Sky Balla: Sky’s the Limit

Aside from the obvious legal problems, any financial advisor can give you a laundry list of reasons why pimping and hustling are bad options for diversifying your portfolio. Yet, when faced with the prospect of finishing high-school and waiting for royalty checks to slowly trickle in, that’s exactly what Sky Balla did. The result was a few well-documented run-in’s with the law and a substantial amount of cash, all of which were documented on Sky’s independent debut Mobb Report.

Like any good street corner entrepreneur, Sky Balla knows the importance of keeping ample product handy. As the native of San Francisco’s heralded Fillmore District gets ready to take his new album Every Penny Counts to a major label, he’s decided to flood the streets again—this time with mixtapes. Sky Balla’s latest offering, “Lifestyles of the Hoodrich and Famous,” finds him joining forces with New York’s own DJ Sickamore.

Wall Street may frown on his high-risk financial strategies, but the streets have already spoken. Having been endorsed by everyone from The Diplomats to Bay Area luminaries such as E-40, Mac Dre, and JT the Bigga Figga, Sky Balla may very well be the biggest thing to hit Fillmore since the 1906 earthquake. Sky gives his take on his music, his hometown and, of course, his many hustles; you can follow his monetary advice at your own risk.

AllHipHop.com: You hooked up with DJ Sickamore for newest mixtape, how did that come about?

Sky Balla: Yeah, we’ve got the streets going crazy. Me and Sick got connected through my man Animal Steele, he linked us up. Sick flew out to Las Vegas and it’s been on and poppin’ ever since.

AllHipHop.com: You’ve had a few mixtapes out before this one, do you see any major difference between them?

Sky Balla: Nah, I’m just keeping it street with this reality rap ain’t nothing really changed. We’ve just got a new and improved me.

AllHipHop.com: When I was checking out your bio the rapping and the pimping made your story seemed like a real-life version of Hustle & Flow.

Sky Balla: Yeah, it really is.

AllHipHop.com: Did you have any similar thoughts when you saw the movie?

Sky Balla: Yeah, I was like, “They could’ve picked me to play that part.” I felt like they based that movie off me man.

AllHipHop.com: You were 17-years-old and featured on Master P’s West Coast Bad Boyz Pt. 2. Looking at those times begs the obvious question. Why would a rapper on a platinum album take it back to the streets?

Sky Balla: I was just more focused on financial stability so I had more time to develop myself as an artist. You can’t be a broke artist with no financial backing when you’re trying to pay for studio time, engineers, and producers. I was in that zone trying to get my paper right, and once I got my cake up I got focused back on the artist side of things. Once I did that it made me a force to be reckoned with ‘cause I had the ability to be independent.

AllHipHop.com: So in business terms it was more startup capital than street credibility?

Sky Balla: Exactly. You gotta get that startup money, nahmean?

AllHipHop.com: It sounds like those were some dangerous times. Did the FBI really get you for $23,000 and a quarter-ounce of crack in 1998?

Sky Balla: Yeah man, you know how it goes. You take wins and losses in the game, its just like an elevator. But that was nothing but a minor setback for a major comeback, ya’ dig?

AllHipHop.com: Yeah, from the looks of the jewels and cars in the video I’d say it was a major comeback indeed.

Sky Balla: Oh yeah, we’re major without a major deal. It is what it is, I had everything I wanted before I came into this game so right now I’m just doing it for the respect and for the love of the music. It ain’t like I’m in it trying to get a quick shine, because I had the shine, the jewels, the whips, the b*tches and everything before the deal. Once the deal comes, it’s just time for me to grind harder and take it up a few notches.

AllHipHop.com: Considering how good the independent hustle is going, what does a major label have to offer you at this point?

Sky Balla: It’s like a system. You’ve got to get in the system as far as distribution and major promotion. They have an outlet and a machine behind the movement that will make it that much stronger. It’s like a snowball effect and once it starts rolling its just gonna get bigger and bigger. With the majors, we really just need that worldwide distribution. I’m already marketable, I’ve got the streets on smash and everybody in the industry already knows what it is. It’s just time for that TV look and that full radio promotion and some tours. Once they see the visual then its pretty much gonna be a wrap.

AllHipHop.com: How are you splitting your time between shopping this deal and getting your Strictly Business imprint off the ground?

Sky Balla: Right now I’m putting my main focus into myself as an artist. I’ve got my management company where I manage producers, so I’m shopping their beats to other artists because I’ve got some really strong relationships with other cats with major deals. I’m just going off of those relationships to do business and network to get my producers some placement with these other artists. I get my cut off of the top and they get their cut and get their name [known] while we split the publishing and what not. I’m not really focusing on signing any other rappers right now though. If anything I might sign an R&B cat or an R&B female or something like that.

I’m going to be the forefront of Strictly Business. S.B. that’s Strictly Business, that’s Sky Balla—that’s the imprint.

AllHipHop.com: True. A lot of West Coast music is stereotyped as being producer-driven as opposed to raw lyricism, but you seem to have your metaphor game in tact: “I’ll have you sent for / I’m in the hood with two big nines on me like the 99 cent store…”

Sky Balla: Yeah, I’m just trying to come with that raw reality rap that every cat who’s really in the streets, on the grind and doing the damn thing can relate to and feel 100 percent. When I rapping I want them to visualize it. They can walk with me and spend a day in my shoes once they hear the music.

AllHipHop.com: In line with that, you mention some of your favorite albums being Jay-Z’s Reasonable Doubt and T.I.’s I’m Serious, does that go against the “I’m Not A Rapper” movement?

Sky Balla: Nah, my whole thing is quality control. I know I have a good ear for music and I keep cats around me that are real music critics. They’ll give it to me raw and uncut—if it’s wack its wack and if it’s hot, it’s hot. Ain’t nobody gonna’ be smiling in my face if I have a wack record and lying to me telling me, “This s**t is hot.” I make sure that the block feels everything I drop before I put it out. It’s got to be fit tested and block approved.

AllHipHop.com: There are a couple different generations of Bay Area Hip-Hop: Too $hort and E-40, down to Hieroglyphics and the Luniz, and this new generation with people like yourself and Keak Da Sneak. Do you see any similarities or differences?

Sky Balla: There’s really no differences because the whole Bay Area’s culture is a movement. You really have to come to the Bay and get a glimpse of it. Once you get a get a glimpse of it, everybody wants some of that Bay-ism up in ‘em. After you leave the Bay and go back to where you’re from, you’ll have a little bit of that Bay Area swagger in you. We set a lot of trends and we’re like pioneers of the street game, the slang, the rap game, the pimp game all that.

It’s not really a whole lot of separation, that’s the older generation and we’re the younger generation. They we’re the ‘70s babies and we’re the ‘80s babies. Cats like me, Messy Marv, San Quinn, Jacka, Mistah F.A.B.—it’s too many people to name, but there’s a whole lot of talent coming out of this area. Oakland, Vallejo, Richmond, San Francisco and the whole bay is pushing a hard line on the forefront of this West Coast movement.

AllHipHop.com: Fillmore has a pretty rich history, in addition to that hustler mentality…

Sky Balla: Just the whole culture. If you do your research you’ll see that “Fillmore Slim” is the most legendary pimp in history. You already know it’s in my bloodline and in my veins. That’s why I say this street game is in me and not on me. A lot of cats just put on a fitted cap, a chain and a white t-shirt with some Air Force One’s and think that they’re Hip-Hop or think they’re street. It has to be in you, it ain’t on you.

AllHipHop.com: There’s a whole aspect that people outside the Bay Area never get to see internment camps, urban renewal, the ‘50s Jazz scene.

Sky Balla: Yeah, like the whole Black Panther movement: Huey P. Newton, George Jackson.

AllHipHop.com: So when you mention that “game being in you” do we get some of that too?

Sky Balla: Yeah, it’s real political too man. This is where Tupac got his game from. This is where he was pushing that hard line too. A lot of people don’t recognize that he was up out of the Bay Area too. Tupac did his thing down in LA, but them real old cats that were lacing him up were from Oakland, San Francisco and Marin [County].

AllHipHop.com: So if I’m down in the Fillmore District, where would you direct me to get some good food, get my ride detailed or mingle with the ladies?

Sky Balla: Ah man, if you’re in Fillmore the first spot you need to hit is Brother-In-Laws Barbeque. They’ve got the best barbeque in the city. It’s right on the block, off Grove Street at the intersection.

AllHipHop.com: When you hear about the Bay Area, one name continually comes up. Everyone gives it up to the late great Mac Dre.

Sky Balla: Oh yeah, hands down. He is the center of the Hyphy Movement. That was one of my closest homies, not even on no music or rap business. He was just a real cat that I idolized and grew up listening to. Once me and him met, it was a strong bond. We used to f**k with it hardcore and push that hard line, we was ridin’ real tough on that real pimp s**t. We would just get to the music whenever we got to it. He put me on about two or three of his albums and we did some other music up in Kansas City with Rich The Factor. I got to work with the cat numerous times and he really inspired me and gave me that motivation. Once I lost dude, it made me want to push harder. Mac Dre was a fine, good-hearted person and everybody loved him. He was a real legend.

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