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Skillz: May “Back” Music

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In 2006 Skillz was nominated “Most Likely To Embarrass Your Favorite Rapper.” Ok, so maybe he wasn’t, but the Virginia MC should have been. Since the 1990’s the former known “Mad Skillz” has been bending metaphors to his will leaving charred microphones and egos in his wake. His first CD, From Where???, put him on the Hip-Hop map but it was his hi-jacking of Aaliyah’s “Are You That Somebody” that made his voice a radio staple. After putting the art of ghostwriting on full blast his follow-up on Rawkus, I Ain’t Mad Anymore, confirmed that he could make great songs for himself, not just other people. Download “Imagine” for proof. After touring with The Roots and dropping his collectible yearly “Rap-Ups” Skillz is releasing his third CD, The Million Dollar Backpack, on Koch Records.  His anger management skills are sharp but we still found a few things that make Skillz mad. AllHipHop.com: What exactly do you keep in a Million Dollar Backpack?Skillz: That’s a good question. All my inspiration, everything that makes me the MC I am, everything that I feel I have to have to get inspired. Mostly it’s just my words, my ideas, my thoughts. That’s why I named the album that, because you can’t really put a price on what that means to me.  It’s kind of a double-play on words, like, you can’t judge a book by its cover. ‘Cause everything I could have obtained or got in this rap game, it started with a idea that came out of that backpack.AllHipHop.com: What was the first backpack you owned?Skillz: It was a funky little JanSport. That was before I got cool with ‘em, know what I’m sayin’? Before I started realizing I could get a Louis, I stepped my game up and I could get a Gucci. It was a funky little green and brown JanSport. I rocked that thing forever, kid. AllHipHop.com: What’s the most expensive one you have now?Skillz: I got a Hermes joint. That was up there. I got a Gucci one, one of the last Gucci ones they made that was kinda up there. It’s definitely the Hermes and Gucci. AllHipHop.com: Seems like the ghostwriting gig has changed a bit. Now dudes get credits on the liner notes, like Pharaohe Monch’s name on Diddy’s album. Is it still ghostwriting if people know who you’re doing it or does it not matter? Skillz: I’ve never been one of the ones who tripped over that. As long as in the publishing and the ASCAP [The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers] and the BMI [Broadcast Music], I’m listed as a writer and I got my percentage, I could give a f**k what you put in the album. As long as I know them checks is coming. I don’t need to be thanked like “Skillz, thank for you for writing all three of them 16s.” I’m cool. I don’t need to be doing the Kid-N-Play kickstep with you in the video. As long as we got a good relationship, I’m cool.AllHipHop.com: “Are You That Somebody?” is one of the most played songs in radio history. What was it like making that remix and how does it feel being part of history with Aaliyah? Skillz: Oh man…I got to credit Danja Mowf for coming up with that whole idea. It came at a point where n****s wouldn’t dare rap over somebody else’s song and give it to somebody who would play it at the radio station. I think that might have been the first unofficial remix that turned into an official remix. Now, you know, R Kelly will snatch up The-Dream’s song and sing on it and send it back out and people play it, ‘cause it’s R. Kelly, but in those days, you couldn’t do that. And artists weren’t even thinking to do that. But Danja Mowf came up with the idea, it was for a mixtape and he gave it to Lonnie B, and Lonnie B rapped on it. And I heard both of them…what’s so crazy is that I heard their version on the radio! My man Mike G and my man Eric Lee had played it on the radio and I called in and said, “Why the f**k didn’t you give me that?!” And I was, like, nah, I’m coming over there right now, I got a verse. Then we had to send another version out where Danja led into the beginning then it was Ali, and then me and Lonnie shared at the end. Man, it was beautiful. It went from just being a local remix to being on Hot 97, it was on Power 105, 106 in L.A. Then Aaliyah’s management started contacting us…The pinnacle of it all was, we performed it with Aaliyah at the Tunnel, the world famous Tunnel at her release party. AllHipHop.com: You’ve done about five or six “Rap Ups now.” Do you think that makes you Hip-Hop’s unofficial historian? Skillz: I mean, I never even thought of it that way. I just feel like in the beginning, maybe  around the third or second one, I thought it was getting a little played-out with the idea, I was like, I don’t know if I want to keep doing this, ya mean? Then the year would be so good that I couldn’t pass it up. I just feel like it’s my little marketing tool, my staple, something people expect from me. AllHipHop.com: I wanna talk about some of your lines. You’ve said some things that really made me think. You had one line, “Y’all beefing but y’all got the same cheese in your eggs.” It made me think about Ja Rule and DMX taking shots at each other but they were both on Def Jam.  Skillz: It was definitely a situation where rappers were using the beef card to get noticed, to keep their names in the barber shops and in the magazines. I been to award shows, and you’re sitting right there and he sitting over there, and y’all acting like y’all not even here. It’s so high school. It started to look like Westland [Westland Middle School, in Michigan] to me. This is wack, I don’t believe in that. I believe in being who you are.

“…Any time I throw your name out there in a verse, in a disrespectful way, I feel like I have a reason. I never just pick on somebody. Not to discredit Em – he might be the greatest white rapper of all time. The dude is nice, you can’t take that away from him. But he dissed a person that’s very close to me. And I didn’t like it.”

AllHipHop.com: To that point, do you feel you’ve picked a couple fights yourself, particularly with Eminem? Kinda goading him a little bit?Skillz: Maybe one time. But you gotta understand, any time I throw your name out there in a verse, in a disrespectful way, I feel like I have a reason. I never just pick on somebody. Not to discredit Em- he might be the greatest white rapper of all time. The dude is nice, you can’t take that away from him. But he dissed a person that’s very close to me. And I didn’t like it. And that person did not say anything, because to even answer Em would be beneath him, to the public eye. He said something about someone very close to me and I didn’t appreciate it. AllHipHop.com: When he dissed Jermaine Dupri?Skillz: Nah. Jermaine Dupri and I ain’t friends at all. He said something about Will. AllHipHop.com: Will Smith?Skillz: Right. And I didn’t appreciate it. Especially after he had been to Jazzy Jeff’s studio, recorded a song with Jazzy Jeff and Will. You know, who the f**k is going to meet the Fresh Prince and be cocky? We all wanted to be the Fresh Prince. What n***a wouldn’t want the career the Fresh Prince has had?  What n***a wouldn’t use that as inspiration? When he said, “Will Smith don’t have to curse in his raps to sell records but I do/so f**k him and f**k you too,” I was like, nah, B. Not after you was just down there in the studio! I ain’t appreciate that.AllHipHop.com: What’s funny is that Bow Wow had said some stuff in interviews saying Will Smith was corny. But I just read a story in the AP about how Bow Wow wants to be the next Will Smith, how he wants to focus on acting now. Skillz: You know what makes this so sad and so disheartening? I remember everything these dumb f**king rappers say. Like if you go in my garage, dog, you’ll see every Vibe, every Source, every Blaze, every magazine, all the ones that not in print anymore, the Rap Pages… And I be going back and reading some of the s**t these fools said. And it comes back to what you’re saying now. And I understand that we grow, and we all mature, but rappers have said some dumb s**t back in the day, real talk! I think they be forgetting their s**t. I was reading something, I can’t remember who it was, but he was like, “Dog, if I don’t at least sell 5 million records, then the game is rigged.” I’m like, please! Who the f**k is selling 5 million records now? And this is in ’91! And motherf**kas are like, “I don’t write my rhymes, I just go in, I don’t even write s**t down.” And I’m listening to your record like, I can tell you don’t write s**t down. This sounds like s**t! If you wrote it down, I would still say it sounds like s**t. “I haven’t wrote down a rhyme in four years and the last four albums, I never wrote anything down.” Well, maybe you should, motherf**ker!

“No disrespect to Jay, no disrespect to Kanye, but I noticed some things that they wish they could still be able to do that they can’t, because of their stature, because of where they are. With success comes a lot of s**t you can’t do.”

AllHipHop.com: Speaking of the rhymes, you were quoted as saying, “I’ve made the album that Jay-Z, Kanye West and Lil’ Wayne want to make. It’s that good. I’m bold enough to say that because I believe it.” So tell me about the album. What is it about this album that makes you feel that confident about it? Skillz: It’s very focused. Without me being entirely cliché, it’s a very good Hip-Hop album. Like if I had my way, that’s I would have named it that. I was going to name it “A Very Good Hip-Hop Album.”  Point blank, period. It took me three years to make the records to stick that I want to make. Like for me coming out now, I almost feel like a new artist, ‘cause there’s so many people who don’t know me or only know me for the “Rap Ups” or what-have-you. But a lot of these cats, I feel like they’re not doing what they want to do, they’re doing what the industry is making them do. Like no disrespect to Jay, no disrespect to Kanye, but I noticed some things that they wish they could still be able to do that they can’t, because of their stature, because of where they are. With success comes a lot of s**t you can’t do. I’m not restricted like that. And I’m not saying that, okay, for the change Jay-Z got, I would wanna be restricted. I don’t want to be a prisoner of my own fame either. Like 50 can’t take his son to the mall and buy him school shoes. That can’t happen. I don’t got a bunch of chains. I ain’t never sold no coke. But I can rap my ass off. That’s it! AllHipHop.com: So speaking of your rhymes, what do you think are some of your best one-liners? Because I still remember the one from “One MC, One DJ”, “Y’all dudes not thugs, you eight deep in the Coupe/That’s not gangsta, that’s a movin’ group hug.” I laughed on that for about five minutes.Skillz: [laughs] Aww man, some of my best one liners? When you said  “Y’all beefing but y’all got the same cheese in your eggs,” that was definitely a good one. The Hot 97 Kay Slay freestyle, the “I’ve been sick since…”, “I was sick before,” like all of the sick references in that. I did that at the Mix Show Power Summit, I think that was hot. The Bubba Sparxx freestyle over the “Ugly” beat was a moment, because I knew DJs would like it because I took all of the hot parts from songs and put it over what was the hottest beat at the time.When you listened to it, it sounded like I was DJing. You know, Fabolous heard me and he was like, [begins rapping a verse] “D-d-damn/mad to the ski-dillz/From V to the izzay/I get BDS without having to pizzay/Girls, girls, you know how I do/man, these n****s act a fool when I skert on 22s.” It was all of the hot stuff that had been said in the song combined in one song. I think that was a moment. What else? I did a song called “Imagine.”

“If n****s took all these video chicks out of they video and really had the woman in their life in the video, their baby mom or they wife, they would have totally different f**king videos. Ain’t going to be no Rita G. No Gloria Velez, put your baby mom in the video!”

AllHipHop.com: I was going to ask you about that because you know me you caught me with that. I was like, “Oh word?” How come you didn’t talk about that in the interviews? Oh, he playin’!  Skillz: Right. That song changed my life, I’m sorry, that might have been the greatest story telling in my career. Because I took you to a place and you believed it. And you believed it strictly because rappers don’t lie. And my whole thing is, 90% of these n****s lie. So it put my brain into a pattern where I was thinking, okay, what if the rap game was like this? What if there was an unwritten law or rule that you could say whatever the f**k you want to say, but by the time you get to the end of it, you have to tell the truth. Who would still be rapping? That would wipe out 70% of the game right now. That would have wiped out 70% of the game when I made that song [2005?] Ya feel me? Y’all believe these rappers but they not always necessarily telling you the truth. And that’s why you never hear me rap about anything other than that. Like I used to do that song at shows, talking about my brother and my brother died and I actually had to kill my brother. And there would be motherf**kers at the club, like “Yo!” There was one girl who was like, “That song touched me.” She was damn near about to cry, I damn near forgot the words because she was about to cry. And there was one n***a like, “Fam! I’m listening to that s**t and the whole time you got me. I’m sitting here like, fam, how could this n***a do this and then confess to it?” This n***a just confessed to a murder at a Hip-Hop show!  Dog, I was ready to wyle out.” I love performing that song because it’s almost like a “Rap Up,” half the crowd has never heard it. And then they start thinking, how different would the rap game be if n****s really told the truth. If n****s took all these video chicks out of they video and really had the woman in their life in the video, their baby mom or they wife, they would have totally different f**king videos. Ain’t going to be no Rita G, ya mean? No Gloria Velez, put your baby mom in the video! AllHipHop.com: You wouldn’t be splashing champagne on your baby mom. Skillz: Exactly! And we going to be looking at you like, goddamn, you married her? N****s is living a façade, it’s time for n****s to be honest. F**k being honest with the people, be honest with yourself. I don’t see how n****s can lie like this! We really don’t question it because, eh, it’s rap. So when I hear n****s say, “I’m putting 30s on a plane,” I’m like, “Yeah n***a, you really gon’ try and put 30 inch rims on a plane?” I wanna see that, asshole. “I’m making it rain!” You’re broke, n***a! It’s a known fact no one is eating off the rap game like they was 10 years ago. That’s a known fact. The music ain’t even selling like that. The heights that people go to make you believe it. N****s used to just go into the booth and lie. Now n****s rent s**t, cars, they get on these DVDs and go to houses that ain’t theirs. I’m like, all this to make people believe you got money? AllHipHop.com: Do you think anyone is going to read this and think, “Oh Skillz, he’s just another mad rapper, why’s he hatin’, why’s he hatin’?Skillz: Nah, I ain’t hatin’. Like Common said, it ain’t hatin’. Just because I don’t like it, don’t mean I’m hatin’. I’m sayin’, if that’s what y’all want to believe, that’s what y’all want to do, that’s cool. But I know there’s an audience for the music I’m making. Nah mean? I ain’t saying I’m going to sell four or five million records. Matter of fact, I know I’m not!  I know there’s an audience for the music I make. I know there’s people who want substance and messages in their music.

“Imagine a kid growing up on snap music and that’s his music. He ain’t gon’ have no future. Because that music is a fad. So I reach back into what I know is the cornerstone of Hip-Hop.”

AllHipHop.com: Now, being from VA, you could have hopped on the Dirty South bandwagon but you didn’t. What stopped you from going all the way out and getting the snap beats and saying “Yo, South. What?”Skillz: [laughs] I mean, Virginia is a melting pot. We right in the middle of the east coast so you get a lot of different music, you get a lot of people who come here from down south to go to school. Cats from up top come to Virginia State, Norfolk State, so it’s a different kind of music but I was never really…I was already heavily east coast influenced. I grew up on Big Daddy Kane, Rakim. I grew up on the cornerstone of what Hip-Hop was and what it would always be. I grew up on the music that influenced them.  Imagine a kid growing up on snap music and that’s his music. He ain’t gon’ have no future. Because that music is a fad. So I reach back into what I know is the cornerstone of Hip-Hop. Because that’s never gon’ fade. That’s just what I like to do, that’s the kind of music I like to make. AllHipHop.com: So your first single, “Don’t Act Like You Don’t Know” sounds a bit like Freeway’s “What We Do.” Was that on purpose or just a coincidence?Skillz: On purpose! I wasn’t dumb enough to make a record that sounded like Freeway’s record and not get Freeway. I knew when I made that record…Trust me, I tried to rap on that record by myself and I was like, “Nah, this ain’t gon’ work.” And you know what was going to happen if I rapped on that record by myself and put it out? Mad people would have been like, “He should have hollered at Free for this. S**t is Freeway’s lane.” It’s kinda like both sides of the fence because if I didn’t put Free on it, people would have been like, “Man, you should have called Free. You heard that joint where Freeway is rapping over your joint for his new mixtape? He bodied it!” So I got Free! I’m like, this is his lane, this is what he does. And it worked.AllHipHop.com: Who did the beat for yours? Skillz: This cat named Orthodox from Philly. It was all Philly connected and I do a lot of recording in Philly. And my management’s from Philly so I’m always in Philly. If I ain’t at the Roots studio, I’m somewhere running around at Home Cookin’ Studios, Larry Gold… I’m always running through Philly. AllHipHop.com: You gotta be careful in Philly these days, cops is wylin’. Skillz: Oh yeah, man. I keep the Virginia tags on my car and act like I’m just visiting. “I’m lost, officer. How do I get back to 95?” Jerry L. Barrow is a Content Programmer for The UrbanDaily.com and Founder/Editor of Nodfactor.com.

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