Whether it’s from his work on numerous high profile remixes, most notably the remix to Aaliyah’s “Are You That Somebody,” or his yearly “Rap Up” songs, it’s a safe bet you’ve heard Skillz’ work on the mic and been impressed by it. Skillz’ next full length album, Million Dollar Backpack, is set to be released next month, but we at RapReviews couldn’t wait that long to find out what it’s all about so we sat down with him this week to get all the info. During the conversation Skillz not only spoke about the album, he also revealed that he feels all music will be free in the very near future and proposed some other ways for artists to make their money once that happens. Check it out.
Adam Bernard: It’s a billion degrees today in NYC, but you’re from VA, so you know what it’s like to be hot and humid.
Skillz: Maaan, fuck that. It’s burnin in here.
AB: Talk to me about the new album, Million Dollar Backpack.
Skillz: It’s a dose of me and everyday life with Skillz. If I could sum it up in a couple words I would say, for lack of better terms and without trying to sound corny, it’s just a very good Hip-Hop album. I didn’t try to reinvent the wheel or do anything out of the ordinary, I just made what I felt was a very good Hip-Hop album and that’s what I’m trying to present.
AB: Not to be too baiting, but by saying it’s a “very good Hip-Hop album” doesn’t that make it out of the ordinary by today’s standards?
Skillz: Pretty much. If you’re expecting anything different then I’m not your guy, but if that’s what you’re looking for then by all means I think I took care of that in this album.
“A very good Hip-Hop album is something that changes your mood, it puts you in different mindsets, it takes you to different places.”
AB: What do you think makes something a “very good Hip-Hop album?”
Skillz: A very good Hip-Hop album is something that changes your mood, it puts you in different mindsets, it takes you to different places. I just feel like an album is supposed to take you to a different place and you’re supposed to be able to play it at any given time of the day, any given time of the night, and it takes you somewhere else. That’s what I was looking for when I went to make this and I feel like I pulled it off. I got Common on there, I got Freeway on there, Talib Kweli, Black Thought, production by ?estlove…
AB: What is this album going to tell us about Skillz that we don’t know already?
Skillz: That there’s more to me than just “The Rap Ups.” I think a lot of people lately have become, I wouldn’t say fans, but they’ve caught wind of me through “The Rap Up” and things of that nature and it’s like oh, he’s funny, he’s witty, but there’s a lot more to me than just “The Rap Ups.” Not to discredit those songs, but there’s a lot of people who feel like they only hear from me one time a year, but “The Rap Up” is something that I do just because people want to hear it. If that’s how I can get you in, then that’s fine, I’ll get you in, but I want to pull you in and let you know there’s more to me than that.
AB: When you did your first “Rap Up” in 2002, did you think it would be something you’d do every year?
Skillz: Nah, I definitely didn’t. It started out as just a quick idea, a freestyle really, and then it just grew legs of its own.
AB: Six years later…
Skillz: People still ask for it. I’m not crazy enough to not pay attention to supply and demand, so I give it to em.
AB: Are there any plans for a Decade of Skillz album that’s full of your “Rap Ups?”
Skillz: It might not be a bad idea. It depends on what happens in the last year.
AB: What’s the difference for you when it comes to crafting the songs that you have on the new album versus a “Rap Up” song?
Skillz: When I’m doing a “Rap Up” it’s more shock value. It’s trying to sum up everything that happened in the year in four minutes. I’m trying to be witty, trying to be clever, and trying to keep the listener listening. When I create an album I’m trying to create a body of work that makes sense to the listener and, like I said earlier, takes you to different places. It’s two totally different things, but they both require a lot of skill, a lot of research, and making sure delivery is right.
“I’ve never changed regardless of what the current fad has been.”
AB: You’ve been around for over a dozen years now. What about you do you feel leaves such a lasting impression?
Skillz: I think I stick to my guns. I’ve never changed regardless of what the current fad has been. I’ve never tried to rap like so and so because that sound was hot. I never jumped on the bandwagon. I stuck to what I did and I think major mainstream success has probably eluded me as far as from an artist standpoint, but I feel like a lot of people want to support me because they want to see me in that light and they want to see me make it because they feel like people of my caliber, we’re saying something and we’re 100% Hip-Hop, so I think a lot of people want to see that bubble to the top as opposed to some of this music that’s out now.
AB: You’ve had quite the interesting look at the industry with your journey from “The Nod Factor” to this album. What have you learned from your travels in the industry?
Skillz: That things happen and you have to be able to bounce back and the music has to speak for itself. As long as you can continue to make good music, quality music, in this game you’ll have a career, and I’m not focused on having a hot song, I’m focused on having a career
AB: Since you’ve been doing this for 13 years what are you looking to accomplish at this point in your career?
Skillz: A lot of times people ask me that and I used to think that I knew what I wanted, but I’m a firm believer that you gotta be careful what you ask for because you might get it. At this point I just want longevity. I want to have a career. I want to be able to go through catalogues of music and for people to look back at my body of work and say he contributed a lot to the Hip-Hop culture.
AB: What’s in your CD player right now?
Skillz: I listen to all kind of music. I’m all over the place with my iPod. You would have to look at it to understand it and you probably still wouldn’t understand it when you looked at it.
AB: With the advent of the iPod has it become harder to make albums for this generation of music fans?
Skillz: Nah, I don’t think so. I think it’s a device that helps push music along. It definitely got singles to sell again. I never thought the single was coming back. I thought that was just a throw away at this point. I have a couple of iPods and they’re very handy. It was a good idea, a hard drive that plays music. A perfect idea.
AB: So as an artist it doesn’t really change anything for you?
Skillz: I don’t think so, man. I just believe that the music is going to speak for itself and people are gonna get it one way or another. I believe that in the future all music is going to be free anyway. They don’t have to buy the music. They can if they want to, but they don’t have to. We have to find new ways to do new things to keep our audiences interested in our music, that’s all.
“You can do a whole lot of different things. The music is what brings you in, but the music is not necessarily something you have to pay for.”
AB: In a future where music is free how do you make money?
Skillz: You can come see me. You can buy DVDs. You can do endorsements. You can do a whole lot of different things. The music is what brings you in, but the music is not necessarily something that you have to pay for. Merchandise, and things of that nature, I do believe that these are things that people will still pay for because they want to support the artist. They don’t have to buy your music now. They can buy it if they want to, but they don’t have to. I don’t have to go to the movies Friday to see Ironman if I don’t want to. If I spend enough time looking for it, it might be bad quality, it might be whatever, but I don’t have to spend $14 at the movies Friday if I don’t want to, but the experience of the theater and the popcorn and the previews… I still like that, so therefore I feel like I’m paying for that, as well.
AB: So it’s not just the one thing, it’s the experience surrounding it.
Skillz: Right. I know a person who still buys CDs for the simple fact that he likes to crack open the CD and read the credits and the thank yous. He has a computer and Lord knows he could download whatever he wanted to, but he’s one of those type persons who likes to see who produced a song, engineered a song, he’s still that consumer and it’s not just about the actual physical CD, it’s about crackin open the plastic, putting in the car and ridin to it, reading who did what. He likes that.
AB: I can’t listen to music on my computer.
Skillz: It doesn’t have the same feel.
AB: You can’t bump to your computer.
Skillz: Yeah, you definitely can’t.
AB: You gotta have it coming out of really big speakers so the whole block can hear it.
Skillz: And you know the words to it.
AB: I think less and less people know the words to songs now.
Skillz: Because the songs are shit. A lot of the songs I wouldn’t want to know the words to. It’s like a lot of these people, nobody puts anything into a career anymore, it’s just about having a hot song and that doesn’t help the artist. There are artists right now who could look me right in the face and say “man, I sold two million ringtones last year. I’m in the group so and so, and we had so and so,” and I’d be like I don’t even know you. I don’t even know what you look like. The fact that you sold two million ringtones and had one of the biggest songs of the year and I don’t know what you look like… that’s a problem. If you’re that person, you’re the fourth man in the group and you had the biggest hit on the radio and you can still go to the mall and nobody knows you, that’s bad.
AB: Was that a Pretty Ricky reference?
Skillz: (laughs) Aw man, that statement could go to so many groups. I could go down the line and that’s sad.
AB: You could do a song like that like you did with “Ghostwriter.”
Skillz: Yeah. I want to do a song called “Same Bus” where I just talk about a whole bunch of rappers and they’re all on the same bus, like they’re all on tour together, and it really makes you think about how a lot of these dudes are alike but their images portray something different. “Same Bus.” Quote that, that’s coming, next album.
AB: Awesome. Now I can’t let you go without getting your thoughts on the election. What are your feelings on what we have brewing for November?
Skillz: I’m a little scared. I’m scared of the future. I don’t want to sound crazy, but I’m just not sold on all of it yet. I just don’t believe that this country is the type of place where that kind of change, positive change for the people by the people, can really happen. But I do know when Clinton was in office it was all good… well, it was better. It wasn’t all good, but all we had to worry about was him getting some head, gas wasn’t eight dollars a gallon.
AB: So you’re cautiously optimistic.
Skillz: Cautiously. Everybody should be that way to some degree.
“It’s actually 5,000 degrees at this point, but it’s not as hot as my album’s gonna be.”
AB: Is there anything you’d like to add while I have you on the phone and it’s 4,000 degrees?
Skillz: It’s actually 5,000 degrees at this point, but it’s not as hot as my album’s gonna be, so make sure you cop that album in July, Million Dollar Backpack. Look for me in a city near you. And in parting, man, keep it Hip-Hop or keep it the fuck away from me.