Los Angeles, it is said, is not like New York. There are palm trees, for one. And cars. And traffic, presumably because everyone in their cars is too busy basking in the palm trees to be bothered to drive too fast. I’m not sure. It is the city that raised Skeme, the rappers whose album Ingleworld dropped on iTunes last night, and the rapper whose music video for “Ain’t Perfect,” featuring Wale, that we are premiering above. Inglewood courses through the veins of his music—it is the neighborhood that he grew up in, the neighborhood in which he’ll raise his son, and, if he so chooses, the neighborhood in which he’ll die.
Skeme is a creature of habit. He smokes Djarum Black cloves cigarettes or nothing, he drinks so much lean that he’ll drink out of a double cup even if he’s dry—when he shows up to the VICE office, he’s bearing ginger ale in a Dunkin Donuts double cup (stolen, because they wouldn’t let him buy empty cups for reasons unknown). Over the course of over an hour together, we discussed life, the music industry, and his music, but always seemed to return to Los Angeles.
Noisey: What’s your earliest memory of L.A.?
Skeme:Damn. I was probably about two years old when—my pops was in the military—he had this six month thing, and him and my mom just split. And I had to move in with my grandparents. That's how I ended up in Inglewood when I was two. And I remember getting off the plane. My mom—my grandmother, I call her my mom–I remember her hair was done, like the whole nine. I remember her running up and picking me up at LAX. The whole nine. That's my earliest memory, ever.
Tell me about your family.
(Laughs) We have a lot of like weird-ass conversations because like you know early on, they wasn't like believers in the whole music thing. I don't think it was like a literal sense of like, “You can't do it.” Their era was the working class. It wasn't about who could outthink the next person or who had the best ideas. It was wake up, get you a nine-to-five, and do what you gotta do to earn your check. And I think that kind of instilled a whole other level of the work mentality I got with music nowadays.
That's the way lots of like generations function—the generation before values hard work, establishes a template and from there, the next generation—
Bounce off of it and build something new. And I think that's where my grandfather was. He's 71. Still to this day, constant work. Five a.m. to five p.m. every day. He's always been that way. Strict about his shit, you know what I'm saying? Moms was more so the cool, laid-back one. Allowed you to think. Allowed you to kind of figure your own way out. Pops, was more like, “Nah, if I'm ordering some shit at Burger King, we all getting the same shit.” He one of those guys. Now as you getting older, it's like looking at shit with my eyes spread out. That shit was perfect. To have somebody that instill the hard side of it and show you how to be a man as a real walking and talking example. And then to have a mother that was guiding you on the other shit.
What were you like as a kid?
Talkative little fucker. I've been trying to talk since I was like two. I remember it. When I finally got that first word out, outta here. I wanted to hoop. That was my thing.
How did you get your name?
A nigga gave me a nickname when I was a kid. This was probably when I was like 13, 14 years old. Badass kid. I'm sitting at the park with a guy gave me that name. And he resting now. He was an older cat. I used to be a badass kid. Steal candy. Steal extra lunches at the park. Steal me some money every now and then. Shoot dice at 13. He was just like, “That's little Skeme.” Like, “That's my guy right there.”
What's like the craziest shit you ever did to get money?
Man. Dope. I see that as being crazy. I never had a job.
Tell me about life as a teenager.
Gangbanger. Lots of money. Lots of drug money. That was high school. Wanting to be a hooper. Wanting to be a rapper at the end of it. And then coming to the conclusion that that might've been the best choice out of the three.
What was gang life like?
Wild shit. Sometimes I feel like we might glorify it a little bit too much and act like it’s important, but it ain't. It ain't about shit. A lot of niggas ain’t being who they supposed to be in life. A lot of these niggas is really bitches. So it's like niggas in it for the lifestyle. Only a certain few get to make it to a certain age doing that kind of shit without losing their life or ending up in jail for a long time.
Do you feel like that made you like grow up faster?
Like a motherfucker. I had old-ass parents. So it's like you always got that kind of spirit. And I think it just forces you to think about shit on another playing field. It's not like you think like a kid, you know what I'm saying? I think now that's why I spend a lot of my time fucking around and playing around. Because it ain't as serious no more.
At what age did you get out?
It's not really an “out” thing, you know what I mean? It's calmed down. Because it's still a daily thing. I still live in the hood. So it's my home. It slows down probably at like 19, 20. Shit started to be cool.
You want to stay in Inglewood forever?
I don’t know. I like it right now because it gives me creative energy. I like being home. I like being in my element. I just had a son, so I want him to feel like that's his home too.
How's being a father?
Fun. Sleepless nights, but fun. I think now he's getting the hang of like going to sleep though. He's slowly starting to get a little better at that. He's getting more responsive and all that.
How old is he?
Seven weeks, about to be eight weeks. So it's new brand new to us. His name’s Khalil. Khalil Amari Kimble. That's my guy. That's my man right there.
Are you looking forward to like doing all the like fun kid shit all over again?
Yeah. Like a motherfucker. Might as well go the whole nine, you know what I'm saying? Teach him how to hoop. My shit was an age gap. With me and my son, I want him to feel like we can talk to him. You can still be you around me. You don't have to be like uptight. Nothing like that. A lot of this shit I lacked coming up, I want to be there for that for him. So that's the shit I'm most excited about is just like really molding him into being a man.
What were some foundational albums for you?
Doggiestyle, that P. Diddy and the family album, No Way Out.Harlem World. I don't remember Timbaland and Magoo's album, but it was one of them. The one that has “Luv 2 Luv U” on there was my shit. It was like a silver disk and they looked like they was like standing on a mountain or something. Blueprint definitely. I remember like the first time I got it. My grandparents and me used to drive from Inglewood to Alabama for Thanksgiving as a kid. We was taking a drive. I remember listening to the joint from when we pulled out of my grandmother's house in L.A. until we got to Shreveport. And the only reason I stopped listening to it in Shreveport was because they forced me. I was playing my music too loud in my headphones and they could hear it over the car music. So they was like, “No. You're gonna blow your eardrums out.” Took my shit. And put it up there with them. And I had to listen to fucking B.B. King from Shreveport to Livingston.
B.B. King isn’t too bad, though.
Now it's like cool. I was 11 years old. I didn’t wanna fucking hear no blues music, motherfucker.
When did you first start writing and rapping?
I didn't start writing until I was 15, 16 years old. I probably started rapping in general, like fucking around, like 12, 13.
When did you make your first song?
16. My pops had a little studio out in Long Beach, got me some time with a dude.
When did you put your first tape out?
My last month of senior year of high school.
How did you get people to listen to it?
I sold dope. It was easy. The E-pills was popping. I had a song on that motherfucker about popping E-pills, a remix of “Everybody Get Your Roll On.” It was the perfect product placement. We had all the promotional devices. We had perfect ad space. “You got dope?” “Yeah. Take this album.” Slide it in the pack. “You want (inaudible)?” “Here's three. Do it.” Like cool. You know what I mean? I had a job too.
What was it?
Iworked at this store called Up Against the Wall. Only job I ever had. It was a cool job. That was the power spot. I had the weed in the store, E-pills in the store. And we had like multiple people be in that motherfucker all day long. Nigga like look like he might spend some money on some tight shit, I'd slide him one. I quit my shit though because I was making a lot of money selling dope. And my manager tried to keep writing me up for bullshit. And I'm high one day in the car, and I'm just like, “Fuck it, man. I'm not going.” I called the nigga like, “Yo, fire me, nigga. I don't give a fuck.” Then the little bastard didn't fire me because if he would've fired me, he would've had to give me unemployment on the low. Little bastard like reduced my hours to zero but I was still on like the fucking timesheet.
And so from there, walk me through how you got here.
So I did that bit for about three, four years. And I had met BD, which is Baron Davis. Dude kinda helped me grow up with my music and all of that kind of shit. And then we spawned L.A. UNFD. It was like a breeding ground for athletes and entertainers that were from Los Angeles. Right about the time we did Alive & Living, which was last year, we was like, “You know what? Fuck it.” We was gonna buckle up our belts and do it our way. And we signed a deal with RBC Records. It was a one-off for that album. We put it out on iTunes.
How hard is it to make money strictly off record sales?
It's not. If you you structure it right, it's easy. You've got to have some kind of like sense of gearing shit toward fans and like controlling your fanbase, and pushing shit to them. You've got a direct link. If you’re on the next level, then fuck yeah. It's hard as fuck.
Do you think the market is widening out?
Yeah. For more motherfuckers to just do exactly what might work for the people that actually like them instead of trying to make records for cats that don't give a fuck about the person. It's no more like, “Give me a big-ass record.”
How is radio in L.A.?
It's cool now because I got love. Before that shit was a headache. I think the gates just opened up. Like YG probably was the first one of the young cats to kick the door open. That “Toot it and Boot It” record went.
I think a lot of people in New York just don't get YG.
You'd have to come home. Come to where it's at. The Max B wave in New York and how that was for people is what YG is to L.A. When YG come on or when Nipsey come on, the streets is flooded. You live in the hood, Nipsey tapes is gonna play every time.
There's this big debate in New York about Hot 97 not playing local rappers.
They should make songs that they can actually play. I think that was the argument we were having—I don't think niggas hip to the point of studying records and trying to pick out the right BPM for the record. It's like maybe your shit just doesn't need to be there. But hey, who am I?
Drew Millard is Drew. He's on Twitter - @drewmillard