The rapper Skillz has an interesting blog up over at Okayplayer.com, where he talks about his first time meeting Kanye and getting some tracks from him. The VA-bred rapper, by now most known for his year-end wrap-ups, writes,
He asked me what kind of shit was I looking for and I told him what I tell every producer …” I don’t know, I just know it when I hear it.” So he played like 20 beats and I only really liked four… [H]e burns the cd and we get ready to bounce and we’re walking to the door and he says my name ..
ye- Can I ask you a favor ,yo?
me- What up?
ye- If you decide to not use any of the beats please don’t rap over em and put em on a mixtape or nothing.
me- Oh! iiight
Ye- I’m for real
We leave and I ask Howie What was that all about. He explains that niggas just take shit and rap over it and put it out and that has been happening to him lately. I mean I did it with Aaliyah’s song and got pub so I knew exactly when he was talking about. He drops me off at the Time Hotel( with them small ass rooms) and I pop the cd in and listen to the beats again. I came up with a mean hook for one( I don’t have it anymore) wrote something to the last beat on the cd. I remember riding the train back to VA two days later and really wanting to track the song, or at least what I had written. And back in VA in the studio I played the cd and my homies asked who made the beats, I told em Kanye West but I probably wont use em. My man Irv was like ‘fuck that, we using them joints, lets lay something to it and give it to P Cutta. I took the cd out and changed the subject and started talking about the game the night before. I remembered the look in his eyes(Ye) when he asked me not to do that. I didn’t really know homie but he asked me and I told him I wouldn’t. I felt like if I did then I would be taking food from his mouth ya know?
I gotta hand it to Skillz, he did something most rappers in his position do not do, and that’s respect the producer and their work. In his blog entry, he references “H To The Izzo,” so I gotta figure this whole exchange took place some time around 2001-02. Kanye was definitely becoming more of a name-brand producer at the time, and also, around that time the mixtape scene was beginning to explode. Rappers were getting huge buzzes off mixtapes (Joe Budden and 50 Cent come to mind right off top, but there were a zillion others who got signed and never even came out). I can recall having artists in my studio, artists who somehow got their hands on beat CDs from producers like Alchemist, Emile, Buckwild, Rza… etc. Maybe they knew the producer, maybe someone at Def Jam gave them a CD that was floating around the office. Who knows. They would lay songs down to 2tracks, and before you knew it these songs ended up on mixtapes, and it would say Rapper X (produced by The Heatmakerz). For the artists, it was a great look. For the producers, they went unpaid on a sellable track that an artist was using to further his/her career.
Skillz probably had a lot to gain from recording and leaking a Kanye West track back then. We’re talking six years ago. The whole music game was a lot different. The name on the credits could actually make you hot at that time, maybe you’d even get a record deal.
Now, not so much. Maybe you’ll send it to Eskay and he’ll post it, you’ll get some buzz for an hour or two (a day at best), and then you’re left answering to Kanye how that track got out (if he even sees it).
Still, I think the whole aspect of artists leaking tracks is one of the reasons why producers don’t want to deal with rappers anymore. They’d rather deal with singer and songwriters, and even themselves, where their material isn’t apt to wind up on some random mixtape or floating around on a blog. It’s more controllable that way.
Maybe we all need a simple disclaimer like the one Kanye gave Skillz. I’ve had to dart around that mixtape thing a million times. I can’t remember how many beats I have that ended up on mixtapes. Sometimes it’s the same one beat that gets used like 50 times by 50 different rappers on 50 different mixtapes. It’d pretty ridiculous. You’re just like, fuck man, someone cut a check.
*** FYI- I have my own Skillz story. I met him back at the Mixtape Awards in January of 2004, at Club Speed. We traded info, told him I wanted to get him some tracks, and then followed up next day. We couldn’t link cause he was back in VA or something, and this was before gmail was the norm for sending tracks. Probably like 2 months later he hit me out of the blue like “Yo i’m in Philly for a couple hours, come thu if you want to play beats for me.” So I hopped in the car, drove the hour and a half to Philly with a CD that had like 20 beats on it. Met him at the studio, played the 20 joints. Like the Kanye story, he picked a few, but they were mostly soul-sample type tracks, and not really what he was looking for. We talked a little more, I left him with the CD, then hopped back in the car and drove back to New York the same night. I have no idea if he ever recorded anything to the beats, but hey, I’m no Kanye and they could be floating around on a Best of Skillz mixtape somewhere!