Skillz: The Will of a Ghostwriter

Skillz stops suddenly mid-sentence, glancing out of the corner of his eye. “He’s like, ‘You ever heard of Big L?’” he finally says, breaking the silence—almost with a giddy curiosity—from the other side of the table at Virgil’s BBQ in Times Square. He’s been eavesdropping intently on a fellow patron’s conversation. Seconds later, he’s turned […]

Skillz stops suddenly mid-sentence, glancing out of the corner of his eye. “He’s like, ‘You ever heard of Big L?’” he finally says, breaking the silence—almost with a giddy curiosity—from the other side of the table at Virgil’s BBQ in Times Square. He’s been eavesdropping intently on a fellow patron’s conversation. Seconds later, he’s turned his attention from his love of the punchline to discussing the importance of L in contemporary Hip-Hop.

It’d be easy to label Skillz scatterbrained, but you get the sense that the next big idea could strike him at any moment. Acclaimed for his ghostwriting skills, he never stops watching everything around him for a second—finding humor in everything from the Ellen DeGeneres look-a-like tending tables at the finger-lickin’ good barbeque joint to his sudden discovery of a dope graffiti tag name that he’s mapping out on the tabletop. Unconventional thinking, witty comebacks, and the ability to transfer that into real life—it’s all a part of what makes Skillz, “your favorite rapper’s favorite rapper.”

When he’s six feet under though, Skillz wants you to know that he’s about more than just penning the next smash record for one of your favorites. He just launched a movie entertainment company and starred in his own flick, can’t stand those damn “Ghostwriter” questions, and credits Will Smith with changing his outlook on life. Oh, and the yearly “Rap Up” is a wrap—for now, at least, unless a certain comedian wants to take a jab at it with Skillz’ assistance. Until then, pull out your wet napkin and a plate of ribs. It’s time for the Virginia native to get down with some down South cookin’. If somebody was to ask you what your profession is—what’s your occupation—what would you tell them?

Skillz: Writer. Writer? First and foremost…?

Skillz: That’s where it all came from. All the rapping, you know, freestyling, ghostwriting, it all came from writing. I put that on my, like, on my card when I go overseas and s**t. Occupation? I put writer. That’s what I would say. Right now, I know you’re doing the movie thing, album, and everything. All that stems just from writing?

Skillz: It all started from writing. Like, when I was in school, I was real big in my English class, just with vocabulary, you know what I’m saying? I was never really lazy in English. I loved that class. I was never really lazy when it came to English. Everything else I hated, you know what I mean? You liked writing papers or reading?

Skillz: I liked speaking in front of the class. I liked all of it. Really?

Skillz: Yeah, essays, all that s**t. I was real good at everything. Naturally, you’re going to get into it.

Skillz: Yeah, I still do so…And that just turned into this. I’ve always had a passion for Hip-Hop, just in general. I’ve done anything in Hip-Hop. I just happen to be good—good, good—at rapping. I did DJ’ing, break-dancing. I sucked as a graffiti artist! You tried it though?

Skillz: Yeah, I can throw a tag on a piece of paper but, for the most part? A graf artist? I sucked! What was your tag? “Skillz”?

Skillz: [laughs] I mean, everybody had a dumb rap name and a dumb DJ name, so I mean, I had them all. So my dumb tag name was “Devious 145.” I had it on a jacket and everything! [laughs] You had it on a jacket?

Skillz: I had it on a jean jacket, and then when I realized that I wasn’t good enough to put it on my own jean jacket—I had to get somebody else to do it—I might want to give up graffiti. What did that stand for?

Skillz: I don’t know. I just knew you had to have a cool name and a number behind it. That’s all I knew. Nah, I just thought about it. A dope graffiti name would have been “Freeze Tag.” I wonder if anybody ever had a name called Freeze Tag. That would have been hot! Damn. See, how you think of s**t later? Why couldn’t I have come up with that name? I might have got some… I saw the video on your web site when you were on 106 & Park in September. What are your thoughts on the art of the punchline right now? Freestyle Fridays have really made punches a novelty and it seems like it would be hard for someone like you, who has thrived on punchlines and wordplay for so long, to see that happening to the technique.

Skillz: It’s like, that’s the school of Hip-Hop I come from…A good punchline will never go out of style. That’s all you need. But a good punchline let’s you know where that person’s mind frame is—what they know, what they’re aware of. Like, Jay-Z could say a punchline and I could say a punchline, damn near in the same vein, and it means two totally different things, because his listener is like, “Damn, I would think Hov was too busy. I ain’t even know he would know about that s**t.” Me, on the other hand, I’m expected to know it. Somebody might tell me, “Yeah, that sounds real Hov-ish. That sounds real Jay-Z-ish.” But he’s also the type of guy who understands wordplay, too. “I tried to rhyme like Common Sense, I sold five mill, and I ain’t rhymed since Common since”] That was crazy, ‘cause it was so true!

[Skillz staring at another table] Everything all right?

Skillz: [The guy sitting over there is ]like, “You ever heard of Big L?” [laughs] I admired him. He was the type of rapper that—totally off the subject, talking about Big L because we were just talking about Jay-Z—he was the type of rapper that was respected as a lyricist. He hadn’t sold no records yet but a n***a like Jay-Z would listen to Big L. You wouldn’t hear Big L on your radio spittin’ and go to another station. You would stay there. These rap cats? Some of them don’t really want to or try not to pay attention to you because they feel like you’re not on their radar. But they have to keep their ear to you because you’re in the streets. You know what cats is flipping out about. I just saw Jermaine Dupri in line at the VH1 Hip-Hop Honors s**t and he looked at me like, “Huh?” He looked at me like,

“What’s this n***a doing here?” because he don’t really like me. JD doesn’t like you? Why not?

Skillz: Nah! ‘Cause of the “Rap Up!” And I just spoke to him like, “What up, playboy?” I’m so f**kin’ over the top! Like, “What’s going on?” We probably will end up sitting right beside each other tonight. Do you catch a lot of heat like that off those “Rap Up” songs?

Skillz: Never! ‘Cause they don’t want you to say something next year?

Skillz: Exactly. [laughs] See, what’s so funny is that I don’t plan on doing another one. I swear to God. They’re getting boring to me, and they’ll never be as good as the first one. It’s like sequels. Soon as I hop out of the cab, Hammerstein Ballroom, one security guy is going, “Yo, it’s mad s**t to talk about this year, son. You got Katrina, this, that, and the third.” But it’s never…I mean, sometimes it’s the people but then sometimes it’s my industry people. Like ?uestlove will call me as soon as something happens. “Yo, I know you’re gonna put Janet in your “Rap Up,” right?” I’m like, “Amir, it’s Super Bowl, n***a. It’s like January. I’m not thinking about the “Rap Up.” They’re still playing the old one.” Okay. So as of now, no “Rap Up” this year?

Skillz: [shakes heads] No “Rap Up?”

Skillz: Unless if like…I told ?uestlove I wasn’t making one last year unless he did the beat for it. It’s a lot to talk about though. The hurricane, George Bush…alright, I’m gonna stop now before I start writing the s**t down. [laughs] Does every interview you do still include that question…?

Skillz: “Can you reveal the names to “Ghostwriter”?” I could, but why? I always say that’s my light bill record. I still got the masters to it. If I need to pay my light bill, I’ll put that s**t out. [laughs] You should put it in your will or something.

Skillz: It is. Wait, “Ghostwriter” is in your will?

Skillz: Yeah! Seriously. Do you seriously got it in your will to like leave it to somebody?

Skillz: My daughter. I don’t know. She might be able to put that s**t on eBay. I have an unedited version. Maybe some other rapper’s kid will want it. “I wonder if my daddy’s name is in this?’ Or, my mommy for that matter.” So let’s backtrack for a second. From Where? was ten years ago, right?

Skillz: ’96. I came out on the worst day in SoundScan history. I came out the same day as the Fugees and All Eyez on Me. I was a wrap! Only thing that was good about that was I was in the stores. I had no promotion and I’m going up against the Fugees and a guy that just got out of jail? Crazy! Well, you’re riding with Koch in the ’06, right?

Skillz: Album will be out first quarter of next year. Koch Records/Big Kidz Entertainment. Any title?

Skillz: I don’t know yet, man. Are you working on it now?

Skillz: Yeah, yeah, I’m like maybe six tracks in. I ain’t deep at all. [If you make beats], send joints, man. The party’s never over. I’m always looking for new cats. It’s a movement. It’s so much bigger than that. Peace out, b*tches!