Skuzii – the name alone is eye-catching and has an interesting arrangement of letters. His music is just as captivating. The cadence of his raps chops up the rhythm over smooth, lush arrangements. Skuzii’s latest album, Veronica’s Apartment, is instantly infectious and each track gets better with each replay. I had the pleasure of sitting down with 25-year-old rapper on a breezy afternoon.
Ahriel Nari : Where are you from originally?
Skuzii : I was born in [Washington,] D.C., but I was only there for three months. Then, I lived in Germany for three years. Then, I moved to Newport News, [Virginia]. I was raised mostly in Newport News. My father is from St. Thomas and I spent a lot of time there growing up. My mother is from North Carolina – Oxford. It’s a really small town. I spent a lot of time there, too. So, I would say in between mostly Newport News and a lot of St. Thomas and a lot of North Carolina.
AN : How would you describe your music?
Skuzii : I would say aesthetically pleasing. You definitely get a sense of a Gemini’s personality in my music. [You get] a lot of emotion. You get a lot of my thought process, a lot of the shit I believe in. Then, of course, you’re gonna get a large focus on the quality of the actual sound. On a musical level, actual musicality is going to present but at the same time you’re getting raps that are very “rappy”, so to speak. You’re going to always get a lot of lyricism. For me, a musician, I also have a large focus on the musical aspect – on the transformation of styles, the creation of new styles. Working on new things to give people – not to be corny – give people some shit you’re not going to get anywhere else because it hasn’t been done yet.
AN : Cool! So how did you get into music?
Skuzii : Funny story, actually. My whole family is athletes. I’m one of the first musicians. My grandfather bought a saxophone when I was about nine or ten [years old] – not for me, he just bought one. He was like, “I can’t do nothin’ with this” and so he gave it to me. Then, I just went through public school – you know you gotta be in band, orchestra, or chorus. I just figured I was really good at [saxophone] and it just stuck. Everything else went after that. I got into playing piano [and] learned how to play guitar. I started making beats on Fruity Loops, of course, when I was like 13 [years old] in like 2005. I just kept growing with it. I went to HU for saxophone – I was on scholarship. That’s Hampton University to be specific. I started writing when I was like eight [years old] but I started taking it more seriously in high school.
AN : Do you feel like playing instruments helped with your rapping or lyricism?
Skuzii : I wouldn’t necessarily say the lyricism, but definitely the rhythmic aspect of [rapping]. When you play instruments, you have to have a very good understanding of rhythm, time signature, and things of that nature. The way that I approach rap… I approach it from more of a musical level, as opposed to a lot of my peers. There are things that I can add from playing instruments that I wouldn’t know if I just rapped. For example, when I rap and perform, I know how to use my diaphragm or even just the concept of the diaphragm and breathing. That’s all from saxophone stuff. Also, using vibrato or knowing how to do certain things vocally for myself.
AN : So, who would you say your musical influences are? I know that Slick Rick has to be one judging from your album [Veronica’s Apartment].
Skuzii : I would say it’s a combination of things, man. I have a really good musical memory. Once I hear [a song] one time, it’s just kind of stuck [in my head]. So, it’s real easy for me to memorize things. The inspiration I get comes from all over. I hear certain things and be like, “Ok, this will sound good right here,” especially with the Slick Rick thing from “Shrimp Quesadillas”. In general, J. Cole is a big influence on me. He kinda gave me the confidence to start rapping. Kendrick Lamar [is definitely an influence] because he’s always pushing musical boundaries. Terrace Martin, who works with [Kendrick Lamar] – amazing saxophone player, a really good key player, really good producer… just a very well-rounded musician. Thelonious Monk is one of my favorite Jazz musicians, piano player. [Pyotr Ilyich] Tchaikovsky, the classical composer. Not even because of his music, I just think his name is funny as hell. I like dark shit too. Any type of sounds can inspire me.
AN : The title of your album is Veronica’s Apartment. You know what I’m gonna ask! Who’s Veronica and what’s the significance of her apartment?
Skuzii : Essentially, Veronica is one of my best friends. She’s like my sister. We went to Hampton [University] together and we just ended up getting real close over the years. The whole album – the concept is really about what I consider my “ain’t shit” period. I couldn’t be in school no more. I didn’t really have any good job situation worked out. I really didn’t have any inspiration or inclination to do more. Veronica was always nice enough to stick with me through that time. Anytime I needed a place to stay, I stayed at her crib. There was always something going on at her crib that just led to inspiration. Veronica is literally a Day One for me. I’ve always been there making albums at her crib, too, working on music. So, it was just a story that really needed to be told. Shout out to Veronica!
AN : We love Veronica! I know it’s hard to pick, but what are your favorite tracks from the album?
Skuzii : I would say “Veronica’s Couch” is probably my favorite. I knew it would probably be the most overlooked – which it is. If you really listen to the whole album, front to back, it tells you the whole story of that time period. I feel like the last song not only wraps up the whole project, but it also really captures that state of mind that’s being challenged in the whole project. The instrumentation – [there] was a really good string section on there. I really like the string section. Of course, “Conversation’s [in a Parking Lot]” is a song about my father. A lot of people think that my Dad’s just like an asshole. Nah, it’s kinda just supposed to show you that a lot times we see our parents as they can’t do nothin’ wrong. Sometimes, your parents are fucked up. My Dad has done some dumb shit, but that’s still my Dad, you know? That’s my nigga, I fuck with him heavy. Yeah, so that song – really the last half end of the project. [“Conversation’s in a Parking Lot”], “Missed Prescriptions” – all those songs tell very personal stories. The other ones were fun. I love the records. I love “Shrimp Quesadillas”. I love “Dasani” and stuff like that. That’s fun for me to do, that wasn’t very hard for me to do that. Also, rest in peace, too, because the gentleman who made the beat, EOM (??), passed away recently. He was very sick. So, definitely shout out to him.
AN : What’s your process for writing your songs?
Skuzii : It just depends. Again, I see it from two aspects when it comes to writing. There’s the more musical, technical aspect. Then, there’s the spiritual type shit. Pharrell [Williams] uses a phrase sometimes. He says, “When you go to the studio, you have to leave room for God to come in for the music.” Sometimes, you can really feel that shit. My more popular songs are the ones that took the least amount of time. I’m not no rushy person, either. I take my time with shit. “Shrimp Quesadillas” took a long time – not because it was difficult. It was just because we wanted to make sure it was the best song possible. Lyrics were easy, cool. The groove of it was real easy. Then adding the string parts, the piano part, all the backgrounds and stuff, the little things [are] what can take time. As far as the actual writing process, I would say sometimes it’s a technical thing. I really do like rap-rap so I take the time to think about things. I make sure I don’t force anything. Nothing in music should be forced. Nothing in life should be forced, really. So, I just want to make sure I’m groovin’ and not forcing it out. Then, there are other times where it just happens like on one of my songs on my last project called “Far from Perfect”. I was practicing keyboard one day, doing scales. The chords just kinda happened when I was noodling around. I thought of the concept earlier. I was like, “Man, I haven’t really written about myself honestly and being realistic about my character flaws, how I need to grow as a man and a person.” Once I had that concept, I just started playing the chords and it just happened. It happened in 15 minutes. Sometimes, it’s just about letting the universe work, you know?
AN : Right. So, tell me about who you collaborated with on [Veronica’s Apartment].
Skuzii : A lot of people. I think like twenty-something people – not even just features, additional musicians, [too]. What I liked about this project, in comparison to my last [project, Infinite Vibes from the Lands of Finesse], my last one I produced 100% by myself, which is cool. It’s nice to say that you did that but artistically, working with people is healthy. It’s healthy for you and it’s healthy for the music, too. You never know what somebody else can add to something. It’s like cooking – same thing. So, on [Veronica’s Apartment] I worked heavy with Jack Union – he’s a very good friend of mine. He was the executive producer. I had a lot of local talent that I fuck with heavy. Bobby Blaze – very positive dude, my brother Nice. My mans Conscious Kane – he’s a really good rapper from Hampton. He does all my flyers, too – very good visual artist. Lavahi – definitely wanna shout her out! She’s my frat sister. [She’s] an amazing singer. She did “Shrimp Quesadillas”, she was the feature, but she did a lot of backgrounds for it. She did the backgrounds for “Sober”, too. Jam Sesh Jess – I just did a show with her last night. She did a lot of backgrounds, too – very good singer. Molly did a lot of strings. Another young lady….[sighs] I can’t remember her name. Hopefully, she doesn’t see this. She did the strings for “Shrimp Quesadillas”. My brother Larry the Bassist did all the bass tracks – very, very dope. He’s the bass player for the Finesse Band. MyNameBryan did keys and did some singing. I’m leaving a lot of people out. We could be here all day. [The] point being there was a very big community effort when it came to the project.
AN: How did you decide on your album art?
Skuzii : I’m a big fan of art but I kind of bask in my ignorance when it comes to art, because with music, I feel like when you go through formal education, it kinda ruins a lot of the aesthetic responses you get from it. I can never really just listen to a song and just be like, “Oh, this shit sounds cool!” I’ll be like, “Man, that modulation was wild” or “Damn, they put that shit in E-flat?” It’s always a more technical aspect, so you don’t just get to really enjoy it for what it is. With art, I really don’t know shit about art. I know little things, but I don’t break it down. I literally look at shit and be like “Oh, that looks pretty cool. I like that.” So, one of my favorite artists is Ash Schmitt – he’s out in Australia. I was a fan of his before he started working with me. He has like 10,000 or 11,000 followers. I didn’t even think he was gonna respond to me, but I hit him up one day a long time ago when I was really trying to focus on my image. I was like, “Hey, would you ever do an album cover?” He’s like, “yeah” – alright bet! So, he did my first cover and I just liked that he let me be as eccentric as possible. He does really minimal shit and I love it. For [Veronica’s Apartment], I sent him a photo that my friend, Wes Banks, took in Veronica’s apartment during that time period. It’s one of the only photos we have from that time. So, I sent him the photo and he painted it based off that. The back [cover] is really important, too. The back [cover] is me laying down in a certain position with all the credits and stuff going down. I just always wanted the cover that people say, you know?
AN : The fire joint! The classic! [Laughs]
Skuzii : Facts. Whenever you see somebody laying like this, you know it’s gonna be a fire album. So, I sent [Schmitt] a picture like that too and that’s how that came to be. It’s definitely one of my favorite covers. I like the color combination, too – a lot of pastel.
AN : So, what’s with you and octopuses?
Skuzii : When I was working on that last project [Infinite Vibes from the Lands of Finesse], I think I just kind of found myself a lot more. For some reason when I texted people, I sent them octopus emojis. I really didn’t know why I was doing it. Then after awhile it started making sense. I kinda see myself as an octopus, in a sense. One, they’re very adaptable – they can adapt to any situation. They have one of the most complex body designs and have been consistent for millions of years. The reason that there’s not a lot of [octopuses] is because they’re so faithful to their offspring when they’re born. They literally wait ‘til they hatch. When I say wait, I don’t mean they just be chillin’. They don’t eat anything, they literally wait right there. A lot of times, they starve to death waiting on their kids to hatch. So, they’re pretty cool. I like them. Then, [there’s] the aspect of being able to do a lot of things at once. If you ever see one of the shows where I’m by myself, you’ll see me play everything on the stage. If the band’s not there, I’ll play keys, I’ll play the sax. I be rappin’, I be singin’.
AN : That’s tight! What would you say has been the highest point of your musical career so far?
Skuzii : We did a show for Hampton [University]. Hampton is really hard to do stuff at because they’re so strict over there. Then, there’s not really a strong artist community there. Not because they’re not good – there’s a lot of dope artists. They just don’t have that solid foundation of a community. At [Hampton], you never really see artists putting on events. Again, not because they don’t want to, but because there’s no format for it and you don’t get that much help. So, I definitely wanted to establish our own format as far as doing things. So, me and my people went back and put on our show. It wasn’t nobody else’s, it wasn’t the school’s. We teamed up with one of the dorm directors there that Jack Union is real cool with. The [dorm’s] whole 8th floor is like a balcony, kind of – not a balcony but just like a whole [space] to itself. We went up there. Perla Woods, who directed the “Veronica’s Apartment” video, did the set design. Ms. G., the dorm director, made sure we had drinks and stuff. We had our own sound people come in. So, it was our event that we took control of and the students really enjoyed it. My whole thing for doing it, again, was to just show them that you can do your own shit. You don’t have to wait on anybody. Everybody from the 7-5 [7 area code], they didn’t have anywhere to put me. They were just like “Oh, this nigga’s a rapper, saxophone, R&B dude.” Because of that, it was hard for us to get shows because nobody could categorize us. After we started doing our own shit, it got a lot easier and now we’re getting booked. So, just to show people you don’t have to wait for anybody. You can do your own shit.
AN : So, what’s next for Skuzii?
Skuzii : We’re just gonna keep building, man. I haven’t really told nobody this yet but me, Ash Schmitt, and Jack Union are pretty much doing something on a monthly-basis. We’re just going to be dropping a song every month. We’re not gonna really announce it – I think that’s kind of corny like, [nerdy voice] “We’re having a song every month.” Nah, we’re just going to drop a song. [Ash Schmitt] will be doing the artwork, I’ll, of course, be doing the songs with Union. We just did one [song] called “Miles Morales”. I had a different gentleman do that art for that one but that was the first song we dropped. We have another one coming May 1st and it’s gonna be very funky. I’m very excited for it. Besides that, we’re doing an AirBnB tour this summer, too. I’m still looking for cities to stop at. I think that’s really it, right now. Just always working.
AN : Cool! You have anything else you wanna include?
Skuzii : Yeah, fuck R. Kelly. Always support the art, man. S-k-u-z with two I’s. You can search that anywhere. Eat clean – don’t go to Wendy’s and get the 2-for-$6 no matter how good it looks. Drink lots of water and use condoms.
Veronica’s Apartment is available for purchase on iTunes and is available for streaming on Apple Music, Tidal, and Spotify.