Not All Saudis Are Down With Controversial Rapper $kinny
Perpetually stoned, Saudi Arabia-born rapper Skinny is asked constantly about the political situation in his homeland. "That's when interviewers hear ignorant answers," explains the man whose name we'll spell Skinny, his thick dread-locks resting on his shoulders as he lounges in a Glendale recording studio. "I'm just not really into politics." Skinny's first mixtape, Ghetto Disneyland, is hosted by Power 106 DJ Charisma and dropped this week.
The gaunt, heavily tattooed 26-year-old has made waves by refusing to incorporate a political message into his music, or adhere to the beliefs of his countrymen. The things he raps about - weed and promiscuous women, for example - may be common in U.S. hip-hop, but are frowned upon in Saudi Arabia. Not that this bothers him. "I'm worried about my bank account right now," he says, only half-jokingly.
Skinny was born in Riyadh and raised in Jeddah. "It was such an amazing life. It was safe [and] secure. The food is amazing... I love the hot weather too."
His parents met in Santa Barbara while his father attended college. After they split, Skinny spent summers with his mother in Westlake Village. While his California cousins exposed him to rock groups like Nirvana, he discovered rap in Jeddah, inadvertently buying a cassette that featured music from Tupac, one of his biggest influences. (Portraits of 2Pac and Notorious B.I.G. are inked on his chest.)
Moving to L.A. in 2005, Skinny forged report cards to send to his father, who believed he was attending college. Initially unable to solicit beats from producers, he learned to play keyboard and make his own beats. To pay the bills, he sold vanity phone numbers (e.g. 310-777-7777). "You'd be surprised how much people will pay," he says.
In addition to honing his production skills, Skinny regularly practiced his U.S. accent. "It took a while for me to really believe what I was rapping," he explains. Then, after choosing the name 'Skinny,' he found himself virtually invisible on Google. "I put the $ in front of my name so people could find me," he says, laughing. "I was competing with diet pills."
Through a series of serendipitous events, Skinny wound up playing his material for Mike Lynn, former Aftermath VP of A&R. He was then able to land a writer/producer deal with Warner Chappell. The paycheck afforded him the time to work on his own music.
This past July saw the release of his first music video, "Talk 4 Me" (above). Replete with bouncing low riders, the video pays homage to West Coast gangster rap.
Fearful his father would learn of his rap career once the story broke, Skinny told him the truth. "I was like, 'How bad am I going to look if he finds out from a picture [in the paper]?'" he says. "It was tough."
Of late, he's had to contend with enraged countrymen. The comment sections of his YouTube videos are riddled with vitriol: "Fuck you skinny do not say you're [a] saudi rapper," wrote one commenter.
"Someone just sold his soul," wrote another.
Still, he says he's seen a positive response from Saudi Arabian fans as well, some even printing his image on t-shirts, coffee mugs, and hats.
Though he's excited about Ghetto Disneyland, there is another project near completion, more videos slated for release, and plans for a college tour. Mostly, though, he's content to be working in the land of women, weed, and weather. "I'm happy to finally be [succeeding in music]," Skinny says, "to be able to call L.A. my home and to be accepted."
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