As a young journalist, the first artist I interviewed was Memphis emcee Skewby. It was for a story I wrote in 2010 on Memphis rap for the University of Memphis student newspaper The Daily Helmsman. The article, “Rap: the good, the bad, the ugly,” focused on whether or not rap music has the power to truly influence its listeners.
A couple years later, I got the chance to interview Skewby again — well, actually twice. He’s one of the 10 influential Memphians I interviewed for the Flyer cover story, “How Do We Change Memphis?”
A week later, he took some more time out to speak with me about growing up in Memphis, his musical career, why he's refraining from signing to a major record label, and who influenced him musically. I learned some cool things about Skewby’s upbringing and his introduction into the hip-hop culture.
A military baby, Skewby moved often with his family. They eventually ended up migrating to Memphis from Charleston, South Carolina. He quickly took a liking to the local rap scene.
“When I got here, all the kids looked up to Three 6 Mafia,” said the 24-year-old emcee. "They had personal stories of meeting Project Pat or meeting 8-Ball at a barbecue spot. They were like idols. It pushed me to express my opinion in that same way.”
Known for boasting a laid-back, soulful flow, he admits that, as a kid, he spit his verses in a fast-spaced fashion similar to Koopsta Knicca or Lord Infamous (both formerly with Three 6 Mafia).
He was also heavily influenced by artists who told stories in their verses, such as Project Pat, arguably one of the best southern storytellers within hip-hop.
“Project Pat had his own style. His flow patterns were different,” Skewby said. “He was actually a lyricist, which was something that a lot of Memphis emcees weren’t doing. I mean 8-Ball and MJG told stories, but outside of them, Pat was the new wave of that. He used to make you feel like you were in the movie theater when you listened to him.”
Skewby began doing his own share of storytelling within his music. Releasing music independently since a youth, he made his national introduction into hip-hop with the 2009 mixtape Proving You Wrong Since 1988.
The mixtape received great responses and helped him earn a placement in The Source magazine’s "Unsigned Hype" column, which has also featured artists such as Nas, the late Notorious B.I.G., DMX, and Eminem before they went on to sell millions of records. He was the first Memphis rap artist to be featured in the famed column.
“I had a complete album done with all original music before I released the mixtape, and I just didn’t like it,” Skewby said. “I listened to it all the time and it really just sounded like what was going on at the time [within] mainstream hip-hop. I thought, ‘what do I really just love?’ It was that '90s hip-hop. It was that late '80s feel. I wanted to pay homage, because I feel like a lot of kids, as time goes on, don’t know where hip-hop comes from. I thought it would be cool to pay homage [to that era] while making some dope music that people can listen to today at the same time.”
After releasing the mixtape, he also got a chance to tour with Lil’ Wayne for his Farewell Tour, and received endorsements from the likes of famed producer 9th Wonder and Memphis’ own Yo Gotti.
“I treated More or Less like an album. I wanted it to be me and I also wanted to get away from what I did on Proving Me Wrong,” Skewby said. “If you listen to More or Less, I sing on some of the records. I have different sounds and instruments. It was more like me trying to show people that I can make complete songs rather than just rap.
“Humble Pie is like a realization to me. As you get older, you get to know yourself better. The one thing that I keep finding out about myself is that I’m not the entertainer guy. For some people, it’s easy to sacrifice a certain part of themselves to obtain certain things. I can’t do that, and that’s what Humble Pie was about — [showing that] I’m comfortable with myself and enjoying my life just as it is. Is there anything wrong with that? Nah.”
In addition to rapping, Skewby also contributes some of the production for his releases. He’s even produced for other artists. The one song that stands out among the tracks he's laid is “Southside (Grey Cassette)” by YMCMB artist Short Dawg. The song features the late Pimp C, which is one of Skewby’s favorite artists.
Skewby recently jumped into the world of merchandising with the release of his Humble Hoodie. A black hoodie with the word "humble" emblazoned in the middle of it, it can be purchased here.
Before ending our interview, I asked Skewby to name the top five artists, dead or alive, he would like to work with if given the chance.
“I want to work with Common, UGK,” he said, "Curtis Mayfield on the hook, 2Pac, and a skit from Richard Pryor — he was the man.”
Skewby's currently prepping a new EP and full-length album. He plans to release both in 2013.
Follow him on Twitter: @Skewby
Visit his website: Somethingaboutskewby.com
Follow me on Twitter: @Lou4President