For MCs as technically gifted as Skyzoo, there are many lucrative paths your career can take you. The Brooklyn Knight has lent his pen to many top secret projects. Fresh off the release of his hardbody new project, Peddler’s Theme, Sky stopped by the DXHQ to talk with the #DXLive crew about how the ghostwriting game truly works and his role in the upcoming film, Patti Cake$.
Skyzoo broke down the nuances of being a highly sought after ghostwriter: “The way it works, let’s say for instance you hit me up saying ‘Yo, I’m working on something, I want you to come through help me out whatever,” Sky says. “Either I’ll come to where you’re at in L.A. or whatever, we could do it via email and we just kick it and build. You give me the beat, what you have conceptually in mind, or if you don’t have a concept, we build. Nine times out of ten, you always got the beat, you give me the beat and we build on it. I’ll pen it in your voice. My whole thing being a ghostwriter, I pride myself on the fact that when I write for someone, you can never tell that I wrote it. As a writer, I hear a lot of artists out there who get help and I know who helped who because I can hear it. I can hear it because when they wrote it, they wrote it as if it were themselves and to me, that defeats the purpose. So, if I write a joint for you, you’re not gonna have my sound or my flow. It’s going to sound like you. So, I pride myself on being able to write where you can’t tell I wrote it. Like there’s stuff that I’ve penned that nobody [would guess]. You’d put your life saving on it that I wasn’t behind it and I was. That’s the beauty of it. That’s what separates the boys from the men as far as ghostwriters and being songwriters, that’s the beauty of it.”
Bragging rights come with the territory in Hip Hop but as a ghostwriter, Skyzoo talks about not needing the recognition. “Nah, I’m good because as long as the business is straight, everything is done right and we’re working. My thing is when I write records for people, with people, whatever it may be, it’s specifically for them. It’s like a tailor-made suit. It’s not like it’s a record where I wrote a record and gave it to you, it blows and I’m like ‘Dang, I should’ve kept that for myself.’ It wouldn’t sound like me so I can’t keep it for myself. There’s some people right now that I’m building with but I’ve never been the person that needed the hype. There are some people that are that type of individual. I’m not so, you know, I’m cool. There’s some names where it’s like whoa but I would never in a million years [divulge who I’ve written for] and that’s why people work with me because they know that the confidentiality is locked. They know it’s real when it comes to that and I respect that. I don’t look at it as if you can’t rap, I look at it like you need help telling a story and you’re admitting [it] like, ‘Yo I got a story that I’m trying to tell, but I want to be able to tell it in a certain way. I may sing, I make beats or act or whatever, I may rap but I need a little help.’ Whatever it is, you’re trying to tell a story and it’s like [ok] well let’s go.”
Photo: Robert Adam Mayer
“I pride myself on the fact that when I write for someone, you can never tell that I wrote it.” — Skyzoo
The business of writing is profitable but it can become tricky when it comes to the paperwork, which S-K-Y also elaborated on.
“We definitely get publishing. That’s the whole point,” Skyzoo says. “The whole point of being a writer behind the scenes is the publishing. Sometimes you’ll get it up front, sometimes you won’t, but either way, you get the publishing. The up front sometimes is like a bonus. Like a work for hire. You may hit me with ‘X amount’ of whatever because I spent the day in the studio. We’re working [and] we’re vibing. I’m writing. We’re coming up with ideas and we’re scratching and writing. You may hit me with the, ‘Yo this is for your time.’ But the back end is still what it is. In the ghostwriting game, it becomes about the placement. Let’s say I work with you and we work on a bunch of records. Let’s say you wrote them yourself but I came in and wrote three. Now I’m waiting to see if they make it because you recorded 30 songs and I wrote three. The other 27 are whoever else wrote it, so I don’t know if I made it yet. So, my back end may or may not come depending on if I made it. Now when you hit me or the lawyers hit me saying that I made it [then] we get to splits, publishing, sign off on the sheets, sign these split sheets and all that then I know it’s real — when I get that call.”
Life as an accomplished writer has opened doors for Sky in Hollywood like his gig on the upcoming film Patti Cake$ where he was hired as a rap coach. “It was amazing,” recalls Skyzoo. “So, my man J. Period hits me last year and said there was a director that was working on this film called Patti Cake$. He told me what the film was about [and] linked me with the director, Jeremy. We sat down, we built, [and] he told me he was a fan of my music for a very long time. He was trying to figure out a way to get in touch with me. So, he said ‘It’s an overweight white girl from New Jersey who raps. It’s almost like an 8 Mile for this generation. No one believes in her. No one takes her seriously but she’s really dope. The idea is for her to be really, really dope. No one takes her seriously though. So I need you, or someone, to teach her how to rap; to be believable.” The actress, Danielle MacDonald, she’s an amazing actress, a sweetheart but she doesn’t rap. She’s from Australia. She never rapped.
She was a rap fan but she never rapped. [Jeremy] said, ‘We kind of need to put her in rap school [and] coach her.’ She was awesome. She was a sponge. She said, ‘Yo whatever we gotta do, I’m down.’ She nailed it. We rocked out for like three weeks then they wound up putting me in the film and they made me an associate producer and I got credit. I got back end. First, it was an indie film and then Fox Searchlight came and bought it. So, it’s nationwide August 18th.”
Skyzoo went on to break down the work he and Danielle did together: “We did a lot of learning how to memorize and recite a lot of stuff that already existed like ‘98 Twinz’ [“Deep Cover”], Pun and Joe. I had her doing that for breath control, for being able to really kick it. I had her watching Queen of the Ring battles on YouTube because she has battle scenes in the movie. So, I had her watching Queen of the Ring so she can get the aggression, getting in a chick face or a dude face, ‘Fuck you bitch,’ getting that, you know? We did a rap hands day where all we did was rap hands. She was like, ‘what’s rap hands?’ I showed her a bunch of videos, a bunch of performances on stage. So, [you] don’t notice you’re doing it but you’re doing it. But she was awesome, she was a sweetheart. The movie is dope. Kirk Knight is in the movie as well. Pro Era and all that, shout out to Kirk. Really dope movie, man, and it’s out August 18th. Commercials are getting ready to start rolling. Shout out to the whole Patti Cake$ family. It was a blast. Go check the movie out. It’s like an 8 Mile for this generation [except] a little more comedic.”
Skyzoo’s #DXLive portion begins at the 1:28:52 (-1:03:14) mark.
For more exclusive interviews such as this one, be sure to catch #DXLive every Thursday at 3 pm PST.