BioWay before the breakouts of his longtime friends The Neptunes, Timbaland, Missy and the Clipse - the name Mad Skillz has been synonymous with quality word fare from Virginia. Arriving onto the rap scene proper in 1994, Skillz stuck a flag in the ground and put the world on notice that Virginia was for rhymers as much as lovers.
The emcee now records under the moniker 'Skillz' because, as his album title states, "I ain’t mad no more." I Ain’t Mad No More is not your typical hip-hop longplayer. It’s full of topics and textures, rhymes and rhythms, wit and wordplay, and guest shots from Missy 'Misdemeanor' Elliott, Musiq and Cee-Lo Green. Says Skillz, "I just wanted to bring something new to the table and give people something where they look at it and go 'I can’t even believe this came out on Rawkus.'"
In 1994, Mad Skillz was living in Virginia, pursuing his rap dreams. He was born in Detroit, Michigan and relocated to Fayetteville, North Carolina before settling down and making Richmond his adopted home in 1987. He had gotten bitten by the rap bug during hip-hop’s golden age — the years of enduring classics from Big Daddy Kane, KRS-One and Rakim, the legendary MCs whose words inspired him to create his own. "Hip-hop was more or less a way of life," Skillz says with no pretense.
Displaying that he was worthy of the name Mad Skillz, the MC garnered a reputation as battling baron, a metaphor master and punchline professor, taking out more opponents than most MCs can wave a rap book at. "If you were in a cipher with Skillz, you definitely walked away knowing who he was," says Malice of up-and-coming Virginia rap duo the Clipse. "You didn’t want to go up against him."
Skillz landed a well-deserved recording contract and in 1995 released, the aptly-titled From Where???, a small-nod to the then undiscovered talent of Virginia. Filled with avant-garde beats from the Large Professor, the Beatnuts and Buckwild, and wide weaves of words and wit with Skillz, "grinding on nouns, hitting verbs from the back," the album became an underground favorite. From Where???, produced the hit single, 'Nod Factor' along with the underground thumper, 'Extra Abstract Skillz' featuring Large Professor and Q-Tip and garnered Skillz with a Hip-Hop Quotable in The Source.
During his off-season, Skillz also discovered ghostwriting as depicted on his underground 12-inch classic, Ghost Writer. "When I fell into the ghostwriting, I was like, fuck rap," he jokes. "But like I love rapping too much." The ghostwriting jobs (for emcees he won’t name) kept food on the table, but for Skillz, rapping has always been more of a vocation than an occupation. "I’ve always been a person with a work ethic," he says, "I don’t mind getting up in the morning and doing a 9-to-5."
He still has the Skillz. He just ain’t mad no more. Got it?