Much like another veteran left coast sound-provider, Sir Jinx, played an instrumental role in the early career of Ice Cube, E-A-Ski was an important part of the early success Spice 1 enjoyed during the peak of the west coast’s chart dominance in the 1990s. The Bay area-based producer/rapper was also influential in the early stages of No Limit Records when the eventual southern Rap impresario Master P was still a northern California record store owner.
In 2010 E-A-Ski is still helping future stars break through, as he preps the solo debut of MTV and Grind Time battle rap champ Locksmith.
The music maker/aspiring filmmaker, (whose No Problems starring Danny Glover just took home an award at the 2010 Okanagan International Film Festival), spoke to HipHopDX on Thursday, (October 28th), from his homebase in Oakland and offered an overview of his illustrious career, which includes the aforementioned achievements with Spice 1 and No Limit Records, as well as an often overlooked credit with a fresh-off-of Death Row Dr. Dre.
HipHopDX: I just wanna start off by asking did you create Locksmith in some sort of lab like Dr. Dre did The D.O.C. in “The Formula” video? ‘Cause this muthafucka is a lyrical monster!
E-A-Ski: [Laughs] Man! It’s funny you say that… I definitely wanted to put him in the lab and really get him focused because he has a lot of raw talent. But, a lot of times artists with raw talent is not always the artists that’s able to stand out because they all over the place. Sometimes that talent need to be channeled… It goes back to producing, when you producing records and you take an artist and you can really channel that talent, [then] they get a chance to really, really become way more talented than what they know… And with Locksmith…I just sit him down – [he’s] like my little brother – and I just tell him, Hey, this is how we need to make these records. This what we need to do. Sometimes I let him do what he do and go in. But yeah, man, I really tried to create a monster wit’ him, ‘cause he is a monster.
DX: And, just a couple quick business questions here regarding Locksmith’s project: Is “Grey Area” with Crooked I the first official single off of Frank The Rabbit?
E-A-Ski: It’s not. It’s just really a record that I wanted to have out on him, just letting people know the level of where Locksmith is at as an artist, and [to show] the respect that we got for Crooked I… It was just something that we needed to [put out] to let people know you got some talent over here. It’s not stereotypical records that you would hear from the west coast that we doing. We doing records that really can compete with anybody. [So] it was a record we felt like we need to get out [there]. And the way the industry is right now, when you listen to what they talking about [on the song], it’s a grey area. People think you can just throw records out there, and keep droppin’ records, and signing deals, and not understand it’s not black and white, it’s a lot of grey areas in the game for everything – whether it’s the Internet, whether it’s the record business…
DX: Do you got a distribution situation [for your label, I.M.G.M.I.], or are you just doing everything yourself?
E-A-Ski: Right now I.M.G.M.I. is doing everything… I’m on my way to L.A. today, as we speak, working on several situations that we putting together for the label. And, it’s looking real good. But, like I said, that’s a grey area, because it could look good, but until you start talking and they start talking terms, that’s where the grey area kicks in. [Laughs]
DX: So as of today, you don’t have like an official street date for Frank The Rabbit?
E-A-Ski: As far as I.M.G.M.I. is concerned, we looking at the first quarter.
DX: I don’t think you’ve worked with an emcee this agile since Spice 1. And I just wanted to mention the “East Bay Gangster” because I wanted to ask if you thought “Trigga Gots No Heart” still stands as the shining star in your production discography?
E-A-Ski: Uh, that’s interesting you say that, because I get more people inquiring about the song [I did] as me as an artist, “Blast If I Have To” from the Friday soundtrack… That record for whatever reason has always been the record that people always ask about… But I definitely think that the “Trigga Gots No Heart” was one of the records that really opened [up] and launched a lot of stuff for what I was doing production-wise.
DX: I was just going back through some of them old [Spice 1] cuts. “Runnin’ Out Da Crackhouse,” that may have been even tighter.
E-A-Ski: You know, I think a lot of those records was super tight… “Trigga Gots No Heart” went through the roof, because it was the lead single for the Menace II Society soundtrack… [But] I think all the [songs] that was done [by me and CMT for Spice 1], “Runnin’ Out Da Crackhouse,” “R.I.P.,” “East Bay Gangster,” [“Dumpin’ Em In Ditches,” “Young Nigga” and “187 Pure”]… If those records was [pushed] the way they did the “Trigga Gots No Heart,” I think all of those records woulda [went] through the roof, because the production back then – to me – was ahead of its time. I was doing stuff that a lot of people weren’t doing. In the ‘90s a lot of people were sampling… Doing production [with] live music and instrumentation at that time for an artist like that to complement his vocal delivery, it really shook people up. They really felt the passion of what he was saying… People forget the power of production. They just get so caught up in making beats. I’m not a beat maker, I’m a producer.
DX: And just one last question about Spice, why’d y’all stop working together after that 187 He Wrote album?
E-A-Ski: Spice was doing a lot of stuff, as far as having a lot of the success that he was having. And we was really happy for him at that time, doing his thang. But at the same time, it’s time to get back to work, it’s time to stay focused. It’s all about being able to work together as a team and understand each other. And sometimes when you have a little success it allows people’s minds to go in different directions. And for me, and I can only speak for me, I’m a workaholic. As you notice I’m up early [Writer’s Note: this interview was conducted at 7 a.m. PST]. I don’t play. It’s not a game. And sometimes having that type of mentality, it’s hard for people to deal with that. Because, people wanna play… But for me, I come from a different background, so I understand the power of hard work. I’m a west coast G, man. None of this stuff was ever easy. And when I look at…how hard it was to come in this game, and to get the respect of the east coast, and the south – I don’t fuck around. I ain’t got time to play. I ain’t got time to be joking. I’m about my music… So if we not on the same page, I’m more prone to say, Man, I gotta move on.
DX: I wanna switch gears here… You produced “Pros vs Joes” for I Am The West. So I take it Cube ain’t holding it against you that you produced [Kam’s] “Pull Ya Hoe Card”? [Laughs]
E-A-Ski: [Laughs] Man, that’s so long ago, that’s crazy. But, nah, not at all. I’m a producer, that’s what I do. I get with artists [but] I don’t get caught up in the politics of stuff… And [also] at the time, when Kam was doing his thing, I hadn’t even really worked with [Ice] Cube yet. So ya know – And I don’t even know if Cube know I did that record, to be totally honest with you… But, that’s just kinda what happened. There’s [other] records [I did] that’s like that. Too Short’s my best homie, but I did a record for the Luniz, [“Playa Hata”], and all of the sudden they goin’ in [on Too Short]. And I’m like, “What the hell?” Like, I really don’t control people’s lyrics. I just try to go in there and make great records that’s gon’ complement the artist…
DX: Did Short ever come back on you for that, [for] “Playa Hata”?
E-A-Ski: Nah… Short understands the business. He understands [that] I don’t have nothing to do with those lyrics… When I did the [track] for [the Luniz], I gave them the track, so I didn’t hear the [song] until it was out… But nah man, Too Short, that’s my man. We just did some new stuff together.
DX: I wanna go back to Cube… The last record you produced for him I think was “Penitentiary” 12 years ago. How’d y’all get back in contact, or did you just submit a track [for I Am The West]?
E-A-Ski: Well you know, when you do what you do you always on the radar. But, it’s about your relevance sometimes, and it’s about the politics. Like I said, the grey area of the game. I have a buddy, [Robert Redd], that works for Lench Mob [Records] that…I been knowing since [I was signed to] Priority [Records]… And, I was coming to L.A. to film my short movie, [No Problems]. And I was like, “Man, come through.” And he came through, and we was just talking and he was [like], “Yeah, Cube’s working on this [new album]…” So, that’s kinda how it was. But you know, I’m always on the radar. With Cube, it’s all about having good music, man. And having something that really can inspire him to do what he do.
DX: I understand Cube is gonna make an appearance on [your next project], The 5th of Skithoven?
E-A-Ski: Yeah, it’s like [Ludwig Van] Beethoven. And why I called it that is because it’s real musical. It’s really getting you away from just the normal [stuff you hear]. Rap is over 30-something years old. There’s no reason for us to be still having the same drum sounds and the same music like we don’t understand what piano’s and strings and melodies and really getting intricate with the music [is]… I talked to Cube and I sent him a track [for the album] and Cube was like, “Oh my God.” And he spit a verse for me that’s so cold and vicious. And the name of the song, it’s called “Please.” And conceptually it’s just basically like, people tend to forget that no matter how humble you are it’s only so much I’m gon’ take… So it’s just like, “Please, don’t make me act a fool. Please, don’t make me squeeze the tool.” …And it fits both of our personalities, because we both have a very good understanding of working hard and being disciplined and doing what we need to do to be the best. But at the same time, people will kinda take that as when you become a businessman they think you removed from the streets. They think you removed from the reality of how the game is. And I’m not. So it was just a great record to really be able to vent with the homie.
DX: Besides Cube, any other legends in the game on the album? Or any other notable names?
E-A-Ski: Yeah, it’s a lot of notable names. I got B-Real from Cypress Hill that’s on there. Once he heard I was working on it…he was like, “Ski, I got you.” Freeway…he came and man, he went in. As far as I’m concerned, a legend to me, Tech N9ne, he came and put in work on this album. I got a lot of great features… Of course, Locksmith. Left, from The Frontline. I don’t know if you familiar wit’ ‘em, but Left and Lock was in a group [I put out called] The Frontline. And we got a new artist by the name of Frank Nitty… I have a singer that’s on Universal by the name of Sheree that’s incredible.
DX: So this is gonna be your first [full-length] solo album, officially, since your debut, [1 Step Ahead Of Yall], on No Limit 74 years ago I think it was. [Laughs]
E-A-Ski: [Laughs] I wanna clear that up too… People don’t understand, I was never a No Limit [Records] artist… I started Master P's [Rap career] when he was out here [in Richmond, California]. Master P came to me for help, to help him do what he needed to do. I introduced him to a lot of people in the Bay area, when he didn’t really have that access. And I gave him a lot of music. Because at that time, we being great friends was giving him the chance to do what he do. And that’s what I do as an individual, I love to give new artists a opportunity… We had met at In-A-Minute, which was a distribution spot in Oakland. And, he had a situation called No Limit, but at the same time I had my own company called ESC Productions. And what we did at the time was I said, “Look, I’ma help you with some stuff.” So it had No Limit and ESC Productions on [the credits], but it wasn’t no me [being] signed to him. People don’t know we was working as partners at that time, just trying to build up the hype and get people excited. But as he got bigger… ESC Productions just [didn’t] even exist on there no more, ‘cause No Limit got so big. So…people thought that I was signed to No Limit and thought that I was under [Master P], and it was nowhere like that. If anything, he was more signed to me. But, I don’t [usually] speak on it, ‘cause I don’t discredit nothing P has done. P has worked hard. He is the Hip Hop dream. He worked hard. He put in the work, and he kept pushing and he was determined… And for him, I can say it’s all hard work, because he was still developing his music as he was going but his work [ethic] was so dominant that it made people take a look at what he was doing…
But as far as [my solo releases], I’ve dropped like singles [and EP’s]. And I’ve had big situations, but a lot of these labels started changing with time. They started merging, started getting bought out, [and] they started firing staff. And you know how that game go, once…your A&R get fired you pretty much out too. So you looking at situations where, yeah, I had albums together, but all these mergers, whether it was Priority/EMI, whether it was Relativity going into Loud/Columbia, whether it was Columbia going into BMG [prevented a full album from me being released].
DX: A lot of people, I don’t know if they know that you did some stuff with Dr. Dre when he first launched Aftermath. Have you guys stayed in any kinda contact, done any more work in recent years?
E-A-Ski: Yeah, a lot of people don’t know I did something with [Dr.] Dre. I actually produced and wrote the whole record that we did. And it was actually called “Dr. Dre & Mr. Ski.” And that [concept] was based on the fact that at the time - him leaving from Death Row [Records] and going and doing the whole Aftermath [Entertainment] - he was kinda [wanting to] take a different approach as far as where he was gonna go [content-wise]. One of his first singles was “Been There Done That.” But…I was like, “Look, that’s cool, but let me be your flipside then, Dre.” You can always be creative with music, even if you wanna take a different approach [and get] away from whether it be the streets or whatever it is… And when I presented the idea of the Jekyll & Hyde [concept]…[it was] like, “Look Dre, you be Jekyll then. You be this dude that has done it and living your life, but let me be the dude that come in and just be a menace. Let me be your bad side…” When he heard the concept, I remember, he was screaming over the phone like, “Oh my God, that’s sick!” I mean screaming, like really like, “Dude, that’s sick.” He said, “Man, work on it. Just get it together and the whole nine.” So, I went and tried to figure out how – Because you know writing too, that’s different when you writing for somebody else. You wanna try to capture how they get down, and their whole cadence. So the song came together and we did it. [But] I hadn’t really talked to Dre since then, because as you know, he went on and started coming out with  and Eminem and stuff like that. And, we really ain’t touched – Dre is hard to lock down.