The Skyzoo Interview: FGR Movement, Staying Indie and New Solo Album

skyzoo ram2Photo credit: Robert Adam Mayer

A lot of lyricists wish they could rap like S-K-Y-Z-O-O. Let’s be real! He is one of NY’s most articulate MCs. It is damn near impossible to compete with the “Word Smith”. Although Skyzoo is well known for his intricate lyrical delivery and intelligent content, it is important to recognize his role as a story teller. Every feature, mixtape, EP and album he has touched since 2005 is a rhythmic representation of his life and musical career.

In this exclusive GTPS interview with MidWest Melly, Skyzoo discusses his most inspirational hip hop influences, the FGR movement and the politics behind staying independent. We also discuss his last album with Torae, “The Barrel Brothers“, as well as some exciting news about his new solo album. Pay attention students; story time is now in session.

Your albums are always inspired by some form of literature or speech (for example, “The Great Debater”). Who are your all time top 3 artists that have the greatest style of wordplay?

Just naming three is easy because I have so many that are high up there. I always go with the trinity of: Biggie, Jay Z and Nas off top. Any time I’m asked the question it’s always those three. I’d also add the likes of Andre 3000, Scarface. You know, people that told stories a certain way… Raekwon is also an amazing story teller. If I had to pick three off top, though, it would be: Biggie, Jay Z and Nas.

I’d have to agree. That is the holy hip hop trinity right there. So I caught you in Florida in 2012 at a Conflict Rhymes and Golden Underground event. I really appreciated the live element of the trumpet player at the show as well as in your past albums. I love jazz too. Do you have any plans to incorporate more of that live band element into your upcoming album or performances?

Absolutely. The thing with me when you come to a Skyzoo show, it’s always the DJ and my trumpet player. You know it’s always been those elements. Me on the mic, DJ spinnin’, and the trumpet player just like how you saw it in the show in FL. You also saw the “Barrel Brothers” show recently at A3C. “Barrel Brothers” is a different animal.. so you know I don’t bring the trumpet out. The music doesn’t coincide with it. The “Barrel Brothers” music is great as it is. As awesome as it is. As Hip Hop as it is. It doesn’t fit the fold of bringing a live trumpet player on and doing something of that magnitude because the records don’t sound like that. Doesn’t really mesh and support one another the right way. That’s why when you came to the “Barrel Brothers” show it was just me and the DJ rockin’. Straight up Hip Hop. Bars and rhymes. It’s that vibe. When it comes to my solo stuff it’s always really jazz influenced. The moments of grandeur where the music gets bigger as the sound escalates… the support and cushion of the lyrics and vice versa, you know. When I get back to my solo stuff, that will be re-introduced as well.

What is your favorite part about being an artist? Is it creating the music? Is it being in the studio, filming the music videos or the live aspect of the performances?

To me… it’s the studio. I love the other facets. Definitely love getting on stage and being on the road and performing and bringing the music to life. But it’s the studio for me. I’m able to just create, hear music, hear beats, hear instrumentation. Hear elements musically that come together. From there I’m able to tell my story. Hear the beat for what it is. Whatever vibe or inspiration I get from the beat. The studio is it for me.

Now, you speak a lot about the pros and cons of being independent. I think with the current state of music right now, a lot of artists are getting signed from one hit wonders and club singles. It portrays a very unrealistic expectation for beginning artists. Do you have any advice to the younger generation that is trying to make it in the music industry in regards to making a decision to get signed to a label or stay independent?

I would honestly say do whatever you feel is best, but know the business. At the end of the day I think that this generation is privy to what we weren’t. Well, when I say “we”, I mean my generation as far as when I came up. I’m an 80s baby, raised in the 90s.

Hell yeah. Me too!

Right? I’m 31. I’m cut from that cloth like you are. So as someone who started getting their feet wet in the early 2000’s, we weren’t privy to how the game worked. Business side of what’s what. And now there is so much more information available between the internet. It’s an open book; it’s exposed. So many avenues that you can learn about the game. I tell up and coming artists to learn as much as they can. Figure out what it really is and then make that decision. If you want to become that guy that is on a major label, wants everything that comes with it (ups and downs and highs and lows), so be it. But know what’s on the flipside as far as being an Indie. Make an educated decision. Make the best decision for you. There are pros and cons of both worlds. Obviously, the Indie world is the more fruitful because of the splits. How much money there is to make. How much easier it is to make said money. How many hurdles you don’t have to go through. All the red tape there isn’t. All of that matters. Just be privy to it all.

skyzoo ramPhoto credit: Robert Adam Mayer

Speaking of the music industry and the business aspect of it, I know that you heavily represent “FGR” which stands for “First Generation Rich”. Our brand is “GTPS” which stands for “Get That Paper Son”. Both symbolize passion AND the paycheck. There is a saying that goes, “you shouldn’t chase the money. You should chase the vision”. What are your feelings on that statement?

I think it’s very true. I think when you chase the vision, you chase the dream… I think the money comes with it. It’s not just about whatever you’re doing you are only doing for a check. It’s about doing it for the reasons that you love it. It’s about doing it for the passion that you have for it. Within that, the money will follow. That’s the way it should be. As long as you are doing it right. Intelligently. Wisely. You’re talented. It will work it. When I created “FGR”, I created it single handedly. “FGR” is mine 100%. That’s my “Rocafella” to Jay Z. “First Generation Rich” means be the first and the last. What it really means is to be the first of your generation to do what you are doing and be the last one to say that they were the first. That’s what it all comes down to. The way I even came up with the title is watching Oprah Winfrey interview Dwayne Wade.

That’s right! I read that in an interview before.

Yeah. He, (Dwayne Wade), talked about the pros and cons of being a super star athlete and having all this money and signing hundered dollar million dollar contracts. Things that came with it. The family. The ills. I remember Oprah saying, “Welcome to the Club”! And he said.. “Wow, I guess I am”. It was like a lightning bolt. BOM! Look at that. I just grabbed it. It spoke volumes about what I want to do to what I’m currently doing. What my music’s legacy should hopefully be. When I make music. How I approach music. The way I put things together. What I talk about is that. Being the first. Being the first to make it out of whatever it is you are going through as well as being the last one to say that you are the first. My family coming up after me, after them. I want to do it so that they can’t ever say they were the first. I made it easier for everybody. Now all you gotta do is continue to follow the blueprint. Be successful.

I love that motto and story, especially because I’m from Chicago. Dwayne Wade and Oprah inspiring the brand. That’s a beautiful thing! Definitely motivational. Speaking of “FGR”, do you have any current merchandise available for purchase or do you have any new merchandise in the works?

The hoodies and the hats are what everybody wants the most. The hats just started as something I did for myself and people went crazy on Instagram! I started slowly leaking them out. Making it extremly rare and hard to grab. Then I made a deal for some hoodies and T-shirts with a company out of Portland, Oregon called Moreland Print. They have the site for FGR Merch: That’s available there. It’s a soft launch so there isn’t a ton of stuff but if you want something that isn’t available, next year we will be going towards a hard launch and pushing everything to the maximum, new sites, etc.

I know that the fans are extremly important to you. One thing that I’ve noticed about you is that you are extremly humble and make time for your fans to stay connected to them. Why is that connection so important to you?

To me, I feel like… as artists… entertainers, people that create things for the public. The fans are our support system. They are the ones that make us. At the end of the day it is about the fans. Whatever the fans do is how we can continue to push forward. Keep going, be successful, make more records. If the fans don’t care anymore then we have to re-evaluate why were are doing this. That goes for music, film, literature, fashion. You have to depend on the public to support you fiscally. We have to remember that. With me, I love interacting with my fans. I love being close to my fans. I love being able to share with them as far as my music and vision and getting their feedback and response. When I make something and a fan relates to it to the point or even brink of even tears sometimes. (Fans) saying the music saved their life or they can’t go a day without hearing my music and all these things that I’ve been told over the years. That’s what it comes down to. As long as you continue to support them, they will continue to support you. And $9.99 won’t ever be a problem. $9.99 on iTunes won’t be a problem if you continue to treat them right. Make the music that you want to make but also know that these people are watching and you are putting your best foot forward.

Simple logic, but not everybody gets that as an artist! It’s admirable and definitely respected as a fan of your music.

Word up, thank you.

So, your last project, “Barrel Brothers” with Torae was solid beginning to end. I’m still rockin’ it non-stop. I know that you had recently touched down in L.A. and were working on a new project. Do you have anything in the works? What can your fans look forward to on your new project?

Coming up is my next solo album. I’ve been doing a lot of work with Tor over the last year. You know, we started the album in January and throughout the year it’s been the recording and videos and tours. Torae is my brother so making music with him is easy. Making music with him is something that the people have come to know and love and appreciate. So all of that is great but at the same time we are both individual artists. We are both solo artists. We started out as two separate MCs that wanted to carve out their own lane. We did that before we came together as “Barrel Brothers”. We did that on purpose. We wanted to be known as two solo artists, then two solo artists that are great friends and decided to come together for the people. With that being said… I’m back to being on the solo vibe. I’m back to being Skyzoo. I’m working on an album now called “Music for my Friends”. Extremely excited about it. Something I’ve been looking forward to for a long time. It’s my third solo album. I’ve put out a ton of music but when you look at the music it’s been: album, mixtape, EP, album. Album, EP, freestyle series, freestyle series, album. I’ve dropped a ton of music but so far I’ve only dropped two full length solo albums. There have been collabo EP’s whether it was with !llmind or 9th wonder. Collabo album with Torae, freestyle series, the ode to “Reasonable Doubt”. I’ve always put a ton of music out. I treat my solo full length albums in a certain regard. I treat them a certain way and put them in a certain class. I just don’t rush and make an album. There is always a concept, a theme. Like you mentioned about the literature, the things that inspire, a story being told from A to Z and all the chapters in between that. This is only my third album. I’ve put out 15,16 projects. This is my solo album and I’m looking forward to it. It’s coming out great. I’m already half way done. Looking at a Spring, Summer release… maybe sooner depending on how I get it all done but I’m halfway there! I may wind up being done by January. Who knows?

I know your fans are putting mad pressure on you. (Laughs). I see it all the time on Twitter.

(Laughs). Yeah, they are like.. “When is the new one coming?” I’m like… “Summer”. They are like… “Summer?!!” But you know it could change. It could get pushed up. It’s just that when it comes to the business side the thing that fans don’t know is that when we were coming up, we didn’t care how many records someone sold or what the push back was. We just wanted to know when it was coming. So, the thing that fans don’t know is the post production or the distribution… that’s where you have to give yourself that cushion. Even if I’m done middle of January, we’re going to be mixing, we’re going to be mastering. Vinyl takes a minimum of two months. So even if I’m done in January, it still may not come out until June. That’s just the way it goes as far as creating music and putting it out. Physical distrubtion and things of that nature. Regardless, it’s coming. I’m super excited. I’m working on it two to three days a week minimum. It’s dope! I’m really looking forward to putting it out.

I’m excited too! Thank you. I know that time is valuable. I appreciate the time that you took to give me some insight on the past, present and future of your music. Much respect.

Thank you, I appreciate that.

Oh! By the way, do you have any more visuals coming out for “Barrel Brothers”?

We may do one more video. I think we are going to do one more actually. We might do the Apollo Brown joint.

So dope! Apollo is ill!

He has a crazy one coming out on my solo album too.

I’m looking forward to that too! Thanks again.