Ski Mask the Slump God is best known for kicking swift, rapid-fire flows. But he starts his new project, Stokeley, by singing.

On album opener “So High,” the Florida rapper delivers soft, airy vocals that sound more vulnerable than we’ve ever heard from him. The day his album dropped, he came by the Complex office in New York City and explained that he was inspired to go in a different direction by his late friend and close collaborator, XXXTentacion. “A big part of what gave me the confidence, which is sad to say, is X passing,” he said. “He just told me that I had to step up a lot, even just in music in general, because I knew I could do it. But I just always sold myself short.”

The second track of Stokeley is “Nuketown,” which couldn’t be more different from the calm of “So High.” It’s chaotic, loud, and raucous—showcasing a side of featured artist Juice WRLD that we have yet to hear on wax. But it aligns directly with the indefatigable energy that Ski has been bringing since he first burst out of the SoundCloud rap scene that dominated 2017.

Now that 2018 is coming to an end, the hype of the lo-fi/DIY era that rose from the platform is fizzling out. “There's no underground anymore,” Ski claims. In addition to talking about phasing out of the “mumble rap” movement, Ski Mask the Slump God spoke with us about his favorite songs on Stokeley, his disdain for The Book of Eli, his durag history (and how Drake factors into it), and the moment he got Juice WRLD to finally rage in a song.

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Photo by David Cabrera

On your new project, Stokeley, you're singing from track one. Is this something that you've been waiting for the right moment to do?
"So High" is an example of something I was trying to do for a while. Basically because I just didn't know when was the right time or when to approach fans with something that they're not used to. You know what I mean? But I've always wanted to make that change from a rapper into an artist.

What gave you the confidence to do it now?
A big part of what gave me the confidence, which is sad to say, is X passing. He just told me that I had to step up a lot, even just in music in general, because I knew I could do it. But I just always sold myself short. You know what I mean? Like, I didn't think that I could come out with some good singing shit, because I thought it was cliché.

Stokeley feels like your most well-rounded and musically diverse project yet. Do you agree with that?
That's true! Ahh! Yes, Stokeley is definitely my most diverse—like, that's exactly what I tried to do. I tried to yell, sing and rap in the best mix that I could. But I know in my next work after this, I'm going to be able to be more of an artist that I want to be.

Do you feel like you've picked up on some skills and matured as an artist?
Definitely, most definitely. I picked up on some skills. I don't even know where I came up with... I think that they were always there. I just never tried to tap into it. You know what I mean? A lot of us have energy that we can tap into. We sell ourselves short.

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Photo by David Cabrera

Absolutely. So—I don't mean this in an offensive way—but it sounds like this project is more accessible and mainstream.
Definitely.

Were you ready to make that jump?
From underground to mainstream? I was ready to make the jump, but I feel like... a lot of it is, I feel like there is no underground anymore. Because a lot of the underground is either being copied by like the mainstream, or is in the mainstream now. I was ready to change into mainstream, but I didn't want it to be cliché. You know what I mean? There's a lot of cliché radio songs. I wanted to make some fire shit that people could also consider underground.

You just said how there's really no underground—in terms of…
There's no underground anymore.

You came up with a bunch of guys. I don't even have to name them. But in a couple of years, a lot has changed. Do you still feel like you're a part of this “SoundCloud movement”?
Unfortunately, yeah. [Laughs]. I'm a member of the Mumble SoundCloud rap. But yeah, just because of the wave that we had. I guess not even a wave, because I have longevity. I guess what we created for ourselves. So it'll always be something of what they created, what we created.

'The Book of Eli' was ass to me, to be completely honest.

What's the biggest thing that you've learned from the point that you dropped The Book of Eli, to now?
The Book of Eli was ass to me, to be completely honest. It was rushed, I was high a lot of times. Not like I wasn't high for this album, but I just wasn't reasonably. I didn't organize anything. I just was like, I don't know. I guess I was lost in myself. I found myself for Stokeley, basically I could say.

When you got to work on this album, what were you trying to accomplish?
I wanted to make X proud because I know he's always watching. But I also wanted to make myself proud as an artist, just to show myself that... I guess one thing that always fucked with me is being called a rapper, like being categorized. And I don't want to ever be categorized. I want to be able to hit every genre.

For sure. You kind of spoke about this already, how you felt during The Book of Eli process. But can you catch me up on what's been happening in your world, and what your headspace has been like as you put this project together?
Since I've been making Stokeley, the album, what's been going through my head really is emotions, themes. I feel like music should be theme setting. It should put you somewhere, make you go to a different place than you are already. Music should set a theme, or you should just put your emotions in it. Because whenever I put my emotions into a song: Like, I'm angry. So I'm just going to make an angry song, it ends up being fire. You know what I mean? Viral song. And then if I do a sad song and I'm actually sad in it, it's going to do better than a song I'm really not sad in. It's energy, basically.

Absolutely. Can you talk to me about the production on this album and some of the people that you worked with?
Production-wise, it's a lot of people on the production—shoutout to the people on the production. It's ChaseTheMoney, got my boy Fresh ThPharmacy, who else? We got Murda Beatz, OG Parker, fuck. We got—[Speaks to his team in the room]—anybody else in the back? Whoa Kenny! Yeah, that was a good one.

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Photo by David Cabrera

Speaking of Kenny Beats, he has a couple songs on this project. He's had a busy-ass year.
He makes himself busy. [Laughs]. He likes being busy. I fuck with Kenny. Kenny be busy because he really wanna be busy. It don't matter if it's underground. Kenny has an ear, Kenny's an artist... producer. [Laughs]. He actually cares about people's music. He wants to be in the studio with you, and then make a beat that he knows is pertaining to your style, so it's going to fit you the best.

How did you link with him?
Damn, that's a good one. I think I met him in New York randomly, but it was from Key! He made a lot of music with Key!, and I'm really a big fan of Key!

Juice WRLD has a feature on "Nuketown," and just to clarify, this is him that comes in really aggressively and starts rapping, right?
Yeah. [Laughs].

Most people aren't used to hearing that from him. Where did that come from? How did this song come together?
I wasn't even with Juice WRLD. I was on tour, on a tour bus. We had the studio on a tour bus. Like last year, the Revenge Tour, I made "Catch Me Outside" on a tour bus. So this tour bus, I made "Cutthroat" ("Nuketown") on it. While we're driving too, so the bus is driving the whole time and you just hear a loud ass bus in the background. I was angry about the tour just being horrible. Like, if you ever be on tour, it's just so much energy, work, responsibility, people—in your face, all the time. Like, "Let me get a picture!" Every time, all the time. It was just good to get off tour. But tour is inspiring, like moving to all of them places—it's inspiring. I was just angry that day with, I guess you can say, my friends, or just people in general. Yeah, old friends.

We've seen Juice rap on radio shows and we've seen clips of him rapping on social media, but we haven't heard him do what he did on your song yet. Why do you think this is a project that he felt comfortable enough to do that on?
I felt like, just as I am trying to approach different sounds, you shouldn't let anybody else stop you from venturing off or trying to see if you could do something. Because that's just them holding you back, you know what I mean? So that's why he wanted to do it: He wanted to venture off, try something different.

For sure. So, Ronny J produced "LA LA."
Shout out to Ronny J.

What was it like working with him again?
Ronny J is always easy to work with because he has my sound down pat. Like, he has the distorted beats. We've been working with Ronny J from the beginning of me and X, since our like, first manager. We kind of created a sound with Ronny J, actually. "Take a Step Back" ("Fucked Up") is from Ronny J. That's just bass: It's a song made out of bass. Basically, we made it our own little thing together, me, him and X.

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Photo by David Cabrera

You called out Drake for copying your durag style. I just want to ask, when did you start tying your durag like that?
Since I was a kid. I got a baby picture with me and a durag like this [Holds up peace sign], I swear. But not to the front. When I started tying it to the front, it really just didn't look good on me tied to the back. I was just like, "There needs to be something done. I need to hide this forehead." And I was growing my dreads, which I'm doing again. So yeah, it was just that. I don't know how it came about. It just came to the front and I was just like, "Shoelace." [Laughs]. Deadass. That's it. And then, you just eventually see everybody and their grandma start wearing durags like that. Nobody was wearing it tied to the front like that. A lot of New York niggas still tie it to the back, I respect them.

Gotta keep it OG. Do you have a signature color or style you like wearing?
I like the velour, like the soft durags. I don't like the silkies. Let me not say that in New York. Never mind. [Laughs]. That shit make my head look crazy. It do, though, silkies make my head look crazy. It's like cardboard durags, alright? It's like construction paper.

Drake, as an artist, anybody has to respect him.

You kind of expanded on Drake copying you: You tweeted, "He's always adding other people's sauce to what he has, and he doesn't give credit to anybody, what the fuck is that?" Do you still feel strongly about that? Do you have anything else you would like to say?
One thing that I do want to say is Drake, as an artist, anybody has to respect him. He's in the game and he's been in the game—he has longevity, even if he doesn't write or writes his music. What I was saying is... I honestly was just fucking with him. To be completely honest, like I didn't really give a fuck that he tied the durag like that, if y'all really want me to be honest. [Laughs]. Like, a lot of shit goes that way. At the end of the day, though, I do feel like he could give a lot of credit to where it's due, in a lot of places. Because he's easily adaptable to different genres, like Spanish, but he always... I don't want to say he gets influenced by somebody, but he's... never mind. Let me stop this conversation. I'm done there. Let me stop there. Drake, wassup? [Laughs].

On the last album that was released, there were some hiccups and you were understandably frustrated. Do you feel like you have better energy around you after this project?
[Laughs]. That's how we're gonna explain it? "Hiccups"?

What would you say?
It was the "Fuck the label!" at that time. No, I'm just playing. The label my dogs now. It was just the people that I was working with that was in the label that I don't work with anymore. It was really just a misunderstanding of feelings and emotions that got involved. I don't know, a lot of shit just got fucked up when I moved to New York. I ain't gon’ lie—and I love New York. Like, a lot of shit was just fucked up for me, and I thought shit was Gucci. Then I sat back and was like, "Damn." After X passed, I think, is when I really realized like, "Yeah, I really need to step up as a man for myself and just stop being scared." Of not change, but future. Failure.

Do you have a straight-up favorite song on the project?
"LA LA."

How did that come together?
I love "LA LA." "LA LA" was me venturing off, basically. That was the first type of song I've made like that. "LA LA," it's mainly screaming, but I switch it to regular rap. It's my favorite song. If you know me, then you know I'm a person that came from distorted beats, like harsh rapping, that's my favorite shit.

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Photo by David Cabrera

So what do you do in your downtime?
I play way too many video games. I'm on that Red Dead, Fortnite. You can catch me on the Black Ops, you want smoke on Tekken, Street Fighter. I'm talking about Mortal Kombat. You can catch it. I play video games to keep me out of trouble and just keep my mind busy. I think way too much, and I think a lot a crazy shit. And I put a lot of that shit just into my art. So video games, smoke a lot of weed, and I'm not going to say the next one, I'll say some wild shit.

Do you have a favorite meme right now?
Yo, I love memes. My favorite memes are the ones about Lil Xan, I'm not gonna lie.

I don't even think I'm up on those. What's an example of a Lil Xan meme?
I don't know. There's one about his teeth. I would just have to, you'd have to be there to enjoy it, I gotta show you. [Laughs].

With video games, have you ever played a game where you'd be like, "Damn, I'd love to write a song for that soundtrack"?
Shit, I feel like my style really comes from more of a lost files of Busta Rhymes, Missy Elliott-type, weirdly. I don't know what I can really make a soundtrack for. Maybe Skate? I'm on the new Spider-Man movie. I got that coming up.

Tell us a little about that.
The label came to me and asked me if I wanted to do it. Then, they said I would have to make a specific Spider-Man song, which was difficult to me. I'm like, "What the fuck do I talk about?" Like, shooting webs? Like, what the fuck? [Laughs]. So, it actually came out pretty fire. Cliché, I think. But to other people, it wouldn't be.

To go back to Stokeley, as soon as I saw your artwork, I was like, "Hell yes." Can you talk to me about it?
You know like when niggas was official, back in the old days, niggas wanted to go take a picture. They bring their best drip and the Renaissance had some 17th-century drip on, basically. [Laughs]. Nah, it just made me feel more official. Like, I wanted everything to pertain to Stokeley: Because Stokeley's my first name, I had to make it important. So I was like, "What could I do that would speak to people?" And I was like, "I'm gonna wear a durag with the Renaissance shit." I look like I could be George Washington's assistant or some shit.

Or his illegitimate son.
We painted it to look like that. I really wore that. So I have pictures of me in that, like that little long thing—yeah.

Really?
It's fire, I ain't gon' lie.

Can I get those?
Yeah, I got you. You can't show them to nobody, though.

Oh damn, okay.
Yeah, forreal, forreal. Because it only looks good in the painting. [Laughs]. Nah, it looks good. It just looks way better in the painting.