[Editor's note: Soon-to-be-award-winning gonzo music journalist Danielle Bacher prowls the late late night scene for West Coast Sound. For this installment, she hit the town with rapper Skee-Lo, who wishes he was a little bit taller.]
11:00 p.m.: Skee-Lo (real name: Antoine Roundtree) sits next to his wife on a couch and takes a sip of water from a plastic Bacardi cup. He wraps his arm around the back of her neck, displaying a silver wedding band on his ring finger. “For those who try to say I'm a one-hit wonder, they're wrong,” he maintains. “My album I Wish was nominated for a Grammy against artists like Tupac and Biggie Smalls. I love the fact that I'm an underdog.”
11:02 p.m.: I throw a burgundy pillow out of the way and slide in next to him inside the VIP lounge at The Game Sports Bar on W. Manchester Ave. near LAX, where he's performing tonight. He runs his fingers along his shaved head and adjusts his long-sleeved flannel shirt. While he's fidgeting with his apparel, his wife grabs his left arm with her hand. She's dark-skinned with long black hair and wears shiny lip gloss. She's got on a sleeveless black shirt with a long, striped skirt running down to the floor.
11:03 p.m.: As Skee-Lo continues telling me about why he's underrated and underappreciated, I accidentally knock a half-eaten chicken wing onto the wooden floor. I pick it up with a dirty napkin.
11:04 p.m.: “What people don't understand about me is that I'm a musician. I've been selling that album [I Wish] for centuries. I never had to drop another record. Why would I mess up something perfect?” He waits a beat and continues: “I'm never going to let someone make parameters for the music my ancestors created. For the grace of God, why would I ever do that? I believe I can do anything I want to do. And I do it.”
11:05 p.m.: It's readily apparent that he's defensive about his post-“I Wish” career, but he's also proud that, after 12 years, he's back in the game. Late last year, he released his album Fresh Ideas digitally under his own label SkeeLo Musik. This past month, he made the physical version available for purchase. Toyota's Rav4 “Wish Granted” Super Bowl ad also featured the self-deprecating 1995 hit and racked up millions of views online.
11:10 p.m.: Now, he enjoys running his own label and allowing other musicians to be heard. He's also working on new material and making videos for his songs from Fresh Ideas. “The album is new music, sound and attitude. It's a new business. I looked at hip-hop present, past and future. It's stuff you haven't heard, ideas you haven't heard. I changed my style and flow. Every verse on this album is ridiculous. It's spiritual for me. You haven't heard music this pure in a long time, since the '90s. I rap from the soul.”
11:25 p.m.: Skee-Lo doesn't seem bitter that his former record label Sunshine Entertainment took most of the profits from “I Wish.” He doesn't seem bitter that he basically retired after that album, which he produced himself in his bedroom in Los Angeles. He does, however, seem bitter that the music industry doesn't recognize REAL talent. “No one would give me a record deal back then. I had rejection letters from every major record label. I saved those rejection letters and hung them on my wall. They don't know shit.”
11:45 p.m.: “What do you do when the music industry tells you that you are too old? Or that your music is washed up? What do you do when they play the same 12 artists on the radio? What do you do?” he asks, almost getting in my face. “You make your own music. You make your own record label. That's what you do.”
11:47 p.m.: He doesn't want to talk about his personal life or his family (on the record, anyway), and he believes that money isn't everything. “I need more than money these days. Money comes with success, and success comes from hard work. That's worth more than money.”
11:55 p.m.: He finishes the last of his water and looks at his cell phone. He was supposed to be performing ten minutes ago, but the venue is running behind because the earlier artists on the bill are still performing. As he glances at his watch for a second time, he starts to tell me about growing up in the Robert Taylor Homes on the South Side of Chicago. He says it was one of the worst projects in America with constant murder, death and prostitution. “We slept five people to a bed and saw people get shot,” he recalls. “I just want to give hope to so many people because of it.”
11:59 p.m.: Skee-Lo has called L.A. home for the past 23 years. He enjoys living life with his two children and wife in Los Angeles. “I don't do what everybody else does. I don't see anything wrong with being myself,” he says.
12:02 a.m.: What he does think is wrong is when musicians forget their identities. “I'm really sick of everybody wanting to be robots. They dress alike, look alike and make music that sounds alike. I'm not from that era. I knew a hit record when I heard it. I don't need Billboard, TV or radio telling me. If you have enough money behind a project, people will go crazy. But guys like Kendrick Lamar, he's kicking ass right now. I don't care what you do. If you can do it, I can do it, too.”
12:10 a.m.: Rapper Trenseta aka Tren pops his head into the room. He's worked with Dr. Dre, Snoop Lion and DJ Quik. He's also associated with Project Blowed, the well-respected open mic workshop that showcases underground hip-hop artists. Skee-Lo's mentor Myka 9 is also associated with it. Trenseta is cheerful and excited to watch Skee-Lo perform a few songs on stage soon.
12:20 a.m.: It's no surprise that Skee-Lo starts off his set with “I Wish.” Dozens of fans in the audience start to record his performance with their cell phones. One girl with long black hair and a short black dress screams out “Whoa, I didn't know he still rapped!” He sounds exactly like he did back in the day: full of charisma and energy. The music stops, but he still keeps rapping: “I wish I had a girl that looked good, I would call her. I wish I had a rabbit in a hat with a bat and a six-four Impala.” Then he adds, “West Coast! Yeah…” There are scattered claps, and one girl screams loudly.
12:25 a.m.: He sings “Vibe Is Right” off Fresh Ideas. “When have you ever heard a rap record that actually uplifted you? It's been a long time. That's called 'hip-hop,'” he says. He asks the DJ to turn up the volume, and they kick off the up-tempo, Latin-inspired beat. The gets some, but not all, of the crowd dancing.
12:30 a.m.: Skee-Lo finishes his three-song set with “Untouchable,” a tribute to Trayvon Martin, which also features on the new album. It's heartfelt and leads off with the sound of gunshots. He sounds much gruffer on this song, befitting the intensity of the music and the subject matter.
12:40 a.m.: Tren stands behind me waving his arms to get the attention of Skee-Lo. The DJ mentions at least three times now that L.A. Weekly is in the house. “Are you writing a book on Skee-Lo?” one visibly drunk guy asks me as I enter the VIP lounge. “Because it probably won't be that long.” He laughs and turns away, spilling Jack and Coke on his t-shirt.
12:52 a.m.: Skee-Lo's attorney Antonio Moore (who is also drug kingpin “Freeway” Ricky Ross's lawyer) enters the lounge and tells him that the performance was good. He met Skee-Lo through Tren, and he's responsible for setting up the distribution deal for his new album and negotiating contracts for the Toyota commercials.
12:55 a.m.: “He's really a talented artist,” says Moore as he hands me a copy of the new album. “I wouldn't call him the first West Coast artist, but he was huge before that era, and he represented a form of music for Los Angeles rap that was more fun, less angry and, as a result, more acceptable to the masses of America.”
12:58 a.m.: “He's a small African-American guy talking about himself in a way that allows people inside his world. He's saying he has fallacies and shortcomings, as well. He's saying: 'I'm short. I'm not a superhero.'”
1:10 a.m.: Skee-Lo and his wife give me a big hug. He asks if he can text me about his music. His driver leads him out of the club.
1:17 a.m.: I turn on my car and KDAY is, appropriately, playing “I Wish.” I had my radio up loud before I arrived, and the song is now blaring through my speakers. The car windows are down, and everyone can hear. One of the patrons in the parking lot screams “Skee-Lo for life!”