Skyzoo Breaks Down His Five Favorite Tracks From His New Album 'In Celebration of Us'

Jessica Xie
Skyzoo photographed at Billboard on Feb 2, 2018 in New York City.

In Celebration of Us, Skyzoo’s fourth studio album and seventh overall, is an unapologetically black album.

The 15-track project is an exploration into the black community and a look at their place in society and who they are, as a people. As the rapper puts it, In Celebration of Us is the hip-hop version of Solange Knowles’ A Seat at the Table. Skyzoo touches on topics from cultural appropriation to the power of the black dollar, providing the sharp and intricate lyrics that the Brooklyn-born MC is known for.

The album features guest appearances by Raheem Devaughn, WordsNCurves, Kay Cola, Saba Abraha, and Jake & Papa. As for production, !llmind, Apollo Brown, Raheem Devaughn, Daringer, and more contributed to this interesting piece of art. You won’t find any rap features on the album, as Skyzoo tells Billboard: “I feel like I had so much to say that I didn’t need anyone to say it with me. If I could sing there wouldn’t be any singers on the album.”  

Aside from being a black album, it also serves as a dedication to Skyzoo’s newborn son. “It’s kind of like a guidebook or an advisory tale for him. It’s for him to look at years later and understand the message I was sending,” Skyzoo explains. That message he’s sending remains strong, as you hear a voice shouting “they don’t want us to win” throughout the project. That voice belongs to Carmelo Anthony who, in a viral video, celebrated Syracuse’s win over Gonzaga in the 2016 NCAA Tournament, saying those exact words. Skyzoo used that sound bite as a representation of what it means to be black in America, and it couldn’t have been used any better.

Skyzoo sat with Billboard to tell the story behind five of his favorite cuts from In Celebration of Us. Check out his picks below.

"Everybody Is Fine"

So this track sets up the whole tone of the album. It's just a smorgasbord of all this shit that's going on in our society. It's all these different sides at one time coming at you. No matter what people will say everything is fine regardless of the issues that’s going on. We let them say that we’re fine. We let Trump tell it, we let whoever else tell it, that we’re fine. Everybody is not fine. The record is eight minutes long because I didn't want there to be any room for listeners to say they didn’t catch what I said. Which is why, after rapping the whole thing, I do it over -- but on some spoken-word shit.

The song opens with this scene I’m painting of this dude drinking out of a flask, who’s probably down on his luck. The scene continues with everything going bad. Somebody got killed in the projects and everyone is in the lobby crying in despair. Then it goes to us retaliating against the police and everything going on. It’s me basically saying we’re over this and now we’re going to take a stand. The song then goes into the direction of police brutality and how ironic it is for a jury to acquit a cop for killing a black man, but when the roles are reversed, that same jury who acquitted that cop wants justice for their child.

"Heirlooms & Accessories"

The idea for this record came from an art exhibit that Kerry James Marshall had last year at the MoMa. He had this one painting called Heirlooms and Accessories, and it was a picture of this group of white folks attending a lynching back in the 1940s or 1950s. Everyone in the picture was just looking around, with no sad or remorseful looks. It wasn’t a big deal to them. The way Kerry James Marshall explained it was that I think the picture was in some type of locket, like an heirloom, and it was passed down by generation. He spoke on how much that meant to pass down a certain legacy like that. Regardless of how heinous or visceral the legacy is.

I’m also talking about the issue of gentrification. I saw this dude -- you know, the new Brooklyn gentrified white guy, taking his Citi bike into the projects and 30 seconds later coming right back out. You already know he went in there to purchase. It blew me away that these two worlds were colliding, the hood and this new gentrified world they’re trying to push. It’s like, shit changed -- but not so much, because don’t think that guy won’t dime you out if the opportunity presents itself.

I’m also talking about cultural appropriation, where they enjoy this shit, they enjoy how ratchet the music is, they enjoy how hard the music is -- until they get asked to get put in one of those positions. They want nothing to do with it, they think it's safest to just live it off a playlist. They’re inspired by this make-believe ratchet play world. I’m inspired by knowing what this shit really is, and the dangers of it. That’s what keeps me making the art that I make.

"Forever in a Day"

Focusing on the last few verses I rapped, "Cause know that all of these green lives that used to be here/ Matter like these black lives that these blue lives shoot out of fear/ So all these green lives used over here/ Was 'posed to set it where never would a second set of shooters appear the first set is just the usual here." Once you get all this money, it’s supposed to be where you're straight. You're not supposed to be racially profiled. Your life is supposed to change, because you made it to a certain tax bracket. That’s why we fight for the shit so hard, to get this money, because everything is supposed to change.

The first set of shooters is jealousy, people in the hood, somebody coming for you. We know that’s to be expected. If we go get this money, we get success, we get a type of notoriety and we climb up the ladder. We know somebody is gunning for us. But it's supposed to be where the second set of shooters wouldn't appear. If you really believe all that shit I just said, you already lost, because none of that shit is what it is. That's what they tell us: It’s supposed to be, but it’s not. They're letting you believe you're supposed to climb up and be successful. It's like, "He's OK because he's JAY-Z, He's OK because he's Puff." We’re really falling in love with the idea of being successful, as if that’s going to save us. 

"Black Sambo"

Being an MC, if you call yourself a top-tier MC, you should be able to do all types of different things. There shouldn't be anything I can't tackle if I put myself in a certain position. I shouldn’t not be able to do anything. I’m supposed to do this. That’s why you hear multiple flows on this record. It made sense when I heard the beat. The way the record started, I was actually ghostwriting that record for somebody else, but I loved it so much I kept it.

Me and Illmind were in LA working on some records for some people and he played the beat. I came up with the idea, and I started writing the hook and the first 4-8 bars. I was spitting it, and we knew what the artist we were working with was looking for. As I kept writing it, the more I wanted to keep it to myself. Where the lyrics were going, I really wanted to continue going there. It’s a great track. It’s being able to put the two together, lyrical content and the bounce-like beat you hear in the club. This is something you could play at the club, but when you hear what I’m spitting, you hear that I actually have knowledge.

“Honor Amongst Thieves”

On this record, I’m asking the other side of the fence who don’t look like me, you know, reverse the situation. Put yourself in these shoes, like, "Do you believe that you could be taught how/ To be who you already was before you was bogged down' -- meaning, before we were brought to this country as slaves, we were black people, and we was who we was, period. So how can you tell us how we should be, when you have no idea what it’s like to be us?

That whole first verse is about cultural appropriation, and I have a problem with that concept. Like how dare I tell an Italian how to be more Italian. All I could do is appreciate what they do, and celebrate what they do and enjoy it. I appreciate their art, their culture and who they are, because I can't tell them how to be who they are.

The second verse is this story that seems like it goes somewhere totally different, but it plays off of the fact that this is a reality... I tell the story of Tre and his father from Boyz In Tha Hood and how he had his father who he looked up to everyday but then he had these friends who didn't have a father. After telling that story I tell the story of a kid in a movie theater watching Boyz n the Hood with his father -- and that kid is me. The whole time the kid is watching the movie, he’s thinking, what would he do in that situation Tre and his friends were in?

The same way Tre’s father guided him, the father of that little boy is guiding his son, telling him what would happen if he didn’t leave the car like Tre did. That movie was basically my life. That part of the record is just the significance of the father-son relationship, and how important it is to have a father in your life, especially as a black man.

THE BILLBOARD BIZ
SUBSCRIBER EXPERIENCE

The Biz premium subscriber content has moved to Billboard.com/business.


To simplify subscriber access, we have temporarily disabled the password requirement.