Q&A: Skizzy Mars Talks True Romance & Rap’s New Wave
It’s the eve of the release of Skizzy Mars‘ debut album Alone Together, and the Harlem native has a packed press day before performing later that evening. The artist, born Myles Millis, has been on a nonstop ride ever since The Red Balloon Project took off — his 2015 EP which earned Mars critical acclaim and a hot spot at #4 on the Billboard Rap Charts. The easy way out is to call Skizzy Mars a rapper, though his breed of hip-hop arguably defies any cookie-cutter classification.
The 22-year-old artist is part of a new class of internet-raised musicians whose influences run the gamut, and it’s heavily reflected in their music. So yes, while Skizzy is a rapper per se, his album is so much more, evidenced by his latest single “Recognition” featuring fellow genre-agnostic artist JoJo. Alone Together reflects its author, covering many topics. But the central theme is love.
We caught up with Skizzy before his New York show and he broke down the complexities of love, in the process shouting out his first crush. A lot of people don’t realize that you’ve been at this for a few years now, with your first two mixtapes in 2013 and 2014. So, this past year wasn’t “the beginning” of your career, was it? No, not at all. And that’s funny you said that, because people that are new followers of me — which are a lot of people — say like, “How does it feel to have a crazy success overnight?” And it’s like, it’s not at all been overnight. You know, I dropped out of school in 2011 and it’s now 2016 and we’re starting to see results. It’s really awesome, but it’s not overnight. When you put in a lot of work, you often see results for that work. So it’s not funny, but it’s rewarding now to see the results of a lot of the seeds we planted in 2011, 2012 coming into fruition, coming to life now. Like you said, I’m not new to this, but I am new to a lot of parts of this, so it’s been kind of a mixture. For example, this is my first time doing a headlining tour with a band, and this is my first time selling out venues that were not just 200 people. There’s 1,000 people now.
How have you had to adjust to that transition? The venues are getting bigger, the notoriety’s getting bigger, the features are getting bigger. I mean, the key is just for me to remember that music is the driving force in all of this. So no matter how big the shows get or how big the publications that want to interview me are or how much the labels want to get involved, what started me on this path was dropping songs on the internet — and them being relatable and them being quality. So for me, I just try to remember to get better with everything I do. I’m a music fan before even an artist, so for me, it’s like I can listen to one person today and the whole week, and then the next week it’s like a new dude comes out. There’s always a young kid coming out trying to take your spot. I just try to listen to everything that’s relevant, listening to all the new people. I’ve seen a lot of people come and go in my four or five years doing this. I’ve seen a lot of people come up and stay as well. I’m just trying to hold my place amongst all that chaos and camaraderie. Let’s talk about Alone Together. I especially love “Recognize” with my girl JoJo. Shout out to Jojo!
How did that come about? Was it a labelmate situation, or was it an L.A. connect? It was just like a friendship thing with her. I hit her up and I asked her to cut the chorus, straight up. I’m not gonna lie, a couple of other people cut the chorus and she was by far the best and it just came from there. She killed it, she had a lot of attitude, she has one of the best natural voices I’ve ever heard. I heard it, and I fell in love immediately upon hearing it. I knew that was the attitude needed for the song, and it just came from that. The rest is history.
Is your song “Girl On A Train” autobiographical? You probably spent a lot of time pre-fame on the train system. The funny thing about that song is I was on the way to the studio at a session in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and I didn’t know what I was gonna write a song about. So I’m on the way to the session with some new producers and writers I hadn’t worked with yet, and I saw this beautiful girl on the train, and I thought about the concept of just falling in love — not only on the train but in life, especially in New York City with someone that you don’t know. And not only that you don’t know, but that you’re too shy to say hi to, and then the kind of aftermath of that. So you fall in love with someone, but then when you get home you’re still thinking about them. I just had this concept, so I went to the studio off the train and I told this great writer Emily Warren that I was working with about the concept, and we came up with “Girl On A Train.” I wrote the verses on the train on the way to the studio that day, we did the hook together and that song came out literally that day as a no-brainer concept. I think we’ve all fallen in love with people that we haven’t talked to, at least momentarily. So that’s kind of what that was. It’s definitely autobiographical.
So are you a notebook-and-pen kind of guy to write your lyrics, or do you write them in your phone? Both. I mostly write on my phone to be honest with you. I have thousands of notes on my cell phone of just verses and conceptual ideas. So mostly that, but the stuff I lay down, I mainly record while the beat is being produced. I like to do stuff in the studio to be honest with you.
I hope you back up all those notes, because you know technology! And Mercury Retrograde! Yeah, 100%.
A lot of these tracks are about love. Would you call yourself a romantic? Yeah! I mean, I write a lot about girls and love because I think that’s one of the most prevailing concepts of life. I think that everything relates back to love. You can write a song about violence, but that violence normally emanates from some type of love. Even hatred emanates from love. Drake said jealousy is love and hate at the same time, you know? A lot of these concepts originate from simply attraction between two people. That could drive you crazy, that could make your day, that could make your life. You can create children from love, you can do whatever! It just all emanates from love, whether it be loving God, loving a woman, loving a man, whatever it is, there’s so much shit you can talk about just from love. So for me, I try to strip down all the other nonsense that I’m writing about, and I think the key to writing any type of poetry, music, composition is stripping down the unnecessary and getting to the point…Whether it be love for my mother, which I talked a lot about on this album, love for my father which has been more complicated, love for girls I’ve had in the past, love for friends I’ve had, it all emanates from love. You hear a lot about love in my songs because I live in a city with beautiful women and I’ve traveled the country and met a lot of amazing women and I have an amazing family that loves me a lot. I guess it’s only natural that love is gonna come up a lot.
Do you remember your first crush or the first woman you fell in love with? Yeah the first girl I ever fell in love with, her name was Tori. She was amazing, she rocked my world. Shout out to Tori. She’s dope. I was 12 or 13.
Seriously? Is Tori from Harlem? No, she’s not from Harlem. She’s from Manhattan, I think. Definitely New York City.
Tori’s probably kicking herself right now. [laughs] Shout out to Tori.
I saw Pell was on two tracks. What’s your connection to Pell? Pell is a great friend first and foremost. The stuff he talks about, I relate to. So I hit him up a little bit ago, like last year on social media. I was like, “Bro, I’m a fan.” I sent him a song and then he did the chorus for it, and that song is called “Crash,” and then the second song on my album he’s on, “Feel It Loud,” we did in the studio together. That was the first time we ever met. We chopped it up at SXSW a lot. I think we’re both part of this new wave of rappers who are very conscious of who they are, who are very eclectically-influenced if you will. I think the new wave of rappers like Jazz Cartier and like a lot of dudes that are my age that grew up and got good educations and shit, but we chose to do rap because we understand the influence of that on people and the influence of that around the world on all people. But we can also switch it up and have conversations about Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders, or we can have a conversation about industrialism or gentrification and shit. It’s just like, the new wave of rappers are more than just artists, we’re intellectuals and entrepreneurs and we like to express ourselves well and present ourselves well. So, Pell is part of that group for me… I like people like that, that bring out the best creative side of me.
It’s so refreshing to hear that we have a generation of artists who legitimately care about what’s going on and want to use their music as that vessel. Exactly, and I think that’s the new wave. Like when Cudi came up with Wiz and B.o.B. and Asher Roth and guys like that — that was a huge wave for me of just dudes that dress differently, presented themselves differently. I think that we have an opportunity at least now to be a part of the new wave of artists that think differently and dress differently in 2016. I think that’s important to be different and show kids what Cudi showed me when I was 12, 13, 14… I’m trying to show kids now that they can be smart and be a rapper, or they can be depressed and be a rapper, or they can not get a lot of girls and be a rapper. Whatever it is, I think it’s important to just influence people, the new generation.
So how are you going to celebrate your debut album? I haven’t figured out how I’m going to celebrate yet, but we’re going to drink alcohol. Yeah. We’re gonna turn up. I don’t really like to celebrate things because I’m very superstitious, and I believe in longevity, so it’s like celebration kind of indicates that we made it, and I don’t think I’ve made it at all. I definitely just want to thank everyone around me for all they’ve done and the love they’ve showed me — from my family to my publicist to my friends, because I wouldn’t be here without them. It’s more about them for me. I’m focused on the next album, but it’s also very important to just appreciate moments. Because, this album won’t happen again. My first album is never gonna come out again. So it’s surreal, but for me, it’s just like yeah we’re going to celebrate, and then we’re going to get back to work tomorrow. We’ll be right back at it.
Alone Together is out now on Atlantic Records.