Born in the City of Champions that played home to the Showtime Lakers in their heyday, 25-year-old rapper Skeme comfortably seems at peace smoking a clove cigarillo, seated on a concrete block in the center of Inglewood’s Darby Park where we met up with him. In a different life, this would have been the setting for a illicit transaction or front of the crime page on the Los Angeles Times in the ’90s, but on a sunny day, the Inglewood native wanted it to be clear to the media exactly where he comes from. Having spent most of the last decade decisively navigating the aggressive West Coast hip-hop scene with critically-acclaimed work (The Statement & Ingleworld come to mind) and a plethora of collaborations with every big name in LA—from Kendrick Lamar to Dom Kennedy, and Casey Veggies—the raspy voice hustler has carefully crafted a distinct lane on his own terms.
To be able to wake up everyday and be proud of one’s creative output seems to rest heavily on his mind. While a certain notoriety surrounds his name, following reports of recent business relationships he’s built over the years coming to fruition (do your Googles, son), they do a disservice to the innate talent of the man with the hard-hitting lyrics, spit in the purest Southern-LA drawl, on banger after banger. In the midst of releasing the new 3rd edition to the popular Ingleworld series—with heavy features from the likes of T.I. and Chris Brown—Skeme caught up with us to talk about his emphasis on staying independent, the ramifications of social media, what it means to be financially comfortable in hip-hop, and what he’s learned as he’s matured as an artist.
Skeme at Inglewood’s Darby Park. Photo by Taylor Rainbolt.
SKEME: Do you think that’s because as you mature as an artist, you’re recognizing your power and impact as far as social media?
Yeah, I think—definitely as an artist, you see it growing a lot. I watch certain people do certain shit that I do all the time now, so it’s weird… 78th and Crenshaw, I’ve seen people stop at that sign and take pictures and shit, that’s weird. It’s tight, I like it. That’s a really dangerous sign to just stop and taking pictures at, but it’s cool.
Does it scare you sometimes? The influence you have on people both positively and negatively as fans?
Kind of, yeah… I don’t encourage everyone to do this shit, but I’ve definitely noticed that it comes with hip-hop popularity, people want to be like you and shit like that. So I guess I had to take some note to it, but I’m not going to stop being who I am. I heard Tip say something a long time ago, TI say some shit like we’re not built to just be somebody’s role model, half of us aren’t. I got my own son and that’s pretty much the only person I’m trying to be a role model to. Everybody else that’s just watching you live, it’s kind of hard to be under that scope and tell somebody what to do. I’m supposed to live my life the way you want me to live it all the time? I can’t be like that. I wouldn’t be the artist that I am.
Yeah, the song for your kid off Ingleworld 2, “Khalil’s Song,”—how did it feel as an artist to finally have the opportunity to dedicate a song, as a father?
That was really dope, I wanted to make a song about him. Even before he was born, I was thinking about making a song. There was a lot going on with that sound, so it was just a dope ass song to do. And that’s really him laughing in the song at the end, saying “dada” and clapping and playing. Just little videos that we clipped together and put in the song. The BPM of the song is even set to the BPM that his heartbeat had when we had his first ultrasound. I had a lot of crazy ideas in that song, it was dope. But it was literally built around him and a story thing from me. A lot of people say I don’t really tell my direct history, I tell people what’s going on right now, but I never talk about what happened to me, how I got here-type shit. So that song really reflects it.
I think Ingleworld 2 was very great insight to you as a man versus what people traditionally have already seen with you as an artist, be it with your feature work or the series. So going to Ingleworld 2 to now with the new album, what’s the difference? How have you progressed?
I think it’s pretty much more of the same thing, it’s kind of just going deeper into that. I’m not trying to make leaps and bounds, I just tell what’s going on with me right now. That’s just what I’m on. I never really focused on trying to grow crazy, I’m not really thinking about that, I’m just trying to tell my story at the moment. So that’s what I’m on for both albums. Really 1, 2, and 3, each of them is very reflective of what I’m going through right then and there. I want to get better at telling that story, that’s it.
Okay yeah, I saw you at South By, you did a thing with Rosenberg and shit. How has that been, your audience growing, outside of the traditional West Coast LA?
Shit, I remember I had my first show in New York when I was like 19. We’ve already already outside of the market. We’ve always had a stronghold here for sure. Outside of the market, we try to pay attention to that because here, alone, Inglewood don’t have nobody to root for. So definitely besides myself, Casey Veggies, but other than that, it’s just kinda been me. So you already have a set fan base here in the city, so I don’t crazy focus in on that all the time. I definitely want to take care of back home when I can, but we really try to appeal to the other markets. Whether it be ATL, whether it be New York, whether it be Miami.
I think in the particular lane that you are in as a West Coast artist, you have a very distinctive—some would say—Southern drawl that translates very well. I’ve been in Atlanta, Miami, a bunch of places where I’ve heard people fucking with your music very heavily. Is that a distinct influence of yours or does it come from where you’re from?
Yeah, my family’s from the South. Who I grew up with, they’re from Alabama, so I spent a lot of time in other places for sure. You speak with the tongue that everybody speaks with. They relate with us all the time. Then you hear certain cats that are pioneers of Southern music, they’re always telling you that their favorite artist is a West Coast guy. Even Snoop, his music sounded Southern—well, his voice in itself was a Southern, laid-back voice. All of our people from here, you rarely catch someone from LA that their whole family is from LA, that hardly ever happens. It’s definitely a melting pot of people… Especially black people in LA, if you’re not of Jamaican heritage, your people definitely came from the South and moved here to get a better opportunity. That’s just how it goes.
“A LOT OF TIMES YOU’LL HEAR PEOPLE SAY THAT THEY JUST WANT A SINGLE OUT OF THEIR ARTIST AND THAT’S ALL THEY WANT. I COME FROM AN ERA WHERE YOU DEFINITELY WANT A WHOLE ALBUM THAT FITS TOGETHER.”
Can you describe your experience, as we sit here Darby Park, as a young man in Inglewood and how it’s shaped you to become an artist?
If you from Inglewood, you definitely know the people that are here. It’s a very small ass city, everybody knows each other, so everything is around. You constantly get the same people that you know over and over again, so the same guys that surround me now have been around me since I was 12 years old, 11 years old… My mom used to tell me not to be at this park, it’s a fucked up place; gangbanging and all that type of shit. But the minute they let me off that block, I was right at this motherfucking park. There’s something about this here that attracts you to it.
They used to have park jams in here.
I tried to get one to come back, but they won’t let it.
You ever done anything with the city government in terms of throwing a show?
They won’t let us, not me. The homie asked before we were doing the interview, “Do the cops come pull out here?” When there’s a lot of us here, they don’t fuck around with us at all. Especially—there’s kids here playing football, basketball, soccer, whatever the case may be. It’s funny because I help out with buying jerseys for the kids, but they still don’t fuck with our presence. It is what it is.
Do you feel like because hip-hop—especially within LA—is more prevalent, there’s still a real connection to street culture? That the opportunities that are there for the artists to positively impact their communities are kind of not as highlighted or focused upon? Whether it’s the city or churches or whatever— because they don’t appreciate the relationship that you have, artist-wise, with the kids? Because kids listen to you.
Yeah, a lot. [The city government] definitely doesn’t pay attention to us like that and they definitely don’t give us half of the credit that we deserve. It’s cool, we’re not doing it for them. A lot of the stuff is not done for the government to recognize nothing, or the city to recognize anything. It’s the kids that are right here, the parents that do get to see us and ask us what’s going on and do get to know us. That’s cool instead of people trying to judge us by our color, that would be appreciated a lot. A lot of the parents and shit that you see around when we’re here—if you’re here in the element of it, it’s like 20 or 30 of us all the time. I guess it is kind of like—it makes people stay away from us, or some of them will want to ask us questions and shit like that. That’s cool, there’s no grey areas with us. That means either you like us or you don’t. That’s fine with me—I’m more than fine with that. I just appreciate everybody that does take the time to find out what’s going on with us or what we do.
In our era of shit, niggas didn’t want to even allow motherfuckers that they thought had a shot at something in life—“Don’t come around us.” They used to kick me out of this park because it’s like, “Nigga, what’re you doing here? For what?” It was just like that.
So coming in to the West Coast side as you have, as an independent artist, you do have the relationship with the people over at Blood Money. Can you talk about knowing your worth as an artist and why it’s important for you to—when you’re ready—make these relationships with these corporations?
I just feel like a lot of people get into this and they have a really open-eyed view of shit, and the way that they look at shit is different. I don’t look at myself like I’m only worth X amount of dollars, or what it is that we’re trying to do. I’m kind of investing in people, see my vision grow, and what it is, they wanted me as an artist. For me, I’m not really looking for a set dollar amount. I made a nice amount of money doing music, whether it’s my own shit or writing for people or whatever it may be, I’ve made a good amount of money. I’m not to a point where I just want to take anything. I really want somebody that’s invested in the entire movement, not just me and one song. A lot of times you’ll hear people say that they just want a single out of their artist and that’s all they want. I come from an era where you definitely want a whole album that fits together.
A cohesive project.
Yeah, you want shit to be like that. You don’t want it to be like, “Oh, these 14, 15 songs that I’ve made you, you guys are only paying attention to two or three of them. That’s all the time that we’re going to work.”
How do you feel as an artist when you are touring or playing shows and people just want to hear these specific songs?
I mean, that’s fine with me, sometimes most of these spots that we’ve been on when we’re touring is not just our tour by itself, so it’s like they get to hear what they know of you. When you get to rock with them on a feature and shit like that, the audience knows that song probably more than they know yours. That’s fine with me as long as I’m getting a chance to rock. I’m a firm believer in a show dictating whether or not somebody is rocking with us all the way, so I make sure to leave it all on the stage. Like right now, I don’t have a voice because of last night. I really want to perform my ass off every time I touch a stage.
Because you feel comfortable in terms of where you are, not only as an artist, but also financially, do you feel like that gives you more power and more of an interest in maintaining your creative integrity?
Oh yeah, definitely. I mean, it makes it a lot easier. I was talking to a homie of mine that’s younger than me and he’s trying to do his thing as an artist. He’s still trying to maintain a 9-5 job and doing that part-time and doing music part-time and it’s like—I couldn’t be that guy right now. I understand, but I haven’t had a job since I was probably 16 years old. I wasn’t taking no for answer. My parents asked me, “What if you need a plan B?” I was like, “I don’t believe in that.” So I’m glad that we’re in this situation where I don’t have to do anything I don’t like. The writing shit is that I gotta make money doing music for other people, but it’s still doing music. So I’m fine with that. My 9-5 job on the side is more music, and that’s fine with me. It makes me more diverse as an artist. So now, when you hear my music, it’s not just trap or street rap. Now we’re trying to appeal to a lot of people, so it doesn’t sound as rough-edged. So I’m cool with that. You get to be having X amount of dollars for doing music, and I actually couldn’t be in a better situation for sure.
Can you talk about Ingleworld 3 and what producers you worked with, artists that you have features on there with?
The majority of the production is between Shon Doe and Alex Lustig. I worked a lot with them on 2 as well. Shon did “36 Oz,” “Extras,”—he’s done a lot of work with me, different from Ingleworld. He’s been working with me since Ingleword 1, I don’t think I had Alex on 1, but I know he got busy on 2, like the “That N*gga” joint with me and Young Thug, he did that. He did “Khalil’s Song” as a matter of fact.
But I like working with people who kind of get the sound that I’m going for. We kind of have an idea of what it is we’re good at and what we’re trying to push to people. I like to take different elements out of certain songs that I really like and try to build on that. I just like expanding with that. Most of the artists that are featured on there though, they local artists, so it’s Cire and Shone Doe. Other than that, I think —T.I.’s on the album, Chris [Brown] is on the iTunes version of the album. So we tried to keep it close-knit, I really don’t like working with nobody that I can’t call a homie, so it’s kind of weird when it comes to that kind of shit. I don’t rock with nobody that I can’t see myself chilling with outside of the studio.
I think that’s a very important standard to have because I feel like oftentimes, whether it’s A&R or managers or whoever saying, “It would make sense if do a song with this person”—you might not have any respect for them as an artist or as a man or as a woman.
It’s weird to work with people that are like that. On the edge of being independent and shit like that, feeling like the track list and the people that are on the songs is kind of impressive. These are friends of mine. These are people that I still have their numbers and we still see each other in public and it’s cool, it’s not set up for a camera. There doesn’t have to be a camera around for us to be homies. Schoolboy, Kendrick, Ty Dolla $ign, Overdoz., Dom, T.I., Thug, PeeWee Longway, it doesn’t matter who it is—BJ the Chicago Kid, a lot of people. These are all friends of mine. A lot of these people are folks I consider friends, so I’m not tripping on being in the studio and sitting with them or just any bullshit. In this industry, you hear a lot of fickle shit happen, there’s a lot of gossip and shit going around, just weird shit. I’m cool on all of that, I’m just not at that point in my life where I want to deal with that, especially not in my work place. I like to keep my vibes right in the studio for sure.
“I WAS ON THE TOUR BUS AFTER SHOWS, WRITING, TRYING TO PUT DOWN IDEAS AND SHIT TO BE ABLE TO RECORD WHEN I GOT HOME. IT’S LIKE YOU CONSTANTLY GOT TO BE IN IT.”
Do you feel like as the years have gone by and as you’ve matured more as an artist, especially with the time you’ve spent in the industry, has it really changed the way you see hip-hop, music in general, and your relationships with people?
Definitely. Well, not my relationships, just more so how I look at music and the goals that we have set. The more you know the business that you’re in, the more you know what you’re preparing yourself for and what you’re looking for out of it. You can’t just be on the outside looking in and think anything is a win or have a certain mindset. Because I remember when I was young, everybody was thinking, “Oh, we need a million dollar deal.” Bro, I’m cool on that, I don’t want no million dollar deal. I don’t want to recoup a million dollars and then some change for somebody within X amount of months.” It’s a very hard bargain to push.
Can you explain that to the fans because a lot of them don’t realize that these are loans.
The money is definitely coming back, and if it doesn’t come back fast enough, that reflects on the second album that they’re going to give to you. That’s just how I look at it at the end of the day, if a major’s giving $380,000 for a deal, I’m taking it right about now. We just trying to make sure a label is fully investing in us as an artist and believing in what we do and they’re going to give us all of the free reign to do what we have to do with that budget. A lot of people will give you a million dollar budget and you can’t do shit with it because can’t nobody agree on shit. So you’re all constantly having arguments on what it is you’re trying to do, you’ll never get it off. So I don’t think a lot of artists, or just people in general, understand that about this business that we’re in. I think they just think, “Oh, you got a million dollars to the face. You should just keep that.”
Yeah, and also the fact that a lot of the people you have to interact with in terms of on the label side of things, for one, aren’t even familiar with you as an artist—aren’t even familiar with the culture and the sound that you’re coming out of, and don’t even know how to market you. But they expect you to recoup.
That’s the fucked up part of it. People don’t understand that either. Rather than 50 motherfuckers working for me that don’t give a fuck, I’d rather have about 5 that are trying to push what we’re building. I’m cool with that. I can’t deal with people that don’t believe in what it is we got going or what it is we’re trying to do. Any artist that’s coming into it, I’d suggest the same. You want people around you that really believe in what it is. Not blindly to the point where they won’t tell you that you’re doing horrible music or something like that, but to the point where it’s like they do believe in it like you are, they’re pushing for it.
Do you feel like a lot of rappers today get caught up with making 20 or 30 projects? Not to that extent—but that there’s this idea of quantity over quality.
Yeah, for sure. I do think a lot of artists just want to put out a lot of music for the sake of putting out a lot of music instead of it being—With 2, we had planned on it being a double disc, I really worked a damn near a year and a half making that double disc something that all those 24 songs were supposed to be—legit. That was the exact idea I had in mind doing that, it wasn’t just the first 24 songs we put together. No, I spent a lot of time working here, Atlanta, New York, Chicago, I was running around to places trying to make that album something.
I remember we were on the tour bus with Dom [Kennedy] and we was talking about it being a double disc. I was working on the tour bus after shows, writing, trying to put down ideas and shit to be able to record when I got home. It’s like you constantly got to be in it. I was talking to the homie the other day, you know with the job shit, and I know that’s hard, having to split your time up into two places. But as an artist, I really don’t have many places to split my effort, so it’s like when I’m in music mode, I’m in music mode. Other than that, I’m a dad and other than that, that’s it. I don’t really have a second gear on anything else, I’m cool. I don’t want to play video games with niggas, I don’t want to play basketball or nothing no more, I want to do music. Work out or whatever the case may be every now and then, but I mainly do music for the most part. So we constantly working, it’s not like a studio that they party at, something going on at all times that involves music. So I’m never really out of it, always listening to shit at peak values, just to hear it all the way and to get a feel for it. I think that’s what keeps us in it, I don’t do much of the nostalgic shit, I’m definitely dealing with the right now artists and trying to compete with them.
Do you feel like the sacrifices you’ve made in terms of music have been worth it?
Yeah, definitely. Definitely. I couldn’t see myself doing nothing else, I’m happy that I’m in it and where I’m at. I’m doing what I love every day and I’m cool with that. I afford the lifestyle I want to live, so I’m fine with that.
Photos by Taylor Rainbolt.