Beats, rhymes and life are three of the corners where hip hop intersects. Few other TV shows have been able to cover all of these angles in-depth and authentically quite like REVOLT TV’s “Drink Champs,” which thrives on its candid conversations with the biggest and most influential figures in the game. In honor of such a one-of-a-kind show, REVOLT will be recapping each weekly “Drink Champs” episode, so you can always catch the gems that are dropped in each lit interview.
On the latest episode of “Drink Champs,” N.O.R.E. and DJ EFN link up with respected lyricist and ghostwriter extraordinaire Mad Skillz, who makes his debut on the show and gets the public more familiar with the man behind the bars. Born and raised in Richmond, Virginia; Skillz’s standout performance at the New Music Seminar helped earn him a deal with Atlantic Records, where he released his debut project, From Where???, in 1996. Spending the rest of the decade making sporadic guest appearances, he resurfaced in 2000 with his indie single, “Ghostwriter,” and again in 2002, releasing his sophomore effort, I Ain’t Mad No More, on Rawkus Records. However, Skillz gained unexpected notoriety during the aughts with his annual “Rap Up” series, which continues to generate buzz and has helped keep himself in the spotlight nearly 30 years in the rap game.
To help give fans a recap of the episode, REVOLT compiled a list of nine things we learned from Skillz’s “Drink Champs” episode. Take a look at them below.
1. On Teddy Riley’s Impact on Virginia
King of New Jack Swing and super-producer Teddy Riley’s arrival in Virginia Beach during the early ‘90s had a significant impact on the area’s music scene, with aspiring artists like Skillz gaining inspiration from his presence alone. The rapper speaks on Teddy’s time in Virginia and his influence in helping turn the state into a musical hotbed. “When Teddy came down, we were enamored,” he says. “Lost, so to speak, ‘cause he was right there. Nigga, you’d be in school, at lunch, and niggas like, ‘Yo, Micheal Jackson’s in fucking Virginia Beach,’ and you like, ‘Nigga what? Fuck you mean?’ So Teddy coming down and making that move, he opened up a whole fucking stratosphere of opportunities. Like, you gotta think, Teddy’s the only nigga that was a super-producer, but opened the door for two other super-producers.”
2. On Being The First Major Rapper From Virginia
Prior to The Clipse and other V.A. reps stamping the land of lovers as a major player in the rap game, Mad Skillz was the first bonafide lyricist to land a major label deal. He touches on his struggles in the rap game that came as a byproduct of his southern roots. “To be first was always weird,” he admits. “And niggas always forget the first, I don’t feel like we pay enough respect to the Bams and the Hercs and shit like that, so when you’re first it’s weird. But I knew that where I was from had to be represented in a way that people hadn’t seen it before. So it was niggas calling us country, niggas was calling us bammas and shit. Same shit with Atlanta, in a way but I was like, ‘My nigga, we get fucking busy. We do what we do.’ Half of y’all niggas down here in school anyway. Come down here and get show money, get drug money, it is what it is. So what y’all ain’t gonna do is clown us.”
3. On Dissing A Young JAY-Z’s Music
After winning the runner-up prize at New York City’s famed New Music Seminar, Skillz befriended DJ Clark Kent, whom he admits to talking down on JAY-Z to during the future moguls humble beginnings in the rap game. “I used to fucking go to Clark’s house and talk shit about JAY-Z like a dumbass and shit. I’d drive back and forth [to New York from Virginia] and I’m going to Clark’s house, and I came in second [in the New Music Seminar], so I’m still trying to prove [myself], like, ‘Nigga, I’m the best.’ And he’s like, ‘Yo, I want you to listen to this nigga I got named JAY,’ and I’m like, ‘Aight.’ So he’d play me records and shit and I’m like, ‘Yo, Clark, I’ll smash that nigga, Clark. I’ll kill that nigga.’ And he like, ‘Yeah, yeah, cool. Calm down, listen to the records.’ So, I listen to the records again. He played me a record called ‘What’s in a Name,’ the shit was the most craziest shit in the world. He was talking about hustling, but he was using niggas names in the song, like, rappers. It’s still 10 [JAY-Z] records I heard in Clark’s house that I never heard [anywhere else] before.”
4. On Being Bodied By Nas on a Song
When asked who he feels is the better emcee between Nas and JAY-Z, Skillz goes with the latter, but recounts an instance where Nas outshined him on a track as being the most embarrassed he’s ever been in proximity with another rapper. “I would have to say JAY, but Nas washed me on a song, though. Nas washed me on a Timbaland song, like, straight did me in, so he’s next [best]. We did a song together called ‘To My Niggas’ — classic shit. I did my verse and I’m on Timb’s album and shit, the song comes out, I’m like, ‘Oh shit, I’m on a song with Nas.’ The fucking beat comes on, I’m like, ‘Oh shit, Nas ‘bout to be on this song,’ this nigga comes out of nowhere, ‘Splat y’all dudes with gats I use / Ice hanging off my chest ‘cause my cash improve.’ I’m just like, ‘Oh, fuck.’ Like, I didn’t get a chance to change my shit or nothing. I go back to Virginia, niggas is like, ‘You got washed.’ The whole nine I’m like, ‘But, nigga, I got a song with Nas, nigga,’ you know what I’m saying? Like, fuck outta here.”
5. Why He Believes Eminem’s “Renegade” Verse Was The Best
A recurring debate on “Drink Champs” is whether Eminem actually “bodied” JAY-Z on The Blueprint cut “Renegade,” an opinion that grew legs largely after it was levied by Nas on his diss track “Ether.” According to Skillz, Eminem’s technical prowess and precision gives him the edge over JAY. “Marshall washed him on that, though,” he argues. “The only time Hov ever got washed. You know why? For me, when JAY’s rapping, he’s doing JAY. When fucking Eminem starts rapping, it sounds like someone’s playing an instrument.”
6. How He Became a Ghostwriter
Known as one of the most prolific ghostwriters in rap, Skillz gives N.O.R.E. and DJ EFN the rundown on how he initially got into that line of work. “I was in New York. A New York DJ at the time — I ain’t gonna say who he was. I’m in the studio and you know, I’m just a Virginia nigga in New York and I had signed to Big Beat and he comes into the wrong room, like, ‘Oh shit, I thought this was the B Room.’ I said, ‘Nah, it’s next door or whatever.’ He like, ‘Oh, okay, cool — Oh shit, Skillz, right? I’m like, ‘Yeah,’ he’s like, ‘Nigga, what you working on?’ So I play him some shit and he’s like, ‘Nah, this shit [is] hard, you should let me get this.’ But the only thing on it is the hook. And I’m like, ‘Yeah, let me put my raps on it,’ I’m not knowing that the nigga’s saying, ‘I want this and I wanna put other rappers on it. I don’t fuck with you like this. I know who you are, you was cool, but this shit [is] hard. You should let me get this.’”
7. His Thoughts On Rappers Having Ghostwriters
One topic regarding ghostwriting that pops up during Skillz’s visit is the beef between Drake and Meek Mill, which resulted in reference vocals from rapper Quinten Miller — intended for Drizzy — being leaked. Skillz gives his assessment of the situation, as well as his belief that having ghostwriters doesn’t do much to damage careers in today’s musical landscape. “It was bound to happen sooner or later,” he says of the leaked references. “Like, they was gonna come out [eventually] because at the end of the day, niggas like us, we cared. In ‘97, ‘98, we gave a fuck. If you tell me Rakim didn’t write ‘Microphone Fiend,’ I’m knocking all this shit the fuck over.’ But, these kids today, they don’t fucking care. They don’t even have the proper place to look to find the credits.”
8. On Wreckxxx-N-Effect Giving Q-Tip a Black Eye
During the early ‘90s, A Tribe Called Quest got caught in a spat with Teddy Riley’s crew, Wreckx-N-Effect, which resulted in Q-Tip landing on the wrong end of a beatdown. “Wreckx-N-Effect was Harlem, but they was running around in Virginia Beach with Teddy,” Skillz explains. “I think they took offense to something that Phife said. Phife said, ‘Strictly hardcore raps, not a New Jack Swing,’ and they felt some kind of way about it. I wasn’t around for that, but I think they jumped him or some shit.”
9. On Uncle Murda Copying His Year-End “Rap Up” Series
The elephant in the room is addressed as N.O.R.E. brings up Skillz’s dispute with rapper Uncle Murda, who began releasing his own version of the “Rap Up,” which has become popular in its own right, several years ago. While remaining diplomatic, Skillz shows no qualms about other artists of all varieties doing their own rendition of the series, but points to a lack of respect and credit, as him being the originator, as where he draws the line. “Understand. I’ve been doing this shit 19 years. It’s a Malaysian ‘Rap Up,’ it’s a Hong Kong ‘Rap Up,’ It’s a U.K ‘Rap Up.’ Fucking Tina Fey did a 30 Rock ‘Rap Up.’ I’ve written ‘Rap Ups’ for ‘The Wire,’ fucking ESPN, Sports Center, like, all this shit. So when the nigga did it, I’m used to niggas [copying it]. Vine was popping, YouTube, niggas was doing the shit all over, but most niggas would be like, ‘Yo, this is the so-and-so ‘Rap Up,’ shout out my man Mad Skillz, blah, blah, blah.’ They knew they was biting, but it was to show love. For Lenny, he did it and it was like, ‘Fuck his shit.’”