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Upper Echelon: Interview With Skyzoo

Quality. Consistency. Hip-hop. The name Skyzoo may be one you’ve heard spoken in many circles over the years — and rightfully so. While only momentarily popping his head into the mainstream, this lyricist’s lyricist and notorious ghostwriter has managed to tour the world, drop seven LPs — five of which have charted — and work with A-list celebrities and musicians, from John Legend to Spike Lee. One of the things I’ve always loved about him is his ear for beats. He works with a very specific circle on his solo projects, and has also branched off and worked exclusively with a handful of them on more focused output, like !llmind, 9th Wonder, and — most recently — Apollo Brown.

What keeps Skyzoo focused? “For me, it’s just making music that I’m proud of; [music] that when I look back on it — whether I look back on it tomorrow or five or ten years from now — I’m still proud of it,” he says without hesitation. It’s this pride in his work that resonates with listeners who have been following the BK rhymer since The Salvation dropped. His upcoming LP, The Easy Truth is no different. A collaboration with Apollo Brown, who most recently collaborated with west coast artist Ras Kass, the project is one he’s particularly proud of; “Everything worked out perfectly [with this album].”

While one set of the video for the project’s lead single “Couple A Dollars,” featuring Joell Ortiz, Skyzoo took some time out to chat with us about his career, how The Easy Truth stacks up to his other albums, and much more.
Check out the interview after the jump! BK stand up!

What keeps you making music that’s so true to hip hop and so underground? What’s your inspiration?

For me, it’s just about being able to make the music that I can be proud of no matter how far along the clock is. I always want to be able to look in the mirror and be proud of what I made. I never want to have those moments where I look back and say, ‘Dang. I did that. I’ve got to take that on the chin.’ I never want to do that.

Has there ever been pressure for you to conform or change your sound at all?

I think there’s pressure for all artists, especially in the beginning when you’re trying to get your foot in the door. It becomes, ‘Well you know if you just did this, it could go this way, or that way,’ and I think that all artists, myself included, go through that. But I’m one to march to the beat of my own drum because I’ve always been a leader, not a follower. My entire life — even as a kid — I’ve always been the leader of the pack. So I’m going to do what I want to do, and what I feel makes sense to me regardless; whether right or wrong I’ll live with the decisions I make and be able to say, ‘You know what, I did that because it was me. I can accept that; I can respect that, I can take that because it was me.’

So there’s been pressure at times. There’s no pressure now – I think as artists you may put pressure on yourself, because you may turn on the TV or radio, or open up a magazine, and want to be in a certain position, but I’ve been in all those positions, and still am. I’m cool. I’m ‘underground’, but I ghostwrite for some of the biggest artists on the radio, so I’m cool. I’ve got all those mainstream guys that everybody’s going to at MSG and Staples or whatever to perform, those guys are on my phone. I’m respected by all those guys — it’s a blessing to be able to say that. I’m respected and revered and loved by all those guys, and I help a lot of those guys out when it comes to music.

So right now you’re shooting a video, and it’s the first single off of The Easy Truth. On your Facebook, I know you said you went to Detroit and made some songs, but you didn’t give a lot of details, so how did it originally come about?

Well, the way it all came together, Apollo Brown and myself have been real cool for years. We probably met around ’07 or something, and we’ve been cool for years in the industry. You know when you get in the industry, it’s like going to work every day, you make work friends. So we became real cool and real tight, and toured together back in 2014, and we’ve done records together. He has songs with my friends, he had a song with Barrel Brothers, so we had done work together, but here and there, and the fans seeing that wanted more than that. So to get to the base of the question, it started on Twitter, because after all those little things I mentioned, the fans on Twitter were like, ‘You guys gotta do a whole joint, a whole project for real.’

And the tweets got so loud, like ‘Apollo Brown, you gotta do a whole album with Skyzoo’, and vice verse and Apollo Brown texted me one day and said, ‘I know you see these tweets. We might have to do this.’ So I said, ‘You know what, you right. We’re both fans of each other’s music, let’s put the time aside and do it,’ and that’s how it came about.

One thing I think is cool about you too is, you’re really into collaboration albums. Aside from your projects, like you worked with 9th Wonder – so what’s next? Do you have an on running list of producers or artist that you’re interested in doing an entire project with?

There are definitely producers that I still want to work with, and it sounds weird, because I’ve been fortunate enough to work with so many great producers. But, there’s always somebody who’s super dope who I haven’t had the chance to work with, or even if I worked with them, I haven’t done a whole project, yet. I don’t know who would be next, because I’m not super focused on that at the moment, I’m excited about The Easy Truth; however, with me doing those types of projects, it’s always to do something in between solo albums coming out, and I’m big on having a project come out every year. We live in a space where you’ve got to stay active and be in people’s minds, whether you’re mainstream, underground, or in between like me.

Whatever it may be, you’ve got to be active, and I’m into putting out a project every year. I don’t want to put out a solo album every year, because if I do that, I feel like the whole story I’m telling as far as the duration of my catalog, may seem rushed or watered, so I find ways to do things in between. So if I put out Salvation in 2009, then in 2010 I’ll put out Live from the Tape Deck with !llmind. If I put out a mixtape after that, then I’ll put out A Dream Deferred. If I put out an EP after that, then I’ll put out Music for My Friends. That’s just that it is for me, and this is another piece in the catalog, but the good thing about when I take that approach, it doesn’t alter or change the quality.

Some people say, ‘Oh, Imma just throw this project together really quick and keep it moving.’ I don’t believe in that at all, because I know everything that’s put out, it’s going to last forever.

Recently you did a project for Reasonable Doubt, and you did “Friend Or Foe Part 3.” Do you want to talk a little bit about that, how it came about, and being from Brooklyn, maybe how important Jay-Z is to you as an artist?

Well just starting with that, Jay-Z is top two for me of all time, easily top five as far as MCs. My favourite MCs ever are Jay-Z and Mos Def, neck and neck regarding how strongly I feel about them. For me to sit here and not say that Jay-Z inspired me would be a bold faced lie. Jay-Z has inspired me tremendously as an MC, as a writer, the way I approach songs and music, not trying to be like him, but learning from what he’s put out there. Just like playing ball, Kobe learned from Mike, it’s just like playing ball, LeBron learned from Mike, it’s the same thing.

I grew up a Jay fan and still am, even being in the industry, so with all of that, the influence, and him carrying the baton for Brooklyn, and being all that, definitely means a ton to me. As far as the song, Genius came up with the idea 100%. I never thought about it; I never had any intentions of redoing “Friend or Foe.” They were like, ‘We got this idea, and we don’t know too many people who could pull this off, but you can. What would you think about Friend or Foe Part 3., you’re the son of the guy who got killed in “Friend or Foe Part 2.”

I loved it, but my big thing was, I didn’t want people to think it was coming off as a Jay-Z diss. So, as a writer, I had to blatantly make sure I was not Skyzoo in the record. I had to point out all these vast differences, the kid is 20 years old, I’m far from 20, I’m 33, the kid is from Compton, I’m from St. James, so it was all these different things that I had to make sure I pointed out in the song, so people could say, ‘He’s not rapping as Skyzoo.’ It was a ton of fun, it was a blast, and I was curious to see what the response was going to be, if people were going to catch it, or be like ‘Yo, Skyzoo is dissing Jay-Z’, but 100% across the board, everybody caught it. They were like, ‘This is amazing, this is creative, this is super dope, nobody’s doing this type of stuff no more.’

What are your thoughts on some of the new cats that care coming up and the new sound in hip hop?

I think we’re in a climate where if you don’t like what’s going on over here, you can just go across the street and get what’s over there. It’s a lot of that. With the internet you can go online – you can listen to the radio, or turn off the radio and go online and find more than what’s on the radio. So I think overall, the climate is dope because they’re so many options, not because, necessarily what’s mainstream or being pumped out there has changed for the better. Some of it has, but it’s really about the fact that there’s so much music to pick from, you can find something that’s dope. There’s tons of it.

When it comes to not writing your rhymes, what’s your thoughts on that? Like the whole Drizzy not writing his raps? There’re two schools of thought, because for one, it’s lucrative for people to not write their shit for you…

For me, yeah.

What do you think about it, though?

Well for me, like I said I’m a ghostwriter, I write raps for other people all the time. So, on one hand, I love it, that’s more business for me, but on the other hand I think what people misconstrued with the whole situation is, some of the earliest hip-hop records, the first hip-hop record, Rapper’s Delight, was written by somebody else. So it’s a tricky thing, because there’s nothing wrong with having a ghostwriter. I think the confusion comes in with the fans where they’re made to believe that say ‘artist X’ is believed to be an amazing MC and lyricist, genre changer, somebody to carry the flag and change the culture, and is going to be one of the greatest ever; when you find out that guy doesn’t write, that’s when it’s a problem.

The fact that guys like Diddy, Timberland, different people like that don’t write, people don’t have a problem with that, because they don’t look to those guys to be all-time great lyricists, they look to them for great records. They look to those guys for all the things they’ve done throughout their careers as far as their catalog, music that stood the test of time. You don’t look at Timberland or some of these people and say, ‘He’s one of the greatest lyricists ever.’ So the fact that they don’t write, it’s okay, nobody cares, it’s enjoying the music.
But when you have artists who promote themselves as one of the best, the greatest ever, top ten/top five at the moment, those guys are supposed to be able to write, so when you find out they don’t write, that’s when the alarms go off, that’s the part that the people on the outside looking in didn’t really understand. When you find out Santa Claus isn’t real, it’s like ‘wow’, and I think that’s what it comes down to.

Here’s a question that might be hard for you. If I said, ‘Skyzoo, could you stack your projects into your top three projects’ what would you say?

That’s incredibly tough. Music for my Friends is one of the three, The Easy Truth is up there, I’m excited about it, Salvation for sure, and Theo vs. JJ was such a favorite moment of mine, Ode to Reasonable doubt, and I’ve already hit five, I’ve broken through the ceiling. As far as my solo efforts, Music for my Friends resonated with me so much, because it was exactly how I saw it. I don’t put a project out unless it’s what I want it to be, but with this one, I just envisioned being 13/14 years old, and how I would tell these stories from that place, while not being that age. I feel like for me personally, what I saw for myself, I hit it right on the mark. Salvation is the first one, and it tipped my whole life. Theo vs. JJ – it’s tough to answer that question well.

Is The Easy Truth one of your best projects? You happy about it? Excited?

Yeah. Everything worked out perfectly with it, and the good thing about being able to collab is a meeting of the minds. If it’s someone you don’t know, people can tell, but if it’s someone who you love and respect their music –and you already have a relationship — it’s easier for those minds to meet, and the vision to come across right.

Riley About Author

Riley here — father, artist, videographer, professional writer and SERIOUS hip-hop head. I'm a member of the Universal Zulu Nation, and I think everything is better on vinyl. Add me on Twitter! @specialdesigns