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A Reflection on Very Famous Actor Joe Pesci's Very Terrible 90s Rap Single

With lyrics like "A made man, fact like my ass is fat, Sipping on Tequila with a straw hat," the song "Wise Guy" contains multitudes.

by Ryan Bassil
Jan 11 2017, 3:58pm

This article originally appeared on Noisey UK. 

There are two types of actors. You have your Leonardo DiCaprio's, Cate Blanchett's, Denzel Washington's—malleable talents who can be pressed into any number of roles. Then you have the actors who have become cemented into a typecast: the bland romantic comedy star, the neurotic teenager, the polite and effusive Englishman spluttering his way into a sleepover with a member of the opposite sex. Some of these actors are terrible, and some of them are the one-time Academy Award winner Joe Pesci.

New Jerseyan, Aquarian, father to no one except his streamlined spouts of rage, Pesci has been well-suited to his role as the small, volatile man in everything from Goodfellas to Home Alone. He will take a pinky ring to the back of someone's neck in the low-lit glow of a smokey bar, boot them in the face no less than 17 times, then brush his hands off with the charm of a gentleman who has carried his daughter's dusty books to the boot of his car. And he does this so well, you imagine it's all Pesci has spent his life doing. He is the Shakespeare of unrelenting anger, the Picasso of taking his shoe to someone's occiput. He is a man who loves kicking.

But, like all actors, there came a time when Pesci needed a side-hustle. Back in the 60s, he had played guitar for the band Joey Dee and the Starliters, a position that a young Jimi Hendrix briefly inhabited soon after. He then released Little Joe Sure Can Sing!, an album of pop hits, under the name Joe Ritchie. It has been said that he has "a really beautiful voice". And at the peak of these excursions is his second album Vincent LaGuardia Gambini Sings Just For You - specifically the track "Wise Guy", where he raps about being a "Wise Guy" over a morose sample of Blondie's "Rapture".

Released in 1998, shortly before Pesci took an extended break from Hollywood, it's hard not to see this album as the turret at the top of his tower of desire. It offers an insight into his character that goes beyond the commentary on the Casino DVD; namely, that he wanted to pursue the ambitions he had for becoming a musician before his father pushed him into acting. But, perhaps more crushingly pertinent for him, that he isn't as suited to rapping as he is at wearing bootcut suit trousers and screaming one-liners while taking a hammer to a wooden table. Let's take a look.

Because this is a rare item—in the sense that videos like these are often removed from YouTube for anti-posterity—it has only managed to live on in Daily Motion's low bitrate servers. For this, I can only apologize. But despite the pixels and the poor sound quality, the essence of the track and video shines through the fog like a pair of nauseatingly well-lit headlights. Pesci steps out of his car like an Italian-American's version of Mother Theresa, handing out dollar bills to children. Pesci has two women on his arm. Pesci is, in his own words, a "Wise Guy." This is the message of the track, this is the story, this is both the nadir and summit of everything we know about the man who once took a blowtorch to the head from a milk-teethed, pre-pubescent Macaulay Culkin.

In the storied tradition of actors taking on a career in music, it's not Donald Glover. It's not Robert Pattinson or Ryan Gosling. It's not Willennium or Clint Eastwood, Rawhide's Clint Eastwood Sings Cowboy Favorites, or Robert Downey Jr channeling Sting's worst b-sides. It's not even Bruce Willis on The Return of Bruno. It is simply a man following his dreams and coming out the other side with a finished product that has as much impact as a plain piece of paper in an art show.

On the one hand, Pesci's attempts at a rap career can be used as a sort of personal leverage. It's an antidote to every irreversible life decision you've made, because (hopefully) nothing you've done lives on in the form of a 4 minute and 4 second long Daily Motion video. When you wake up in the morning, pull the covers closer to the bridge of your nose after snoozing your alarm for the seventh time in half an hour, it can be a comfort to know you haven't left your job to record a rap that includes the lyric, "A made man, fact like my ass is fat… Sipping on Tequila with a straw hat." 

On the other, Pesci's decision to drop Hollywood and pick up "Wise Guy" is admirable. From the moment we leave the womb and develop working hearing organs, we're encouraged to follow our dreams with reckless abandon; to cast our hook into the deep sea of possibility and grab tight to the opportunities that bite. This is the moment Pesci seemingly realized a childhood dream and brought it into the modern era through the medium of rap music.

Still, it's a shame the dream sounds less like an ascendance toward the valhalla of self realisation, and more like your dad if you put him in front of a copy of Audacity, a USB microphone from Poundland, and forced him to write a rap. The world is grey, the world is dark, there are two sides to every coin, the yin and the yang, it's important to see the good in the bad. And when you feel like life may be sucking out your soul like a hoover that sits on every surface, drawing into every orifice and draining your insides, something like Joe Pesci's "Wise Guy" is important. You've fucked up, my friend. But you haven't done this.

You can find Ryan Bassil on Twitter.