Skyzoo talks A Dream Deferred, humility and Bad Boy fanaticism

There are not too many artists who can say that they’re looked upon as family by 9th Wonder, had regular phone conversations with the late great J Dilla, and watched Jay-Z literally open doors for them. The aforementioned do however apply to Brooklyn spitter Skyzoo.

Taking the time to sit down with SoulCulture whilst on a brief trip to the UK, it’s apparent that Gregory Skyler Taylor, as the government knows him, is as good a hip-hop aficionado as any. With his new project A Dream Deferred just released, Skyzoo explains how he came to learn about song structures, which came in handy for the Brooklynite being that he’s now had a Billboard charting album – 2009’s The Salvation.

“In high school I thought I could just rhyme, rhyme, rhyme, and one day I’d run into Puffy on the street and I’d rap for him and he’d sign me. That was my plan at 15,” he recalls, laughing. “I always credit my song writing capabilities to Puffy’s No Way Out album and Ma$e’s Harlem World album. Before that I was just rapping and rapping and rapping. I was in the lunchroom just bodying everybody. But once I heard those albums I learnt song structures and how to make records for the radio, and how to make records for the females while still maintaining what I felt was musical credibility.”

He continues, “I was a humongous Bad Boy fan. I thought Bad Boy could do no wrong… To me Ma$e was one of the nicest emcees of the late ’90s… easy! I think he gets overlooked just because of the shiny suits and all that.” Going into super fan overdrive, which can be rare when it comes to rappers because of their nobody’s-better-than-me mentality, Skyzoo gushes over the lyrical dominance of another Bad Boy emcee – “I was also a huge fan of Jadakiss. I thought Jadakiss was the nicest dude on the planet after Biggie died. There was nothing better than when he was doing Gambino Jadakiss, when he was talking about Gators, leathers and sheepskin. There was no one better than that man.”

Giving us an example of how big of a fan he was, Skyzoo spits a line for us – “If you go back and listen to what I said on one record featured in the Penny Freestyle series, I said, ’14 when I was underneath the block/ Jadakiss was Jesus, I just wanted to be The Lox.’ All I wanted was to be standing in that Bad Boy circle with those guys.”

Also outlining a few other of his favourite lyricists, he states, “My favourite rappers of all time are Jay-Z and Mos Def. Complete opposites in everything but they have similarities being from Brooklyn and being lyrical and all that,” adding, “Of course I love Biggie. He’s the hometown hero from up the block. And of course I love Nas. My top 5 includes all of them, and Scarface.”

Staying on the subject of Jay-Z for a minute, a meet and greet with President Carter was something Skyzoo was lucky enough to be a part of before he became a recognised name. “I met Jay-Z in ’02,” he explains. “The Blueprint was still ringing loud and clear yet he was the most humble guy in the world. It was surreal. Like the ‘What the fuck?’ type of surreal. He was so cool. We were walking out and he was holding doors open for me, and I was like, ‘Nah, you go ahead.’ Stuff like that.”

Learning from this experience, he now admits that this is how he treats his fans – “I promised myself that I would never be that guy who became that guy, quote/unquote.” He adds, “I always said that if I got to any point where people know me then that’s how it has to be. Even today, I was in this shoe store called ‘Size’. A kid who worked in the store came up to me and was like, “Yo, Skyzoo?” He told me he was a huge fan and asked what I was doing in London. He offered me discount, he told me he had beats. So I told him to gimmie the beats. It’s all still humbling man.”

Discussing his beginnings and upbringing for a brief moment, Skyzoo appears as if he might have had the coolest parents as a youth. “My parents had me young. So when we were driving around they were bumping NWA, Big Daddy Kane, BDP, and I was six or seven years old in the back seat listening. I just knew I couldn’t repeat none of it.” Reminiscing, he gushes, “Growing up in Brooklyn in the ’80s and ’90s you couldn’t get away from hip-hop. That’s just what it was. Especially when it was young, fresh and new. It wasn’t what it’s become now. It was the norm like breathing. Everything was just hip-hop. It was just everywhere.”

Continuing down memory lane, homage is paid to Skyzoo’s inspiration, the recently released from prison Chi-Ali – “When I was a kid I saw the ‘Age Ain’t Nothing Number’ video and just freaked out. The minute the video went off I started rapping. I told my mother right there and then, “I wanna be that!” Breaking it down even further, he adds, “I’ve always given all the credit to Chi-Ali [when detailing my beginnings]. I’m sure I would have started rapping if it wasn’t for him because it became the cool thing to do later on, but when I was coming up rapping wasn’t the cool thing to do. It was basketball. Kids were like, ‘I wanna go to the NBA. I wanna go to the NBA.’

“Nobody was walking around saying they wanted to be a rapper. Now you’ve got every kid who’s 12-years-old with a Twitter, a Tumblr, and they’re on YouTube uploading their songs they recorded with Garage Band. When I was a kid I was the only rapper in my class. I was rhyming throughout my entire scholastic career – elementary school, middle school, high school.”

For those unfamiliar with some of Skyzoo’s earlier movements, before the release of his three albums he actually appeared on BET’s Freestyle Fridays segment as a contestant. Facing reigning champion Jin, who went on to be signed by Ruff Ryders and was, in many’s opinion, one of the best to ever do it as far as freestyle battles go, Skyzoo lost the bout. Not upset by defeat, he knew it wasn’t the end for him – “I definitely knew that wasn’t it. I knew what I was capable of and what I could do.”

Reliving the bout he says, “You gotta remember that at the time Jin was like 5-0 and there was a slim chance they were gonna give it to somebody else.” He continues, “I was 19 on that show. I knew win, lose, or draw, I was good.”

The battle itself featured the line, :Dog you gotta change your flow, I’m telling you/ You rap like A.J. dress dog… terrible,” which was a subliminal shot at one of the battle’s hosts, A.J. Calloway. While admitting it might not help his cause in winning the battle, Skyzoo claims he had a plan from the offset – “I knew me dissin’ A.J. wasn’t necessarily going to help [but] I knew the line was gonna stick with people. Some of my lines were written while some were off the head, but the A.J. line was was pre-thought, pre-concieved. I thought, ‘I’m going in with this regardless of what happens; It was strictly for publicity.”

Now a critically acclaimed emcee, it’s apparent that the outcome of the aforementioned battle didn’t matter. Skyzoo’s addiction to the grind and love of music has got him to where he is today, as well as a few co-signs here and there. Discussing the circle of producers and artists he tends to work with, who all seem to work with each other on various different projects, he explains how it all came about.

“You know what man? It’s just the people that reach out. They are just the different people of the world that you come across and build a working relationship with. Mutual likeness,” he says. “The thing I can say about everyone that I’ve worked with is that they have that respect for me as an artist and vice versa. I have respect for them as producers and artists. I’ve just been blessed to have a discography that lists names such as 9th Wonder, Statik Selektah, Just Blaze, Nottz, Black Milk, Illmind, Don Cannon, Pete Rock, Ron Browz, Needlz and Hi-Tek. It’s crazy!”

Explaining his extensive phonebook, he excitedly states, “I always tell people that if a rapper found my phone it would be like a Christmas gift. You know what I mean? Everyone’s in my phone. You name it. There’s a lot of artists too, but producer-wise everybody’s in my phone, and that’s because of the work I put in.”

Shedding a light on his grind, Skyzoo explains, “It has nothing to do with industry politics or being with this person or that person. It has nothing to do with paying my way in or anything like that. It just has to do with me consistently putting out music and those people, as well as the fans.”

While not looked at as his official debut – Wikipedia lists it as an EP, Cloud 9: The 3 Day Theory was a collaborative effort between Skyzoo and producer 9th Wonder. Lyrically on-point with signature soul enthused 9th beats, it was definitely an introduction many rap newbies can only wish they entered the scene with. According to Sky himself at the end of the album, it was recorded in three days; hence the title. “It really was,” he says of the recording duration. “It wasn’t a marketing thing. The way it went down was I did nine records in New York on my own. My man DJ Nice, who I had been recording with for the longest time, helped me record nine records in two days for Cloud 9. He actually named it. He suggested to call it Cloud 9. He was like, “Your name, 9th’s name.” I thought [the concept] was ill. So we did nine records in two days.”

Explaining that he had a planned trip to North Carolina, 9th Wonder’s hometown, he broke down the final day of recording – “So my plan was to go to North Carolina and just give 9th these records. I remember seeing him at the studio the night I landed and we had plans to get up and work the next day. I said what’s up to him and said, “Yo, when you go home take this,” and I slid him the CD. He asked what it was and I just said some jams for him to ride to. He called me the next morning at around 7:30 and was like, “Yo. I just listened to these jams taking my kids to school. What time are you going to the studio today?” I said, “Whenever.” He came back with, “Get to the studio right now! We gotta finish this.” He thought it was incredible. We got to the studio and recorded three songs that day which then meant it was finished in three days.”

Another producer whose name seems to pop up at the same time as Skyzoo’s on the regular is the late J Dilla. Ever since his ‘Show & Prove’ spread in Oct ’06’s issue of XXL, which featured the young emcee kitted out in a J Dilla t-shirt, many believed he worked with the legendary Detroit producer. For years and years fans and industry insiders were sure that Sky had laid down tracks with the beatsmith, but he assures us that it’s just a myth – “I never got the pleasure. I think the fact that I repped him so much, especially when he passed [away], by showing my appreciation for him as a producer and a musician, on top of the fact I’m cool with so many artists in Detroit, pioneers like Black Milk, Elzhi, Guilty Simpson, Houseshoes, and even Royce [Da 5’9], a lot of people think that I worked with him.”

While having not worked with him, Skyzoo did have a connection with Dilla; “We switched numbers in ’04 and used to kick it on the phone all the time. I’d call him and talk about beats. He’d hit me and wanna send me records.” Dropping some knowledge on us regarding the last conversation he had with Dilla, Skyzoo, obviously saddened, claims, “The last conversation we had he was like, ‘Yo. I wanna send you like 20 beats to pick from but I don’t wanna send you the same stuff I sent to Common, or the same stuff I sent to Erykah Badu. I wanna send you your own batch. Gimmie a week or two to come up with a Skyzoo batch and I’ll send them to you.’

“This was ’04,” Skyzoo recalls. “No one knew who I was. You know what I mean? I had a regular job. I was making records on the weekends hoping to get on. I was handing my CD’s out after work and attending open mics. No one knew who I was. If you didn’t live in Brooklyn or Queens you didn’t know who I was, yet J Dilla said that to me on the phone. That was the last conversation we had before he got really sick and then passed away.”

Having been in the game for a minute as an established rhymer, Skyzoo has seen many artists come and go. Always flying the flag as far as lyricism goes, it must be nice for him to see a new breed of youngsters coming up through the ranks. Youngsters such as Big K.R.I.T., Mac Miller, J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar have brought lyricism back to the commercial market. These same artists are aiding the youth of today in researching the acts of yesterday. Conversing with Skyzoo about the new wave of lyricists, he chips in with, “I think everything’s just come full circle. Everything just always repeats itself.”

“My pops taught me that a long time ago with everything in the world. From fashion to politics. It’s just the way of the world. It’s God’s way. Everything comes back around. From snapbacks to people wearing small jeans. That’s all it is. Kids were wearing stuff like that back in the ’80s. For a minute it was platinum, now it’s back to gold. That’s all ’87/’88. So I definitely think it all just comes full circle, especially with the music.”

One artist brought in to conversation is Pittsburg native Mac Miller. With an intricate story relating to the first time he ever met the Rostrum Records artist, Skyzoo goes back a few years. “I remember back in ’09 getting a MySpace message,” he explains. “This was when MySpace was still it… I remember this one message I got from this kid who was like, “Yo man, I’m a huge fan. How much is it for a verse?” We worked out the business, I did the verse, and then I sent it to him. Then a couple of months later The Salvation comes out. A week later the record with that kid comes out. So I was thinking, ‘Cool. He’s put it out. Great.’ It was smart to do it the week after The Salvation came out, piggyback off of the momentum and all that. The record’s called ‘Pen Game’ and he puts it out on MySpace and Twitter. A year later this kid starts blowing up, and I’m like, “Yo, that’s the kid that bought the verse.” It turns out it was Mac Miller.”

The track the two did together appeared as a bonus cut on Mac’s mixtape The High Life. The next time the two met was at South By Southwest last year. Skyzoo laughs when explaining how excited Mac was to see him – “I actually ran in to him at South By Southwest in March, and the first thing he did in the middle of a crowd of people was break away and run to me. He was like, ‘Yo, Skyzoo, Skyzoo. Remember me? I’m the kid that bought that verse from you on MySpace.’ I was like, ‘Dude, I definitely remember you. You’re fucking everywhere.’ He was then talking to me about doing another record together but this time in the studio – I told him of course, no doubt.”

Skyzoo’s new album A Dream Deferred is out now.