After a few delays, Ski Beatz' album, 24 Hour Karate School, finally hit stores last week. Entirely produced by Ski, it was released under Dame Dash's DD172 label, with appearances from Jay Electronica, Jean Grae, Curren$y, Jim Jones, Wiz Khalifa, and others.
Although the North Carolina native has caught a second wind as an in-house producer for Dame Dash's DD172 collective (he produced most of Curren$y's Pilot Talk), he's still probably best known for his work with acts like Camp Lo, Sporty Thievez, and Jay-Z in the ’90s.
That's why we got on the phone with him to hear the stories behind some of his classics like "Luchini," "John Blaze," and "Dead Presidents." We even got Ski to tell us how he threw away classic material, what Dame Dash's favorite Jay-Z song is, and the one beat Jay always wanted to rap over.
Jay-Z "In My Lifetime" (1995)
Jay-Z "Politics As Usual" (1996)
Ski: "We was working on Reasonable Doubt at the time. Anything I made hot, Jay was trying to have dibs on it. We [was working] every day. I was making the beat, calling him, and he was coming to the crib. I was living in Brooklyn. He was literally right around the corner from me. We lived right there by Junior's.
"The system we had, we would make music first, he would reference it in my house. Back then we was paying for studio time and we didn’t want to pay for studio time and just sit in the studio. We would do pre-production at the crib, he would go home and get the lyrics memorized even more, and then go to the studio and re-lay it. He would just get in his own place, stare into space, and next thing you know, an hour later he got a song. He just wrote them and went in the booth, it took him two or three takes at most and it was done."
"I had done 'Politics As Usual' for Jay-Z, but Camp Lo wanted the beat because of the horns. And they was like, 'Yo how you gonna give that beat to Jay-Z? What about us? You always giving Jay the dope beats!'"
Jay-Z "Dead Presidents" (1996)
Jay-Z f/ Mecca "Feelin' It" (1996)
Jay-Z "22 Two's" (1996)
Ski: "That was a freestyle that he used to do a capella. He used to kick it every time we did a show. That's how that verse became famous, he spit that verse at a Maria Davis event called Mad Wednesdays and the whole city was like, 'Yo did you hear that rhyme Jay did at Maria Davis?' The buzz was crazy. After that he just used that vibe of Maria Davis being there. [The skit towards the end] didn’t really happen. That was just us being funny.
"So I just had this random beat laying around and he was like, 'Yo I want to rap to that beat.' I was like, 'You sure?' He did it and it sounded dope so it was cool to me. That wasn’t my favorite thing that I did for him. But it worked out. It was something that was totally different from how the rest of the album was flowing.
It definitely displayed some ill lyrical shit on his behalf. I wish I had did another track other than that because the beat was just another beat I had laying around and he just wanted to rap to it. That was one of those situations where we really had to get the album done so we just used that."
Jay-Z "Who You Wit" (1997)
Jay-Z "Streets Is Watching" (1997)
Camp Lo "Luchini AKA This Is It" (1997)
Sporty Thievz "Cheapskate (You Ain't Gettin' Nada)" (1998)
Fat Joe f/ Nas, Big Pun, Raekwon & Jadakiss "John Blaze" (1998)
Jay-Z "People Talking" (2001)
Ski: "The last song I did with Jay was 'People Talking.' A lot of people think Kanye or Just Blaze did it, but I did it. I made that beat for an artist that I was working with in North Carolina named Mr. Dolo. He put out a mixtape called Carolina Blue Vol. 1.
"He was on that beat and he was killing it. But Jay was in town doing a show in Charlotte, and he said, 'Yo, you got any beats man? I'm in town. Come and see me.' I just had the instrumental version of that—and after he heard it, the next week he was flying me to New York to lay it down.
"That was classic but it never really saw the light of day because it was a hidden track on the Unplugged album. It's funny, I speak to Dame about it a lot and he be like, 'That was my favorite song that Jay ever did and I was mad he didn't want to shoot a video.' They wanted to shoot a video and do everything for that, but for some reason Jay didn’t want to do it. I have no idea why."