The artist formerly known as Mad Skillz is best known for his 2000 tell-all single "Ghostwriter,” where he named artists he wrote hit singles for in the past (P. Diddy, Foxy Brown, Mase, Jermaine Dupri, among others), and his annual "Rap-Up" songs, which sum up the biggest events in hip hop over the past 12 months.
Born in Detroit, Skillz moved to Richmond, Virginia as a kid, where he honed his craft and developed his…ahem, skills. After finishing in second place in a national freestyle competition in 1992, he signed with Atlantic Records, who released his debut album From Where??? in 1996. In the late-‘90s, he united with fellow Virginia natives Missy Elliott, Timbaland, and The Neptunes, and made appearances on Timbaland's albums Tim's Bio (1998) and Indecent Proposal (2001). While he searched for a new deal, Skillz formed the Supafriendz and appeared on a remix of Aaliyah's 1998 hit single "Are You That Somebody.” He eventually signed with ultra-hip indie Rawkus, where he recorded his 2002 effort I Ain't Mad No More under his new moniker. Sadly, the album never got officially released in America until it was re-packaged as Confessions Of A Ghostwriter in 2005. Lately, he’s been a featured artist at okayplayer.com, run by ?uestlove of The Roots, and has been issuing his awesome “Rap-Up” singles. His new album is called The Million Dollar Backpack (out now on Koch) and features Black Thought, Talib Kweli, Common and Freeway.
Freestyle 101 was stoked when Skillz dropped by The Engine Room in Hollywood to spit an impromptu videogame-filled rhyme he wrote on the spot on his Sidekick over a tense Messiaz beat. It was pretty amazing to watch a lyrical giant like Skillz do his thing, I must say. He also had a thing or two to say about freestyling in hip hop, and spoke of seeing a young Jay-Z impress LL Cool J by battling any taker on the streets of New York. Legendary stuff!
Freestyle 101 goes up at 9 a.m. PST (that’s noon over on the east) every Tuesday. Next week we bring you the great Shabaam Sahdeeq, followed by Tech N9ne, Thirstin Howl III, Sticky Fingaz of Onyx, MC Lars, Kool Keith, Heltah Skeltah, Custom Made, and many more. Make sure to dig out behind the scenes photos, visit us on MySpace and rant in our Forums. And if you dig Skillz, go watch other lyrical artists such as Murs, Supernatural, Guru, Papoose, Gift of Gab, Big Noyd, Planet Asia, and others.