Skyzoo is that Hip Hop Renaissance man. He wants to do more with the music than what fans of the genre are accustomed to hearing and feeling. The talent and drive is there for him to grab an elite position among those garnering the air play, and it’s only a matter of time before the critically acclaimed 31-year-old from Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn grips a foothold in the game like he grasps microphones, and never lets go.
The lyricist signed to Duck Down has a jazz infused chill style that is not overbearing but one eliciting thoughts of places and spaces in time. It’s reminiscent of that late 90’s Rawkus sound where everyone enjoyed themselves but felt the responsible purpose in the music to pay it forward. It’s driving music; music that helps your career thrive music. Music when you’re home alone or in a party contemplating your next move music. It’s that music that gives you a kick despite that smooth style; that spur to advance to the next level in the game music. Coming off releasing An Ode to Reasonable Doubt with Antman Wonder – which is his interpretation of Jay Z’s 1996 classic without truly stepping on Hov’s toes -- his music is waiting on the listener to catch on. It’s like an indirect challenge for everything and everyone involved in the industry to move forward and transcend whatever develops within a person definition of Hip Hop. There’s nothing more he can really do musically to ascend to the heights he has etched out. At this point, it’s all about exposure. His next project, a collaborative effort with Torae entitled Barrel Brothers, is scheduled to drop this spring. Do yourself a favor if you haven’t already and discover the genius of Skyzoo.
TSL: Why Hip Hop?
Skyzoo: “Hip Hop runs the world. Hands down. I started rhyming when I was nine – literally – as far as the early stages in the craft – you know chopping and figuring out who I wanted to be -- like a kid shooting his first jumper, I shot mine when I was nine and began rhyming. I grew up in the Stuy, but my Pops was from Flatbush. He wanted me to go to school in Chelsea and Sojo to get another view of things and rub shoulders with different types of people. Black art was all over the crib. Pops did it right. Going to school and hanging in Manhattan with kids who grew up in condos and lofts 30 floors up to see more of what live had to offer. The classes I took and everything I experienced gave me a sense of both worlds. From then, I’ve just been on it every day. It’s all I wanted to do. When I got older, I figured out how to turn it into a career; how to turn it into a life; how to turn it into something I could live off from then on. I got into the industry on the business side in ’06-’07 and since then it’s been a dope ride putting out this music, having some of the greatest fans in the world and supporters who are rooted in the belief of me and knowing what it is that I do.”
TSL: Do you feel pressured to put out a certain type of music because of events happening in society?
Skyzoo: “The way the world is, everyone has an opinion. Everyone’s opinion is believed to matter because of social media and blogs. Nowadays you can put out any kind of music you want. The lane is open for artists to be more conscious if that’s what they wanna be. I’m not a conscious artist. I’m not political at all. I’ve never made that sort of record. I’m obviously aware what’s going on in the world and I can sit and have conversations on current events that all day, but my records are about my world and what goes on outside on my block. Sometimes I get grouped into being a conscious rapper because of how I speak intelligently and that’s fine, but if you listen, I’ve never rode that side of the fence. I’m here to talk about my world first. The internet has given every artist a lane to find their market, nurture it, focus on it and continue to ride with it regardless if someone major is backing them or not.”
TSL: An Ode To A Reasonable Doubt. How did that happen?
Skyzoo: “It was something fans literally asked me to do. About three years ago, I got a tweet from a fan asking me to do it. I retweeted it and got over 100 retweets. Someone tweeted me every day asking me to do it. I toyed with the idea, but the response saying I was the only one that could do it the way Elzhi did Elmatic compared to how I could do a Reasonable Doubt.
TSL: You’re parents gifted you with a great nickname. Was that derived from the Skyy track Skyy Zoo?
Skyzoo: “It absolutely was. That’s crazy you got that. A lot of people don’t know that off top, but yeah that’s where it came from. My real name is Skyler, so they called me Skyler or Sky for short. Back then when that track was movin’, my aunts and cousins caught on and began calling me that, so it was them more so then my parents. My aunt ran in a crew in Brooklyn (Flatbush) and was a DJ. Everyone had their name on their shirt, so they got me a shirt when I was 4 or 5 years old that said “Skyzoo”. It stuck ever since then and when I started rhyming, I ran with it because I knew nobody would have it. I knew nobody on the planet would be calling themselves Skyzoo.”
TSL: You work with a lot of people. One thing I dig about you is you’ve done a lot of collaborations. Your learning curve in music is gonna be high because you’ve worked with so many talented people. Speak on that and what it is to be and Indie star.
Skyzoo: “It’s been a blessing man. In this game, a lot of people don’t want to stand next to certain artists, rub shoulders or stand tall for them – or whatever it is. I’ve been fortunate enough to have certain ones that are down and do get it. With me, all of the features that I’ve gotten have been with the artists that genuinely love and respect what I do. Whether we’re talking Jill Scott, or Freeway, or Lloyd Banks and Maino or Talib Kweli, or whatever it is, I didn’t have a big homie per say that could make the call; I didn’t have a producer or another artist that I’m running with to make that call. It literally was me out there grinding and me going harder. It was artists saying “yeah, I love what you do. I listen to you all the time. Let’s get it.” Everybody that I named falls under that umbrella. I’m used to working with a ridiculous number of producers. Whether we’re talking Illmind, Black Milk, Just Blaze, Knotz, Needles, Jahlil Beats, there are so many producers I’ve been blessed to worth with as well. It’s the same story in that they all love and respect what I do, so we get it going.
TSL: You have a laid back talent that could be grounded in a more in your face style, but it’s not. It’s like you’re sitting back and waiting for the world to catch on to your vibe. I listened to A Dream Deferred earlier today and wondered what the hell is taking the world so long to catch on to the talent and charisma within your style and lyrics? I wrote a LeBron piece after he won his first chip to The Winner’s Circle track that had him in mind. You definitely captured the process of LeBron’s development. Why is sports referenced so much in your music?
Skyzoo: “For one, I relate to sports. We all are fans of what our minds respond to culturally in media – whether it’s sports, music, movies, TV. We pick up on what we see every day. I’m a huge basketball fan more than any other sport. It’s funny you mention The Winner’s Circle with LeBron, I felt like I was going through a similar phase where I may be leaving the “Indie world” because the major (record companies) were calling. It was kind of the same theory with the Cleveland and Miami thing. Bron was in a small market, small team, whatever it was and doing his thing, but he said I need to make this move, go over here and really take over like I want to and deserve to and been put her to. Regardless of flack or whatever he’s received from the backlash, it’s worked out. When that happened and everyone was on him, I understood it. I understood what it was. I’m Knicks Tape all day, but I’m a LeBron fan because I love the sport and the game. Clearly he is the greatest story right now. Not ever, but right now. Even though I’m a Knicks fan, I had to make the record because it made sense regarding what I’m doing. It tied in perfect and people got it. Every year around the playoffs, people tweet LeBron and say you need to listen to Skyzoo’s The Winner’s Circle. It resonated with people.”
TSL: Being you are from NY, does the energy of the city power you up when in the studio on the streets or wherever?
Skyzoo: “Oh most definitely. Being from the city, inspiration is everywhere. It’s the most recognizable city in the world. When you hear “The city never sleeps”, it’s literal. There’s so many different personalities; different lifestyles; different walks of life. There are so many stories, just when I walk outside on my block. The theory is there are “8 million stories in the naked city”, and that’s New York 150%.”
TSL: Shout out to Kurtis Blow.
Skyzoo: “Word up!”
TSL: Seems like a good time to be an Indie writer. What do you want to get out of the game and add to the game? Things seem so wide open right now.
Skyzoo: “Obviously to be as successful as possible. I feel like success is in the eye of the beholder. My definition of success might be different of how you view it or the next man or the next woman. I want to be as financially straight as possible. We all get into this because it can be a lucrative business. On top of that, I just want to make legendary music. The way we feel where we’ve risen to Reasonable Doubt or Illmatic, Midnite Marauders, Scarface or OutKast joints, Doggy Style or things like that. We listen to that type of music as if it just came out yesterday. I want people to do that with my joints. I want people ten years from now listening to Live From the Tape Deck, or Salvation, or A Dream Deferred. Whatever it is that’s out. I want them to feel the same way. I want the music to do what you said it did for you; to make you want to write or give you an inspiration. The same thing the Jay’s and the Biggies did for me, I want to do that for other artists and all the fans coming up.”
Skyzoo: “With the record, when I got the beat, a producer by the name of Tall Black Guy did the beat. He’s from Detroit. A real dope producer and when I heard the beat, it just spoke to me right away. It sounded like a superhero. The horns and everything sounded “anthemic”. That’s a superhero record. The only person I saw as a superhero outside of my Pops or somebody related to me was Spike Lee. If you know me, Spike has been hugely instrumental as far as what I do as a writer before I even met him. Watching his movies, researching him and growing up on his stories helped keep me as a writer even though I write in a different way. I got Talib (Kweli) on the record. Talib actually asked to get on the record. I was in the studio doing stuff with him on his mix tape (Attack The Block). He was like “Yo man, what do you have new? I know you’re workin’.” I let him hear a couple tracks on the flash drive and when the record came on he was like “Yo, if I can get on that man please let me know because I would love to give my take on that as well.” I was like absolutely, so we knocked out the verse. When the album came out, I got a tweet from Spike.
His 15 year old son, Jackson, was listening to the album and knocked on his door and said “Pops Skyzoo made a record about you.” Spike heard the record and reached out. I got in touch with all my homies over at 40 Acres and we just rounded it out. When it was video time, he asked if we did a video for that and my man over there was like “I think they’re working on it.” Spike said “I want in.” Spike had never been in a rap video before. He did the Public Enemy joint Fight The Power and the Crooklyn Dodgers joint, but he was never in a video he didn’t direct. He told me this was going to be the first and it’s probably going to be the last. It worked out nice.
I’m big on sociology and the study of it. I actually minored in it in college. Once I took the course, I fell in love with it because it showed me so much more than what I thought it was. I feel like my music is a sociology experiment. When I dropped my first album Salvation in 2009, I got a tweet or a myspace hit from a kid that went to Temple or another school in Pennsylvania. He gave me the heads up that his professor assigned them to get my album and study it. That brought everything full circle. It just rounded everything out. I was honored because it was hitttin’ home. My stuff is a social experiment. Whether it’s Steel’s Apartment or Jansport Strings that is what it is. To know that it hits home, is easily what I’m here for.”
TSL: The heavy jazz influence in your sound. Where did that come from and why don’t more rappers go for that laid back chill?
Skyzoo: “It was in my house. Pops was and still is a huge jazz fan. When I was a kid, he would always tell me that one day you are going to get into this jazz man. We’d be in the car and he’d want to listen to jazz and I’d want to listen to Hot 97. I’m 12 years old or whatever. It would be a struggle; the radio fight. He’d hit the button. I’d hit the button. He’d look at me and say “aiight, touch the button again.” It was that. Again, he’d tell me I was going to appreciate it one day and I’d tell him I can’t get into that. How can you when there are no words? I rhymed at nine so I was looking for the story. Man, Pops be knowin’ everything because when I got older, it became everything. Right now, I listen to more jazz than Hip Hop. It’s almost like I know more about jazz than he does. We go back and forth on the phone about that. It started with him and it all tied up with Mo’ Better Blues. Easily one of my favorite movies, and if I had to pick three movies of all time, that’s one of them. The story and the soundtrack of it, and the backdrop and the ambiance and the music? I was done. When I began to form my style, I just wanted jazz to be a part of it somehow. Not overbearing like A Tribe Called Quest – which was genius as we all know – but not like them where they rhymed over jazz loops. I wanted to implement jazz into the beat and make it make sense. If you come to a Skyzoo show, more than likely it’s me, my DJ and my trumpet player. If it’s Range Rover Rhythm, my DJ is spinnin’ the instrumental, I’m rockin’ and my trumpet player OJ is doing solos all over this Jahlil Beats joint with the 808 and the synth (synthesizer). It’s something that no one does and it makes sense. If you listen to the track, the horns weren’t part of the beat. I had my trumpet player come in and we wrote the horn section together. When I sent it into Jahlil he thought it was genius that I added a trumpet.
Whether it was A Cost of Sleep, Dreams in a Basement, all that trumpet stuff is live. That was me bring in tuba players and all that to bring those sections in and implement that jazz sound.”
TSL: The Rage of Roemello too. That Sugar Hill.
Skyzoo: “No doubt. You know your stuff.”
TSL: The criticism I hear of you is you might be too laid back on a hard beat. What’s your response to that?
Skyzoo: “I bring my approach to whatever the beat is I’m on. I’ve never barked on a record because I don’t feel the need to. Jay (Z) never did what DMX did. You still looked at him for what he did. He’s never raised his voice on a record, but you still get the story. It’s a style that reflects who I am. I’m a laid back cool dude, but that doesn’t mean I’m not about what needs to be done at the time. That’s just me. I can get on whatever track and implement my style. That just makes styles what they are. If you look at Miles Davis, he never had those abrasive horns like (John) Coltrane and vice versa.
If I was to do this one minute, the next minute start barkin’, then the next minute start whispering like Mase you wouldn’t know who I am. The music is me. This is the music I make and it’s who I am.”