I used to not even bother, but lately when I go album shopping I always flip through the entire clearance section. And while most of the albums are either joints I know are terrible or stuff I’ve never heard of, there’s usually a gem or two hidden among all the crap. Believe it or not, a good amount of out-of-print and especially original-issue shit ends up in the clearance bin, and from time to time you get really lucky. Such was the case last week when I stumbled across Mad Skillz’s long out-of-print debut, 1996’s From Where??? Boasting production from Buckwild, EZ-Elpee, DJ Clark Kent, and the late James Yancey (then known as Jaydee), the album should have marked the start of a prolific career. Instead it flopped miserably, consigning Skillz to the kind of hip-hop purgatory from which artists never really seem to recover. According to Skillz, Atlantic dropped the ball on the project to focus on another album, Junior M.A.F.I.A.’s Conspiracy, which went on to push a million units. Meanwhile, From Where??? dropped with little-to-no promotion, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Anyway, I’m not gonna pretend this shit is Illmatic, but it is a solid album worth the buy if you ever run across it. Skillz’s flow is tight (he may rep VA but his style is pure NY), though he suffers the same problem as a lot of battle rappers in that he’s not great at crafting songs, and his endless punchlines wear thin pretty quick. Still, he rides a track better than most, and the beat selection here is pure mid-90’s New York (never a bad thing in my book.) Check out some of the standouts after the jump.
It’s Goin Down (prod. Jaydee)
Some solid, if not outstanding production from Dilla on this one. Nothing too experimental, just a head-nodder.
VA In the House (prod. Buckwild)
The obligatory ode to Virginia. Except it couldn’t sound more NY!
Doin’ Time In the Cypha (prod. Buckwild)
Another banger by Buckwild (does he ever dissapoint?), with Skillz rapping about street-corner cyphers. Imagine that as a topic on a major in 2009!
Extra Abstract Skillz feat Q-Tip (prod. Large Professor)
No explanation necessary on this one.
Move Ya Body (prod. DJ Clark Kent)
This beat is commercial as hell, but in a great, mid-90’s, East Coast kind of way. Would have been a good opportunity to speak to the ladies or something, but Skillz kicks his usual battle shit. At least his flow is on point. There’s actually a video for this one.