Skillz
I’m The Dopest

skillz1.jpgOver the course of the past decade, Michigan born, Virginia bred Skillz (formerly known as Mad Skillz) has claimed to have penned hits for the likes of P. Diddy, Jermaine Dupri, Foxy Brown and Ma$e. His ghostwriting escapades were chronicled on the Timbaland-produced “Ghostwriter” in 2000 and gave fans a glimpse into the taboo practice that Skillz helped popularize. Despite his uncanny ability to craft hits for his peers, Skillz has been hard pressed to work the same magic on his own career. Inking his first deal with Big Beat/Atlantic Records in 1995, Skillz dropped his debut, From Where???, later that same year. While hailed by critics for its creativity, the LP was met with little fanfare. As a result, Skillz asked to be released from the label and went on to form the Supafriendz, a collection of VA rappers that included Danja Mowf, Lonnie B. and Patrice O’Neal. The crew appeared on the remix of Aaliyah’s 1998 mega-hit, “Are You That Somebody,” and put out The 804 Compilation two years later. After an appearance on Rawkus Records’ 1999 project, Soundbombing, Vol. 2, Skillz signed to the indie label and prepped for the release of his sophomore album, I Ain’t Mad No More. The project, however, got lost in the shuffle when Interscope/Geffen Records purchased Rawkus in ’02. Skillz went on to focus on his ghostwriting, while also releasing his annual end of the year “Rap Up,” where he lyrical chronicled everything that happened in hip-hop each year. After putting out the commercially ignored Confessions of a Ghostwriter (Sure Shot Recordings) in 2005, Skillz is set to give it one more shot with his new album, Million Dollar Backpack, set for release this fall on Koch Records. XXLMag.com talks with the underrated lyricist about his new LP, ghostwriting and the stigma of being the “Rap Up” guy.

You’ve been a in the game for years and have a new album on the horizon. How do you feel about your position in the game today?
I’m cool, man. It’s just swimming in this cesspool called music. I’ma fan like anybody else, but when I see some of this shit that makes it across the board, I get upset as anybody else would.

Anything in particular that’s pissing you off?
The music, the industry, everything about it. Eighty percent of music just sucks. The music is so bad and it seems like it’s getting worse. And when you don’t think there’s a song that can be dumber than the last song, you’re proven wrong.

Who do you point the finger at?
I think there’s a real problem with microwave artists. A lot of these artists have a shelf life of six months to a year, tops. Then you never hear from these dudes again. I mean, that’s a good thing, but then again, that’s bad. I feel bad for certain artists who’ve been struggling for a long time. There’s no more artist development.

Does it hurt to see less talented artists make it before you do?
Don’t get me wrong; I’m never bitter about a young Black man being successful. I just know they’re not paying attention to the pitfalls they should be aware of. This game is crazy. It’s like there’s two worlds now—the real world and online. People care so much about how much so-and-so [sold in their] first week. I remember a time when nobody cared about that. Just because you didn’t have a good first week doesn’t mean you’re not gonna have a successful career. Look at Jill Scott. She sold 7,000 records her first week and then went on to sell a million. Information is definitely fucking these kids up, man. I used to care what they said online. I used to read something like, “Skillz is washed up, he’s nothing but a ‘Rap Up’ dude.” Then I realized that I was arguing with a 14-year-old from Arkansas and it made no sense.

Do you feel doing the yearly “Rap Up” records pigeonholed you with new fans as just being the “Rap Up guy?”
People will say, “The only time you hear from this dude is once a year,” but that’s not the case. I do make songs in between each year, they just don’t get as much plays as the “Rap Up.” Like [my new] song with Freeway, “Don’t Act Like You Don’t Know;” that’s a banger but it doesn’t make it to the Howard Stern show. I can make a song about the state of hip-hop and the state of the world, and it would be a really informative record, but it’s not going to make it to Wendy Williams.

Do you plan to stop doing the “Rap Up” songs?
I don’t mind being the “Rap Up” guy. I used to think I didn’t want to be. I was like, “I don’t want to do that shit anymore. I don’t want to be 50-years-old in Vegas doing “Rap Ups.” But my man was like, “Who else is going to be 50-years-old in Vegas rapping?” So I’m thinking maybe it’s not that bad. Maybe having something of my own that people only accept from me… that’s damn near unheard of in hip-hop. So as long as people continue to do dumb shit and as long as people continue to listen to the songs, [then] I’ma try to make a better one every year. I’ve realized some years are not as good as the years prior, but if people want to hear it, who am I not to give it to them? That’s supply and demand. I never really thought I would still be doing them, but I love it.

Have you ever thought of just giving up rap altogether?
It’s never made me think about leaving [hip-hop] for good. I love what I do. I loved this when it didn’t pay and I loved it when it did. I was always told to do something that you love. I’ve never been bitter about the game to the point where I wouldn’t want to be involved. I just try to focus on other hustles, like songwriting.

Do you have any industry horror tales or situations that made you question the authenticity of this hip-hop game?
This game sucks. I’ve had songs that I’ve written—[ones] that a couple artists might be interested in—so I go to the label to speak to the A&R who’s working on that [artist's] project. [I call him] like, “I got this song for so-and-so, I was with him in Atlanta last week, he liked it, [and] he’s talking about using it for the album. Let’s talk.” [Then he] calls me like, “I heard the song you wrote for so-and-so is crazy. I got a new artist, come in and play me some stuff.” So I take time out of my schedule to go to New York [and] LA to meet with these cats [and] they sit down and start playing me beats. Everybody has a side hustle, but you brought me here for a song that you heard from your artist and you’re sitting here playing me some beats from a dude that you manage in Brooklyn? [So the A&R] is like, “Take his beats and write some songs, and I’ll make sure they get placed.” I’m sitting here like, that’s not the way the business goes. If Clive Davis knew you were in here peddling your beats off to me, you wouldn’t have a job, nigga. It’s funny, man. The game is funny.

You’ve ghostwritten for the biggest names in the industry, such as P. Diddy, Foxy Brown, Ma$e and Jermaine Dupri. Do you feel like your ghostwriting has hindered your own career?
Nah, I feel like it’s balanced out because I’ve made a lot of connections that have turned into other opportunities from songwriting. I definitely don’t feel like it’s held me back. I know what I’m good at. I’m not good at crunk music. I’m not good at hyphy music. I’m not good at Baltimore club music. I make good hip-hop music for people that appreciate hip-hop music. That’s it.

What’s the status of your new album, Million Dollar Backpack?
Man, I’m in the 11th hour of that. I’m almost done. It’s hip-hop at its finest. I know this is a bold statement—this shit is gonna sound real crazy—but I believe I just made the album everybody wants to make. I just made the album that Jay-Z, Kanye [West] and Lil Wayne want to make. It’s that good. I’m bold enough to say that because I believe it. It took me three years to make this album and I’m still not done, so you can imagine how much material there is. I’m gonna have one of the best albums to drop this year and I don’t care what it sells.

  • http://www.djducats.com Dj Ducats

    Look forward to the album and we got your back up here Skillz. 1

  • http://www.xxlmag.com King Ben

    Skillz? Oh, the wrap up guy.

  • http://CROWNTOWNENT. ASA

    MIKE SHOREY THE HOTTEST R&B ARTIST OUT.

    MYSPACE/MIKESHOREYMUSIC

  • Holla

    Skillz is dope, don’t sleep. that new joint with freeway he got is hot.

  • Caine

    Niggas definitely need to cop dat shit. Skillz is a real nigga. Met dat nigga at one of dem And 1 games. Keep doin yo thang mane.

  • Chuck Norris

    -Due to his deep respect for the genre, Chuck Norris has never recorded a hardcore gansta rap album, because if he ever did record one, all the other rappers would look so soft by comparison.

    -50 Cent was shot nine times and survived. 50 Cent has been round-house kicked by Chuck Norris exactly zero times, and that is the only reason he survives.

    -Chuck Norris loves New York. Why else would it still be around?

    Chuck Norris’ calendar goes straight from March 31st to April 2nd; no one fools Chuck Norris.

    once, chuck norris defeated 3 ninjas, 9 pro wrestlers, and 11 green berets….

    all while having sex with 3 women
    Audacious gold chains – $300,000 Solid gold frohawk(r) comb – $11,000 Menacing steel toe capped stomping boots – $175 The look on Chuck Norris’ face when he gets pitied by Mr. T : Priceless

    Chuck Norris doesn’t believe in God, but God believes in Chuck Norris

    Chuck Norris has never? wears condoms, EVER, because there is NO such thing as protection from CHUCK NORRIS

    Chuck Norris doesn’t need to ask for your opinion, he beats it out of you! The grim reaper doesn’t say when it’s time to die, Chuck Norris does!

    Chuck Norris once ate three 72 oz. steaks in one hour. He spent the first 45 minutes having sex with his waitress.

    Time waits for no man. Unless that man is Chuck Norris

    chuck norris once saw himself in the mirror. he quickly round house kicked it. when asked why chuck replied “there can only be one CHUCK NORRIS”

    when Bruce Benner gets angry, he turns into the Hulk; when the Hulk gets angry, he turns into Chuck Norris

    When Chuck Norris’ wife burned the turkey one thanksgiving, Chuck said, “don’t worry about it honey,” and went into his backyard. He came back five minutes later with a live turkey, ate it whole, and when he threw it up a few seconds later it was fully cooked and came with cranberry sauce. When his wife asked him how he had done it, he gave her a roundhouse kick to the face and said, “Never question Chuck Norris

    Chuck Norris can eat a Rubik’s cube and shit it out solved

    If it looks like chicken, smells like chicken, and tastes like chicken, but Chuck Norris says its beef than its freaking beef If at first you don’t succeed, than you’re obviously not Chuck Norris Chuck Norris doesn’t read, he stares at the pages until they tell him the information he needs

    Chuck Norris ordered a Big Mac at Burger King, and got one.

    There are 2 kinds of people. Those who suck and Chuck Norris

    MC Hammer learned the hard way that Chuck Norris can, indeed, touch this

    Chuck Norris is the reason why Waldo is hiding

    The leading causes of death in the United States are: 1. Heart Disease 2. Chuck Norris 3. Cancer

    There is no theory of evolution. Just a list of animals Chuck Norris allows to live.

    Chuck Norris doesn’t wear a watch, HE decides what time it is.

    God wrote the 20 comandments,but chuck norris told him tocut it down to 10

    Chuck norris can kill 2 stones with 1 bird!

    Once while fighting Wolverine, Chuck lost a testical. It’s better known by it’s technical name. Jupiter

    How many licks does it take to get to the center of a tootsie pop? None. Chuck Norris just crunches them in between his ass cheeks

    Chuck Norris smoked 15 cartons a day for 2 years. He got 7 different cancers. He destroyed them all by using a Total Gym for 30 minutes. Take that, Lance

    Chuck Norris lost his viriginty before his dad did.

    Chuck Norris always kills n00bs that tell Chuck Norris jokes. Only Chuck Norris tells Chuck Norris jokes

    in a galaxy far, far away, there is no force, but only chuck norris

    Chuck Norris makes onions cry!

    Love doesn’t hurt, Chuck Norris does.

    It takes Chuck Norris 20 minutes to watch 60 minutes.

    jesus can walk on water.

    chuck norris can walk on jesus.

    : -Chuck Norris does not wear deodorant. No one has had the courage to tell him to start using it.

    -Chuck Norris knows what you did LAST summer.

    If you have $5 and Chuck Norris has $5, Chuck Norris has more money than you

    Chuck Norris has the greatest Poker-Face of all time. He won the 1983 World Series of Poker, despite holding only a Joker, a Get out of Jail Free Monopoloy card, a 2 of clubs, 7 of spades and a green #4 card from the game UNO.

    The Great Wall Of China was originally created to keep Chuck Norris out

    chuck norris went to the virgin islands now the’re just called the islands

    Chuck Norris uses every atlanta artists album covers as toilet paper

    Betta Ask Somebody Dont Yall Dont Know Bout Chuck Norris Dont Fuck Wit Texas

  • mr.martin

    chuck norris is a hermaphrodite

  • http://www.yahoo.com Streets Is Watchin

    “I’m going to have one of the best albums to drop this year and i don’t care what it sells” fuck yeah homie…oh yeah chuck norris is the fuckin man but quit hatin the atl and put me down for a total gym

  • Face Phoenix

    Skillz has always been talented but I really don’t think he’ll ever get the respect he deserves. He’s a great lyricist but that’s only a portion of the formula for success. The Voice, The Words, The Creativiity, The Flow and so much more will determine the success of an MC. I own “The Nod Factor” single from way back and I occasionally play it’s an UNDERGROUND classic but it’s was far from perfect and even Recently I copped “Hip Hop Is Dead?” which was cool but not exactly amazing (almost boring – the beat was way too mellow). I wish Skillz luck and a fair chance like Twista but it’s Highly unlikely he will. Still I wish him the best and hopes he pulls some strings to get some big name help – He’ll need It.

    PS – Skillz was right… the music coming out seems to get worse and worse. We need to send a message to these labels – if you want my money – I want some good music and maybe just maybe I and other people will stop downloading albums.

  • logic

    Peace to Mad Skillz I’ve been listening for years, and homeboy definitely can rhyme. Unfortunately, as he knows all to well, somehow being able to rhyme is not one of the top criteria as to what determines an artist’s success. The only time that rap listeners want to be challenged to think about lyrics is when they’re trying to decode come subliminal diss aimed at their favorite rapper. Other than that, you better be making up a new dance, or up in the club on some dubs with a bottle of bub, or selling somes birds while busting your gun (and mysteriously never going to jail). Other than that, your just a “backpack rapper” or trying to kick knowledge as JZ famously said refering to Nas, or reading to many books as 50 cent famously said also refering to Nas. Clearly comments like that, along with a general lack of reading and trying to obtain knowledge are part of reason why an artist like Skillz will never be more than just the Rap Up guy. Don’t get me wrong, if an old head is beating you down, trying to tell you that back in the day rap was all about trying to uplift the people he is lying to you. There was a lot more balance though and equal respect was givin to all types of rap as long as you had skillz. You had to step your rap game up no matter what you was talking about. Make these rappers step they game up.
    Good Luck Skillz

  • Willie Dynamite

    Skillz is the truth, has been for some time now. He put VA on the map. His Different Knid Of Hustler joint is bananas…maybe one of the truest records I’ve heard since Kanye’s Through the wire,I cant wait for The Million Dollar Backpack. Skillz= Hip Hop

  • kritiq

    yo Skillz I hope you ra about bloggers like Bol and Billy x and how lame they are in the 07 wrap up

    peace

  • Willie Dynamite

    Skillz is hip hop. Dude is an amazing writer and damn near put VA on the hip hop map. 7 years later blogs and .coms are still talking about Ghostwriter. And the rap ups are entertaining as hell. He writes things on his myspace page that are very detailed and witty(myspace.com/skillz) and dude has an amazing live show. Im looking forward to The Million $ Backpack!! The songs I’ve heard up til now are worth checking for especially The joint wit Freeway!

  • Ryan

    I agree with Logic. People dumb down their shit for mass consumption and it’s left “hip hop” in bad shape.

  • ASherah

    Skillz is wack and has been completely delusional since he was on Big Beat in 1995. He literally and figuratively has a big ass head. He will never come above groung to gain any real fame or success!

    Peace and Hate

  • fireforreal

    I use to watch hammerman on saturday mornings.

  • Freddy(Vega$)

    Great Interview!! Skillz is very “skilled” but for some reason it dont translate to records sells, why?? cause most niggaz/white boys/essays want to relate to the phonies on the radio/video pretended to be BIG TIME when really there puppets rappin somthing Skillz wrote for them!! Yo Skillz if thats how you got to be succesfull in the game by ghostwriting then stick with that alot of dudes envy you, “if it aint broke dont fix it”…….CURTIS……

  • http://thecorpse.com Pronay

    Skillz gets hurt when 14-year-olds from Arkansas speak the truth and he gives up on a whole method of communication (internet) because he’s in denial.

    P.S. – That new song he has with Freeway is fire.

  • rastarook

    Skillz is what we need back in hip-hop…..lryicism…..this teeny bopper bull shit and corporate babylon is whats killin our art form….a so-so beat and flame lryics and delivery you got a sure fire hit….but babylon don’t want anytype of media(music, shows, movies, etc.) to make young black america start thinkin about what the fuck is goin on out in the world today…there scared of intellect….so instead of them pushin brothas like Nas or my man Skillz, the push for Mr. Pop Lock and Drop It Huey or A Bay Bay Hurracaine Chris….I have no problem with young black men gettin papa in they pockets, but there just mere pawns in a babylon’s chess game….

    Mad respect to black owned labels not gettin leeched by corporate babylon….

  • http://www.myspace.com/dlawonline D-Law

    Yo peace to Skillz! He definitely got skills and lyrics all day. He helped put VA on the map and he’s gonna bring back east coast hip-hop! I met Skillz he a real dude. He use to show up at the local Hip-Hop venues and show love to the locals acts. I respect that. I hope XXL gives him a good review and I hope his album sells.
    Good luck my dude! 2 Up 2 Down.
    D-Law
    The Monster from the Mid-Atlantic
    http://www.myspace.com/dlawonline

  • http://www.myspace.com/loelouis LOE LOUIS

    I EAT THIS NIGGA!

  • myspace/heavennhelldemdamntwins

    keep doin yo thangs skillz. hard work pays off and you definitly have put in work. one love.

  • Caine

    Chuck Norris Says:

    August 2nd, 2007 at 5:03 pm

    ^^ Aye, dat was some funny shit shawty. Yo got me in tears laughing so hard…

  • http://www.xxlmag.com RApId tOnGuE

    HEY YO, XXL MAGAZINE!!!I GOT AN IDEA THAT WILL MAKE YOUR MAGAZINE MORE INTERESTING!!YA’LL SHOULD HAVE AN ONLINE FREESTYLE BATTLES BETWEEN USERS AND PRINT THE BEST FREESTYLE ON YOUR MAGAZINE BY THE COMMENT SECTION!!!AFTERALL, XXL IS A HIP-HOP MAGAZINE!!MIGHT AS WELL SHOW SOME FREESTYLE TALENT ON THERE, RIGHT?

  • Soul Digga

    Mad Skillz is a real rap cat with flow and being born in the Dirty District is a plus.

  • BklynBandette

    I’m definitely interested in lending an ear to his new material.

  • http://www.myspace.com/kapatilla1 Kapatilla

    NO doubt that he is a great artist and that his album will be an excellent joint, I just think, in comparison to the last albumss he dropped, this may not be the join that Jay Z wants to mak… personally I put Jay albums back in the cd player and Skillz, I really don’t.
    Now the single HoTT joints I have put on to mixtapes, the get mad play. DSont get me wrong, I respectfully put this dude up there with the likes of Hova lyrically, I just wont anticipate a bangin whole album from Skillz until I Hear it.
    I hope it happens.

  • jonQ

    WE STILL REMEMBER YOUR DAYS IN RICHMOND, WORKING VCU PARKING DECKS WITH A PEN N’ PAD. YOUR DILIGENCE IS GOIN TO PAY OFF. stay real.peace from the city. jonq

  • http://www.myspace.com/129streetproductions smokie

    This is gonna be the sickest album of 08!!!!everyone cryin about misiing that real hip hop…….well this is gonna be it!!!!much respect to skillz for putting the “music” first!!!!!We got 1 track produced by us on this album and the tracks gonna be pure fire!!
    support real hip hop and holla at me if yall looking for production,much respect!!!

  • a_white_suburban_kid_who_actually_loves_hip-hop

    skillz is dope straight no question
    in fact i have this album (this comment is from 2009) i even have his man danja mowfs stuff and his first album i digitally downloaded confession of a ghost rider that stuff is crazy unnfortunately with all dumpster emcees out there real stuff like this gets overlooked.

    ps: 804 4ever

  • that va guy

    skillz ur the truth on the mic.i b in ohio preaching theses kats that this music is lacking lyrics in the music.hearing the same ol thang is really getting boring.but u keep doing what u do.im from southside richmond.im down wit ya !!!