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I Should’ve Kicked Your Ass My Motherfuckin’ Self

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So, a new, ‘Special Edition’ of Abel Ferrara’s masterful ‘Bad Lieutenant’ came out on Tuesday and though it features a commentary with the always-fascinating Ferrara and a whatever whatever ‘Making Of…’, it still does not restore the original musical cues. That’s because it can’t. When it played in theaters and appeared on video, ‘Bad Lieutenant’ featured Schooly D’s “Signifying Rapper”, a song that interpolates Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir”…then Jimmy Page heard it and got mad.

Not even sure how a non-sampled, played on real instruments version of “Kashmir” can constitute it being removed but well…it did/does. The power of big, scary lawyers. And so, the cheapo DVD that’s been floating around for a few years and yeah, this ‘Special Edition’ does not feature Schooly D’s crucial song. Still, cop/rent that shit. It’s like a Top Five movie for me, for what it’s worth.

Below’s a slightly fixed-up version of a pretty old post I did about the song and the movie and I figured I’d re-up it in honor of a slightly more respectable version of the movie coming to DVD. And if you do want to experience the movie with Schooly, find/rent a VHS copy and it’s still in there. Also, love me some (early) Werner Herzog but fuck this remake.

A decade before Puffy got Jimmy Page to recreate his own riff for the Godzilla soundtrack, Schooly D got some guitar player named Mike Tyler and some drummer named Andy Kravitz to recreate Jimmy Page’s “Kashmir” riff for “Signifying Rapper” off Smoke Some Kill.

The “beat” for “Signifying Rapper” is heavy like Zeppelin but tougher and scarier, due to the repetition and the rawness of the recording. It just starts and goes and goes for almost five minutes, only letting up for the final line: “I shoulda kicked your ass/My motherfuckin’ self”. Schooly is technically rapping–you can break the lines down and everything– but the storytelling aspect of his delivery takes over in full. He moves in and out of emotions, performing different voices, and he shifts his cadence to match the shifting tones of the story rather than the beat. More a kind of spoken-word performance–appropriate given its interaction with the history of the”signifying”, a longstanding, oft-discussed and intellectualized trope of African and African-American verbiage.

Clouding Schooly’s song in cultural history(s) further is its appearance in Abel Ferrara’s Bad Lieutenant and the subsequent controversy its appearance spawned. Though an explanation would work fine, it’s better to read the controversy in Ferrara’s own words:

“”Oh, yeah. I’ll strangle that cocksucker Jimmy Page. As if every fucking lick that guy ever played didn’t come off a Robert Johnson album. “Signifying Rapper” was out for five years, and there wasn’t a problem. Then the film had already been out for two years and they start bitching about it. And these pricks, when their attorneys are on the job, our guys are afraid to come out of their office. You’re not gonna fight their fucking warriors, you know what I mean? Can you imagine, this was down at a federal court in New York, with a 70-year-old judge, and they’re playing Schoolly D and Led Zeppelin to the guy? It cost Schoolly like $50,000. It was a nightmare. And meanwhile, “Signifying Rapper” is 50 million times better than “Kashmir” ever thought of being. And then, this prick [Page] turns around with Puff Daddy and redoes it for the Godzilla soundtrack. Here’s Puff Daddy, where every other song this boy sang was King Of New York this and King Of New York that. And I would never even fucking think of suing these guys. Why sue? You should be happy that somebody is paying homage to your work.”

Lotta good points there. First, there’s the whole aspect of what “sampling” really means. Wasn’t Page “sampling” Willie Dixon and Robert Johnson and others? Yes, Willie Dixon sued his ass at some point, making Page’s suit even more retarded…and Schooly D was certainly commenting on the Zep’s reckless appropriation when he decided to base a song around “Kashmir”. He’s smart like that.

Second, it’s messed-up because it seems directly related to Page playing on ‘Come With Me’. To me, it seems as if “Signifying Rapper” was wiped away as not to somehow compete or co-exist with Puffy’s “Kashmir”-sampling track. It becomes particularly egregious, as if someone really had a grudge against Ferrara because of course, Biggie called himself “Black Frank White” in reference to Ferrara’s hip-hop classic ‘King of New York’.

Third and most importantly, there’s the impact of “Signifying Rapper”s absence on Bad Lieutenant. Here’s a quick breakdown of how the context of certain scenes is shifted minus Schooly.

Scene I: “Get back, police activity!”

As the Lieutenant runs down the street, the Zep rip-off riffs of “Signifying Rapper” expand and compress in the background. A group of young black kids, one of which just handed off drugs to a moving car, run away from the Lieutenant. He chases one into an apartment and at the top of the steps, the chase stops. It was a ruse; the Lieutenant’s a customer (and occasional supplier) for the kid. The scene’s dark humor, it’s clever reversal of expectation (movie-wise and racially) is furthered as the Lieutenant shuts-up a complaining citizen as he takes a few hits from a crack pipe.

At first, you hear the super-identifiable ‘Kashmir’ riff and it maybe reads like some bad-ass theme for the white cop. Rock n’ roll blaring as justice plows through. Then, Schooly comes in and the song becomes a typical, Hollywood “ghetto” atmosphere-setting song: You play rap when white characters go to a black area. Once the Lieutenant’s revealed to be enforcing little justice, the song merges the two, shown-to-be-false binaries (law/crime, white/black, rock/rap). This aspect’s easily glossed over because the song’s context shifts through the characters’ quickly changing dynamic, Ferrara doesn’t do any indicating.

Scene II: The Rape of the Nun
One of the best thing about Bad Lieutenant is that it’s essentially plotless. Simply structured around a couple of days in the life of this wreckless character. Of course though, there are some threads to hold the flashes-of-daily-life moments together, namely the Lieutenant’s investigation of the rape of a Nun.

Ferrara presents the rape fairly respectfully. Although it is explicit, it is not gratuitous and it has an over-stylized feeling to it. Bizarrely idyllic, glowing light, strange slow-motion. It’s an odd choice but it works, almost like the movie’s trying its hardest to not succumb to the perversion playing-out across the screen.

A Virgin Mary falls to the floor in slow-motion. The entire scene is bathed in red light. Purposefully pretentious shots of Christ wailing interrupt the action. It’s sort of surreal and kind of reminded me of Alex’s biblical sex fantasies from A Clockwork Orange. Originally, this scene was accompanied by “Signifying Rapper” but on the DVD, it’s replaced with classical music. This is a real shame because the super-obvious visuals are moved into pretension by the music. In the original version, “Signifying Rapper”‘ acts as counterpoint to the super-serious religious imagery and was meant to complicate the scene.

Scene III: Walk To See the Nun
A long, wandering hand-held following shot of the Lieutenant as he navigates the hallways of the hospital to talk to the raped Nun. The most obscene part of “Signifying Rapper” blasts in the background, Schooly’s insults fully clear because there’s no real-life sound or dialogue to mask it. An explosion of raucous obscenity rumbling around in the Lieutenant’s head that also invokes the nun rape from earlier. This is a great example of how the movie loses nothing with the song removed, but how it gains so much with it added in there.

Scene IV: End Credits
The DVD version ends with a Dylan-esque song performed by Abel Ferrara but the movie originally ended with “Signifying Rapper”. The Schooly song, when the movie wraps-up, feels like the Lieutenant’s theme, a final explosion of aggression and confidence before the movie’s over. That it works more effectively than an actual “theme” written for the movie is telling.

Additionally, the previous two appearances of “Signifying Rapper” in the movie are jarring: The movie switches to a new scene as the drums and riff kick-in. Here, at the movie’s end, the song has a jarring but more organic, non-shock cut oriented appearance. A kind of semi-polite coda for the ultimate hard-ass. This works well, as it’s the Lieutenant’s final moment. It isn’t glorious but it’s not not glorious either. He’s not a likeable character, but he’s fully-exposed (literally and figuratively) and there’s an intimacy the viewer feels with him.

Written by Brandon

July 30th, 2009 at 4:54 am

Posted in Schooly D, movies

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