Before the “Rap-Up” series, and even before touring with DJ Jazzy Jeff, Skillz aka Mad Skillz was a little known rapper From Where??? “where” being Virginia. His debut album in 1996 is one of hip-hop’s most slept on LPs. Fusing clever word play with raw lyrics and banging boom bap beats has always been Skillz M.O. Fast forward to 1998, Skillz gains further notoriety on the underground classic “B-Boy Document” alongside The High and Mighty and Mos Def and drops one of the most talked about 12”s of the year in “Ghostwriter”. Never revealing who he wrote for but further solidifying him as the emcee’s emcee. Label woes and lackluster projects followed until he came up with the “Rap Up” in 2003 and the rest is history. We look forward to his “Rap-Ups” every year, but where is that dope LP we are have all been waiting for?
Since music right now is in a down period during this first quarter, we at HHS decided to catch up on some things we, along with you as a reader might have missed. “Million Dollar Backpack” fits into the category. Arguably one of the better LPs of 2008, sales were dismal, but who cares because the album wasn’t. The album starts with “Intro”, stating what is in a backpack and taking subtle jabs as those who lived the backpack culture, but have since abandoned it. Skillz has always been one to speak his mind about the state of the industry with no regard to what other emcees think. Enlisting Jake One for “Where I Been”, Skillz lets everyone know exactly that, just where he has been. Nottz shows up for the Common infused, Dillaesqe “So Far So Good”, with great results. “Sick” is arguably the best track on the album, an electro-ish track by Kwame (yeah, that’s right Kwame). Lyrically this is what we want to hear from Skillz, with lines like “I was sick back in the day/when Kane gone Warm/before you had to have a dance to go with your song/I was sick when MC Hammer brought flare to his show/when Questlove was trying to get his hair to grow/I was sick before hip-hop was media’s property/when Lil Wayne used to say wobbity wobbity/and you, you never met a sicker emcee/with a flu there is no way you as sick as me”…wow!!
Skillz shows his softer side with the tribal “(For Real) He Don’t Own Me” with Bink on the boards. “My Phone” is a song in the tradition of “Dreams” by the late great Biggie Smalls, where at the end Skillz has his phone ran over and loses all the chicks numbers, ends up being hilarious. Black Thought makes and appearance over the live band production of “Hold Tight”, while Skillz reminisces on how it used to be on “Hip Hop Died”.
Overall the album is a solid listen throughout, with some lulls along with way. “Crazy World” is pointless in the flow of the album as is the keyboard driven “Yeah Ya Know it”. With some small pitfalls Million Dollar Backpack further proves Skillz is one of the best to ever do it, despite the lack of props he gets. Whether he is ghostwriting for some of the biggest names in the game or dropping the always comical year-end “Rap-Ups”, he will always be an emcee tofollow. – DG
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