|RENAISSANCE MAN, RENEGADE JEW.|
|David Lawrence would break Walter Mitty's heart. Don't believe it? How many former literature professors, millionaires, nationally ranked tennis players, professional skiers, motorbike daredevils, professional boxers, convicted felons, and, um, rappers do you know? Yeah. Thought so. Now 57, Lawrence's life is more quiet now -- reserved to writing poetry and coaching boxing at|
Brooklyn's famous Gleason's Gym, but at one time, this man was everything he dreamed he'd be -- and, frankly, never dreamed he'd be.
As a kid, Lawrence wasn't drawn to music, but he did love poetry. Blame that on being a child of the hippie generation.
"I started smoking pot at 16 back in the 60's, I was the first kid who knew anything about it in my high school," he mused. "I don't smoke anymore, because I don't need drugs to get as far out-there as I am everyday."
Eventually, he put down the doobies long enough to receive a doctorate in English from the
This is David Lawrence. Apparently, there is nothing he can't do.
CUNY Graduate Center in 1976. He taught literature during the Vietnam War at a number of colleges around New York. When Lawrence failed to find work as a professor, his father suggested he go to work in the new wholesale insurance business. He worked his way up from assistant, secured deals with a number of different firms, and in a few years he was making money. Big money. He was a Wall Street whiz kid and became a millionaire at Allied Programs Corporation, a wholesale insurance outfit, where he would eventually become partner. In addition to his many other hobbies -- he claims he was a nationally ranked tennis player and professional "ski racer" -- he took up dirt bikes around age 35. There was a track just a mile from his ridiculously huge expensive house in West Hampton (thanks to his Wall Street money) and he became an avid and fearless rider. That is until his chauffer died in a motorcycle accident. His family begged him to stop. So he did. But he had to find something to fill the void -- boxing.
Blow in the Ribs
Lawrence would ride up to Gleason's in a chauffeured Rolls Royce. He enlisted the guidance of world famous trainer Hector Roca -- the man who taught Hillary Swank how to box for Million Dollar Baby.
"He was only learning how to fight in those days," said Bruce Silverglade, owner of Gleason's gym. "He was our only member showing up to work out in a Rolls Royce."
As Lawrence improved as a fighter, he sought out tougher competition. He fought a handful of amateur and charity fights, earning him some credit as a middle-aged gym rat. While he trained and studied for fights, Lawrence had the opportunity to spar with the likes of Hector "Macho" Camacho, Buddy McGirt, Iran Barkley, Arturo Gatti and Mustafa Hampshire. Eventually, the guys at the gym found they had a pretty eccentric wannabe boxer on their hands. Then
came a unique opportunity. Gary Braverman, a boxing promoter, called and asked him if to fight in the Rappers Boxing Federation.
"LL Cool J dropped out and they needed me to fight Kurtis Blow," he said.
Lawrence, then known as the "Wall Street Rapper," took the ring against the gerry-curled rap icon at the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City. Lawrence was knocked down in the first round, but he
rebounded nicely by breaking every one of the rapper's ribs. In 1991, he turned pro at 44 years old. Lawrence claims he fought six times and earned a record of 4-2. (Yet, on BoxRec.com, the database records reflect that Lawrence was 3-1 with a total of three knockouts). During this time Lawrence set out to conquer the rap world.
Enter the Renegade Jew
Braverman got Lawrence in touch with legendary rap producers Melle Mel and Freddie Fox and then worked out a number of songs that served as Lawrence's introduction to the hip-hop phenomenon.
Lawrence used rap as a further exploration of the verbal form he'd worked with as a student and in his own works of poetry. Lawrence began work on his first solo rap album, aptly titled "The Renegade Jew."
He'd developed the handle of "A-to-the-D," a kind of alternative to the nickname "Awesome Dave" he'd earned while knocking out opponents in Gleason's Gym. Rude Boy Records, a small label that was negotiating with Wu-Tang
Clan in their early days, opted to release "The Renegade Jew" since Lawrence had the ability to pay for his own press and publicity. Lawrence wrote countless personal checks in order to bring his new hobby to the masses.
"I spent roughly $300,000 of my own money trying to do it; my wife thinks I spent more," Lawrence said.
He promoted the crap out of his EP. He appeared on Crazy Sam's video music show with Naughty By Nature, Doug E. Fresh, Fat Joe, Biz Markee, Method Man and Redman. He also appeared on New York's Hot 97 radio with Snoop Doggy Dogg. He had advertisements in The Source and struck a deal with SPIN magazine to send off a copy of "The Renegade Jew" to all their subscribing households on Long Island. There was no commercial success, but Lawrence said he did receive plenty of letters from kids inviting him to perform at their bar mitzvah parties.
Shortly after the "Renegade Jew" release, Lawrence's company, the Allied Programs Corporation, began being investigated for tax evasion. Lawrence says it was others at the company involved in malfeasance, and he didn't know what was happening.
"I guess I really didn't understand the implications of what was going on," Lawrence says "It was like 1993, I was a millionaire on Wall Street, a boxing professional and a rapper riding to the gym in a Rolls Royce, and I was going to jail."
Eventually, Lawrence lost the legal battle to protect him, remainaing silent, he says, rather than turn in others. "I really take no pride in not ratting," he says sitting back, reflecting on those tough times. "For me it was second nature to keep my mouth shut." He was soon off to Schuylkill Federal Prison in Pennsylvania for tax invasion, where he served two years.
In prison, Lawrence was greeted with a surprising welcome. "When I first got there I was walking down the hall and some guy yelled out 'Oh Shit! The Renegade Jew is in the fuckin' House!' "
The inmates took to Lawrence because they had seen his music videos, watched him box on television and had even seen his advertisements in hip hop magazines.
When released from prison Lawrence made a final attempt at the rap game by completing a second solo effort called "DA MASTA PLAN" and appearing on a group project with an outfit called "The Lost Trybe of Hip-Hop", but then ultimately gave it up to coach boxing at Gleason's and write poetry. He has published three books of poetry, most recently with Dementia Pugilistica. In the gym he coaches a number of clients from children to adults from a variety of athletic backgrounds. Like many of hallowed Gleason's regulas, he is etched in its landscape.
"I've known David for many years, through good times and bad. I have never known him to change his attitude," says Hall of Fame trainer Bob Jackson his office in the back of Gleason's Gym. "He has always wanted to walk where others don't and he's proven he is never going to shock me."
Matt Caputo attends SUNY Purchase and has written for several boxing publications.