This presidential election has made days seem like lifetimes. But way back in March, when Bernie still had a chance, Anthony “Top Dawg” Tiffith, the head of the TDE record label — home of Kendrick Lamar, Schoolboy Q, Jay Rock, Ab-Soul, Isaiah Rashad and possibly still SZA — Instagrammed a picture of a white board outlining the label’s slate of releases for the remainder of the year.
On the board were cryptic references to upcoming projects from Kendrick, Schoolboy, Rashad, SZA and others. But below that, under the heading of “new artists,” were two spaces that simply said “John Doe 1” and “John Doe 2.” TDE is currently one of the biggest hip-hop labels in the world, and the internet being what it is, the anonymity of the two new signees had fans concocting wild fantasies about who they might be. Few guessed that one would be singer/songwriter/producer Lance Skiiiwalker, and even fewer could have guessed that he would have a debut album, Introverted Intuition, ready to go right out of the gate.
“Honestly I feel no pressure at all, man,” Skiiiwalker says about being on a almost universally revered record label. “I just knew I was going in to be myself. I want to give people 100 percent of me.”
TDE is recognized for fostering artists who bring radical and experimental musical and lyrical ideas into a conventional hip-hop and R&B framework, often with chart-topping results. But Skiiiwalker’s single “Lover’s Lane,” sounds unconcerned with commercial appeal. With his husky baritone crooning a soulful love ballad over a distorted, crunchy drum groove and atmospheric violin strikes, the song sounds more like a Massive Attack track. Another single from the album, “Could It Be,” starts like an unreleased track from Schoolboy Q’s Blank Face album, with Lance skirting in and around a shuffling drum loop. Then, halfway through, the song turns into a sweet bedroom pop song with dirty, DIY doo-wop harmonies.
“Sonically it’s kind of everywhere. To me it’s no genre,” Lance says of Introverted Intuition, which was released on Oct. 18. “There are some guest producers on the album: DJ Dahi, Sounwave, Tae Beast, Frank Dukes, O’Bonjour and a lot of other people. I don’t mind collaborating with dope producers who hear what I’m trying to do. But I work better, honestly, by myself with my laptop, just kind of zoned out a little bit … some weed helps, too.”
As introverted as Skiiiwalker is, it’s his ability to collaborate well with other members of the TDE crew that’s gotten him where he is now — first with Jay Rock on last year’s 90059 album, where he’s a featured artist on the single “Money Trees Deuce,” “Telegram (Going Krazy)” and the title track. More recently he’s provided guest vocals for Schoolboy Q on the track “Kno Ya Wrong” on his Blank Face LP.
“It wasn’t a big, hard adjustment, working with Jay Rock and Schoolboy,” he says. “I started my relationships with everybody at TDE differently. We’d just try to form a friendship, then they’d hear my music, and get a taste of my personality that way.”
TDE’s first taste of Lance’s personality came from a chance encounter at a clothing shop on Fairfax. “I was actually discovered by Kendrick Lamar and [TDE president] David Free,” he explains. “I’m from Chicago, but I was out in L.A. just networking. I happened to walk into this store called Dope Couture on Fairfax. A friend of mine who I knew from the Midwest was actually managing the store at the time. We got to talking; he asked me if I had any music on me.”
The young singer had made music with a band in Chicago called The Rocketeers before becoming Lance Skiiiwalker. “I handed him a tape of some tracks and left the store. A few minutes later I get a call and my friend’s telling me Kendrick Lamar wants to meet me. I run back, me and Kendrick start talking, and it just went from there.”
Kendrick had wanted Lance to produce tracks and appear on Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City, but those tracks never materialized. Instead, Lance went back to work on his own album.
“I definitely don’t know how to describe the music that I’ve been making, or what kind of music the album is. I know it’s going to take you into a world … I can’t control where the imagination of the person listening is going to take them, but I know it’s going to take them somewhere.”