Photo courtesy Skinny
You may remember Saudi Arabia-born, LA-bred rapper Skinny from a couple of years ago, when we spoke with 28-year-old at the height of his controversial single, “Pussy, Money, Kush.” Its explicit subject matter sparked tensions with his peers in the Muslim community, and since then not much has changed—especially his love for Cali weed.
Skinny heads up the bulk of his own production as well as the verses on all his tracks, offering up boisterous beats and a laid back tone that set the vibes for a decidedly chill time. The rapper stopped by the studio at Noisey Radio on Beats 1 in LA, where he told us about meeting Timbaland for the first time, his forthcoming project, 1999 Parachutes (due out July 15), his work as a director, and his experience growing up between Saudi Arabia and LA.
Listen to the Noisey Radio episode here and read on for the extended version of our conversation below.
NOISEY: How did you get started in music?
Skinny: Growing up, my uncle really introduced me into a lot of melodic, awesome music, and I just fell in love when I was young. I picked up a guitar when I was like 11 years old and it was history. From there I knew I was going to do something in music.
Talk about your background—where are you from?
I was born in Saudi Arabia and moved out here 12 or 13 years ago, but it’s been a long time. I’m an LA native.
When did you start getting into hip-hop?
I came across a cool cassette tape [in Saudi Arabia], and it was my first time ever listening to rap music. I think it was actually a mixtape, it had a lot of different rap. I fell in love, from there I knew I wanted to be a rapper.
Do you remember the circumstances of finding that tape?
No, it was easy because it was music. I was really young so I didn’t understand what it was, but everything’s censored over there so it was like the Barney version, the very clean version, but it got the point across, so it was cool.
So you went to high school in LA?
I went to Agoura High for a year, then I had to go back to Saudi when September 11 happened. I think I was the only brown kid in school, so it was kind of like an all eyes on me factor. So it was like, hmm maybe I’ll go back.
What was that like?
It was cool, everyone was cool. I was really young, too, so I don’t think we really understood what was happening, but it was pretty intense. I was in English as a Second Language class, actually, when it happened.
Talk about the music in Saudi Arabia right now—who are some of the artists to know about?
I really don’t listen to anyone from out there, but we love music out there, we appreciate it. There’s a big hip-hop culture there, they rap in Arabic. It’s really cool a lot of people love hip-hop.
Tell us more about your early projects.
I dropped Ghetto Disneyland two years ago. It was my first little mixtape, I got my feet wet but I just wanted to put something out. I had so many different styles of music, I just wanted to put out a big body of work. It was fifteen [songs] and it just went from there.
So you produce as well?
I produce all my music. I had to find a way to rap. I didn’t know how it worked, so I taught myself how to play the piano. My mom opened a credit account with Best Buy and we got my first iMic and got Logic and just taught myself how to produce.
What’s the new project? Talk about that.
My new project is called 1999 Parachutes. It's pretty much a roller coaster, really. Every song is different. I just wanted to really bring my experiences and my imagination and my creation and just bring it to life. I produced every song and wrote everything. It's a personal project. You come back home, it's late at night, you throw it on and go on a journey, really. The title, to me it means freedom and the ability to be yourself and not really worry about what other people are thinking. I really believe music is medicine, and I think it's important that we create music that's different and that can touch people in different ways. You're healing people.
Who are some artists you’re working with right now?
Right now I have a record with Skeme and Ace Hood called "Rich." How that came about was that I was in the studio and Skeme came through. I played him a joint I wanted him on called "Livin Like," and he blessed me with a fuckin incredible verse. Then I just threw this beat on, I already had the hook ready. He just went in the booth and fuckin killed it right then and there. I wasn't sure what he was drinking, but he had a cup full of ice, and I could hear it every time he rapped. So what I did was I sampled the ice in the song, so if you pay attention to his verse and the hook, you can hear the ice in the cup. It kind of sounds like hi-hats, it's really weird.
Do you think sense of humor is important?
I do, and if you don’t have one, I hope you do some pushups or something.
Does it come through on the beats?
It definitely does it’s very positive bright and fun. I try to have a good time you know enjoy your life, life is short, do good, be kind, type of shit.
Is it all good vibes on the album, or is it some political stuff?
No not really political, I’m not really into politics like that, I just like to smoke weed and hangout and just chill.
What’s the most weeded out track on there?
I’d probably say “Eight Dollar$,” but they all give you that vibe. It’s a great song it’s about being trapped in a relationship and she’s the police, so it’s pretty much running away from a relationship that you’re not really into. So "Eight Dollar$" pretty much means just leaving with whatever you have in your pocket and saying fuck it, I’m out, I got $8 in my pocket and a couple of grams of weed, I’m cool. It’s definitely a cool kick back song. We just dropped the video too. It’s about two lesbian girls in love. One of them is actually sick, they go on one last thrill adventure and they rob a church and a liquor store before she passes away.
Talk about direction all your videos.
I direct all my videos, I’m a very visual artist and I like having hands on with all my work. I had bad experiences when I first tried to shoot a video for one of my tracks, I never dropped it and it was such a waste. We’re independent, so every dollar we scrape for. I was like, "I’m not going to do that again," so I learned how to edit and I just started shooting all of my videos, which landed me in a really cool place.
What’s next for that?
Director X, the legendary director, he started his own production company and they reached out to me, and we did a little cool deal with him as a director.
Do you think you’ll start directing for other artists?
Absolutely. I had a couple of artists I was supposed to do their video, but it conflicted with the stuff I had to do. I really tried to put my project first, but now that my EP is done I’m definitely going to be doing some cool videos for other artists.
Who are some artists you’d want to work with?
Kanye West. You know how sometimes you just know somebody’s going to understand you? Just like Timbaland back in 2010, no one gave a shit about a Skinny beat, but as soon as I went in there with Timbaland I saw how he reacted and how he jumped on my record. I knew he would understand me because we’re kind of just in the same wave length. Not that I’m comparing myself to him, but I know someone like Kanye West would listen to my music and appreciate it and understand it more.
Do you fuck with Kanye's new record?
I like all of his stuff. I’ve really been trying not to listen to his stuff because I’m putting my final touches on my EP, so I wanted to make sure I’m not influenced by his stuff because he’s dope, so I don’t want to hear it and then have my music sound like his by accident. You know, I made a song called "Pussy, Money, Kush," and I had no idea there were two pussy-money-weed songs out. I was shooting the video and Ice-T’s son was like, "You know there’s already a song called that?" So I don’t really listen to a lot of music, actually. I just like to listen to a lot of jazz music and smoke a lot of weed and try to stay away from trouble and the police.
Is there a jazz artist you're fucking with right now?
I have no idea, and that’s the greatest thing about it, I hit play and just enjoy the music. I like it because it’s about the art, it’s about the music first.
So you got in with Timbaland?
How I met Timbaland is I met some chick in the gas station randomly, and she knew I did music, and I played her two records and she was like, "I have to take you to Timbaland," and we just went to Timbaland. I was there, the studio was empty, fucking Keri Hilson comes out of the booth—mind you at that time, she was cool—we were chill, Timbaland came in and I ended up playing him 14 records, and records were repeated.
Talk about the weed culture in LA.
The weed in LA is amazing, it keeps getting stronger. I’m high as shit right now.
Let’s talk about "Cool Kids."
This song was more of an antisocial time of my life where I feel like I’m still fighting, but it was just reminding myself that it’s a beautiful day outside and you should go outside and enjoy life.
Anything else you want to say?
Love yourself, enjoy life and save your money, be kind to yourself and love your mother.