Monday, August 18, 2008

Skillz - Million Dollar Backpack

Maybe you remember Skillz from back in the day. He dropped "The Nod Factor" on Atlantic in '96 and got a fair bit of shine for it. As was the custom, he was known as Mad Skillz in that era. He repped for VA then and now, hence his debut being called "From Where??!". Teddy Riley brought some shine to The Old Dominion with his New Jack Swing (and odd hackneyed attempts at rhyming), but MC-wise Skillz laid the groundwork for up and comers like The Clipse back when Timbaland and Pharrel were still in Y'all So Stupid.

A fickle public and an generally unhealthy hip-hop scene kept Skillz from blowing up as big as he should have, but he has maintained a comfortable living by ghostwriting a ton of material for Puff Daddy and Jermaine Dupri, among scads of others. His stature as a writer was such that he actually released "Ghostwriter" in 2005 where he threatened to call out all the people hadn't paid him for his services. It was a ballsy move, but it sure got the checkbooks out and doesn't seem to have burned any bridges permanently.

Deals with Rawkus and OkayPlayer are behind him and Skillz has secured a joint deal with Koch for his Big Kidz label. Million Dollar Backpack is the first release. It's a good record. Skillz definitely has a chip on his shoulder, as any MC worth his mike would in this day and age, but it comes off a little old and cranky. (I'll pause so we can all enjoy the irony of my making that statement). If he had come with wack rhymes, you could relegate him to the has-been pile, but the ghostwriting keeps him current enough that he can actually sneak a tune with real MCing on to the charts.

You can judge a rap album by it's guest stars and the number of them. Too many and you can almost guarantee the featured artist has fallen off. Skillz uses his guest slots prudently. He has pretty good taste in backpacker MCs, drafting Freeway, Black Thought, Talib Kweli and Common into play for singles and mix tape fodder, but flying solo for the lion's share of the tracks. Black Thought kills his verse, as per usual, asserting himself as the Jordan (or Kool G. Rap at the very least!) of the game. Fuck Jay-Z! He's a hell of a businessman and tactician. Keeping the Roots under wraps at Def Jam and quashing their shine was a brilliant move from the king of the ROC but Kamal is pretty untouchable in this day and age. Skillz keeps his MC card compliant, revisiting his infamous Kay Slay freestyle from years past on Sick and bodying all competitors in the process. There are too many tracks (like all the singles) that are a little cross-over for my tastes, but as hip-hop records go in this day and age, Million Dollar Backpack is top-notch. Buy it on I-tunes or check the links below.


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