Skee-Lo Details "Fresh Ideas" Album, Says "I Wish" Began As Good Life Freestyle
Exclusive: Skee-Lo recalls moving to Los Angeles as a devout B-boy, and developing a flow under the tutelage of Freestyle Fellowship's Myka 9.
"I’m probably one of the misunderstood and underestimated recording artists in the music business, but I like that. I really do," Skee-Lo told recently told HipHopDX. According to his spokesman, Skee-Lo's musical role in a current Toyota campaign involved him in one of the most-seen commercials of all-time. This is all thanks to Skee-Lo's 1995 hit "I Wish," a self-deprecating anthem for the hopeful everyman. Released on Altra Moda Music, the MTV darling of its day (yellow Ford Pinto and all) was a blockbuster independent crossover. However, Skee-Lo, tied to one of the most-revered lyrical movements of all time, says he's wrongfully labeled a one-hit wonder.
In fact, Skee-Lo has a gold-certified debut album, two Grammy nominations, and numerous soundtrack and television appearances that would make today's rapper salivate. Seventeen years removed from many of those accolades, Skee-Lo released Fresh Ideas late last year. Whether the public realizes it or not, the album was a break from retirement. "At the time I was at the Grammy [Awards], I was already retired, but nobody knew it because I never vocalized it," he admitted. "I never went to the public to say, 'Hey I’m retiring.' Some people need attention; I’m a different kind of artist. With me, the music is sincere and so is the person."
Skee-Lo Talks Rap Retirement, Fresh Ideas
Discussing his new album with DX, the Chicago, Illinois native explained the title and impetus. "Fresh Ideas is new music, it’s a new sound, its new production, new ideas, new concepts; everything is new with this album. [I have been] studying the history of Hip Hop music and where it’s been. You’ll hear the best of the old school, the new school and things from the next school, things that have not even been invented. We really pushed the bar on this."
Despite some sales and critical benchmarks in his resume, Skee-Lo waves off the media and charts' perspective of his studio sophomore LP. "For us to do something like this is unheard of," he said after reportedly picking up the microphone in 2012 for the first time in over a decade. "We took it Soul, we took it Hip Hop, and we took it R&B—which is the core Hip Hop structure, that’s always been the foundation. We just really kept it true to Hip Hop and look at what Hip Hop is. When we put out records in the early days of Hip Hop, the media was like, 'We ain’t feeling it and it ain’t going to last, it’s a fad and they went on about their business.' But in the Hip Hop community we didn’t listen, we kept doing what we do. Fresh Ideas comes with the spirit of Hip Hop and that I got ears on the brain, Billboard cannot tell me what a #1 hit is," he said, with a Top 15 hit under his belt. "If I never heard Tupac’s All Eyez On Me and it was never released, and you played that for me now, it would be one of the best albums out today, whether or not Billboard says it or not. In other words, we’re not playing the industry game. We’re not going with the numbers, we’re not going with the payola, we’re not going with the 'Oh, I bought a million of my own records,' and we’re not going with the 'Oh, we are giving away a million free records so therefore we’re platinum.' We’re not playing that game," said the Los Angeles, California-based emcee/producer, likely referring to Jay-Z's recent Magna Carta Holy Grail roll-out with one million Samsung users. "We’re not looking at a week sales; we’re not looking at first-day's sales. We’re looking at the longevity and the effect of the music on the people when they hear it, period and this is a bold move to do that. Nobody’s doing that."
To Skee-Lo, Fresh Ideas and his return is a call-back to his early love affair with Hip Hop 30 years ago. "I actually started rapping in New York, years ago, when groups like Run-DMC and U.T.F.O. were on. I was already still an emcee when I came to California in '85, still a reputable emcee. I’m originally from Chicago, but there was no Hip Hop scene when I was younger. So when I went to New York Hip Hop was alive, but it was only in New York. It was the first time I seen this and it was like 'Oh my God, this is the most exciting thing ever.'"
Skee-Lo Talks Project Blowed & The Good Life Cafe
Those perceptions changed when Skee-Lo moved to L.A. during the Colors era. In the early 1990s, he found solace and inspiration at a famous South Central hang-out which opened in 1989, The Good Life Cafe. "When I got to The Good Life, I saw a world of emcees like Souls Of Mischief, Pharcyde, the Freestyle Fellowship—in which case its leader Myka 9, he invented the Skee-Lo flow structure, I got to give credit where credit is due. This is like my mentor. You listen to Pharcyde, Souls Of Mischief and Ahmad, you might hear similarities to Skee-Lo. It’s because we are from the same Rap club so a lot of our flow, structure, and everything, that’s Hip Hop." Ahmad was another independent success story from the Project Blowed crew Skee-Lo also represented. His 1994 "Back In The Day" was a gold-single and Top 50 hit on Giant/Warner Bros. Records, prior to the emcee/singer's leading 4th Avenue Jones. "We pay homage to where we get our skills from. The Good Life is one of the places I got to. I saw all these legendary emcees who weren’t in the mainstream and a lot of them went mainstream and blew up."
Within The Good Life community, the misunderstood Skee-Lo revealed that he initially began as a producer. "I originally started with music, I would give all the O.G. emcees free production to rap to every Thursday and they would be on the mic and they would be like, 'Yo, Skee-Lo did my beats.' You had like 10 emcees that night saying that," recalls the man who co-produced much of his own material. "Then I would get up there sometime at the end of the night and I would be like, 'My name is Skee-Lo' and I would do my song."
Skee-Lo Explains The Origins Of "I Wish"
Skee-Lo's nightly "song," as he calls it, would often stem from a freestyle. Those freestyles, over his beats, would later grab Grammy nods, right out a South Central coffee-shop. "If you want to know what I did at The Good Life all you have to do is buy the I Wish album. Every song on that album was songs that I recorded for the next Thursday to perform for the underground club, including 'I Wish.'" He continued, "'I Wish' was first performed at The Good Life. It’s a Good Life classic, I performed it twice there. It was so big the first night we did it that two Thursdays later we came back with it and it killed it that night to. It originally started a freestyle, I had the music and the freestyle was as you hear …'I Wish.' That took us out."
Fresh off of Fresh Ideas, Skee-Lo was asked about his plans now. "We’re back on the grind. I got much work to do and I’m doing much work," he said, with his new self-named label. "The work I’m doing now goes beyond albums. I’m in business. A lot of people are expecting me to return. This is a comeback; 'Oh, I’m a rapper trying to make it.' Nah, fuck that," he dismisses. "Look, I got a label, I got a record company to run here. I got artists, I got Gospel artists, I got Hip Hop artists, I got Jazz artists, and you name it, brother. We doing business and I’m working with other businesses on other projects, helping other businesses to get on their feet."
Skee-Lo's Fresh Ideas and his other works are currently available on digital and physical retailers.