The ground-breaking roots of rapper/producer E-A Ski trace back deep within the concrete history of Bay Area music; you can find the musical fingerprints of E-A Ski with rapper Spice 1 before (and during) his time with Jive Records in the 90s.
E-A Ski produced three tracks off of Spice 1’s self-titled debut album while signed to the record label, and contributed another four beats to the California spitter’s sophomore follow-up, 187 He Wrote, both of which went Gold.
In addition, the famed producer was also heavily instrumental in Master P’s early success with No Limit Records, where as an original one-fifth member of No Limit’s TRU — along with P, King George, Big Ed, and Rally Ral — E-A Ski released 1 Step Ahead of Y’all through In-A-Minute/No Limit in 1992.
Looking ahead and fresh off the presentation of the Okanagan 2010 Film Festival Award-winning short film No Problems, which features actor Danny Glover, E-A Ski and his I.M.G.M.I. imprint will be putting out several upcoming projects like his latest solo album titled 5th of Skithoven, which is set to feature original, new music from the storied producer, as well as boasting appearances from Ice Cube, Freeway, Locksmith, Techn9ne and others. The video to the lead-single “Please,” featuring west coast heavyweight Ice Cube, is currently being played in heavy rotation, garnering over 100,000 views on youtube within the first two weeks of its release.
XXL.com sat down with the iconic Mr. Ski to discuss his current, Ice Cube-assisted video, his thoughts on being considered the “Dr. Dre of the Bay”, why Interscope wouldn’t clear his song “Dr. Dre & Mr. Ski” back in 1996, his upcoming album and more.—Chad Kiser
You recently dropped the video “Please”, featuring Ice Cube, in preparation for the 5th of Skithoven. What kind of response have you been getting since it dropped?
E-A Ski: Man, it’s phenomenal. The response has been incredible! I’m up to almost 100,000 views within like two weeks since it dropped. It’s just been off the hook. I got a call from D.O.C. about doing some things; shout to my folks over at Hoopla Media Group/Hoopla Worldwide! I’m just on the grind, making sure this hip-hop is dope and is back where it’s supposed to be, as far as not holding my tongue and having substance. It’s been an incredible response so far.
I noticed that since MTV premiered the video, just about every major hip-hop/urban/rap blog, and even several non-rap related blogs picked up the video and put it in their video rotations. Explain your thoughts when you see so much love being shown your way.
My feeling is that that’s what it’s supposed to be. It’s supposed to be somebody from the west coast that’s not scared to do west coast music. It’s like, when did we get to the point that we’re ashamed to be where we’re from? When did we get to the point that we’re ashamed of doing the music that we do? Now, don’t get it twisted, we can’t do the same thing we did in the 90’s, but I think that you can still incorporate that into the new generation and make hard music. I think people are embracing that from me right now. It’s just been incredible.
Of course, along with Ice Cube sounding dope on the track, it just lets people know that music can be done from the west coast as long as the passion and the heart is into it. I been going a while, and my passion is there and I think people are feeling my passion and the realness of what I’m trying to bring. I’m not bullshitting, I’m not rapping to be rapping, and I’m rapping with an urgency right now. I’m rapping about something that means a lot to me, as far as the integrity of hip-hop and what’s going on in hip-hop. So, it feels great to know that people are embracing it, and hopefully they continue to embrace it because I have some more stuff to say.
You and Cube have worked together on several projects over the years, but how did this most recent collaboration come about?
Basically, I had the track and I just felt like the conversation I was having called “Please”, I had the hook, and I thought that this fit Cube’s personality, as well as mine. Our attitude is that we’ve done a lot, we’ve been humble, and we’ve done so much for the game, but now a lot of these clowns out here forget where we come from. They forget that we are capable of taking it back to the street level and being on some gangsta sh*t. I know especially for myself and my mentality is serious. That’s basically how it came about. Cube heard the track and thought it was dope, and was ready to do it. From there, the song was dope, and he was ready to shoot the video with me. It’s just been a blessing because Cube is a dope artist and he wants to be around and be involved with dope records.
You and Cube always seem to put something together that both knocks and has a lyrical attitude — something the game seems to be missing. How are you guys able to bring that quality each time?
We come from an era in hip-hop where you had to say something, you had to have relevance in the game. You had to say something that would touch people’s nerves, but be real, not contrived. I think that’s what makes this record so great between me and Cube, and any other records that we’ve done before, is that they’re not contrived, they’re real records that come from the heart. When you hear them, you know that we’re not fucking around. We’re not joking. You hear a lot of these records nowadays and they’re just contrived records from artists, whether they’re hardcore artists or pop artists; it’s just about getting the new ring tones with these artists. With Cube and myself, we’ve always been artists who do what we want to do and how we want to do it, win or lose you take what goes with that. It’s about going and following your heart and your passion, that’s how we’re able to make the type of records we’re able to make to this day.
One thing I like about your records is not just the dope, meticulous production, but also the fact that you always have something to say and you don’t care if people take exception to it or not, it’s not fabricated.
Exactly, that’s my whole point of making records. I’ve never been the type of person to hold my tongue, to make records based upon the industry’s standards and the b*tch sh*t that goes on in hip-hop. That’s not hip-hop. Hip-hop has always been about making a record that you felt needed to be said at that time, whether it’s good or bad you said what was on your mind. Those are the best records, the records that are real records. I will never contrive my records, that’s why it’s hard for me to make radio records because they have to be contrived or a motherf*cker be on there singing. Not to say that I couldn’t do them, but when I do records they have to find the borderline to really fit my personality, along with still being able to fit that format, it has to fit who I am as person and who I am as a man.
Many people consider you the “Dr. Dre of the Bay”. Is that an accurate statement, or does that type of comparison sort of piss you off?
I don’t really know how to answer that, I mean I take it as a compliment because we all know Dre is the man. We know that he is the master of this game, and he’s set the tone for west coast hip-hop with the production and what he’s done. I look at when people say it; I think they’re looking at more or less the quality of what I do on his level, and how I go about conceptually putting records together. A lot of people haven’t seen that very often in hip-hop. There’s only a few that really take the time to study the craft and really take it to that next level like DJ Quik, who’s dope and who’s a homie of mine. There are some out there that do it.
But being considered the “Dr. Dre of the Bay” doesn’t piss me off at all. Like I said, we know Dr. Dre to be that dude, but at the end of the day, E-A Ski is that dude, too. I’ve set the tone for the game and done a lot for hip-hop. I’ve wrote sh*t for Dre, I’ve done tracks for Dre, and I’m recognized in my own light as being great as well. I think the difference is, is that Dre has the machinery for people to see the full greatness. People haven’t seen the full greatness of E-A Ski, and that’s why I’m working so hard to do that. But as far as being called the “Dr. Dre of the Bay”, I understand where it comes, my work ethic is somewhat like that, sonically I make my records sound big and they’re mixed real good; the drums hit hard and the snare pops. You don’t get that from too many people on the west coast; a lot of the stuff is muffled and not mixed well, or mastered well. So when you hear something on the level that Dre is doing, you automatically make those comparisons. It’s a great comparison. Shout out to Dr. Dre; drop that “Detox”, man!
Speaking of Dre, you had a record with him called, “Dr. Dre & Mr. Ski” that was never officially released. Can you speak on that record, how it was constructed, and why Dre never signed off on it?
With that record, Dre had just left Death Row and he was on a different vibe, which was cool, it made sense coming from all the stuff that was going on over there. He wasn’t really trying to do too much gangsta sh*t, at that time. When I met up with him, I told him I was working on my album and that I had just finished a song with me and Cube, called “Earthquake”, and I thought it would be dope for me and Dre to do something in light of all the comparisons and all of that. I thought it’d be dope for people to see to dope west coast producers/artists get it in like that. He told me where his head was at, and I told him that he didn’t have to be gangsta, let me be that side of you; let me be like Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, where I’m making you do stuff you don’t want to do. Man, when I said that to him he literally screamed over the phone, “Dude, that’s f*cking dope!”
He’s Dr. Dre and they call me Mr. Ski, so it was like Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde. It was a dope concept, and I just started writing on it and it came together really incredible. I wish it would have been able to come out, but at the time, for whatever reason, whether it was politics, or some people didn’t want it out, or Jimmy wouldn’t clear it; it’s still a gray area with that, even to this day for me. I don’t get upset about stuff like that, but it was a dope record.
When you heard Eminem’s “Guilty Conscience”, what were your thoughts because it seems weird that Dre wouldn’t clear your song with theoretically the same idea, but then come out with a record so similar soon after?
I was a little disappointed, no doubt, because I had done that for him in ’96, and then for that to come out around ’99 with Eminem’s album I was disappointed. It was the same concept, good & evil, but I’m a veteran and I always look at stuff in a different light. It is what it is, and I got nothing but love for Dre and what Eminem did at that time. How can you hate on that record, that record was an incredible record, it was one of my favorite records. Of course, you’re like, ‘whoa, I did that first’, but a lot of people didn’t hear that I did it, so for me to go and try to talk sh*t about it looks bad on my end, so I just let it be what it’s going to be. Definitely for the record, I did it first!
One record you did that seemed kind of out of the blue, was the remix you did for Naughty By Nature on “Feel Me Flow”. How did that connection come about?
As you get big doing production, you get contracted from labels that want to have a part of your sound and what you’re doing at that time. It just so happened I was doing a lot of business with Tommy Boy at that time, I had done a remix for Digital Underground which was on Tommy Boy. The west coast was really cracking during that time, and they wanted to get a little piece of that feel to make records even more dominant for different demographics. It turned out to be dope, and it was actually featured on the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air show.
Have you worked with any other east coast cats that we may not know about?
I’ve worked with a lot of east coast cats that haven’t ever really been given a chance to come out to their full potential. I’ve worked with Trigga the Gambler, Smooth Da Hustler, DJ KaySlay who had a lot of things popping on the east coast; I’ve worked with a variety of east coast artists, as well as the south. I’ve never discriminated on doing records with anybody; it’s just all about making sure the records can make sense across the globe. People are always trying to divide the coasts, but if it’s a dope record it’s a dope record, so I’ve never had a problem doing something with the east coast cats, southern cats, Midwest or whoever; as long as we can make a dope record.
As a producer and working with countless artists over the years, who are some of your favorite artists you’ve worked with during your career?
That’s a hard one, man! I’ve had a lot of artists I’ve dealt with that are dope for different particular reasons. Honestly, working with Ice Cube and Dr. Dre was phenomenal because of the way they work. The way they work is incredible. Working with Dre, writing the part I wrote for his part on the “Dr. Dre & Mr. Ski” record, he went in and knocked it out, and I was still trying to learn the parts I wrote for him and I said it to him, and he went in and did it better than what I had wrote!
And then Cube is just a genius, man. He just goes in and gets it done. Of course, I can’t forget Locksmith; he’s a dope artist that makes it happen. There are others that I’ve worked with that’s cool, but those are the ones I just felt great about going in there.
You, Ant Banks, and Mike Mosley really set the tone for the Bay’s sounds in hip-hop, yet you each had distinctly different sounds. How were you guys able to be so versatile and set a part from each other, being from the same region?
I think that basically everybody grows up on different types of music, even if it’s the same type of music or different, we interpret things differently. It’s certain things that different producers get from records. I might hear something different and change certain things up to make it sound the way I want it to sound, and I think that’s what makes the bay so incredible with those producers. They all have their own integrity about how they wanted to build their records and they didn’t care about other people’s views. I used to be with Banks all the time, and he’d play me some stuff and I’d be like, “whoa! I would have never did it like that, but the way you did it was so fucking cold!” You can’t help but to bow down and just appreciate it, you know what I’m saying?
That’s what producers are supposed to do, you’re supposed to bring your own edge and niche to it, and that’s what made the bay unlike what it is now. Everybody’s trying to find the same niche and the same thing, and that’s when you suffer, when you’re trying to be like the next person.
You and Too Short recorded “The Resume”, what took so long for you guys to link up on a record together?
You have to understand, Too Short is iconic. He’s traveling, he’s touring, and he’s doing so much stuff; at the end of the day, when you have a guy like Too Short and you have somebody like myself doing my thing, it’s just all about timing. I think the timing finally had come to where that’s why the song is called “The Resume”. It came to a point where we were doing our things, and we finally linked up, and it was like since all this time had went by, the perfect title is “The Resume”. It made so much sense to make a song to put down what he’s been doing and what I’ve been doing, and it just made a great, classic record. It’s all about timing.
I know “5th of Skithoven” is your focus right now, but what happened to “Earthquake” and “Apply Pressure”? Both of those projects seem worthy of release even today. Any plans to officially release those in proper form?
I’m a perfectionist, and those records are records that I did when I was at Relativity, Columbia, DreamWorks and all these labels that merged out, and really set me back. Because of these mergers, new A&R’s, put me in a position where I felt like the material had become dated. I’m not in to putting out dated material, my thoughts have changed. I’m not going to put out nothing that doesn’t represent me right now. I think it’s best to do it backwards, drop this “5th of Skithoven” and then let them hear some of the things that didn’t get to come out that were classics at that time. Eventually, yeah, I definitely might put out those things, it just all depends on how I feel.
The new project, “5th of Skithoven” has the hip-hop community buzzing right now. What’s the concept behind the “5th of Skithoven”, and what can we expect? Judging from the title, it would seem to suggest a more musical endeavor.
No doubt, you hit right on the nose. I think music right now is stale, it all sounds the same. I think people, musically, are not trying to push those boundaries. As you can see, I called it the “5th of Skithoven” based off the Fifth of Beethoven. Beethoven was a musical genius in making music, using strings, using sections; that’s where I want to go with this album. I want it to be very incredible sounding, but still hip-hop, still where it moves you, it knocks and hits hard. No different than “Please”, where it has the elements, the strings going through it, and you can really feel the emotion in the music. That’s where I’m taking it, as far as the concept musically.
As far as verbally, it’s a problem. The stuff that people won’t say will be touched on. I have songs on the record called “Fast Food”, “Weapon of Choice” with me and B-Real; Freeway, Techn9ne, Locksmith, Frank Nitty, Colossal, Eastwood are on there, so the album will be an incredible piece, but at the same time the features on there make sense. There aren’t going to be features on there just to have features to help build my record up, I don’t care about that. What I care about with those features is that when you hear us, you know we meant every word of what we’re saying. It ain’t going to be no bullsh*t.
You dropped the first video, now what’s coming next? What other projects do you have coming up for us?
As far as E-A Ski, it’s the “5th of Skithoven”. As for other projects and the label, of course I got Locksmith who’s working on multiple things. He’s got a EP project with Ski Beatz, who did Jay-Z’s first album “Reasonable Doubt”. We’re working on the “Frank the Rabbit” album, so we’re just making sure people know there’s dope music coming from the west coast, but it’s diversified, not any games. Just be on the lookout, I.M.G.M.I.