In 2006 Skillz was nominated “Most Likely To Embarrass Your Favorite Rapper.” Ok, that isn’t true but the Virginia MC should have been. Since the 1990’s the rapper formerly known as 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 on “Ghostwriter” 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 released 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.
UD: 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?
S: 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. Shit 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.
UD: Who did the beat for yours?
S: 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.
UD: You gotta be careful in Philly these days, cops is wylin’.
S: 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?”
UD: 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?
S: [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, Norwich 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.
UD: 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.
S: It was definitely a situation where rappers were using the beef card to get noticed, to keep their names in the barbershops 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.
UD: To that point, do you feel you’ve picked a couple fights yourself, particularly with Eminem? Kinda goading him a little bit?
S: 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.
UD: When he dissed Jermaine Dupri?
S: Nah. Jermaine Dupri and I ain’t friends at all. He said something about Will.
UD: Will Smith?
S: 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 fuck is going to meet the Fresh Prince and be cocky? We all wanted to be the Fresh Prince. What nigga wouldn’t want the career the Fresh Prince has had? What nigga 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 fuck him and fuck you too,” I was like, nah, B. Not after you was just down there in the studio! I ain’t appreciate that.
UD: What’s funny is that Bow Wow had said some stuff in interviews saying Will Smith was corny. But I 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.
S: You know what makes this so sad and so disheartening? I remember everything these dumb fucking 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 shit 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 shit back in the day, real talk! I think they be forgetting their shit. 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 fuck is selling 5 million records now? And this is in ’91! And motherfuckas are like, “I don’t write my rhymes, I just go in, I don’t even write shit down.” And I’m listening to your record like, I can tell you don’t write shit down.
UD: They’d come up with more songs like “Imagine.”
S: 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. 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 motherfuckers at the club, like…there was one nigga like, “Fam! I’m listening to that shit and the whole time you got me. I’m sitting here like, fam, how could this nigga do this and then confess to it? This nigga just confessed to a murder at a hip hop show!” I was like, “Dog, I made that whole shit up, I was lying!” He was like, “You a bad motherfucker, B.” If niggas 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 fucking videos. Ain’t going to be no Rita G, ya mean? No Gloria Velez, put your baby mom in the video!
UD: You wouldn’t be splashing champagne on your baby mom.
S: Exactly! And we going to be looking at you like, goddamn, you married her?
Niggas is living a façade, it’s time for niggas to be honest. Fuck being honest with the people, be honest with yourself.
UD: Lastly, 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.