Skillz: Million Dollar Backpack

“Sick before…” insert your favorite decisive moment in recent history. This is the format of the record “Sick (The Sequel)”, which is quite an interesting way to tackle your standard song of self-appreciation. For those who know of Skillz, this isn’t surprising in the least. The 2-up-2-down (Virginia for the uninitiated) based MC has made a career of surprising moments and doing things his way. His third LP, Million Dollar Backpack [KOCH] follows that very same formula, headlined with songs like “Sick (The Sequel)” that on occasion can provoke thought, humor, and make someone appreciate his story.

When the album starts off with the intro, “Million Dollar Backpack”, it provides a whisk of anticipation behind heavy kicks and a drooping baseline in front of Skillz rapping with a distorted mic. Following up, is “Where I Been” which splashes the listener with clarity as crispy snares pop.

The lead single, “So Far So Good”, featuring Common, is among the same class of “Where I Been”, albeit it a tad slower. This works well for cohort Common, as it suits his smooth MC style. Both of their light airy flows may turn off some who opened the album with thoughts of hardcore splashed across the album.

Lucky for them, “Don’t Act Like You Don’t Know” isn’t that far away. The heavy drums and monotone synthesizer opens the way for Philly accomplice Freeway to go for broke. Both MC’s work the beat wonderfully, as their experience allows them to manipulate the beat like it will get away from them if they don’t give it the proper justice.

“Hip-Hop Died” may not feature the excitement of “Don’t Act Like You Don’t Know”, however, what it lacks in adrenaline, it makes up for it in spades with its authenticity. If you didn’t believe that Skillz loved the culture, this track could change your mind. The somber, gloomy production captures your ear as Skillz deftly tells the story of both an unnamed executive and rapper. At the end of the track, a biting trumpet solo finishes the track with a powerful statement.

However, it doesn’t end the album. The final track, "Preaching To The Choir" features an interesting story of infidelity. This track, while featuring a great story, along with twists and turns, suffers because of the track prior. It feels tacked on because it is a good song, not because it contributes to the albums overall feel, which takes away from its overall appeal. The same applies to “My Phone” while having some appeal; it feels like “Preaching To The Choir”, out of place and unneeded.

Despite the issues of timing, Million Dollar Backpack can be played through without too many skips. Skillz provides an album that bleeds sincerity, and in an industry where that characteristic is as rare as the diamond album, it is a welcome change of pace. It may not garner backpacks full of millions for Skillz, but the Hip-Hop landscape is better for it.

Skillz Featuring Freeway

"Don't Act Like You Don't Know"