If you're into inventive beats and tight lyrics, you've undoubtedly heard of Skyzoo. A native of Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, he's propelled himself seamlessly into the heart of the hip hop scene, and he represents New York through and through. His mixtapes and albums have traveled the circuit and have garnered serious attention and outstanding reviews. Along with artists like Marco Polo, Sean Price, Kidz in the Hall, and Smif-N-Wessun, he's part of the New York-based Duck Down Records label, co-founded by Buckshot in 1995. I sat down with the MC to hear about jazz Sundays, flirting in China, and his new mixtape, "The Great Debater."
How did you and 9th Wonder get together?
We met in 2005 through a friend of mine, Chaundon, who had heard my music and introduced me to 9th as well as many others in North Carolina who he was working with. I was there doing some recording, and we kind of just clicked and started building this relationship with music, and beyond that into just being family.
What kind of doors did that open for you?
I wound up doing my album, Cloud 9 with him because of that initial meeting. We started doing records, and he'd give me beats. Cloud 9 was the EP that I did that got me recognition of people that would say, "Oh, who's that?"At the time, it was 2006 and no one knew who I was, but people wanted to listen because even though they didn't know me, they were new 9th Wonder beats that you had never heard before. It definitely brought the first bit of light toward my name.
What is your dream collaboration?
Any artist from New York who grew up in a certain era has a few names that are going to be the same no matter whose list you're looking at; Jay-Z, Nas, Mos Def. I'd have to say if it weren't any of them, it would definitely have to be Kanye.
Would you say those are your single biggest influences?
To an extent. I grew up in the 80s and 90s in Brooklyn, and when I look at what I call "the hip hop trinity" - Biggie, Jay-Z, and Nas - that was definitely a huge inspiration. I grew up a block away from Biggie knowing that I could make it, that it could happen for me because he had made it. Beyond that, a lot of jazz; anyone that knows me well knows that I'm big on Miles Davis, Coltrane, Horace Silver, and so many other different artists from 40s, 50s, and 60s jazz. Every Sunday, I play a different jazz record at my house and tweet about it. Only vinyls; I want that Bill Cosby jazz collection! As far as newer hip hop, Scarface, Andre 3000, Raekwon, and Mos Def are the most influential. I was always big on lyricism, and always big on storytelling.
Where have you toured and what was your best touring experience?
When I toured with Ghostface Killah, we did the northeast, southeast, and midwest, and when I toured with Raekwon we did the west coast. I toured with the Duck Down family as well and we did the whole east coast again. I've been to Canada numerous times, and I've also headlined in China, which was definitely my favorite.
You've been very busy lately; what present or future projects are you most excited about?
My mixtape, The Great Debater, came out in June, and it's doing extremely well; over 60,000 downloads in two months. I love the zone that I'm in and the direction that I'm going musically, but I've always had this direction: I've never let what others are doing musically dictate where I'm going. I have a cult following of Skyzoo fans, and these are people I've met on twitter, people coming to my shows. They support me all day and it's awesome that they're able to see some part of themselves in what I do.
Tell me about your upcoming album.
It's called A Dream Deferred. It's the follow up to The Salvation, and will be out sometime next year, but it's in the early stages; I put it on hold to do The Great Debater with !llmind, which was a perfect move because people went crazy, and they're calling it the best mixtape of the year.
What're your thoughts on hip hop now? What does the future hold?
Hip hop is obviously way different now from what it was when it began, which is good because you don't want anything to stay the same or become stagnant. We're in a good place now, though. For a moment, it was a little rocky, and you didn't know which way it was going to go, but I think the internet changed a lot of that. You could only get what was given to you on the radio or TV back then, and then the blogs started, and along with that came file sharing and links and social media, which made it an option to get your music elsewhere-which is not at all a knock to radio or TV, because I've had a lot of support from both of those vehicles. I've been on BET numerous times, and a week ago, they even debuted my new video "Atypical" as 'New Joint of the Day' on 106 & Park, and that's something that doesn't happen anymore for artists that do what I do; artists that don't have a major label behind them. Hip hop is in a dope place because of that.
What are the most important tracks you've ever recorded?
"Langston's Pen," which was, until I started working on The Great Debater mixtape, the dopest track I'd ever done, because it embodied so much in only a few minutes.
What's the best show you've ever been to?
There have been so many. Multiple Jay-Z shows, and several shows from Kanye's "Glow in the Dark" tour. Also, seeing Q-Tip at the Brooklyn Hip Hop Festival was great, because seeing what he is able to do at this point in his career is just amazing.
Do you have a favorite video that you've shot?
"Easy to Fly," directed by Court Dunn was great because Love Jones is a favorite movie of mine and the video was able to mirror that. "Langston's Pen," directed by Kenneth Price was also a favorite, just aesthetically. "My Interpretation," directed by Artemis Jenkins was shot in Baltimore, which is a second home for me, and the idea behind the video translated well into the final product.
What do you hope to accomplish with your albums, and what is the most important message that you want your music and lyrics to convey?
What I hope to do, beyond selling records, is to be able to withstand the kind of career that I want. I want my music especially, the lyrics, to be able to stand the test of time, and for people to be able to hold on to it forever. "The Salvation" dropped in 2009; every day, I get at least 20 tweets from people about the album, thanking me for what it did for them, and telling me that it changed or saved their lives. I've even had people tell me that their professors made them buy it for their class, and they had to dissect the album and explain what it meant for urban America.
Do you have any interesting fan stories?
I think the craziest fan story would be in China. I was on stage and the show was packed, and there was these girls in the front, winking and giving me the eye. When I came to the edge of the stage and talked to the audience, one of the girls untied my shoelace. I kept doing my thing on stage, but before I knew it, I'm back in the same spot, and she pulls the other shoelace. She's waving at me, and the security tried to take her away, but I made sure she got to stay. From what I understood, that's how you flirt in China, you pull someone's shoelace!
Beyond that, I get stopped in the street every single day, at least 5 times a day; Brooklyn, Manhattan, wherever. They'll take their iPod out and show me the album cover and say, "I'm literally listening to you right now!" I always welcome that. One thing that fans always tell me is how humble and down to earth I am despite what I've done musically, and I take pride in that. When I've met so many of my favorites, they were that way. When I met Jay in 2002, he was like that, and I took that with me forever. That's how you gotta be.
Anything that you want to tell Prefix readers?
Good looks on the love and support, as always. I appreciate it.
Anything that I write about is what I really live and what I really do. It's not fabricated to be excited, depressing, or anything else, it's just what it is. It's part of my life and a part of who I am. I take lyricism very personally, and my goal is just to continue to be as prolific with my writing as possible and raise the bar for myself. I want what I write today to be better than yesterday, because if it's not, I should have stopped yesterday.
Photo Credit: Hannah Mattix