Lil Skies Talks Father's Near Death Experience, Selling Drugs to Pay Bills & the Motivation Behind His Face Tattoos

Jessica Xie
Lil Skies photographed at Billboard on Feb. 13, 2018 in New York City.

Since he was a toddler, Pennsylvania rapper Lil Skies has always had an insatiable drive to succeed in music. His father, who was a musician himself under the moniker Dark Skies, never wrestled with his son, who eagerly wanted to emulate his artistry. After his father nearly lost his life to an explosion at his construction job, Lil Skies morphed into an indomitable workhorse in the studio, vowing to never allow life to rattle him.

To ensure his commitment to music, he got his face tattooed, so that he would never be able to give up and settle for a day job. He also dropped out of college, further cementing his decision. Skies' new sense of urgency proved to be effective, as he deftly carved one of the hottest projects to debut in 2018. With a penchant for infectious hooks and indelible lyrics, Skies' Life of a Dark Rose peaked at No. 10 on the Billboard 200 during its second week last month.

Skies has also managed to find success on the Hot 100, courtesy of his Landon Cube-assisted records "Red Roses" and "Nowadays," which currently sit No. 77 and No. 71 on the chart, respectively.  While his subject matter might appear melancholic at times due to his old drug dealing ways, Skies never shies way from swatting his opposition with his brash delivery, as showcased on the boastful "Big Money" and "The Clique." 

Billboard sat down with the 19-year-old phenom about his runaway success, his face tattoos, selling drugs, and his relationships with his dad and with Gucci Mane. 

Take me back to when you were Baby Skies. When did you fall in love with music?

Shit, I fell in love with music when I was three years old. My dad used to do music and shit, so basically growing up, I used to just watch him. That’s all I used to just see. When I would see my dad, that’s what our relationship was. I ain’t see my pops like that, but when I did, we would be at the studio or some shit like that.

I started freestyling and stuff, and he got me a boombox. One day he recorded me on his phone, and he was showing his friends like, “You gotta get him in the studio.” He took me to the studio when I was four. Ever since I recorded my first song, I was nervous, but I knew it was a crazy-ass feeling. It felt like something I couldn’t explain. Once I get in that zone, that’s just what it is.

Your dad is a musician who goes by the name Dark Skies. How excited was he when he found out you were going to do music full-time -- and then, pay homage to his name?

My dad has always been excited, and he has always been the real supporter. Like I said, that was me and his relationship. He was like, “If you wanna do this shit, you gonna do it.” That’s what he always said to me. I take that advice with everything in life. I was like, “Damn, I wanna go crazy with the tats. I'ma do it.” So I did it.

On the intro, “Welcome to the Rodeo,” you speak about your face tattoos and how you use them as motivation. Looking back at them now, because you have already gained success in your career this early on, do you have any regrets about your tattoos?

Hell no. I’m probably not getting no more now, ‘cause I done took up like hella space, but I stay getting new tats, man. That shit’s like music. It’s just something that grows with me. I just be going with the flow. I know for sure that when I get a new tat, it’s for life. I don’t got no regrets with any of my tats. I got tattoos that are really old looking, old feeling, but at the same time, I like it. It’s art to me.

How many do you have altogether?

I don’t know.

I feel like you’re in the 50-60 range.

I might be up there for real. I don’t even remember when I stopped counting. I got a lot now.

 

A post shared by @lilskies on

 

What’s your most meaningful one?

My most meaningful one is the one I got for my friend Shaq. I never mention this one. I got these two on my wrist for my pops. It says April 28th, 2010. That’s the day my dad almost died and shit.

The explosion right?

Yeah, the explosion and shit. That was just a big one for me. Both of these tats, definitely.

How did that explosion change your mindset on not only life but I’m assuming that pushed you to do music and take it seriously?

I wasn’t cocky or anything, but I was like my dad, and my dad was kind of big-headed, you feel me? So after seeing that shit, that definitely changed me. I was still young, but in school I just thought I was that dude. But that shit made me realize God is real, and he can take this shit away from you at any time, so you gotta really cherish this.

It was crazy to me, because I feel like I was one of those kids where the weirdest shit would happen in their life. Some shit like that would happen -- like, your pops will blow up. I’ve been through hella shit in my life... but I know it like means something. I gotta take the best and the worst from each situation. And my dad, that shit made us closer. It was a blessing.

I know even after the incident, you guys messed around and ended up writing music together.

Hell yeah. We did a project, Father-Son Talk.

Would you guys consider doing a part two?

I mean, probably, on some father-son shit. It would just be for him to listen to. Now he’s more laid back. He just had my little sister, so he’s more on his family shit. He’s trying to do shit differently. When I was younger, he wasn’t in my life as much. Now, he’s in my little sister’s life every day. And my other sister, he be taking care of her. He fell back in the scenes, but I feel like that’s what he wanted. He just wanna see me do my thing.

I know you went to college for a little bit. At what point did you stop going to classes?

I just noticed I was going to class, and I wasn’t paying attention anymore. I was paying attention at first, but I stopped taking that shit seriously. I was still going to class, but I wasn’t doing homework and shit. I would go home after class and drop my books and just go to my friend’s house and get high all day, rollin’ up and working on music. Then, I had a show with Fetty Wap and shit. This was like when Fetty was big.

You’re talking “679” Fetty.

Hell yeah! So this shit was big, and when I opened up, it was a big eye-opener for me, because people were really knowing my shit. I was like, “Damn, I’ve been at this college and they play my shit at the parties, but this shit’s real now.” After that, more people started noticing shit in college, and soon everybody started noticing me and shit. I’m the type of rapper -- like, I’m never gonna let myself get washed up. I’m never gonna be in one area too much. That’s why I never wanna move to Cali. Everybody’s out in Cali. You see them n----s every day. That’s why nobody cares. Fuck that shit. I’m tryna be the rare gem, you feel me?

So you’re trying to stay in PA long-term?

Hell yeah, I’m trying to stay in PA. Back my way, for real, for real. I know it’s harder for me to get work done and shit, but I work better back home, as far as recording and shit.

If you were to go back to your school, are you doing a homecoming for $50K, $60K, or for free just off the love?

Oh nah, I would do it off the love. I’m tryna get some shit right now. Prom and shit, they’re trying to get me to come back to my school. That would be dope for the school and shit. In my hometown, I’m big as shit. Now it’s more global which is dope, but now my hometown is more hip with everything.

It’s weird because in high school, I wasn’t a nobody, and I was known and popular, but it wasn’t for music shit or people taking me serious. They knew I had songs. It’s funny as shit though, for real. A lot of these people wasn’t really fucking with this shit.

That’s what it all comes down to in my music. As you listen to my music, you can hear that shit. It’s all real life shit. It was dope working on Life of a Dark Rose because that was a process, like when I was getting my deal and I was broke as shit. There was a whole bunch of shit going on in my life. I was going through a lot. I been came up with the concept, it’s just like getting the right tracks. Looking back, I’m thinking maybe I should have called it an album. Everybody thinks it’s an album.

It feels like an album.

Yeah, I listen to it now and it’s an album feel.

What kind of bugged me out when I was listening to the mixtape was when you were talking about trappin’ and cooking coke in your garage. Were you doing that while working on this project?

Yeah, I was still selling drugs. For a while. I was being more low-key about this shit, but I had to take care of my shit. I had bills and shit. I knew what it was. I have face tats, so I know I’m not gonna be able to get a job. I swear if I was working a job at that time, I would not be here in this seat today.

All those sacrifices really paid off. Yeah, you gotta do some things in life that you don’t wanna do, but you gotta get over that shit and it’s always a bigger picture. I never wanted to get into shit like that. If I ever do something, there’s a purpose. It’s a real reason behind it. If I do something, I’ma do it. I’m very to myself, even still to this day. My mom, nobody even knew what the fuck I was doing. I was just smart and paying my little bills that I had every month, putting groceries in the crib.

Talk about the relationship you have with Landon Cube, because the chemistry on “Red Roses” and “Nowadays” is just there, man.

We got some more shit coming. Me and Landon, I don’t really know how to explain it. Our vibe and our energy, we’re both just really relaxed. We’re both really just chill people. This is our vibe. When it comes to the music, we both got the ear for this shit. I feel like everybody is making songs, but people are doing this shit so quick.

People are just making anything. I feel like with us, we really wanna make hit, solid songs. Billboard shit. That’s how we look at it. Every song has to be a hit. Life of a Dark Rose has way more songs than that, but I changed the list around like a hundred times.

How many tracks did you record overall for the project?

It was probably like 20-30 something.

Which track was the hardest one to cut?

I got this song called “Name in the Sand,” but timing is everything. I was waitin’. I got some shit, bro. I’ve been saving. I got some Drake shit, I got all types of shit. I’m really trying to tap into everything.

What do you think is so dope about Cole Bennett as a director when it comes to capturing everyone’s vision, especially since he was involved in “Red Roses?”

Cole brings things to life, and that’s what you need. Nick, that is my camera guy right here, from Jandora Media, he’s been recording all my videos from my come up. I was going to get Nick to shoot the “Red Roses” video, but I needed to get that platform. When you get that platform, it’s like -- how are you gonna attack it, and use it?

It all made sense to go to “Red Roses” to “Nowadays.” We’re on some real life family shit. Besides all that extra shit, we really just wanna win. When you all love something, it’s all gonna flow. That’s how it is with Cole. We genuinely just care for this shit. That’s why I fuck with him.

I missed a couple shoots and shit due to traveling and I’ve been sick, all types of shit... Cole is real genuine and he just wants to make sure you good. Besides all the music shit, as a person he’ll like check up on you, like a brother. When we get together it’s chemistry.

These dudes are like your family. That reminds me of that “The Clique” record that you have. 

That’s what that shit’s about. My brothers, we grindin’. I ain’t make it yet. I’m just getting my feet wet. I still got a lot to do, and I know that. As far as like the XXL Freshmen, if I make it, that’s dope, but I’m not really pressed on it at all. I know everything comes with time. I’ve been doing this shit since I was four, but this was my first year being in the game.

Your project jumped into the top 10 on the Billboard 200 after its second week last month, you went from performing at your school opening for Fetty Wap to now having your own headlining tour. Has it all sunk in for you yet?

It’s lit, bro. I don’t even know what to say, honestly. It’s so weird selling out these shows. It’s weird to me how I can go to another place and all these people came here to see me. The Chicago show, when I seen that, I was like man, it’s over from here. It’s up now. I gotta apply more pressure. I wanna be so great and that shit kills me, especially at performing. I just keep wanna make solid music through all this shit.

Do you feel that pressure of having PA on your back? Wiz had it, Mac had it, Uzi had it and he’s still doing it. You feeling that weight on your back right now?

Hell yeah, I feel hella pressure. I can’t lie. I’m human, you feel me? At times, I feel like I got the world on my shoulders. It’s unreal to me, a lot of this shit. Now I’m at a point where so much shit keeps happening. I keep achieving so much and it’s like -- if you achieve something and the next day you achieve something else, how do you have time to celebrate and enjoy what you’ve achieved? Now it’s like a whole bunch of achievements but it’s so much work. I’m not a big celebratory person, but it’s just different. I can’t do normal shit no more -- like I can’t just be in the store. Even back home, I just stay home.

Shit’s dope, but I got a lot of haters too. I got a lot of n---as that just hate just because. I’m just literally doing me, that’s the crazy thing. Why are they so interested in me? I don’t respond. You can’t get to me. You wanna get to me, but you can’t. That’s what keeps people intrigued,

You don’t ever see me commenting back on Instagram comments. I don’t even read my shit, bro. If someone big was to tweet me, I would find out through like a fan, or one of my homies would tell me. I never read my comments. I’ve been told, like, Gucci commented. Gucci is the big bro, though. I got music with him coming, dropping soon.  

What did Gucci give you as far as advice?

As far as advice, I don’t know. But he pretty much keeps telling me I got it. He’s fucking with me mad hard. [He's] tryna holla at me about deals and shit like that. At the same time, I’ll talk to him and be like, “No disrespect to you, but I’m tryna be my own boss... I’m tryna establish my own brand and be my own Gucci.”

He fucks with that shit, and he likes my work process. I’m not gonna get a Gucci track and sit on it for a couple days, I’ma go right to the studio and record that shit. He called me after my show and I sent him a song -- he got on it, and he sent me one for his album.

If you could pick one word to title this chapter of your life, what word would you choose and why?

I don’t really know the word but right now it’s like, when you say “made it” and “making it,” right now I’m making it. I’m still in the process of developing and getting my shit established as a brand and my music. At this point of my career, there’s still a lot of growth. That’s a good thing. That’s what I wanna do. I’m not trying to rush anything. That’s how it was with the project. It was supposed to drop in October, then it was November, then December. You know how that shit goes.

That was a good question. That shit really got me thinking.