Skizzy Mars understands growth. After the success of his 2015 EP, The Red Balloon Project, Skizzy stormed onto the scene and introduced himself as the carefree rapper who was going with the flow. Fast forward to present day and he’s sharing his latest album, Free Skizzy Mars, which represents the most creatively liberated and mature version of himself.
Soon after his debut, Skizzy’s music to a turn for the deep and introspective. In 2018, he released are you OK?, an EP dedicated to helping people understand it’s okay to not fully be okay. “I was going through a lot of issues with addiction and I went into treatment,” Skizzy tells Billboard. “I did a lot of therapy, and one of the things that I took from that was true connection comes through vulnerability between humans, so the only way that I’m truly going to be connected to other people is if I’m honest and vulnerable.”
Through the storm, Skizzy’s love for making music, along with his bond with his fans, powered him through all of life’s blows. This year finds Skizzy Mars happy — someone who is as comfortable as ever in his own skin and craft. The best word to describe his state of mind? Free.
“I felt free from issues I’ve had with addiction, free from creative restrictions, free from fear,” he says. His new singles like “Calabasas” showcase his fearless confidence, as he sings the hook, “Ain’t nobody like me, ain’t nobody like this.”
Skizzy Mars recently stopped by Billboard to talk about creating his new album, taking risks, and why he will always love Kanye West. Check out the full conversation below.
Why was now the time to drop a new project?
My last full-length solo project was in 2016. In 2018, I dropped a collab project at the end of the year, so I was putting stuff out but it’s just long overdue for a full-length Skizzy Mars project. I’ve stayed busy. I learned a lot about myself. And the demand is definitely there.
How much did the demand play into it? I know sometimes fans can make an artist feel pressured into dropping music when they aren’t necessarily ready.
Honestly, it’s been really aggressive. But I think it makes it better. It shows people care about what you’re doing and they want it. Music is all about trust, and there’s a relationship between artists and fans. My favorite artists, they were consistent over time. Therefore, it’s like I have trust that anything they drop I’m going to fuck with. For example, Kanye. Anytime Kanye drops something, I’m gonna listen to it. And I think that’s like the relationship between an actual fan and an artist. For my fans to stick around with me while I was learning a lot about myself and taking a break, while making some time music, shows that we built that type of trust. There’s a balance between like taking your time and putting out the best stuff and feeding the streets.
I want to go back to what you said about Kanye. Do you like everything he drops?
Well, he did it for long enough that I that I did. When I was growing up, College Dropout, Late Registration, Graduation — I loved all that shit. From then on, I was sold on anything to this day.
So you love that old soulful Kanye. The chipmunk samples, the 2000’s Kanye. But now it’s so different. Are you wishing that “old Kanye” would come back? Or as an artist, do you understand why he’s changed?
Well, I understand change. I understand growth. It’s hard to make music and be around and be relevant for like, 20 years. But I feel like a lot of the stuff he does, when someone makes music that’s so influential to you during your formative years, you kind of have a soft spot for them forever no matter what. I know it’ll never go away, no matter how crazy he acts like, he’ll always be like a favorite of mine.
Why did you decide to title your album Free Skizzy Mars?
There’s a few reasons. One was because I just felt free recording it. That was like the best word I can think of for the way I felt recording. I felt free from issues I’ve had with addiction, free from creative restrictions, free from fear. I just felt open. I think creativity flows from a place of openness and a lack of restriction.
In a more general sense, I was talking with some homies about the idea that perception is reality, and how we all have these perceptions of ourselves that affect how we see the world. As a creative, it’s easy to get sort of pigeon-holed into like “Skizzy Mars makes this type of music and he makes music for this type of people. These are the type of people that go to our shows.” Over time, you can buy into that in a limiting way. It’ll restrict you, in a sense. I think it’s easy for artists to fall into [that] because you come up on a sound, and you get a bunch of fans who love that sound. It’s comfortable and I wanted to take a risk. This was the result of that.
How’d you bring yourself to that point of feeling so creatively free?
It was just trial and error and taking risks. I think I had to ask myself, “What am I doing that’s holding me back from reaching my full potential as an artist?” I realized that I had to take more risks and even when a song doesn’t work out and doesn’t come out the way I want it to come out, I still learned about myself as an artist.
For example, there’s a song called “Demons” on the album. That was one of the first songs I did and I gained a lot of self knowledge doing that song because I realized, “Oh, I sound good over beats like this.” I never would have to be like that before. But I wouldn’t have known that if I was too scared to try. You could say the same thing with songs like “Calabasas.” I initially heard the beat and I wasn’t planning on cutting it. And then I tried it and I was like, “Wow, I sound pretty good.” It kind of set the precedent for the rest of my stuff like that.
You’re really popular among college kids, and I remember reading interviews with you back when I was in school. Every time you’d be asked, “How would you describe your sound?” And you’d respond with something along the lines of, “I represent the youth.” Now, it’s definitely been some years since then. Do you notice a shift in how that core fan-base is reacting to you maturing?
As I grow, I think it’s pretty similar. I think one of the interesting things about growing and achieving more success is that fans, in the beginning, they want you to blow up. Then, once you do blow up, they want to have you to themselves. That’s kind of a natural reaction to things. It’s like a balloon. You blow up the balloon, but then you lose it. That’s for the fans that have been with me since day one. But overall, I still think that I just try to stay true to myself and talk about shit that I know. I grew up in New York and it was crazy and we did a lot of crazy shit. We grew up young. I try to talk about this stuff I can relate to, stuff I’ve been through, stuff my friends have been through, stuff I’ve seen. And people tend to relate to it.
I want to bring it back to your last project, are you OK? What resonated with me from that is that it’s okay to not be okay. Was it difficult to put all that out there and get to that point of self-realization?
It was hard. I definitely had to go through a lot of stuff. The crazy thing is, I wasn’t even really fully there when I put that EP out. Like, I’m there now. But I just kind of was getting there when I put that EP out. I was going through a lot of issues with addiction and I went into treatment. I did a lot of therapy, and one of the things that I took from that was true connection comes through vulnerability between humans, so the only way that I’m truly going to be connected to other people is if I’m honest and vulnerable.
That’s what I can say about one of the best studio sessions that really stood out during the making of this album was with one of my producers, Blake. We talked in the beginning of the session and we just got so real with each other. That kind of set the tone for the entire session, and we felt like we knew each other forever. We did like three songs in like, four hours because that vibe was just so good. I was kind of just promoting to just talk about your problems, whatever they are. And I hope it helped.
One of my favorite songs of yours ever is “Time.” How are you honestly feeling about the timing of your career in this moment? Do you feel you’re where you should be?
I just think it’s all God’s plan. It’s easy to get caught up in comparison. I’m in an industry where it’s all about numbers and comparison, but I stay out of that. You could always say if I did something different then this would be different. But then you lose your story, lose your journey. It’s not really a competition, it’s a journey. I try to enjoy the experience. But I definitely think right now I’m where I’m supposed to be. I’m grateful.
It’s peaceful when you accept it’s not a competition.
Exactly, there’s a lot of acceptance and a lot of gratitude in it. Also I know that the music I’m making right now is good. I stand behind it. If I would have changed my past, it would have been like I wouldn’t have gotten to this point, actually. Again, the trial and error. You had to go through that to make this good, for sure.
Tell me how it feels to look back on where you were a year ago, and see where you’re at right now.
A year ago, I was just starting this album that’s out. I remember I had cut “Skiz Again” around this time, which is the intro now. I remember just really wanting to put together this cohesive album that I had sort of been working towards my whole career. I put out a lot of projects and they’ve had some success, but I felt like I was ready to make the project that was career defining up to that point. I just told myself just hustle for a year. Stay focused on music, stay in LA for a year, stay out of trouble. And a year later, like the album’s done, and I’m really so happy with it.