Chicago emigre Skee-Lo, now securely ensconed in the sunny and presumably inspiring surrounds of Los Angeles, famous for his single Wish (“I wish I was taller, I wish I was a baller…”) and the two Grammy nominations that also came his way in 1995, is back after a rather protracted absence with a new album called I Can’t Stop.
While he raps his way around myriad topics from being “more exciting than movies with Samuel L (Jackson) innit” to shopping malls, a diverse and often wholly unexpected instrumentation belies the myth that all rap music sounds the same. Skee-Lo once again shows that rhythm and melody can happily sit together and create a new direction within rap, one that does not use gangland stories, profanity and absurd, irritating sexist diatribes.
When discussing his personal experiences, Skee-Lo’s essence leans more towards R&B than hip-hop and, with acoustic guitars, electric drums and backing vocals from such as Jocelyn Buchanan, the instrumentation is unusually diverse and harmonious for the genre within which he operates.
He seems to have actively chosen not to address the themes that the likes of The Notorious BIG or Sean “Puff Daddy” Coombes made their names with but instead to get on down to matters sexual and lovey, offering much opportunity for smoochy lyrics and saccharine backing vocals. While some might immediately criticise him for not addressing the usual issues rap ordinarily faces, this album – and artist – benefits enormously from the original approach he takes.
The opening track, Bounce Back, is perhaps the best single of last year never to be released, with At The Mall and R-U-A-Player also getting the feet tapping and, definitively, the brain cells whirring, or whatever it is that brain cells do.
But what has he done for the last five years? It seems from the literature we’ve seen that he has co-written and produced other people’s projects, hosted shows on MTV and worked with Californian drug charities. And after such a protracted absence, why all the optimism?
“I was born in an urban environment,” says Skee-Lo. “I’ve seen a wide range of two worlds. I’ve seen it on the downside and I’ve seen it on the upside. Just being alive is a lot to be happy for. Loving what you do and having the fortune of sharing it with others who appreciate it is all I can ask for.” Rare, indeed.