Q&A: Tanya Morgan's Von Pea Shares His High School Memories of Fabolous, Biggie, and Jay-Z
Boys & Girls High School in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn--once home to both the Notorious B.I.G. and Fabolous--has long since become a legendary spot for New York hip-hop. Von Pea, one third of the indie rap group Tanya Morgan, also attended its hallowed halls--a move which inspired his new back-to-school concept album, Pea's Gotta Have It, which the rapper wrote after he stumbled across his old high school journal. Here he looks back on eating in the same cafeteria Biggie chowed down in, talks about Fab getting kicked out of class, and casts an envious glance towards the lunchroom battles between Jay-Z and Busta Rhymes that went down at nearby Westinghouse Information Technology High School.
Fabolous went to school at Boys & Girls, right?
Yeah, Fabolous went there. He lived in the Brevoort Projects, three blocks away on Fulton Street. Boys & Girls High School is on Utica Avenue and Fulton Street.
Is it true Fabolous got kicked out?
Yeah, at the time the principal of the school was Frank Mickens, who passed away recently. He was kinda like Joe Clark in that movie Lean On Me, like the old black dude that would be in school with the bull-horn voice that was gonna make you write. But if you were a knuckle-head, he wasn't going to help you--and so Fabolous got kicked out! I read somewhere that he's still mad about it. He called Mickens a wannabe Joe Clark dude. But I graduated, so I thought Mickens was cool.
Some might say Fabolous spells his rap name incorrectly. Who would have been his English teacher at school?
It was a teacher named Miss Brown. She was one of the young teachers that want to be cool, but the kids end up taking too much liberty with them.
What about Biggie? What stories do people at Boys & Girls tell about him?
Well Biggie went there and he also went to Westinghouse, which was downtown Brooklyn. I don't know if he made it to many classes at Boys & Girls! The story was, he enrolled to keep his mom happy, but he was always messing with the girls, being on the street corner selling drugs, doing what he was doing at the time. I heard he lasted about a week, then Christopher Wallace was out of there.
Were the teachers at Boys & Girls proud that Biggie went to the school?
There was this older black lady teacher, I forget her name, and when he died she was like, "Yeah, I think he went here, that's Christopher Wallace, he went here for a time." We'd hear that and be like, "He didn't go here, no way, he's so much better than us!" But she would say, "No, Christopher Wallace went to this school." And after he died, the day the album [Life After Death] came out and they brought him through Fulton Street, the teachers, the students, and the faculty all left. You know how you cut school? Teachers were cutting school that day.
Did you go too?
I didn't, cause I knew that the principal had truancy cops who were so serious -- they'd take you to the station and finger-print you before bringing you back to school. I was afraid of that so I didn't leave. But I regret that so much. Being a Brooklynite, and being involved with hip-hop, I regret not being part of that day.
In his time at Boys & Girls, what sort of food would Biggie have had to chose from in the cafeteria?
It was chicken sandwiches, pizza, cheese burgers.
Did you ever see Biggie at the Met supermarket he worked at?
I never saw him working there, but a friend of mine, my boy Spec Boogie who's also on my album, he used to go to the store for Biggie all the time. He was a young kid, Big would be around the way, and he was like Big's homeboy to go to the store: "Yo, go get me a 40." That was his Biggie story. But Big was like a ghost, man. I don't mean cause he's dead but when he was alive they'd tell stories like, "Man, Biggie hopped out of a Benz on Willoughby the other day, he was signing autographs, he got back in the van and drove off." Or, "Big was in Marcy with Jay-Z and they shot a video for 'Brooklyn's Finest' there." It was always stories of Biggie popped up somewhere, or Biggie was here yesterday.
Did you ever see him around?
Yeah, I have my own Biggie story but they didn't believe me at the time. I was headed downtown Brooklyn, to Fulton Mall, I took Fulton Street all the way down and saw Biggie in the passenger side of a car, rolling weed or something looking down. He looked up, I just kept walking, like, "Oh, shit, I saw Biggie!" But I'd see Jay-Z a lot more, cause where I'm from, Marcy projects is just a few blocks away. He was already a platinum artist at that time, but he'd be in Tom Dick & Harry, the local sneaker store. You'd see him, like, "How much are these Timberlands?" "
Were people happy to see Jay-Z around like that? Or was there jealousy towards his success?
People my age, we were kids, so we were just like, "Oh, shit, it's Jay-Z!" And women would show up and react the same. But then you'd see a dude walk out the store like, "Fuck Jay-Z, he ain't nobody, he ain't put no money in my pocket..." I was like, "Damn, why he got to put money in your pocket?" So you'd see Jay-Z around, and also hear stories like, "They shot at Memphis Bleek and he can't go back to Marcy..." I don't partake in stories around-the-way any more, but you'd hear that stuff, then in the same breath someone would say how Bleek was out there yesterday or Jay-Z was handing out turkeys and PlayStation 2s. It's like he said on "Streets Is Talking": "The streets say Jigga can't go back home/You know when I heard that? When I was back home."
Would you say Boys & Girls is the best hip-hop high school?
Actually, I'd say it's Westinghouse, because they had Busta Rhymes, Jay-Z, and Biggie rapping in the lunchroom at one time. It was to the point where, I don't want to make up stories, but I believe other people would come to the school and sneak in to battle. Like AZ and Sauce Money would go there just to battle Jay-Z, Busta and Biggie. If that was going on there, how do you beat that?