New York, NY

In an industry where people consume music and move onto the next thing, Brooklyn upper echelon rhymer Skyzoo habitually remains a Hip Hop unicorn of sorts. To fully grasp and unpack one of his projects, multiple listens are a necessity. His latest LP, Retropolitan, is no exception to that rule.

First teased in 2018, the project is a collaborative effort with legendary producer Pete Rock. Working with such a regional icon, whose sound was so seminal in the golden era, doing a project that failed to envoke or in some part replicate those roots would be (in a way_ blasphemous. But, as Sky tells HipHopDX, he wanted to take it a step further.

“The album is a very New York album — on purpose. When you’re working with somebody like Pete Rock, that’s what it’s going to be,” he says. “As opposed to just the feel, I wanted to make it about New York. A lot of these songs are about the city back then … the things that happened, the things that were going on and how they affect certain things now.”

With ultra-complex schemes packed with references to everything from specific locations (like the famed Willie Burgers in Harlem) to jazz musician Cannonball Adderley, Sky pens a lush love letter to his hometown’s rich tapestry.

The tragedy though. is that much of that culture that made him (and all those who experienced it) inherently “New York” has become increasingly homogenized.

“The wake-up call on the album is how the city has changed and is continuing to change,” he says. “All change isn’t bad, but not all changes are good. Being from here and just seeing the culture, the people and the way things are being stripped, it’s heartbreaking, you know?”

Gentrification has become a consistent topic of late for those who see the replacement of local business by more streamlined corporate entities — from upscale bagel shops to condos —  as troubling. While the project’s palatable undertone focuses on the Big Apple, the universality of the issue is what Sky says makes this topic so relatable.

“I think the reason why people can relate to this album, even if they’re not from New York, is because the same things are going on everywhere as far as the changes in demographics and communities,” Sky explains. “I’m rapping about what was vs. what is — and the differences. Just because you’re not from here doesn’t mean you can’t relate.

“The culture of my neighborhood and my borough — and the bubbles around it … that culture is being taken. And that’s the part that hurts. Never mind the music. That’s the part that hurts.”

There is an odd sense of the cultural nerdery present in many Skyzoo projects, as the details may cause you to double back and dig deeper.

“Whether it’s a full album or a verse on somebody else’s song, that’s the point … like, that’s my calling card,” he says with a laugh. “That’s what it’s about … I’ve had so many people tell me what they got hip to because of something I’ve said. They go research it, and you know, now they’re a fan of all that.”

An example brought up in this interview was a bar on the song “Carry The Tradition” featuring Styles P, which appears on the new album. In describing himself, he refers to legendary graffiti writer Skeme, once heralded as the 3 Yard King. Most famously, he appeared in the film Style Wars — a clip sampled by Hi-Tek for the song “Respiration.”

“The reference may lead listeners to Black Star’s ‘Respiration.‘ They’re like, ‘Oh yeah, I remember when they used that clip of a movie [Style Wars]’ and then they go back to the actual movie. So now it’s layered, and you get to appreciate some potentially new things because of it. Just because of me using it as a metaphor, describing myself as an emcee or whatever it is,” he says.

The added layer, of course, is that Pete Rock actually produced a remix of “Respiration.” Speaking on of the storied beatsmith, Sky insists that he’s as sharp as ever — if not, sharper.

“I’m a huge sports guy. ESPN all day. I compare everything to sports,” he says with a laugh. “A lot of these guys who have been in the league for a long time, their knees don’t work the same … you know, father time is undefeated in that way. But with Pete, he defeated father time. He’s been in the league over 25 years, but he sounds like he just got in the league two, maybe three years ago. 

“He hasn’t lost a single step, not a single one. I’m pressing play on beats, and I’m blown away even in stuff that I didn’t pick (because of the story that I wanted to put together).”

While what you hear is what you get with Retropolitan — as Sky notes that he never leaves leftovers or unreleased gems — fans can revel in knowing that the project is everything it should be.

“As a fan, you may have been let down in the past by certain artists. So you may feel like, ‘Oh, I hope this is right. I hope they didn’t try to do too much of this or too little of that.’ So I’m letting them know … I swear to God, it sounds like everything is supposed to.”

This interview is the first of two parts. Skyzoo & Pete Rock’s Retropolitanis available September 20 via Mello Music Group.

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