Rapper Skillz Talks "Rap Up," Writing for Willow Smith

Rapper Skillz Talks "Rap Up," Writing for Willow Smith

Published January 3, 2011

Skillz has done it again. Yesterday (January 2), the veteran lyricist released his Ninth Annual "Rap Up," a song on which he recaps some of the year's most memorable moments.

Nicki Minaj, Kanye West, Antoine Dodson, Lady Gaga, the Haiti earthquake and Jersey Shore are some of the people, tragedies and phenomena mentioned in the 2010 edition. But "Rap Up 2010" was curiously nowhere to be found when the clock struck 12 on a new year this weekend. BET.com caught up with Skillz to find out why this year's "Rap Up" is late, got info on the new short film he's hoping to debut in festivals, and details on his work on Willow Smith's debut album.

BET.com: You've been recording your rap-ups on original instrumentals for the past four years now. What made you switch from known instrumentals to originals?

Skillz: "First it was just a freestyle. It was something that I was just doing for fun and then people started asking for it and expecting it so I would do it. Then it started getting played on the radio so much. Me being a songwriter, I was like, 'D**n, I’m probably losing a lot of royalties.' Then one year, I did it over the “Lost Ones,” by Jay-Z, and it charted on Billboard. Billboard called me and was like, 'There’s this song that’s charting and we need to get the writers so we properly credit everybody.' I gave him my name and he was like, 'So who are the other writers?' I was like, 'That would be Shawn Carter and Andre Young.' He was like, 'Those names sound familiar.' I was like, 'Yea, Jay-Z and Dr. Dre.' I sat on the phone with that dude for 45 minutes trying to explain to him it was a freestyle. He didn’t understand how someone could do a song over someone else’s body of work and it got so much play that it charted on Billboard. So that’s when I was like, 'I gotta do original tracks from now on ‘cause it’s either gon get me in trouble or confuse a lot of people.'"

BET: Do you take notes when something big happens, like, "I need to include this on the "Rap Up," or do you just sit down at the end of the year and come up with it?

Skillz: "I don’t really start thinking about the 'Rap Up' until like Thanksgiving. This year, I actually did it kinda late ‘cause I never really intended to do it. I was pretty much done with it. Then through the power of Twitter, I actually started to realize how many people were upset. I couldn’t believe it. Y’all really mad? It was like 8 o’clock New Year's Eve and people were like, 'Yo, it’s not out yet. I haven’t heard it.' And I was seeing tweets from people saying like, 'I’m in church and I just walked outside so I can get service on my phone to check on the 'Rap Up,' there’s no 'Rap Up?' So then at 12 midnight, I tweeted a picture from an old Cam’Ron interview with Cam’Ron laughing and it says, 'You mad?' as the text of the picture. When I did that, oh my God, it was anarchy. It was like hell froze over. People was cussing me out, like, 'That’s f****d up, you’re breaking the tradition, you got lazy, n***a.' Over a free song? How are you gonna demand a song that you’re not gonna pay for? So then people were like, 'I would pay for it.' So I was like, 'OK, word, you’ll pay for it?' Let’s see.

BET.com: There are some big moments that you didn’t address, like Kanye blacking out on Matt Lauer. How do you pick what you pick and what gets left off?

Skillz: "The public perception of what it was. Worldwide… the song is bigger than hip-hop. I’m hip-hop-based, so you’re definitely gonna get your hood moments in there, but the song has grown to be accepted in pop culture, so I just can’t relate it to the hood. Once I know Howard Stern is listening, it just can’t be about hip-hop, or the urban world. Somebody else asked me, how come you didn’t mention Kanye’s album? I was like, well, I don’t think that was as big as when he joined Twitter. The first time Kanye sent a tweet out on Twitter, it was like, oh my God Kanye has been on Twitter for five minutes and he has 200,000 followers. It was a big deal. The Matt Lauer thing, I watched it. I think it was just Kanye being Kanye. I don’t really feel it was coming from a genuine place. I think the only thing I missed that I wish I hadn’t missed and somebody pointed it out to me, I missed… and I wrote it down and I just didn’t put it in and I don’t know why, was Bishop Eddie Long. That’s the one thing that definitely should have been in there."

BET.com: Have artists ever approached you about not liking what you said about them on the "Rap Up"?

Skillz: "One person has. I’m not gonna… like, it was so long ago that I’m not even gonna bring it up. And it wasn’t even an artist, it was a DJ per se. And it was only because what he did happened in like February and I brought it back up at the end of the year, so it’s like, 'D**n, I was past this sh** and here this motherf****r come rapping about it again.' You know what, I don’t never get any flak from artists. I never get somebody saying like, 'D**n, you gon play me out like that, for real, ni**a?' I believe that the reason it doesn’t happen is because I’m not making up anything. Like, everything that I say is true. Like, it happened. It ain’t like I made it up. 50 Cent did try to take out Rick Ross, it didn’t really work. Somebody called me today and told me they edited that part out on Shade 45. [Laughs]"

BET.com: What else are you working on?

Skillz: "I put an album out. The World Needs More Skillz came out Oct. 27. We’re about to shoot the second video for that. I got a Travis Barker remix, the cut that I’m about to release, I got a couple of new videos. I did this movie last year. Me and Jazzy Jeff are collaborating on an album this year. I’m still hosting parties, working on songs. We’re working on some stuff for Willow Smith’s album.

BET.com: How did that come about?

Skillz: "I mean, you know, I worked with her dad [Will Smith] on a few projects before so you know I have a relationship with him. It was just a natural progression like they’re doing music so, you know, that door’s always open. I’d be crazy not to try to walk through it, so we’re working on some stuff. Her Roc Nation debut will be out probably next year."

BET.com: What's it like writing from the perspective of a 10-year-old girl?

Skillz: "I mean, I can write for anybody. It’s just stepping outside of yourself, looking at the market and realize on what’s missing and try to fill that void. We all throw darts, sometimes they stick, sometimes they don’t. But, you know, you keep going."

BET.com: What's the movie about?

Skillz: "The movie is called Byron. It’s self-titled from the character in the movie. It’s about circumstance and you know, how we as a generation don’t really pay attention to things if they don’t affect us directly; and sometimes those things that don’t affect you directly, affect you directly later ‘cause you didn’t pay attention to them before. Without giving it away, that’s just the basic synopsis. Just trying to stay busy, stay focused. I’m really back on my songwriting side right now. But this short film I made in conjunction with Yolanda Gerald. She did a lot of Trey Songz’s videos. We did a movie in July. We’re just doing the festivals, trying to get it into Sundance and you know, Pan Am."


Written by Carl Chery, BET.com Staff


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