Few people would argue against the significance of the debut, albeit classic, album “Reasonable Doubt” from the Brooklynite known as Jay-Z. The album flawlessly weaved stories centering around the life of a young hustler, telling clever stories with very witty wordplay and quotes with a soundscape provided by the likes of DJ Premier, Ski, Clark Kent and more. While the album was not initially a huge commercial success during its release, it would become the beginning stage of one of the most prolific careers in the music industry.
Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn native Skyzoo is a much revered emcee leading the way for New York City Hip-Hop. Citing Jay-Z as one of his musical influences, Sky also has several critically acclaimed projects including “Corner Store Classic”, “The Salvation” and “A Dream Deferred” under his belt. Sky planned for a while to pay homage to Jay-Z’s much celebrated debut. The idea sat in his mind for a while, but Sky lacked music worthy enough to match the lyrics for his passion project.
If you’ve been following Embassy: Interactive for a while, the name Antman Wonder should be familiar to you already. The Philly native producer is a constant feature on the site and was the subject for an interview I conducted back in May of this year. One of the talents that drew my attention was his reworks of the instrumentals to the songs “Bring It On” and “Coming Of Age” from the “Reasonable Doubt” album. The original music was replayed without the use of samples and then taken further than before through Wonder’s own creativity and vision.
Skyzoo and Antman Wonder collaborated this Summer on the single “Sleeping Giant 2” from Wonder’s upcoming project “Century Gun”. The artistic chemistry was recognized immediately and while anyone with two ears could imagine them working together again on more songs, I don’t think anyone anticipated the two reconnecting for the tribute project “An Ode To Reasonable Doubt”.
Skyzoo’s mission with the album is to tell his story inspired by the songs from the original album. This is certainly not an easy task even for an emcee of his caliber. In addition to this being the perfect opportunity for Sky to pay tribute to one of his musical influences, this is Antman Wonder’s medium to pay homage to one of his favorite producers, DJ Premier. This is also Wonder’s first fully produced project and he was given the freedom to fully express the scope of his musical talents by reworking the original productions and taking the samples they’re from possibly further than they ever have been imagined before. The first single from the album “Meeting The Presidents” for example takes Jay-Z’s original single “Dead Presidents” to previously unheard plane.
I had the opportunity to get a little in depth with Wonder and Skyzoo to discuss how the two were connected, delve into the complexities of the album, the comparisons, pressure and some other fun. Enjoy!
The Revival: Interview With Skyzoo & Antman Wonder
Before I begin, Ant I just wanted to let you know you’re the first person I’ve ever interviewed twice. I think I need to give you a prize or something.
Antman Wonder: Y’do… I like hats.
No doubt, I got you. So how did you guys meet and come up with the concept to pay respect to this album?
Skyzoo: I met Ant via the web, like most people nowadays, but the connection started with my man !Ilmind. We were in the studio together and he put me on to some of Ant’s older work and he was going crazy about Ant, and once I heard some joints I understood the excitement. I then went online and Googled him and found his Soundcloud page, and once I heard the Jay-Z stuff, I knew it was meant to happen. It seemed as if it all lined up for a reason.
AW: It’s funny, I actually started this project last year after I decided to re-do “Bring It On” by the great DJ Premier because he didn’t release the sample. It snowballed into more because Ivan Rivera (Justice League’s management) thought I should make it into an instrumental project. I just wrapped up “Memories Of The Fewture” (yet to be released) and I kinda drifted from it. I woke up to a random follow on twitter from Skyzoo and automatically knew it was for a reason. He hit me up and said !Ilmind put him on and he wanted to work. He heard some of the “Reasonable Doubt” stuff and as it turns he had the same idea about a year prior. It’s really intense to work on because I respect the original so much, but I’ve been a fan of Zoo’s for a while, so I agreed.
What type of pressure did y’all individually feel to make sure this album was the perfect tribute?
AW: From my standpoint the pressure falls more on me to feel satisfied with it personally because I’m altering something from my childhood by delving into the specifics of the compositions and production. It’s gonna change the way I hear “Reasonable Doubt” forever whether I like it or not. I’m not aiming for perfection, because in this case that’s a thing of opinion. I’m just giving my perspective on a classic. It’s pretty much “Reasonable Doubt meets my imagination”… My imperfections are what make it unique.
SKY: For me lyrically, I had to make sure I kept Jay’s essence in it but also as always make sure my experiences and emotions were at the forefront. The idea was to treat every situation that he was in as if I were in it. What would go through my mind when dealing with the emotions he dealt with? How would I handle certain situations? For example, on “Coming Of Age”, Jay & Bleek went back and forth about Bleek getting into the drug game.
On “Conversing On Coming Up”, which is our version, my approach was from the perspective of tryna get into the music industry. I broke my verse down into 3 parts: me admiring Jay as a young aspiring emcee, then me realizing I’ve become my own man and I’m seeing these dreams come to life, and finally me noticing another artist coming up admiring me, the same way I admired Jay. I then proceed to bring him along with me, like Jay did with Bleek on the original song. I wanted to represent the cycle.
Sky, some people out there have made comments & comparisons likening this project to Elzhi’s “Elmatic”.
How would you describe the difference between the two albums?
SKY: Well it’s easy to see how comparisons will be made, which I’m fine with. Elzhi and I are both well respected lyricists, revered and heralded for our writing, and we both took on the tall task of recreating classic albums from 15+ years ago. When you do that, people are gonna expect a lot, which is also fine by me. The differences between the two are the approach production wise. Elzhi enlisted Will Sessions, who did a great job with playing the beats out as a full on live band. With Antman, he re-imagined the beats from an orchestral standpoint. Strings sections, horn sections, break downs, etc, are all there. Both approaches are great in their own way. Neither one was wrong. Apples and oranges.
Ant are you prepared for the amount of work requests you’re gonna get flooded with once this album really settles in?
AW: The work requests I get now are pretty hefty. I suck at keeping up with everybody. Colleagues have unfollowed me on Twitter and all. It’s hard to say no when so many talented people request your services. I’ll try to do better next year.
Both of you guys are so skilled at your respective crafts that it’s kinda unfair to others. On the next collaboration between you two have you considered switching roles? Have Sky produce and Ant rapping lol?
SKY: I wish I could produce, lol. I come up with drum patterns and hear samples and chop them up in my mind all the time, but I don’t know how to work those programs and machines. I’ve yet to take the time to learn them, so that’s what’s preventing me from making a beat. But one day I do plan on it. Ant will probably be the one teaching me how to do it.
AW: I actually used to rap but I have a weird voice and hate my delivery. I rhymed before I got into music as a kid. I do still write sometimes just to keep a lyricist in mind while I’m producing. I’d throw together a verse over some Zoo-loops. ha. That’s his producer name now. Zoo-loops. Remember where you heard it first.
Sky this is your third collaborative album having worked previously with 9th Wonder & !Ilmind on projects.
It still may be too early to tell but which of these albums is the most meaningful for you personally?
SKY: They all hold special places within me. I can’t say I like one more than the other. What I can say though is that, with me, I’m about constant elevation. I can say that lyrically “Live From The Tape Deck” is better than “Cloud 9”, and I can say that “AOTRD” is lyrically better than “LFTTD”. That doesn’t discredit either or, but it’s more so a testament to me growing daily, no matter how critically acclaimed a project is when it hits the people. LeBron is a better 3 point shooter this year than he was last year, simply because he shot jumpers all summer. It’s the same aesthetic.
Speaking of LeBron and basketball, Skyzoo, dude, what’s up with the Knicks this season? Lol.
SKY: Man, you know I’m Knickstape all day, so at the moment my heart is in shambles. It’s a sad day in NY right now but I always have faith in my Knicks. Somehow, someway, we’ll be alright.
Ant have you been keeping up with the Sixers this year?
AW: Sorta kinda. Mostly in hindsight. I keep up with sports like every other year… I have the attention span of a…
Are there any plans to perform this album like The Writings Of Skyzoo show?
SKY: I’d love to, but time is never on my side. Hopefully we can put something together in time, but only if it’s right. If not, I’d rather not do it. I never wanna jeopardize the music for an opportunity.
What more can we expect from you guys going into next year individually and hopefully together again?
SKY: Next up for me is a collabo album I’m doing with my homey and fellow lyricist Torae called “Barrel Brothers”. We’re looking at March 2014 for that, and then at the end of 2014 will hopefully be my next full length solo album “Music For My Friends”, which Ant already knows he has to be involved with.
AW: Well hopefully people will care enough for me to drop an instrumental album. I have like 2 made as of right now that are collecting small mountains of dust. I’ll be doing production with some producers around the industry. I don’t want to name anybody because everything is so tentative and name dropping would just look stupid if it doesn’t happen. I’m gonna work with Sky on his album of course and some more local artists. Me and Add-2 gotta get back cookin’ as well. If all else fails I still have these dusty instrumental albums to drop.
Instrumental Version coming soon!