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The Double Dutch Bus and “The Yuppie Conspiracy”


luisam

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Now, what is supposed to be a "double dutch bus"? Well, the double dutch is a game of jump rope in which players jump over two ropes swung in a crisscross formation by two turners. As for "Double Dutch Bus", the only definition you can find searching Google is the one hot track written by Bill Bloom and Frankie Smith and performed by Frankie Smith in 1980. The song’s title represents a combination of two hometown elements of Smith’s native Philly. The first being the double Dutch jump rope game still played by many local neighborhood kids; and of course, the second being SEPTA, which still remains the backbone of Philly’s public transportation needs. "Double Dutch Bus" was a nearly instantaneous smash on the R&B chart after its release.

Frankie Smith wasn't quite an overnight success. In the ’70s, he had spent some time in the trenches as a writer for acts like the O'Jays, The Spinners, Archie Bell and the Drells, Billy Paul and other artists as staff songwriter for Gamble and Huff of Philadelphia’s International Records, in addition to recording his own songs. However, ‘Double Dutch Bus’ was his most significant achievement. Without Smith, there would be no “fo shizzle ma nizzle.”

I presume that in 1980 he wasn't doing really fabulous because he got the idea for "Double Dutch Bus" after applying and being turned down for a job as a city bus driver for the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA). He ended up in the studio at two in the morning where he recorded a profanity-laced tirade about the bus system. Once cleaned, it became the winner single!

As you listen to the song, you can hear the influences of both disco and hip-hop as the early 80s were right at that intersection of genres. Thanks to this already classic interpretation, currently Frankie Smith is considered a hip-hop pioneer legend, and accidentally progenitor of "izzle"-speak. That's right, Frankie Smith gets all the credit (or blame?), wrongfully credited to Snoop Dogg who appropriated the izzle to big success a few yizzears ago and took it to the next level. "Double Dutch Bus" is the first recorded use of pig latin slang aka “izzle”, popularizing the use of “izz” infixation (ie. “wizze izzare plizzayin dizzouble dizzutch” which translates as “we are playing double dutch”).

In the song, Smith created a new style of hip-hop slang that became a big part of the music’s culture. By putting “iz” in the middle of a word or replacing trailing syllables with “-izzle,” Smith arrived at a funky form of nonsense that was quickly absorbed into rap’s vernacular.

Wizzut izziz yizzo prizzoblem sizzon?

After massive success on the charts (it spent eight weeks at the top), Double Dutch Bus crossed over to the pop side of things, where it had a little more difficult time, peaking at just #30. The chart position belies its importance in hip-hop history, however, since the song has been remade, sampled, stolen, etc., over and over; more recently by Missy Elliott with Gossip Folks. A more straight-ahead remake is also featured in the 2008 Disney movie College Road Trip starring Martin Lawrence and former Cosby Show cutie Raven-Symoné. 

 

 

As for Smith, he had trouble following up, failing to chart any more singles on the pop side of things.  Smith went into acting with parts in Beloved (1998) and various B movies.  Looks he has been working as a delivery driver, which I sort of want to believe because it would mean he finally got that dream driving job he always wanted, yet I don't want to believe it because

that's a little depressing after scoring a gold single.  Can you imagine Frankie Smith delivering your package? "Here you gizzo. I just need your sigizznatizzure right hizzere."

To refresh memories, here you have the lyrics and the YouTube video of "Double Dutch Bus" and, by the way, you can see some kids playing the "double dutch"

Give me a HO if you’ve got your funky bus fare HO

 

There’s a Double Dutch Bus comin’ down the street

Movin’ pretty fast

So kinda shuffle your feet

Get on the bus and pay your fare

And tell the driver that you’re

Goin’ to a Double Dutch Affair

Fe Fi Fo Fum

Well I’ll be darn here it comes

The Double Dutch Bus is on the street

You’d better get off the curb

Move your feet

 

Bus fare TransPass (*)

That’s the way my money lasts

Ain’t got no car to get around

When I go to work I’ve gotta go downtown

Now I’ve missed my train

That’s a darn shame

When I’m running late no sleeps to blame

If you’ve gotta wife you know I’m right

Gotta special man well I can understand

Uptown, downtown everybody’s getting down

Say uptown say downtown

Well I’ve missed my bus I know I’m late

I’ve gotta do something I know I hate

I’m gonna walk to work fifteen blocks

I already got a hole in my socks

Go ahead and laugh thats okay

Cause what I really wanna say

I got bad feet my corns hurt

To top it off I’m lost for work

Let me tell you what I say

When I’m dealing with the funky sidewalk

Let me show you how to walk

When I gotta do my funky walk

Let me tell you what I say

When I’m dealing with the funky sidewalk

I say sssssssss-sugar

 

Bip, bomp, bam alakazam

But only when you’re grooving

With the Double Dutch Man

Put on your skates don’t forget your rope

Cause I know I’m gonna see you

At my Double Dutch Show

Rebecca, Lolita, Veshawn and Dawn

Everytime you do the Double Dutch you really turn it on

Bilzarbra, Mitzery, Milzetty, Kilsan

Titzommy, Kitzerrance, Kilzommy thats my man

Come on get on my Double Dutch Bus

 

Let me hear you say do that

 

Let me hear you say Do that again

 

Let me hear you say do the do

Let me hear you say do the do the do

Do the do, do do do do do

 

(*) The Transpass referred to in the song is an actual SEPTA monthly fare pass

 

One of Smith’s lesser known talents was as a yo-yo master. After the success of ‘Double Dutch Bus’, Frankie went looking for the next big thing and he thought the idea of combining yo yos with disco music was the ticket. In 1982, he recorded ‘Yo-Yo Champ.’ It did not set the world on fire, but he managed to get some TV appearances out of the deal, one of which is included here.

 

In the National Geographic documentary "King of Coke: Living the High Life" Frankie Smith explains how the song was composed. He also states that WMOT Records failed to pay him his royalties, and how he therefore was unable to pay his taxes. An investigation was started which brought to light that WMOT Records was not only badly managed, but in fact laundering money for Larry Lavin, aka Dr. Snow, a dentist who was secretly dealing cocaine. This way, the success of "Double Dutch Bus" indirectly caused the end of a major drugs business, the so called “Yuppie Conspiracy,” the only cocaine enterprise brought down by one funk song.

According to the FBI, between 1978 and 1984 the “Yuppie Conspiracy” distributed up to 110 pounds of cocaine a month in 14 states, the District of Columbia, and Canada. The plain looking, polo- and khaki-wearing Larry Lavin, founder and head of the “Yuppie Conspiracy,” might be the most unlikely drug kingpin in the history of narcotics.

Lavin grew up in a poor family. His family’s house was constantly on the brink of foreclosure. Selling marijuana in college was actually how Lavin paid some of his bills. He was an Ivy League (University of Pennsylvania) educated dentist who started a sizeable marijuana distribution operation in college before moving on to cocaine. Growing and expanding his cocaine operation while in school, Lavin continued to run the business after he graduated, set up his dental practice, and started a family in one of Philadelphia’s most affluent suburbs. His diverse network included dentists, lawyers, stockbrokers, teachers, accountants, and more young urban professionals (“Yuppies”). Still, few peers outside of his circle had a clue about his illicit activities. Even Lavin’s dental assistant claims she hardly suspected anything until the FBI swarmed his practice in 1984.

In order to make Lavin’s earnings appear more legitimate, Lavin’s business manager Mark Stewart told Lavin to invest in a number of businesses. One of those businesses was WMOT Records, which had a distribution deal with CBS and released Smith’s “Double Dutch Bus.”

In 1980, at the behest of Stewart, Lavin purchased the declining and in disrepair Philadelphia Arena for $100,000, renaming it Martin Luther King, Jr. Arena. Lavin then purchased the CBA’s Lancaster Red Roses, renaming them the Philadelphia Kings. After poor turnouts, Lavin eventually stopped contributing money to the arena and the team. Stewart then attempted to have the arena burned down for insurance money. In the first attempt, Stewart’s accomplice only burned the roof, rendering the building virtually unusable. Though Stewart’s accomplice succeeded the second time around, no insurance money was ever collected.

Between January and September of 1981, Stewart deposited approximately $3,354,000, including $1,440,000 of WMOT funds, into an account at Bank Leumi denominated the Mark Stewart Real Estate Escrow Account (“Escrow Account”). Stewart’s deposits of WMOT funds were made without the knowledge or approval of WMOT’s other officers and directors.

As a result of Stewart’s embezzlement, Frankie Smith was owed $30,000 in royalties. When he didn’t receive the money, Smith complained to the IRS. After looking into WMOT, the IRS found Lavin’s money linked to dozens of companies Stewart created. That was the beginning of the FBI’s investigation of the “Yuppie Conspiracy.”

After he was arrested, Lavin posted partial bail and fled Pennsylvania with his pregnant wife, Marcia, and their two-year-old son, Chris. He assumed a new identity as Brian O’Neil living in a boating community in Virginia Beach. He told people in the community varied stories of how he’d acquired his wealth.

Once Lavin felt secure in Virginia Beach, he made a call to his former dental associate and best friend, Kenneth Weidler. Unbeknownst to Lavin, Weidler provided limited cooperation with the FBI in hopes of receiving a lighter prison sentence. He allowed the FBI to listen in and trace the call. The phone Lavin used was from area code 804, which narrowed the FBI search to southeastern Virginia.

In May of 1985, Marcia Lavin sent a letter to her mother describing her eldest son Chris’ birthday party at a pizza parlor (Showbiz Pizza) with a costumed bear for a mascot. The letter also contained pictures of the Lavin family. Lavin had the pictures taken privately, so they could not be traced.

The letter passed by through a complex mail drop system of Lavin’s devising, from one participant and location to the next. It was postmarked from Phoenix and sent to a friend of Marcia’s mother. When the FBI raided Marcia’s mother’s apartment, the letter was confiscated. The mention of the mascot from the pizza parlor, Billy-Bob the Bear, narrowed down the FBI’s search to Lynchburg, Virginia and Maryland, the two Showbiz Pizza outlets inside area code 804. The FBI eventually found out there was a Showbiz Pizza in Virginia Beach, and made that their target area in the hunt for Lavin.

Pat O’Donnell was one of hundreds of FBI agents, active and retired, living and working in the Virginia Beach area. Once FBI investigators in charge of Lavin’s case had a better idea of his whereabouts, they sent out photos of Larry and Marcia Lavin to every one of said FBI Agents. O’Donnell recognized the photo immediately, having fished with Larry (Brian) on his boat. It was only a short while after O’Donnell confirmed the FBI’s suspicions about Lavin’s whereabouts that he was arrested, taking him into custody on May 15, 1986. Lavin was sentenced to a total of 42 years in prison—20 years for tax evasion and 22 years for drug trafficking charges—though his sentence was eventually reduced to 21 years after appeal.

As for Frankie Smith’s shiny, groovy “Bus”, it has certainly putted on and will continue to do so because it’s just that one-of-a-kind slice of Philly music life.

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