MUSIC E-A-SKI has been in the game nearly 20 years, producing tracks with then-partner CMT for Spice 1’s eponymous 1992 debut on Jive Records and subsequently working with the likes of Master P, Ice Cube, and even Dr. Dre. He’s also maintained a career as a rapper. Yet despite several local radio hits and four major-label deals Priority, Relativity, Dreamworks, Columbia he’s never released an album. The deals have always soured, yet the astute businessman has always made money on them, as his professional-grade studio in the middle of a huge house hidden beyond the Oakland Hills attests.
I’ve come by for a private screening of SKI’s new video, "No Problems," the first single from The Fifth of Skithoven, an album he plans to release next year through his own label, IMGMI. If "private screening" sounds highfalutin’, "No Problems" is no ordinary clip. It’s a six-minute film, directed by Wayans Brothers associate Michael Tiddes, that recently won an award for best music video at the 13th Okanagan International Film Festival in Kelowna, British Columbia.
"I didn’t just want to keep putting videos out there," SKI explains. "I wanted to do something more cinematic to express the music."
A John Woo-like allegory of rap integrity, "No Problems" finds SKI battling to reclaim his soul from the Devil, wagering the contents of a mysterious Pulp Fictionesque briefcase that he can do it. The "x-factor," as SKI puts it, is the actor playing the gravel-voiced, gangsta Devil: Danny Glover. After meeting years ago in activist circles SKI frequently mentors inner-city youth the two recently reconnected when they found themselves members of the same gym. Despite the demands of Glover’s schedule (seven films currently in post-production, according to imdb.com), the Lethal Weapon star made time for the shoot.
"I did it ’cause SKI kept bugging me," Glover laughs during a quick phone call. "No, seriously. I respect what he does with Oakland and the community, and I thought it’d be fun." Judging by his over-the-top supervillain meltdown as SKI emerges triumphant, Glover had plenty of fun with the role.
"It was an honor for him to even want to be in a hip-hop project," SKI says. "I did my first line with him and just froze, like, ‘This is Danny Glover!’ I ain’t gonna lie, I got star-struck! And I’ve done a lot of stuff."
It’s hard to imagine a tongue-tied E-A-SKI, but then again, even Frank Sinatra looks intimidated alongside Marlon Brando in Guys and Dolls (1955). Getting Glover in his video is exactly the type of rabbit SKI consistently pulls out of his hat to keep himself relevant in a genre in which artists usually have short self-lives. Even on his own independent label, SKI routinely places videos on MTV, most recently 2009’s "Rare Form" by IMGMI-signee and Frontline-member Locksmith. Although there’s a trailer for "No Problems" on MTV’s movie blog, and SKI plans more film festival screenings, the video remains unreleased.
"I want to make its debut a big thing," SKI says. "Like MTV showing the trailer, having a build up, then boom! a Jam of the Week. We have a relationship, so they’re open to it. But it’s still in the works because I’m trying to see what’s best for my album."
Like a rap Paul Masson, SKI will serve no wine before its time, and Skithoven is no exception, though he’s already lined up tracks with the likes of Tech 9ine, Freeway, and Ice Cube (whose upcoming I Am the West [Lench Mob] includes a bonus track produced by SKI). "It’s like a puzzle," he says. "I like to get the pieces and now I’m structuring it." But will we finally see an album from the man known as "The Bay’s Dre," or will there be more of the Detox-like delays that have led him to shelve previous discs like Earthquake and Apply Pressure? SKI’s patience is unwavering.
"I never let people dictate to me," he says. "I’m gonna do what I wanna do. I’ve always been a firm believer in, if I can’t do what I want to do at that time and then too much time goes by, it’s time to reinvent."