Roughly two years into the financially viable portion of his rap career and more than 1,200 miles away from his native Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Ski Mask The Slump God is restless. Dressed in all his eccentrically luxurious splendor—a black durag, a tan, checkered Burberry button-up and his newly-coined Gucci socks with the Crocs—the 22-year-old rapper vacillates between pensiveness and joke-telling as he bounces across Origins, a store specializing in streetwear, on the eve of his debut album’s release on a chilly November night (Nov. 29).
Surrounding Ski are tapestries of Gucci shirts, cameras and an entourage ready to celebrate the release of his debut album, Stokeley, which Ski’s been working on for months now. At some points, Ski exchanges nice-to-meet yous and daps as he peruses the SoHo resale store. At others, chill vibes give way to dancing, impromptu a cappella rhyme sessions and speak it-into-existence aphorisms. This activity matches his rapping style itself, a kaleidoscopic one laced with humor, jumpy, start-stop flows and off-kilter rhyme patterns. It emits kinetic energy. Always in motion, which is just a bit ironic for a guy who goes by the name of Slump God.
If Ski Mask has been on the move this whole time, he had been working his way upward—at least until last spring. That was before he dropped off Beware the Book of Eli, a svelte, 22-minute effort the rapper outright dismisses to this day. “I fucking hate my last project,” Ski affirms when asked about his third official mixtape.
With sample clearance issues and a myriad of other problems bogging down the release, Ski Mask began looking forward as he crafted Stokeley. Dedicated Ski Mask fans caught audio glimpses of the project when the rapper uploaded snippets onto his social media accounts over the last seven months. Such a habit is a testament to the virtual erasure of walls between artists and their fans. It’s also a reminder of Ski Mask’s eagerness to let loose the album he always wanted to make.
Stokeley is a project filled with everything fans have come to expect from Ski Mask and more. There are tight flows, inventive soundbeds from ChaseTheMoney, Kenny Beats, A Lau and more. On the rapping end, there are Ski’s typically adventurous punchlines and features from Juice Wrld, Lil Yachty and Lil Baby. Young Thug was supposed to be on the album for a track called “Get Geeked,” but his vocals didn’t make it in time to make the final cut of the project. He’ll be on the remix, though.
For Ski Mask, Stokeley is a showcase for versatility and a path toward more artistic experimentation.
“This album is really big on showing you guys what I can be as an artist,” says Ski Mask, who was named a 2018 XXL Freshman last summer. “Not as a rapper. I don’t like being categorized as a rapper. I make music I don’t just rap,” he continues. “This album is gonna show them who I am and gonna build a bridgeway to make music that I wanna make. Like singing, screamo—a lot of different shit.”
While his second sentence is probably enough to make a rap purist cringe, Ski has breath control that would make Busta Rhymes jealous and internal rhyme schemes that would fit in on any 1990’s posse cut. It’s those qualities that garnered him shoutouts from Missy Elliott and Timbaland after he spit over a re-worked version of Missy’s “She’s a Bitch” for his breakout single “Catch Me Outside” last summer.
Still, Ski wasn’t doing lip service when he said he was stretching his boundaries as an artist. On the LP’s opener, “So High,” the rapper hums over an ethereal, A. Lau-produced track that sounds like what an out-of-body experience probably feels like. Meanwhile, the raucous, FreshThePharmacy-produced “Nuketown” featuring Juice Wrld, which begins with a Mortal Kombat sample and feels like a spiritual successor to Ski Mask’s XXXTentacion collab “R.I.P. Roach,” sounds like a melee. On “U and I,” another gem produced by A. Lau, Ski glides over quirky synths as he goes into outright crooner mode and flaunts his love for his ride or die.
“Ahhh I’m really skeptical about [‘U and I’] because I sang on it,” Ski admits. “There’s three or four songs I sang on to test waters to see how you guys felt about it,” he continues.
That apprehension Ski Mask speaks of was nowhere to be found when he recorded “Faucet Failure,” ChaseTheMoney-produced that combines the rapper’s quirky sense of humor and animated vocals with an inventive beat. “‘Faucet Failure’ was my favorite because I just had fun with it and it was just 10 minutes and I didn’t over think anything and I wanted to just have fun with the song,” Ski says of the track.
Known for his free-wheeling but endlessly dexterous flows, Ski Mask’s experimentation will only continue from here on out. “After this album I’m gonna be dropping a lot of music,” offers the rapper. “Whenever I wanna drop a song, I’m gonna do that. After this album, it’s gonna give me the freedom to do what the fuck I want to.”
Doing whatever he wants to includes a lot of things, from partying to making music. It also includes plans to work on Evil Twins, which is a joint mixtape he and Juice Wrld first teased over the summer. It’s on the way, but it’s going to come on the terms of both artists.
“Evil Twins. It will come 2019,” Ski reveals. “Me and Juice decided gonna sit for a month in the same state and chill.”
Ski, who says he plans to turn his Very Rare movement into a fashion line and create a brand new movement outside of VR, makes no secret of his love and support for Juice Wrld. However, with him embracing the young Chicago rapper have come occasional claims that he’s trying to replace his good friend XXX, who was tragically shot and killed during a robbery in June.
“People that say that I’m tryna fill X’s shoes, that’s def false. No one can fill X’s shoes,” Ski asserts. “X will always be with me. I just respect Juice as an artist.”
Moving forward, Ski Mask is looking to cultivate new aspects of his musical career, whether that’s further delving deeper into his stylistic bag or refining his current technique. He even hints at potential label ambitions.
Those moves, though, will be made possible through Stokeley, which bears an album title that carries particular significance to Ski Mask. After all, it’s his born name, and it’s probably been a while since the everyday person has called him by it.
“Stokeley means something more than Ski Mask,” Ski discloses, differentiating his rap alter ego from that of Stokeley. “Stokeley is the person that randomly messages my support base. I go through my message requests, and any time I really see something about somebody really saying something about their life and them wanting to give up. [That’s] exactly when I reply. And I send them something simple to get them back on track.”
With a versatile project that’s sure to garner acclaim, a growing fan base and plenty of potential still untapped, Ski Mask recognizes his come up, even if a small part of him is reluctant to accept it.
“Music changed my life in so many ways. It’s a blessing and a curse, you know what I mean?” Ski concedes. “I reminisce on days of being Stokeley. It’s not like you change as a person, but you have to change for people that look up to you,” he adds. “You have to be strong for people when you don’t wanna be strong. You have to be clean-showered, clean, clean-cut for people. You have to set an example. My life is now more than just me.”
See Photos of Ski Mask The Slump God at Origins in New York City