As DJ Drama’s “Wishing” single featuring Chris Brown, Skeme and LyQuin rises to the top of the charts, Skeme (who wrote the song, save LyQuin’s verse) has his mind on what’s next. For the Inglewood, California rapper-songwriter-producer, his Paranoia mixtape is as much about preparing for the next stage of his rapidly ascending career as it is a personal statement.
“I’m paranoid about everything,” he says. “I’m paranoid about stuff that goes on, where I’m at and dealing with the music side of things. I’m 26 now, so I’m always wondering if there’s another artist better than me, one who is getting past where I am.”
Skeme addresses the flighty nature of people he’s encountered on “Rebuild,” the explosive first song on Paranoia. It’s an unflinching, autobiographical look at life in the trap from a decidedly and distinctive West Coast perspective. Skeme then teams with Lil Uzi Vert on the lyrically sharp “Fuck Is You.” Here, Skeme shows off his superior rhyming skills by creatively incorporating an impressive list of references into his lyrics, everything from Major Payne, the 1995 film starring Damon Wayans, to pioneering rap icon Dana Dane.
For Skeme, stacking interesting rhyme combinations into his verses makes his lyrical style distinctive. “They’re in my index of things that rhyme,” he says. “Those types of things are always in my head. All day long I walk around playing with words, thinking about, ‘Damn, that would rhyme with that.’ I could be having a conversation or eating food or sitting up shooting dice and I’d still be thinking about that.”
Another one of Skeme’s next-level lyrical exercises takes place on the high-energy “Maaly Raw Freestyle.” Over an unorthodox beat, the Left Coast act explains how people who aren’t preoccupied with money likely don’t have much. “When I got my first $1 million, it was like, ‘OK. Cool. This is real. I could really do something with this,’” he recalls. “I think it’s everybody’s motive to say, ‘Oh. Money doesn’t matter.’ That’s cool until you grow up and see that it’s real life. All those thoughts, they’re not the truth.”
The truth, though, is that Paranoia features an artist hitting his creative stride. “SHUTUP,” for instance, features Skeme flexing his distinctive high energy rhyme style while delivering a manifesto about his sustained musical potency and his savage street tendencies over a hypnotic beat complete with whistles, bells and rapid-fire production.
Skeme shifts gears on the club ready “Real Freak,” which details the type of girl he likes. Elsewhere, he raps on “No Fakes” about people living life in the bleachers who wish they could play in the game. The song’s message has a particular significance for Skeme.
“I was one of those guys who would think he was doing something, but there’s always more,” he explains. “I call it the Snoop Dogg thing. If I’m not as big as Snoop Dogg, I’m not winning yet. I’m not at the place where you can drop me off at any place on the planet and everybody knows me. You can drop Snoop off anywhere.”
Skeme knows that getting to Snoop Dogg’s level requires an inordinate amount of work. Thus, on “Star Is Born,” he raps about being a work in progress. “You can always be better,” Skeme says. “I always want to be a better songwriter. I want to be doing my own music better. I want to be better at home décor. I don’t care what it is. I want to be better at whatever it is I’m doing.”
Skeme’s focus and hard work is indeed paying off. With DJ Drama’s “Wishing” exploding at radio and logging more than 18 million YouTube views, Skeme has noticed a change in the way he’s viewed as an artist. “Watching it go from a record that we thought was going to work because of the chemistry we had on it to be near the top of the charts, it was an eye-opener,” he says of the song, which features him alongside longtime collaborator Chris Brown. “It let me know that it can happen for me. I’ve seen it happen for artists that I worked with, but I’ve never seen it myself, so it’s cool.”
Since dropping his All Rap’d Up mixtape in 2010, Skeme has been steadily releasing high quality music that showcases his rare ability to craft multi-platinum hits and songs for others in the rap and pop worlds, while delivering some of the most acclaimed street music of the decade (2010’s Pistols & Palm Trees mixtape and his Ingleworld mixtape series).
When he was 17, his grandfather challenged him to write a rhyme. He had grown up surrounded by music, but his grandfather’s edict made Skeme focus on his craft. He ended up studying engineering at Los Angeles Recording School, where he gained an appreciation for the music-making process that few artists have. He has been able to apply that knowledge to writing music for himself and others, such as Chris Brown.
“I say that’s about fully understanding what music is,” Skeme says. “Once I learned the rules about how they make these kind of records and what works about these kind of records, I started studying the music a little bit more, it was a wrap. At this point, I can figure it out with anything. I could make a country song if I wanted to. I just look at it like it’s a math problem.”
As he prepares for the 2017 release of his first album for media giant Entertainment One, Skeme stands in his own artistic lane. “I’m the only person from the West Coast that sounds like this,” he explains. “There’s no other artist that’s here making trap music. I’ve got a different bounce and I say it a little bit faster that most people.”
That’s where the Paranoia kicks in. No one has what Skeme has, yet they all want it.