Skyzoo is a rapper’s rapper. The Brooklyn emcee has made some really dope music in the last five years, from Corner Store Classic to The Salvation, and more recently with mixtapes The Great Debater and Theo vs. JJ: Dreams vs. Reality. Next up for Skyzoo is the release of his sophomore album, A Dream Deferred, on October 2nd. TRU chopped it up with Skyzoo about his new musical direction and the themes of the album, as well as his standing in today’s hip-hop landscape.
A Dream Deferred is very different from The Salvation, both musically and thematically. Whereas The Salvation was essentially soul samples and personal lyrics, A Dream Deferred is a broad musical experience with dense themes. How were you able to balance the enhanced music with your signature throwback lyricism?
It was easy. It wasn’t difficult at all. The idea really was to just expand sonically. It wasn’t to say, “We’re not going to be as lyrical, we’re not going to tell a story.” I’ve always told people, “I don’t care what the beat sound like (sic); I’m still going to do what I do.” That’s why, if you’re a true Skyzoo fan, you’re never going to be disappointed because I’m always going to do what I do.
What led to the change in musical direction for A Dream Deferred?
To me, it’s just about constant growth. I didn’t want to make another album full of soul samples and things like that because I feel like I already did that on The Salvation. The same way you listen to Live from the Tape Deck, even though it wasn’t technically an album, it still sounded different from The Salvation. If you look at the greats, (Jay-Z) does that. Kanye, every album is different sonically. Even my man Black Milk. There have to be pieces of you that stay in it, but you still want to be able to expand.
How do you think your hardcore fans will take the new musical direction of A Dream Deferred?
I think they’re going to love it because it’s not that drastic. It’s not like, “Yesterday he was rhyming over soul samples and today he’s rhyming over a Flo Rida beat.” It’s just subtle. The last album, The Salvation, nearly every song was a soul sample. This album, every song is original except maybe two or three records.
Do you ever feel boxed in by audience expectations?
Sometimes. It’s weird, man. I think a lot of times when fans… at the end of the day, a lot of us in the game are fans of each other. Sadly, I think it’s the fans that kind of put that divide there and that fence up and you got to be on one side of the fence. I think sometimes I am put in a box.
I’m going to make the music that I want to make. At the same time I’m conscious of what my fans want to hear. It’s never going be something drastic. It’s never going be that. It’s always going be in the middle that makes people happy and represents me the right way.
What is your general message with A Dream Deferred?’
The general message- first off the story is me, it’s my story. Like any of my music, I hope that it’s anyone’s story. I feel like it is.
The album is one theme, but it’s broken down into something that represents two different sides. A big theme on the album was my life experiences, me making a left while (my friends) were making a right.
Everyone has something that they were trying to go after. Everyone has something that they were trying to push for. And what happens when that dream is (nothing like) what you thought it would be? Do you keeping trying to achieve it, or do you turn around and go home? That’s the question of the album.
What records from A Dream Deferred mean the most to you?
“Steel’s Apartment,” “How to Make it Through Hysteria,” “Range Rover Rhythm,” all of them to tell you the truth. “Spike Lee Was my Hero.” The thing about the album, there’s no filler. I feel like when it’s a mixtape, it’s supposed spit, it’s supposed to be oohs and ahhs. When it comes to an album, it’s supposed to be an album; it’s supposed to be cohesive. It’s supposed to tell a story. This album just continues to do that. Even the singles have a purpose. These records all have purposes with the title A Dream Deferred.
Would you like to work with Chi Ali now that he’s released?
We actually worked yesterday. We were going to keep it low and we was (sic) so excited in the studio and we started taking pictures and all that and we Instagram’d it. The “Jansport Strings Remix” is the song. We’re just mixing it now.
When can we expect to hear that?
Soon. Real soon. Definitely before the album. The album comes out in a week and a half, so definitely in the next week and a half.
You have some lesser known singers on this album that showcase some strong vocals. How did you find them?
(Jessy Wilson) is really the only one (unknown). As far as Jessy, I grew up with her. She really has the most amazing voice I’ve ever heard in my life. She started as a background singer for Alicia Keys. Then she started doing John Legend’s (background vocals). She’s actually signed to John Legend’s label. She’s a Grammy-nominated writer. She wrote “Heavenly Only Knows,” “Save Room,” “P.D.A.,” and “Do It Again.” She’s very well-known within the industry, but the public doesn’t know her yet. I’ve known her since I was fourteen. She’s lived two doors down. We’ve spent Thanksgivings and Christmases together.
There are a few times on this album where you recite Jay-Z lines, such as “Hospital dazed, reflecting while my man laid up/On the uptown high block he got his side sprayed up,” on “Range Rover Rhythm.” Is Jay-Z an influence on you and your music?
Jay’s a huge influence on me and my music. I use that line because that situation happened to me as well and a friend of mine. That was why it made sense to use it. I got a friend who that really happened to. When I was writing the record, that record to me was my version of “Dead Presidents.” When I started thinking about that, when I got to the third verse, I thought about the actual song and that line and my friend who that happened to, and me and him and what we had to deal with that and it made sense.
You’re an underground favorite and an emcee’s emcee. Now that you’re on your second album, are you at all concerned with achieving mainstream success?
When you get into this man, you want to be known. You want to be mainstream. You want to make as much money as possible. Nobody says “I want to be unknown.” Everybody wants to be on TV, magazine covers, radio. But you realize what the game is and how it’s filled with politics. With me, I want to continue to make the music I make and touch the people I do with music. But you know, it would be great to be on the level of all these guys who are on the radio all day. Things happen, but it will all work out and be the way that it’s supposed to be. I’m more concerned with leaving a legacy.
You state you feel you’ve made it. What does making it mean to you?
It means that, regardless of what happens next, I feel like I’ve achieved something. I’ve touched people’s lived. I’ve made music that matters. I’ve sold records. I’ve traveled the world. I’ve gotten hits from people on Twitter, on shows. People run up on me in the street and say “You’ve changed my life.” A kid came up to me at a show and said “I’m about to go to jail, I have to turn myself in in two weeks. I wish I would have heard (your music) earlier, maybe I wouldn’t have to go to jail.” I feel like I’ve done something that I can go home and write about.
What has been the most rewarding moment in your career so far?
I don’t know if there’s been only one. I think that there has (sic) been a lot of moments that I would call the most rewarding. Traveling the world- China and Europe, places I’ve been, (and getting) a reaction and touching people and change their lives. Definitely working with Chi. It means everything to me because this is the guy who made me want to (be a rapper). I got a line on the remix that says “I was by a light pole, Tre Styles/Caught up in the dice roll, looping up ‘Maniac Psycho.’” Those were the things going on around me. I had Chi Ali in my headphones when I was walking home from school. “Maniac Psycho” was one of the songs I had in my headphones. Just like Tre Styles in Boyz N the Hood, I saw all these things. Those headphones I had on made me want to go somewhere else.
Is there a tour in the works?
Hopefully. There’s a lot of stopping. From here, to here, to here, to here. (Duck Down Records) is working on a tour.
Who are your top five emcees, dead or alive?
Biggie, Jay-Z, Nas, Mos Def, Andre 3000.