[Editor's note: Weekly scribe Jeff Weiss's column, “Bizarre Ride,” appears on West Coast Sound every Wednesday. His archives are available here.]
Skeme is so Inglewood that he still loathes the Lakers for ditching the Forum. His hometown dedication is so absolute that it's incorporated into his next album's title: Ingleworld. The portmanteau reflects an expanded scope for the 23-year-old rapper, whose pistols-and-palm trees sagas have accrued fierce allegiance in the city that Tupac said was “always up to no good.”
Industry vultures and Skeme's peers also have noticed. If you examine his collaboration list, it includes every popular, hood-certified L.A. rapper of the last half-decade: Nipsey Hussle, Dom Kennedy, The Game, Schoolboy Q and Kendrick Lamar.
Earlier this year, the latter's label, Top Dawg Entertainment, discussed signing Skeme. Def Jam, Universal and Roc Nation also are hovering.
“I'm in no rush to sign,” Skeme says, sultanically dragging on a Djarum clove cigarette, wearing camo pants, a black IMKING barcode T-shirt and black beanie. Tattoos cover his arms. He looks like a remorseful set leader in a contemporary hood movie. “I've been making plenty of money.”
Skeme wasn't a self-coined nickname. Lonnie Kimble acquired it at 13, when a friend noticed his craftiness at acquiring cash. Most of his early plots could lock you up for five to nine, he says, but they allowed him to buy a BMW 525I while still a senior at Gardena's Junipero Serra High.
His recent windfall has arrived through legal means. Over the last year, he's become a sought-after songwriter, ghostwriting for a clientele he can't divulge. Industry rumors peg him as the pen for Iggy Azalea, who has appeared on several of his tracks.
Since the release of last month's DJ Skee-presented mixtape, Bare With Me, Skeme's passport includes stamps from London and Sweden. There also have been trips to New York and Seattle.
Scheduling conflicts precluded him, he says, from a return jaunt to London to write with Timbaland, Steve Aoki and Max Martin, the Scandinavian pop Merlin. Wale recently asked him to join J. Cole's What Dreams May Come tour.
“I never knew it would become huge. I knew just I could make good music that people identified with,” Skeme says on the patio of his manager's Studio City townhouse.
In conversation, he radiates the same no-bullshit intensity of his music. Eye contact is constant. He conducts himself with the seen-it-all gravity of someone thrice his age. It's the fatalistic world-weariness of someone who saw too many friends die too young.
“A lot of rappers never give the downside of the street. I might love it when I'm in the club, but on the ride home, you still have to return to where it's really going down,” Skeme says. “If a nigga ever tells you that gang-banging should be glorified, then he's a real lost motherfucker. You shouldn't know what it's like to be 14 and have lost 10 of your friends.”
Even though his great-uncle was blues legend Howlin' Wolf, he's retained the punch-card dedication of his grandfather, who has woken up every morning at 4 a.m. to work at the Chevron refinery in El Segundo.
Skeme prefers talking about music as a means of uplift rather than a divine calling. He avoids the “music saved my life” self-mythologizing to articulate his desire to show and prove for his city.
Earlier this year, he purchased a home three doors down from where he grew up. He still writes from the Inglewood porch and in the park. He wants his infant son to absorb the same lessons and hopefully avoid the same mistakes.
“I could've moved out the city, but it was important to show people where I'm from that they can make it,” Skeme says. “I've never tried to be someone who I'm not. I just wanted to locked down my section … CMT … Crenshaw and Manchester, Inglewood is mine.”
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