There are very few that can hold the title of being a legendary lyricist, but Virginia bred emcee Skillz (a.k.a. Mad Skillz) has proven not only can he hold the title on his own, but through many years of ghostwriting for some of the illest emcees in the game, as a co-conspirator.
Before Skillz was known for blessing fans with the long awaited year end wrap-ups, he was slaying emcees on the mic. Now over 20 years later, Skillz has transitioned into a new arena to dominate, the art of DJing. After successfully crossing over to where few artists have dared to go, Skillz has toured with Nicki Minaj and rocked some of the biggest parties in the world.
The Source had the chance to sit down with your favorite rapper’s favorite rapper to discuss his transition into DJing, Top 5 emcees and the art of trolling.
You traveled a lot over the past few years with DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Vinyl Destination series. Is it going to resume and are you guys planning on taking it to TV?
I stopped touring with Jeff a few years ago, but I was saying then that we need to look at taking this to TV, because I know they would have a place for it. Also I have to shout out Chris Schaffer for the phenomenal work he does. Looking at it, you would have thought we had a crew, but it was actually just one guy and that was Chris. He’s so dope though that he made it look like we had several.
Over the past few years you fully transitioned into DJing. How has that transition been and are you planning on releasing any compilations showcasing it?
Yes, definitely. As far as DJing the projects won’t be completely Hip Hop. I did Hip Hop as an artist but through DJing I’ve been able to see that a DJ shouldn’t just play one genre of music. I don’t know anyone who has just one genre of music in their iPod, so I am definitely going to test the waters as far as with the music I put out.
I follow you on Soundcloud and the last project you put out was the Backyard BBQ mixtape?
That was something that came about because Mr. Walt from The Beatminerz had asked me to do a mix for Beatminerz Radio. I did the first one and it was live or whatever but then I started thinking that the next one I should record live at a cookout. I actually took the approach as if I recorded myself DJing at my family’s cookout, I wanted [the mixtape] to be everything that I remember as a youngin’ to an adult happening. So I kinda wanted the CD to be a sound or a comfort for all of the things that could happen. But everything on there came from true stories like my uncles really got into a fight at a cook out.
I think if you grew up in the South, that’s most cookouts; if it’s not your uncles then it’s your aunts.
[Laughs] Yeah, exactly and people listen to that and be like ‘yo, this is crazy’, but the project was so fun to do.
It’s no secret that you have worked with almost everyone in the industry through ghostwriting. What are some of the things that shocked you about an artist without giving any names?
Just that some of them are real arrogant. Some were more arrogant than I expected them to be, but I never came across nothing that made me like ‘nah I’m not about to do this sh*t’. Never like that.
You recently were nominated for a Grammy for the song you did with Nicki Minaj. What was that like?
Just to be nominated for writing was amazing to me because I never got it as an artist when I was rapping as Mad Skillz, so to get it as a song writer and to be featured with such an amazing artist like Nicki Minaj on The Pinkprint is amazing. Honestly to me The Pinkprint for female rappers is like what The Blueprint was for the fellas.
How much of a hand did you have in the project, was it just that one song?
Yeah, it was me, Ester Dean and Rock City but we only did the hook. Nicki writes her own verses and she has no problem getting in the booth rapping. People don’t understand, Nicki’s a problem. I think male rappers get caught up in her beauty and the other things going on in her personal relationships but Nicki’s got bars, they just don’t want to give her props because she’s a female. Any joint she jump on with a man she goes for the jugular.
How was it working with Nicki Minaj because you also toured with her for a little bit in Europe?
It was dope. I was the opening act DJ, so I was the first artist the fans heard other than the house playlist. To be able to do arenas and get the crowd hyped up and warm is amazing. There’s people who have DJed their whole lives who haven’t had the chance to do arenas and I got to do it within less than two years. I wasn’t a stranger to being on those types of stages touring with [DJ Jazzy] Jeff, but never as a DJ. It was definitely an experience that let me know this is where I want to be, the transition from artist to writer to DJ wasn’t hard for me because I love music, I love presenting music.
I know you said you’ve retired, but what would it take to get one more lyrical album from Mad Skillz?
I don’t know man, I have to get the bug. The other day Black Thought sent me a song and I listened to it and I almost got the bug. Just to hear him going hard and hear him spitting, had me like ‘oh he’s so dope’. I started thinking about it but then I started writing another song for someone else, so yeah the bug didn’t stay long.
Would you say it’s not there because you still feel like you’re in the game flexing your lyrical muscle writing for others?
I would say technically it feels different. I don’t have that passion to create for myself. I’m cool on making another record because I’ve said a lot and I don’t know what else I can say as an artist. I’m cool.
Well we know that, because last year when you posted your bank receipt on Instagram showing you were a dollar short of a million..
[Laughs] I mean, I was tripping that day. I would never do that again. [chuckles] You know how you wanna act up on the ‘Gram sometimes. But naw, I won’t do that again, looking back it was like…you know how you do something and you look back like what was I thinking, that’s what it was.
Everyone knows you’re a sports fan. What are your thoughts on Kobe retiring?
To see that was surreal, like I was thinking he’d get like 20-25 [points] and I knew his team mates would pass him the ball every chance they got because it’s his last time touching the floor; but I didn’t think he was going to hit 60. I’m glad I got to see him go out like that because I didn’t want to look at his last season and the way the Lakers have been playing and see Kobe go out like that.
What about Stephen Curry being a robot?
I think Steph is busting like he is because he has a chip on his shoulder because people don’t want to give him credit. I have a homeboy who I was just talking about this with the other day and he was like ‘I’m just not impressed because the game is different and you can’t hard foul anymore. I get he’s the 3 point assassin, but it’s not the same’. And I had to tell him like this is a different regime, I wouldn’t wear a Steph Curry jersey because I watched Jordan but it’s kids who wouldn’t wear Jordan’s jersey but will wear Kobe’s because they had Kobe, they seen him in action. So trust me, years from now your kids and kids from all over will be wearing a Steph Curry jersey and they will get Steph shoes. I’m not saying he’s the greatest because he’s only two in and he’s gotta chase Mike, we all gotta chase Mike, but trust me it will happen. It’s almost like when you look at players back in the day, they were tall and skinny but then you look at the new school players like LeBron James and he looking 40 in the 12th grade. I mean he weighed 240, so you had people looking like, ‘how you going to stop him?’. We had never seen anything like LeBron, LeBron was a prodigy and just like that we’ve never seen anything like Steph.
If you had a chance to put together your “dream team” who would you choose?
I would have Allen Iverson as the point guard and Jordan as the two. I would have Scottie Pippen as the forward and I think I am the only person who thinks about Pippen because everyone wants to say Jordan, but Jordan with Pippen is a whole ‘nother Jordan. Center I would have either [Patrick] Ewing or Shaq, it’s a toss up on any given day. Finally I would add Karl Malone, “The Mailman,” because Karl was a grown man and he played like a grown man.
What do you think about Caitlyn Jenner winning ‘Woman of the Year’?
I mean, she’s not a woman. I think with this generation they have a problem separating reality from what they see on TV, meaning they think just because you’re on TV you’re a star. They don’t get that these are regular people with regular lives that happen to have cameras following them, but just because you’re on TV doesn’t mean you’re a star. There’s people on TV now that don’t memorize lines, they don’t add life to a scene, they don’t take me to another place, they are just on TV.
That’s why I am happy to see a reemergence of actual shows on TV, because it’s good to see actors acting.
Yes, at first people was up in arms about shows like Empire, Power and The Carmichael Show, but I was just happy to see Black people on TV acting. Like some of these people I have been following since early in their career so I know they can act and it’s good to see them shining. I am so sick of seeing people on TV just living, like give me a story line, give me a plot. If I see a show with at least one black person in the cast, I’m going to watch for a season and if you can get me with a cliff hanger or something I may even mess around and come back [laughs]. And if I see another Black woman, throw another drink in another Black woman’s face, I mean how many times is this sh*t going to work? Jesus Christ, and it’s the same reasoning too, ‘I heard you went to so and so and talked behind my back’, now she throwing the drink in her face. I can’t man.
What shows are you watching right now?
Walking Dead, The Carmichael Show and Quantico, the only reality show I’m watching is Swamp People because every episode I’m waiting for that “oh sh*t” moment.
When it comes to social media, your troll game and petty levels can be on Level Drake sometimes, which is hilarious.
[Laughs] I mean, am I petty though? I’m not the type of person that keeps my phone in my hand, let me just put that out there, but honestly I am only petty when I think it’s funny because I like to laugh. So anything that I think is funny and will make other people laugh then I’ll post it.
Now you’ve been in the game for over 20 years, how does it feel being a legend in Hip Hop?
It’s still surreal to me, like when people come up to me and ask me to sign their copies of my album I’m still in awe. Like when I’m home in VA people will come up to me and say, ‘you’re a legend’, but to me I’m just a regular cat out of VA that raps, Rakim and Run D.M.C, those are legends.
Which emcee right now do you think would actually challenge you lyrically?
Black Thought. Black Thought is one of the greatest and I think he’s one of those artists that won’t get the credit that he deserves until he quits and The Roots retire and it’s a wrap, then people will look back at what they did. Reason being is that most people look at him as the leader of a band, they don’t look at him like an emcee; but if there was anybody that I feel was born to be an emcee it’s him like I don’t think there was anything else he was born to do in this world. He’s that dope.
It’s no secret that you rep VA heavy, are you working with any artists in the area we should be on the look out for?
I wouldn’t say working with, but I am definitely aware of what’s going on in the city and some of the artists here, like there is this cat name Michael Millionz that I think is pretty dope. Nickelus F is doing his thing, there is this band called Butcher Brown and this female emcee named Miss Proper that’s pretty dope, so yeah man I keep my ear to the streets.
Last question, and they can be male or female, but who are your Top 5 emcees of any era?
Number one hands down the greatest rapper of all time to me, Rakim. My second is Big Daddy Kane, my third is KRS-One, my fourth is Ice Cube (because the way he transitioned from writing freestyles to writing songs to writing movies is inspiring) and the fifth would be Black Thought.