When the calendar reaches December, many people take inventory of the 12 months passed by: the W’s and L’s, the triumphs and tragedies, accomplishments and disappointments. For Ski Mask the Slump God, 2018 has delivered all of them, in excessive measure.
There was Beware the Book of Eli, his third mixtape, launched in May, which generated such memorable tracks because the kooky “DoIHaveTheSause?” and “Run”, however which left Ski nonetheless feeling upset, not reflecting “who I'm as an artist." There had been the thrills of his personal summer time tour, Ski Meets World, which took him to European festivals and a few of his largest U.S. venues up to now. And there was his choice as a part of XXL’s coveted Freshman Class -- arguably a 12 months late, however who’s gonna quibble with that prime honor?
And but, in the midst of all of it got here one of the crucial devastating occasions he’s ever endured: the sudden, brutal homicide of his childhood good friend, trusted advisor and rap’s scorching new capturing star, XXXTentacion -- a second Ski Mask says will stick with him “all the time.”
Remarkably, within the wake of that horror, Ski has managed to finish this emotional curler coaster 12 months along with his most fully-realized work up to now, the debut full-length Stokeley, launched Friday (Nov. 30) on Victor Victor Worldwide/Republic and titled after his personal given first title -- and that of his father, additionally a rapper. If Ski had already earned a spot amongst next-gen hip-hop’s elite with 2016 and 2017 hits “Catch Me Outside,” “BabyWipe," “Where’s the Blow” and “H2O”, Stokeley is a next-level achievement on which the artist appears to have discovered his voice greater than ever. The rapid-fire lyrical dexterity and good-natured enjoyable which have come to be his signature are nonetheless there -- however so are different, extra surprising seems.
“I’m yelling, I’m rapping, I’m singing,” he tells Billboard at Republic Records’ midtown New York workplaces, on the eve of Stokeley’s launch. “It’s totally me. It exhibits the number of artists that I could be.” The set is undeniably eclectic: On the rapping entrance, his facility with rhymes and infinite fluency with popular culture references has by no means been extra apparent -- Osama Bin Laden, Carmelo Anthony, Trix, Allstate and Pokémon all get mentions, together with Ski’s traditional trove of cartoon references (together with Stitch, Aang from Avatar: The Last Airbender, Nemo and Ned Flanders from The Simpsons).
Meanwhile, the nice instances are delivered on tracks just like the bouncing “Foot Fungus," “Adults Swim" and “Cat Piss," on which his machine gun supply contrasts with a cloudy visitor look from Lil Yachty. Then there's “Faucet Failure," the album’s most unabashedly enjoyable monitor, verses peppered with Ski’s signature “uh-huh” -- which is simply extra proof than ever of the writing the talents for which Ski Mask has been singled out amongst his friends, inviting repeated comparisons to “Golden Age” MCs like Busta Rhymes.
It’s the singing on Stokeley that will the most important shock. On breathy R&B jams “So High” and “Save Me, Pt. 2” (that includes Austin Lam), Ski Mask proves his raspy voice as adept at soulful melodies as it's at bar spitting. The melodic, bouncing, mid-tempo lure of “Far Gone” -- perhaps the set's most of-the-moment sounding minimize -- alternates rapping and singing, and brings on Lil Baby for a verse. And the late-album “U and I” is a revelation: Ski singing essentially the most sentimental lyrics he’s ever written, getting actual a few relationship in a method that he admits “just isn't simple for me.”
And sure, the yelling: “Nuketown” serves up one other staccato spray of verses together with a shouted refrain of “Cutthroat! Cutthroat!," in addition to an uncharacteristically scabrous Juice WRLD characteristic. “Reborn to Rebel” -- a spotlight and Ski’s favourite monitor on the album -- will get political in a method the rapper by no means has beforehand, going after a authorities that turns a blind eye to injustice, over a wiry digital riff. “I don’t care if you happen to don’t care, we don’t," it cries, recalling a latter-day Public Enemy or Death Grips, one in every of Ski’s favourite acts. And then there's the unstable “La La”, impressed by ideas of X -- and never coincidentally produced by Ronny J, who additionally labored on the pair’s iconic, raging collab, “Take a Step Back."
Many of XXXTentacion's artist friends understandably paid tribute to the late rapper on their summer time excursions, however none did in order extensively as Ski Mask -- his de facto brother, who he grew up with and found music with in South Florida. When I noticed Ski Meets World at Queens, New York’s Knockdown Center in September, I used to be struck by the way in which that a minimum of half the present was a tribute to younger Jahseh Onfroy, who was killed solely two and a half weeks earlier than Ski’s tour commenced.
I inform Ski that the present was virtually like watching the 2 of them as co-headliners. “Because he was there!” he replies. “Every time on that tour earlier than I went on stage I swear to God, each time, I sat there and tried to enter meditation. And in my head, I'd be like, ‘Jahseh, the place are you? You’re right here now, proper?’ And I'd simply really feel his power. And then I knew I might do it. Like, each time earlier than I'm going on stage, I’m nervous. But I've Jahseh there with me now. It’s loopy.”
As a lot as X’s dying was a intestine punch for Ski Mask, it was additionally a gut-check. “It’s gonna sound bizarre, however I’m gonna say that after Jah died, it woke me as much as loads of issues,” he admits. “And a kind of issues was that I must take my music significantly, and that I must get up."
Never removed from his thoughts is a dialog -- argument, actually, as all brothers have -- that the 2 had on the day of their final efficiency collectively. It was May 13th at Rolling Loud in Miami, scarcely greater than a month earlier than X was killed. “He advised me that my imaginative and prescient was blurred,” he recollects. “I don’t keep in mind precisely the phrase he used, however he stated mainly that my imaginative and prescient was blurred, that my decision-making wasn’t what it was once. And I used to be mainly like -- I argued with him. But he was attempting to inform me about myself, and the way I might do higher for myself. And I wasn’t attempting to take it like that, I used to be taking it as, ‘You’re simply attempting to point out me that you just’re higher than me. I already know you’re higher than me!’ That’s how I felt on the time. It wasn’t jealousy, it was simply me eager to be my very own man, seeing how a lot Jahseh was his personal man."
After X died, although, his phrases to Ski rang true. “I seen that my decision-making was blurred,” he says. “I believed what I used to be doing on the time was cool and was working. But then after he died, I seen what he was saying. I used to be like, ‘Bruh…’ I used to be taking place a nasty path, my profession was taking place a path that, if I didn’t change it quickly, it was gonna be seen in a sure method eternally. I see that now. And that’s what he was mainly attempting to inform me. Literally, he stated this: ‘There’s a cliff proper there, and I’m telling you there’s a cliff, and also you’re nonetheless gonna hold strolling in the direction of that cliff whereas I’m telling you it’s there.’ And what I stated again to him was like, ‘Yeah that cliff could possibly be there, however there could possibly be a robust tree department hanging off that cliff that I might seize onto after I stroll off that cliff, that I might all the time…’ Just backwards and forwards. Brotherly love.”
Was XXXTentacion’s dying, then, a motivating issue for Ski Mask to do higher, to create Stokeley and what follows it? “It’s so unhappy to say that although,” he says. “But what’s loopy? When he was alive, he was like, ‘You’re gonna surpass me. You can adapt to individuals greater than me.’ And I used to be like, ‘What the fuck are you speaking about? Look on the music you make!"
He continues: "I’m gonna inform you proper now, I really feel like he knew he was gonna die. I really feel like, on some non secular shit, he fucked with some non secular shit and he knew he was gonna die on some shit. So mainly, when he died, it’s not prefer it advised me to step up, as a result of I already knew what I could possibly be. But I simply felt like now, I've him, along with his hand on my shoulder at any time when I would like it. So it’s like, anytime that I really feel like I would like to leap an impediment, he’s gonna assist me bounce these further two inches. And each time I would like to be ok with myself, he’s gonna put his power and assist me to see that, to see one thing good.”
Balance -- in music, and in life -- is vital too, one other lesson Ski realized from X. That subject comes up when our dialog turns to the currently-incarcerated Tekashi 6ix9ine, who Ski admires however believes “didn’t stability it.” “It doesn’t look good for Tekashi proper now,” he concedes. “But one factor I'll say is that when X talked to Tekashi, he took recommendation from X. And that is one thing that X taught me too, is to stability out the negativity. I’ve obtained to stability out the negativity. And that’s what Tekashi was attempting to do. There’s all the time a ying-yang in life. With all people. There’s evil in all of us. It’s nearly the way you stability out the evil and the nice and having religion in your self and the way you carry your self.”
As justifiably proud as he's of Stokeley, Ski sees the brand new undertaking as only one step in an ongoing evolution, and a bridge to one thing past simply rap. He hopes the combination of sounds will liberate him to, sooner or later, to do what he needs, and as X famously believed, make music with out limits. “On the following album, you may actually count on loads of selection, perhaps singing, yelling and rapping in a single track," he teases. “The new album has substance, nevertheless it doesn’t have sufficient. But now I can truly make the music I need to make, which is gonna be simply…music. You’re gonna be, ‘This n---a’s not a rapper anymore!’ That’s what I really need, whereas you may by no means know what to anticipate what he’s gonna do subsequent, as a result of it's going to by no means sound the identical.”
Ski can typically come throughout as his personal hardest critic, however as of late he operates with new perception in himself and a higher sense of goal than even two months earlier, once we first spoke. His biggest supply of inspiration continues to be his fallen good friend.
“I simply really feel far more like I’ve taken cost of my scenario,” he explains. “When I first met you, I used to be like, ‘Fuck! X is gone, and now I’ve obtained to do that factor.’ That’s the way it was. But now I’m like standing up robust and like X is holding onto my shoulder, you're feeling me? All of those songs that I made for the album undoubtedly had been with the assistance of his power. It doesn’t sound like his music, however I really feel like in a method I can keep it up his message. When you hearken to X’s album, it’s an astral projection. He made you astral undertaking. And I need to make theme-setting music, music that units a theme with out being cliché. I need to get to that. And I'm.”
Below, he feedback on some key tracks from Stokeley.
On the driving “Nuketown”, which Ski nonetheless refers to by its working title and hook line, “Cutthroat”:
It was known as ‘Cutthroat! When I performed it for you in September, it was. But after I put out the snippet of the track, individuals solely heard 5 seconds. And they might be like, ‘Oh that is known as “Cutthroat”’. But I didn’t need individuals to know something. So after I dropped the monitor record, I modified the names so that folks can be like, ‘What the fuck is that this?’ I don’t need anyone to know what the track is till they click on it. I additionally like to call songs issues that don't have anything to do with the track, however units the theme for the track. So “Cutthroat” was modified to “Nuketown,” as a result of Nuketown is a really well-known Call Of Duty: Black Ops map for zombies. So “Nuketown” is mainly -- what do you consider? You consider an atomic bomb dropped on a city, zombies, nuclear mutant individuals. It’s similar to anarchy, mainly.
On the sentimental, ride-or-die “U and I”:
I like to only make flex music. So after I do make emotional music, it’s exhausting for me, as a result of I really feel like I’m cliché. But I assume cliché is the most effective factor typically, as a result of it’s actual. When you actually put your actual feelings right into a track, individuals catch onto it extra. It’s bizarre! It could possibly be a great track, but when your actual feelings are in it -- like [Juice WRLD's] "Lucid Dreams" -- one thing that you just’ve put your feelings into that day, individuals relate to it extra.
It offers with a woman that I met earlier than music, and that I’ve been speaking to since then. Like, I'd all the time look out for her as a result of earlier than music, I used to be homeless, and he or she let me sleep in her automobile. I imply, I might have all the time gone again to my dad and mom’ home and apologized and been like, ‘I need to stay below your guidelines.’ But I used to be 18, they wasn’t treating me truthful, and I needed to be my very own man. And she was there for me. She had her personal home, however she was sleeping in her automobile with me sort of factor. So that track is about her. Right now, I’m single, she’s single, however we nonetheless speak. We’ll look out for one another eternally.
On the loopy, good-time “Faucet Failure”:
It was one of many final songs completed. It took me actually like ten minutes to make that track, which is the "Let’s make a deal, Rumpelstiltskin…" lyric. Yeah. Ten minutes! But there needs to be the best power. I walked within the studio, heard a beat, and I used to be like, "Hurry up, hurry up." I used to be like, "Load it now, in any other case you’re not gonna catch this power once more." You can’t replay power. I made that track in ten minutes, man. Sometimes they arrive to me fast, typically it doesn’t. And I made a video for that track [with Lyrical Lemonade’s Cole Bennett]. It’s the most effective songs on there.
On the politically-charged “Reborn to Rebel”:
What I say on there may be: "For us to outlive/ We must uprise/ Our individuals should sanitize/ The considered demise of freedom/ Like Allstate, you’re in good arms with me although/ Taking our youngsters they obtained us searchin’ like for Nemo." Trump is taking little youngsters away from their dad and mom, locking them up! I don’t actually get like political or emotional on loads of issues, however mainly, I’m simply sick and uninterested in fuckery on this planet. That’s what that track was about.
It simply doesn’t make sense to me that folks would need their children to stay in a great world, and so they need to stay in a great world, however I simply really feel like unfavourable power and unfavourable shit will get extra consideration than optimistic shit. And someway individuals want to start out making gradual modifications to attempt to change that. It’s not gonna change in a day, nevertheless it’s obtained to alter. And the individuals who spoke about shit like this, like Martin Luther King, X, Tupac -- about making small modifications to essentially change the world -- they died. People don’t like messages that everyone can perceive and might make issues higher.