, a little after 1 a.m., and this was the third bar/party that Schoolly and I had visited that night, and I was pretty buzzed. The heavyset guy said something like—I’m paraphrasing—“A lot of the stuff on those early records, the hustling, the lifestyle, Schoolly got that from me, okay? It was my experience he was talking about.” He pointed to his heart with both hands.

The heavyset guy told me that he was a figure of importance from Schoolly’s past. He told me about how he had been struggling lately, in the recession. How he had a kid. How he had tried to support his family by starting an appliance service but the company had fallen through. How things were looking up because he had a package coming through in the near future. As soon as the package came through, he said, everything was going to be all right. He nodded his head vigorously and glanced at Schoolly D, who was still dancing with the Idol girl.

Later that same night, I mentioned this conversation to Schoolly. He was lucid. All along, Schoolly had been drinking water and passing it off as vodka. He has found, over the years, that people like to see musicians drinking, and although he doesn’t binge—not anymore—he doesn’t wish to disappoint. This was what the original gangster rapper had meant by getting into trouble: drinking water and dancing. (Although a few days hence, in the shotgun seat of my car, he will suddenly shoot me a nervous glance and ask if any of my sources are telling me that Schoolly D is a coke fiend. He’ll look relieved when I tell him no.)

That night, Schoolly D thought for a moment about the heavyset guy, then said, “He’s one of those cats who believed it when people told him that there were some places he couldn’t go.”

SCHOOLLY NEVER BELIEVED IT. Not when he was a boy and his father gave him a bass guitar for Christmas and he immediately formed a band with some neighborhood kids, the Grand Funk Mothership Connection; not eight months later when he fired his bandmates for being unwilling to practice enough (“We’re nine,” they replied); not when he was 19 and working at a shoe store and recording his raps on mix tapes that he’d sell in the neighborhood for a couple of bucks; not when he was 27 and writing ultra-hard-core Black Nationalist raps about “Black Jesus” and “Super Nigger”; not when he was 38 and a millionaire and living in an 8,000-square-foot loft in Northern Liberties; not when he was 40 and dead drunk; not when he was 44 and living on the Main Line and picking up his daughter from the bus after school, thinking, Ha ha ha, so this is what became of the gangster rapper; and not today, when Schoolly is writing music for cartoons and films and collaborating with R&B singers in an effort to reach an entirely new audience.

By inventing gangster rap, Schoolly changed the culture. Gangster rap took over hip-hop; hip-hop ate pop. “All those Disney songs?” he asked me once. “You ever listen to the fuckin’ lyrics? They’re just, like, talkin’ about getting drunk. And going to a party. And getting fucked up. And doing E. And having crazy sex. But they put, like, a melody behind it, and a cute little face.” Katy Perry, Justin Bieber—grab a kid’s iPod sometime and you can hear what became of Schoolly’s world of sound. For that alone he’s worth caring about, whether you like the way he changed the culture or not. But more than that, he’s an iconic Philadelphian. He has remained tethered to his roots in West Philly without being tied down by them. People tend to leave this place when they reach a certain level of success. But except for a few stints in Atlanta, where he has family, Schoolly has stayed here, for 30 years, and he has only grown, as an artist and as a man. He is bigger than his gangster image, bigger than the Main Line. He is a tribeless wanderer in a tribal city—the rare Philadelphian who can go anywhere, party with anyone, and come back with a story.

I MET HIM FOR THE FIRST TIME on an early-December morning, in front of an iron-gated door in Northern Liberties. Schoolly turned a key, walked through a dark anteroom, and opened a door with a sign that read DON’T LET THE FUNK GET OUT. Inside was a tiny room cluttered with guitars, amps, speakers, mixing boards and a Mac. A painting of Abraham Lincoln smoking a blunt hung on an orange wall. Schoolly was there to record a song for Aqua Teen Hunger Force, a cartoon on Adult Swim about junk food that talks. Years ago, Schoolly wrote the show’s theme song, and its creators still ask him to kick in songs for episodes.

A gaunt man with goggle-thick wraparound glasses emerged from behind a carpet wall. “You ready, School?” he said, and took a seat at the Mac. This was Julius Curcio, Schoolly’s closest colleague.

“I don’t know if you know this,” Curcio told me, “but Schoolly D is also many people’s health consultant.”

“Yes, I am,” Schoolly said, peering over Curcio’s shoulder, “and that’s because I know what I’m fuckin’ doing.”

“I tell ya,” Curcio said, addressing Schoolly. “Close-handed push-ups, that made all the difference for me, Schoolly. I was doin’ ’em way too wide, and it was fuckin’ up my shoulders.” Curcio turned back to me. “I play guitar in Schoolly’s band sometimes. A few months back, I was a little heavy, and he goes, ‘Listen, man, no bellies allowed in my band.’ I was like, ‘Well, help me out.’” Curcio took a heroic puff on a nicotine vaporizer and exhaled a thick cloud of smoke. “I’m into the ghetto yoga. I do it all.”

Ghetto yoga is a creation of Schoolly’s. It differs from regular yoga only in name. As he has explained before, “It’s just yoga. But it’s the yoga that I try to get my homeys to do. These motherfuckers are at the age that they’re dying. I told them to do yoga with me and they’re like, ‘Man, I’m not doing that motherfucking yoga.’ Then I told them it was ghetto yoga, and they’re interested. You try to serve a monkey-poop pizza, and nobody gonna want to eat that shit. But you tell them it’s ghetto monkey-poop pizza, and they’re like, ‘Oh, I’ll eat that.’” When Jesse Weaver Jr. became Schoolly D, he also became a kind of ambassador, sending messages back and forth across cultures; it’s such a part of who he is that he does it automatically, with everything, even yoga.

Using the Mac, Schoolly started looping a beat. He had made it two or three months ago, playing all the instruments himself: drums, keyboards, bass, even a flute. (“I’m teaching myself the flute. My girlfriend was like, ‘Would you please stop trying to play the flute. You’ve been trying to play the flute for fuckin’ 10 days! Jesus!’ I can drive anybody crazy.”) Schoolly said that his job today was to write a song for a cartoon scene in which one of the Aqua Teen characters, a milkshake cup, is getting tossed out of a club. “And I’m singing, There goes that cup, that motherfuckin’ cup.

Schoolly rapped over the beat, speeding it up, slowing it down, trying various cadences:

There goes that CUP, that MOtherFUCKin’ CUP.
There GOES that FUCKin’ CUP that
MOtherFUCKin’ CUP.

After a few minutes, Schoolly stopped rapping and plopped down in front of the Mac. He wanted to watch a pilot of a cartoon that Curcio and producer/animator Erik Horvitz had created—a late-night talk show set in space. They hope to sell it to the Cartoon Network. Schoolly plays the keyboardist in the show’s band, a woman in a low-cut red dress who’s named Chocolate Spider. “Every black man has to play a woman at some point in his career,” Schoolly said. He laughed loudly at every punch line. When the cartoon was over, he said, “We look like we’re having so much fun.” He meant himself and Curcio. “People think it’s not organic. It has to be some kind of outside substance.”

“It’s really weird,” Curcio said. “It’s really strange that people don’t understand that you can have fun from music and pussy.”

“Yeah, right?” Schoolly said.

Curcio continued, “It’s like, ‘Wow, you motherfuckers must need to use drugs, because all you got there is pussy and music!’”

When Curcio said this, I was leaning against my knuckles, and my laugh whistled through my fist and came out as a hiss. Curcio glanced around the room, frightened: “Wait, guys, did you hear that noise? What was that noise?”

I went to the bathroom, and when I returned, Schoolly said that Curcio had some work to do, and I should come back to the studio tomorrow. For what wouldn’t be the first time, I became conscious of the contrast between my own uncoolness and Schoolly’s universal ease. He leaned in for a soul shake and back pat.

A FEW DAYS LATER, SCHOOLLY SAID he wanted me to meet one of his five sisters, so that I could get a sense of how he grew up. “I don’t know what she’ll tell you,” he said. “I think she still thinks of me as 12 years old.” From Center City, we got in my Honda and drove to King of Prussia. Schoolly can’t drive, due to a seven-year-old DWI. I apologized for the state of my car, which was strewn with my daughter’s clothing, and Schoolly grinned and said, “I understand how it is, yo.” Schoolly has a 10-year-old daughter with his longtime girlfriend. For years they all lived together in Gladwyne, alongside “katrillionaires,” but recently Schoolly and his girlfriend separated, and he’s moved back to the city. (Schoolly also has a 23-year-old son from a different relationship.)

He directed me to a shopping mall, and after we killed a few minutes inside a Barnes & Noble (“They have a porn section here, only they call it ‘erotica,’ ha ha ha”), Schoolly got a text and walked into the parking lot. A woman in a thick black coat approached us and started to laugh. She held out her arms, and she and Schoolly embraced. Then I interviewed Gloria Branch while Schoolly hung out in Bed Bath & Beyond.

She was on her lunch break from an office job nearby. I asked her what Schoolly was like when he was a kid, and she said, “Well, I call him Jesse. When I’m mad at him, he gets Jesse Jr. And when I’m really mad, he gets the whole name—Jesse Bonds Weaver Jr.”

They grew up in a large family of nine kids—five girls, four boys—at the corner of 52nd and Parkside, behind the Mann Center for the Performing Arts. Branch recognized Jesse’s artistic talent early on; he would videotape his favorite Saturday-morning cartoons,­ then pause the frames and draw the characters, over and over, until they were perfect. “He was the youngest boy,” Branch said, “spoiled by all the women.” Their father worked two jobs, one at the post office and the other at the General Motors plant in Camden. He told his kids to make sure they never worked in a factory like him.

I asked Branch if she had listened to Schoolly’s records. “After the first couple, not really,” she said. “I’m a smooth-jazz type of girl.” However, she does own one of Schoolly’s earliest records, which is now a collector’s item, “and I got him to sign it. And that is mine. No one is ever getting that, no no no.” “What did she say about me?” Schoolly asked once we were back in my car. “Anything really funny?”

We drove into West Philly. Schoolly had another person he wanted me to meet. He directed me to a street off Girard Avenue. We got out, and I left my bag in the car. Schoolly said, “You might want to bring your bag with you. Just sayin’.” He knocked on the door of a tan-and-burgundy rowhouse. A woman answered. We peeked around the door and saw an obese man with a breathing tube sitting in a recliner, watching a History Channel show about John Dillinger. Schoolly leaned down to hug the man, and I went to shake his hand. He gave me a fist bump instead. “Pimp,” he said, nodding.

Pimp Pretty, whose real name is Nicholas Garstar, grew up with Schoolly at 52nd and Parkside. For the next 45 minutes, he and Schoolly took turns telling stories about the old neighborhood.

“It’s a rough world,” Schoolly said. “You had to be prepared for the rest of your life to fight at a moment’s notice.”

“I was the little fat kid who could,” Pimp said. Unlike Schoolly, he lacked brothers to protect him from the local hoods. Once, one of Schoolly’s older brothers heard that a kid was talking shit about Schoolly. The brother didn’t say a word. He simply hammered a nail into a two-by-four, approached the kid, and swung. Schoolly, telling this story, grabbed his temples and rocked forward in his chair. “Have you ever heard the sound of a nail sucking itself out of a kid’s skull?” (The brother is now in prison for a different crime, robbery with threat of immediate injury.)

So that was where they came from. Pimp and Schoolly looked out for each other, and it bonded them forever. In 1982, when Schoolly began pressing his own records on his own label and hawking them to record stores out of the back of his father’s truck, and when he started getting calls from established hip-hop acts like 2 Live Crew, asking him to go on tour, there was no question. Pimp would come with him. Pimp was there, backstage, when “crazy little girls” would seek out Schoolly after a show. Pimp was there at the New York parties, in a coat of white cashmere and dark sunglasses. (“I still got my white cashmere.”) Pimp was there in the Miami airport when he and Schoolly discovered their then-manager smuggling a coat full of bootlegged Schoolly records, at which point Pimp and Schoolly beat the man with a champagne bottle and canceled his plane ticket back to Philly. The way they told me this story, there was something almost sweet about it—the tale of a family banding­ together to fend off a threat. Compared to a nail in the skull, a beat-down with a champagne bottle was almost kind.

In the mid-’80s, Schoolly signed with Jive Records, a major corporate label, and began to broaden his lyrical repertoire beyond the topics that once led the New Republic to call him “a rapper from whom you would flee in abject terror if you saw him walking toward you late at night.” (“I was pretty fuckin’ scary,” Schoolly said. “I think I even scared myself sometimes.”) On a track from 1988’s Smoke Some Kill (“kill” is slang for “weed”), he intercut his lyrics with a speech by H. Rap Brown, the black activist. On 1989’s Am I Black Enough For You?, Schoolly quoted Malcolm X and advised listeners to leave the fuckin’ crack alone. Schoolly earned, and burned through, about $10 million between 1985 and the early 2000s—chump change compared to the bounties that his successors would reap, but still, enough for him to afford a lavish NoLibs loft with 35-foot ceilings and a remote-control gate that allowed him to drive his Jaguar straight into the house. He called it his Bat Cave.

He was impulsive. Once, while opening for James Brown in front of 100,000 people in London, Schoolly walked off the stage in the middle of his set. “I got bored,” he explained. “The crowd thought it was part of the show. They got worked up. They got really worked up. I did five more songs. They were fuckin’ pleased. So I go back to get my pay, and James Brown comes through. He’s like, ‘Schoolly! Gidyomodafckczbtitmey!’ I’m like, what the fuck did he say? ‘Get your money, get the fuck out, ’cause I’m about to get MY money!’” The promoters went to fetch four silver suitcases full of cash for James Brown, and in the ensuing rush they handed Schoolly two envelopes, not one. They paid him twice. “So I make like 35 grand for the afternoon. Ha!” There’s something fundamental about this story—Schoolly opens for his childhood hero and walks off the stage because he’s bored, yet it somehow only makes him richer and more beloved.

In 1996, Schoolly’s father passed away after a long illness. Jesse Weaver Sr. had never listened to any of his son’s records until a week before he died. Around this time, Schoolly was extending himself into a new musical realm, working on a film score for the Bronx-born director Abel Ferrara. Schoolly drank heavily to deal with the stress and grief. Drug dealers and hookers found their way to the Bat Cave. “I was stretching myself a few ways, like we all do,” Schoolly says. “We start thinking that outside help, outside help. Some people use powder, some people use weed, some people use alcohol. … It works out the first year, but then in year two, three, four, five and six, you start sayin’ Whoa.” After a couple of stints in detox facilities, Schoolly stopped drinking. “I found my way back to my cartoon world,” he says. But more than that, he found a completely new audience.

I’M BORED LET’S BOUNCE, SCHOOLLY TEXTED. It was 10 o’clock in Old City, and he was trapped in a place called Cipher Prime. When he first heard about the party, he thought that Cipher Prime was a steakhouse, but instead it turned out to be a tech company that designs video games.

If not for two things, Schoolly would have left already. One was the presence of his friend Susanna, an extremely thin young woman with a tattoo of an origami crane on the inside of her left wrist. The other was the spread of fresh-baked Christmas cookies. Schoolly’s standard contract rider says that he must be provided with cake or cookies. The cookies must be sugar, oatmeal raisin or chocolate chip—soft and fresh-baked at each performance. “I’ve been to enough of these joints where it’s like, you eat as many cookies as you can, then bolt,” he said. (Schoolly is sometimes paid to appear at parties, but that night he was there because Susanna invited him.)

Schoolly had set himself up in a cavelike computer room. He had found a bottle of vodka and placed it next to a mouse pad, for ambience. Susanna came by every so often and sat on his lap.

After a time, he got up to leave, then noticed a busty woman in a black tank top installing a stripper pole. wait stripper pole, he texted. The woman tried to suspend herself horizontally from the pole. She dropped to the ground and laughed nervously.

Schoolly grabbed the pole, jumped, then thought better of it and let go.

“Schoolly!” he said, scolding himself. “You fuckin’ asshole! You’re 50!”

A cute woman in a black turtleneck, black leggings and a black skirt now approached Schoolly and asked to take a picture with him. Schoolly laughed and put his arm around her. It turned out the woman was dating a writer for Pitchfork Media, the influential music-review website produced mostly by young white men. She turned to me. Her boyfriend, she said, “told me all about Schoolly. He’s wonderful.”

It’s easy to see why people, especially people in my generation, in their 20s and early 30s, respond to Schoolly D. When we were kids, we watched gangster-rap videos on MTV. Gangster rap was something raw and new that scared our parents. Today, it’s such a familiar part of the culture that those early songs and videos evoke feelings of nostalgia. As an art form, it has traveled the well-worn path from revolution to satire target. Now we get our gangster rap filtered through the avatar of a talking milkshake on Cartoon Network.

And who is the man who hovers, ageless, at both extremes, like some pop-culture guardian angel? Schoolly D, that’s who. And he’s not bitter about the way his career turned out, even though if there’s anyone with cause to be bitter, it’s Schoolly D, who spawned a multibillion-dollar industry and then watched other men collect the eye-popping checks. He was vital and terrifying when he was young, and he’s funny and happy when he’s older, the kind of happy that makes you question the way you’re living your own life. You can experience the reflected glow of that happiness for yourself if you’re lucky enough to live in Philadelphia, a city where on a Thursday you can show up at a video-game-company party and eat sugar cookies from the same plate as the architect of a major cultural movement, or where, three days later, on a Sunday night, you can duck down an alley off Broad Street and pay $5 to an enormous man with elaborately braided hair and listen to the architect spin records for sleepy-eyed men and topless women.

“I got my girl Devon comin’ up,” Schoolly crooned, ensconced in a deejay booth at the Gold Club. “Aw, gimme a smile, baby, it’s Schoolly D night.”

While the strippers waited to dance on a patch of lacquered hardwood no bigger than a janitor’s closet, they leaned over the deejay booth and talked to Schoolly. For a few seconds, their eyes lost that glazed look, that 50-yard stare. They laughed.

He played old-school soul. James Brown. Otis Redding. I chatted with the bartender, a platinum blonde with flaring black eyebrows. “Sundays are always fun with Schoolly,” she said. “Other deejays just say ‘And heeeeere’s Candy,’ but he plays music.”

Schoolly descended from the booth. “This is so not what it looks like,” he told me. “I’m not a strip-club person. I’d rather be at home.” He said I didn’t have to stick around for the whole night if I didn’t want to. The women, he said, were getting antsy. I was scaring them with my questions.

I told him I’d take off. He brightened. “My brotha.”

ON DECEMBER 15TH, A WEEK AFTER Schoolly recorded his Aqua Teen song about the milkshake, he found himself back in Northern Liberties, at Julius Curcio’s studio. That night, he and Curcio were set to perform at a holiday party at the Trocadero organized by Philebrity, the eclectic nightlife-and-gossip website. (Philebrity, run from a Northern Liberties loft by a white hipster who wears rectangular glasses, often posts affectionate items about Schoolly, and even publishes a regular column of his, called “Get Schoolled.”) But for now, the two men had to edit the Aqua Teen song they’d recorded earlier in the week.

Cartoon Network had asked Schoolly to remove the expletives. Schoolly was fine with it. “I’ve been doing this 30 years,” he said. “Your brain only needs to hear ‘mother.’ It’ll fill in the rest.” On the computer, Curcio snipped away at the waveform of Schoolly’s vocal track until the profanity was gone. Curcio played back the new version of the track while Schoolly played notes on a keyboard. When he pressed the keys, they made record-scratching noises, which the computer inserted into the vocal gaps.

Schoolly asked Curcio to make a minor change to one of the scratches. Curcio adjusted an on-screen slider. Schoolly said, “These programs are too fuckin’ complicated for what people need.” Curcio spun around in his chair, mock-aggrieved. “You know what, Schoolly? The program doesn’t make my music.” He touched his hand to his heart. “I make my music.”

“You make it too slow for me,” Schoolly said. He jabbed at his smartphone, trying to determine when he needed to arrive at the Trocadero for soundcheck. Unable to find an answer, and lacking a contact at Philebrity, he started to complain about this new breed of Internet-organized gig, and the Internet’s influence on music in general. “Music is art, it’s free? No, you fuckin’ suck.” Schoolly laid his hand flat near the ground. “This, this is the music worth payin’ for. Like the pea in the mattress. And the mattress is all the bullshit for free.”

Schoolly has recently been working on new music. He recorded a track with Philly R&B singer Mutlu and another with producer Eric Bazilian. The songs feature round, smooth beats. According to Schoolly’s former manager, Craig Kaplan, they’re part of a plan to rebrand Schoolly by “letting people know about the more-accessible-Schoolly-­D-type thing”: i.e., he’s not just a hard-core rapper; he does yoga, he wants to write books, he wants to host cooking shows. There is also a third new Schoolly D song, “I Love You,” that’s as hard-core as anything he’s ever done. I heard him perform it earlier in the week at a small bar on South Street. The verse is I love you repeated eight times. The chorus goes, I ain’t talkin’ about some bitch. I’m talkin’ about how much I love this gangster shit. Schoolly says he loves the song, and crowds respond like crazy when he plays it live, but he’s had trouble getting airplay. People in the music business tell him it doesn’t sound like anything else on the radio.

Several hours after Schoolly left Curcio’s studio, I went to the Trocadero for the Philebrity holiday party, thinking I might see Schoolly perform “I Love You” again. When he arrived, he discovered that the cookie clause of his performance rider had been ignored. “They didn’t think I was fucking serious,” he said. There was no anger in his voice, only pity for this new generation that never got to experience the majesty of an era of music in which riders were meticulously respected. “This doesn’t happen at the black gigs,” he said. “There’s always some husky black woman who says, ‘Schoolly, eat my cookies!’”

A young, white crowd of 20-somethings from Northern Liberties and Fishtown filtered into the Trocadero. They bought beers in plastic cups and sat at circular tables. A little before nine, Julius Curcio took the stage with a drummer and a bassist. Schoolly wasn’t visible. Curcio began to sing “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”

Then, after the first verse, Curcio stepped away from the mic. Schoolly burst from the wings in a top hat and a gray tailored suit. Curcio slammed into the chords from the theme song to Aqua Teen Hunger Force as cymbals crashed and Schoolly belted:

Shake-zula
The mic rula
The old schoolah
You wanna trip? I’ll bring it to ya

At “Shake-zula,” a cheer rose up from the tables, and two guys moved toward the stage to record Schoolly with their cell phones. The song lasted less than a minute. Schoolly’s mic fell to the floor with a pop as he exited the stage.

Afterward, I found Schoolly at the back bar. He pulled me aside. “Aqua Teen,” he said, shaking his head. “A 30-year span. It’s just a testament.” He looked out at the stage. “If you transcend, and you keep transcending, you can do this for fucking ever.” Then he smiled, told me to drive safely, and returned his attention to the bar, where three beautiful women in their 20s were waiting to speak to him.