Skillz will go down in history as the first rapper to hi-jack an entire television network and win.
The veteran MC from Virginia released a “direct-to-web” version of BET’s popular rhyme “Cypher“replete with punchlines like “I’ll pull your card like Gambit/ Make it so easy a cave man can understand it…”
The couplets were punctuated with costume changes, a dramatic pause to apply chap stick (brrrr!) and finally a not so subtle whisper to the network’s honcho:
“Shout [to] BET and Debra Lee cuz she bossy/Next time you want some Skillz in your Cypher…call me”
Well it wasn’t a phone call but who uses those in the age of Twitter? BET ‘s Executive Vice President Stephen Hill immediately took to the social network and wrote, “Stunned :) @SkillzVa is OFFICIALLY in next year’s cypher! here’s why,” linking to the clip.
With more marketing saavy than your average rapper (or record executive for that matter) this is just the latest in a series of moves for the MC who has made his yearly “Wrap-Ups” and “True Hip-Hop Confessions” hip-hop staples. And the timing couldn’t be better. His next solo album, We Need More Skillz, is coming out on October 26th and his mixtape with DJ Jazzy Jeff and J. Period, Infamous Quotes is available for download now.
In this TheUrbanDaily.com exclusive we discuss the method to his madness and why exactly the world needs more Skillz.
TUD: What made you go out and create your won version of BET’s “Cypher”?
Skillz: When I did it, the goal was for [Stephen Hill] to see it. Either him or Debra Lee. I wanted them to see why I should have been in it. I think a lot of people might overlook me. I’ve always been under rated and that’s cool. And anytime something happens with me in my career people say “oh, that’s a good look for Skillz.” They don’t even expect it anymore.”Oh, Skillz’ joint on 106 and Park, he’s number 3!” They don’t even expect to see me in certain places but I’m always there. I’m not one of these new kids; I’m not Cali Swag or Roscoe Dash. But I’m not Melly Mel either. I’m somewhere right in the middle where I could still put out quality music and people will still appreciate it. Just when you start thinking that I don’t got it [I put out] a “Call Me Crazy” or “Owe Me For Real.” I’m from that era, that’s what I do. If I haven’t learned anything, I’ve learned how to create a buzz. Even if it’s not for a long time. I’ve learned how to create something and make you pay attention to it and the average person will say “damn, that’s a good ass idea.” If you think of anything major that I’ve been a part in the last few years, it was just a good idea. The “Wrap Ups”, the “Hip Hop Confessions,” when you listen to the mixtape you’ll get the idea behind that. I just have to have good ideas a lot more often than Drake. I’m not going to get the same accolades [as him]. I’m not going to stand in the peanut gallery and hate on Drake like “he got it easy.” I worked for this shit. But I know that if Drake comes into the radio station and does one drop with Funk Master Flex and he freestyles, I have to do a better freestyle and do a drop for every DJ there. That’s the only way I’m going to get recognized.
So are you going to take BET up on the offer?
Skillz: I definitely would not pass up a chance to be on television, on one of the biggest networks of our generation. I don’t take those kind of looks likely. Even if I would have been in the Cypher, I only got 16 bars to make this happen, to make everybody talk about me tomorrow. Don’t get me wrong, in my Cypher I went a little long because I could but I’m sure Stephen Hill would take me up on it. We’ve crossed paths a couple times. He knows who I am when he sees me but maybe he just didn’t make that connection. Through the power of Twitter I got him to pay attention. It worked.
I watched Common in the Cypher with Kanye and you spoofed it in yours. Do you think you’ll need a co-signer like that to get to a certain level?
S: Yeah, case in point, Pusha T. [He has] been nice. We are from the same school where we don’t care if we have to go over people’s heads. That’s the kind of rapper he is. Sometimes it takes the cosign. The attention span of our audience is real short, we tend to go “oh!” when there’s a cosign. A cosign is not what it used to be. Even a Jay-Z cosign is not what it used to be. This ain’t 1996. I remember when it was big shit when a rapper cosigned you. At this point, you still have to stand on your own two.
Your “True Hip-Hop Confessions” is one of my favorite shows on the ‘net. What made you decide to do that?
Hip Hop Confessions came about because I just thought it was a good idea. I felt that a lot of people in this game were scared to be honest, opinionated, we get on the red carpet and someone puts a mic in your face and says “How do you like that new Kanye West album?” You lie. You’re like “oh, it’s cool. I’m digging it. Kanye always comes with it.” We get that same f*cking answer every time. I just used him as an example. We got to a point where if you don’t like something, you’re hating. Or you are scared to say you don’t like something. I don’t like every rapper that there is. It has nothing to do with hate. I don’t think every basketball player is a good basketball player. The truth is, they are not. So I created something where people can be honest and try to make it so that it is not looked upon as hate. Once I figured out how to do that, “Hip Hop Confessions” was born. It has taken off. I got a couple episodes I’m waiting to unleash. I had a situation with MTV2 where they wanted to air it in small increments. There was no money in it. I had already realized that the internet was its own TV station in itself. It’s a good show. It’s a good idea. It’s my baby, my brainchild. And I have a lot of friends. I love it.
Have you ever heard something confessed that was too crazy to air?
Yeah. I got one right now. I’m still trying to edit around it and make it entertaining and not get him f*cked up in the streets. He called me the next day and said he had to do it over. When your safety is concerned, I understand it. I did something like that last week with a dot com. But I didn’t call them back. I saw the post. I guess the crazy shit didn’t post yet.
So why the title “We Need More Skillz”?
That’s the point I’m at right now. I feel like music is a little unbalanced. We need to demand more from our peers. A lot of people getaway with just making ignorant, dumbed down music. I’m not mad at that but I’m a little more thought provoking. I want to make hip-hop for people who appreciate good hip-hop music. Having skills is so far from what we are focusing on. It’s the perfect time. If that’s how you want your music and you feel how I feel, then the world does need more skills. Shout out to those who come in second place. They need more skills.
Ladies really seemed to love “Own Me For Real” and “Call Me Crazy” is another date night special. Is this a kinder, gentler Skillz?
Skillz: I’ve learned that n*ggas don’t buy records and the radio is catered toward women and I figured I’d try it out. On the last album I made “Own Me For Real.” That was something that I stumbled on. Bink! Already had the beat and the hook. I was like I’m just gonna hop in my bag and do a little Slick Rick flow and that was one of my biggest records. I still get hit on Facebook and Twitter about [that song] that’s when you know you have a good one. Expect those records. Every now and then I get a Tweet saying “Oh, Skillz is cute” so lemme see if I can get cuter! Cuz you know what, as long as you don’t disrespect women and you say what they’re feeling they’ll ride with you. They’ll buy the CD, come to the show, buy the t-shirt. N*ggas don’t do that. If it’s a couple chicks out there that like those records I’d be stupid not to make more.
Erykah Badu went off on Twitter and said that Hip Hop had become “cornball” music. Are we at a point of no return?
S: I don’t know if we could save it. I feel like the music is going to do what the people are doing. So if the people are not aware, it’s going to reflect in the music. People are out, incoherent, drunk and the music is going to reflect that. I’m not mad at what plays on the radio, I’m mad at what doesn’t play on the radio. But I don’t always have to go to the radio if I don’t want to hear my kind of music. People crying about their songs not being on the radio. If it was, that doesn’t mean sh*t. You still have to grind it out and make a lane for yourself. Early 90s, all we had was a radio. These kids have a zillion different avenues. [They have] Youtubes, MySpace, Facebooks, they have plenty of other ways. Just cause it isn’t on the radio doesn’t mean it isn’t good. There are two kinds of music: good music and bad music. I don’t categorize it in any other way.
Skillz “For Real (He Don’t Own Me)”