The Fine Print: Why Skillz' "Rap Up" Series Is Hip Hop At It's Best

hyperadmin | The Fine Print | Thursday, January 6th, 2011


By: Jonathon “Bizz” Brown

Skillz – 2010 Rap Up

Chuck D notoriously once said hip hop is “the black CNN.” He was alluding to rap’s ability to broadcast the lifestyles of African Americans, which popular media couldn’t or wouldn’t authentically project. If Chuck D worked within “the black CNN,” then maybe it’s fair to say Skillz, with his annual “Rap Up” series works at Entertainment Tonight.

If you’re in the dark on this, the series gives a lyrical synopsis of popular culture and hip hop over the previous twelve months. Starting in 2002, Skillz wrote the first “Rap Up” record on a whim. About to release a mixtape full of dubs, his manager suggested he write something to Common’s hit record featuring Mary J. Blige entitled “Come Close.” Stumped by the light mood of the record, Skillz decided he’d rap about all that’d happened in 2002. Time was on his side, since Thanksgiving (US) had just passed and the mixtape would be released near the end of the calendar year. Written hastily according to Skillz, the year in review cited trends like Burberry and throwback jerseys, songs like “Grindin” (Clipse) and “Dirty” (Christina Aguilera), scandals like R. Kelly’s sex tapes and world news items like Michael Jackson hanging his child out the window. Without knowing what he’d created, Skillz made it the last song on his mixtape and would soon be surprised as radio shows picked it up. It seemed he’d struck a chord. Hip hop’s ability to act as a time capsule excited listeners who reveled in reminiscing over 2002’s best and worst.

Skillz has since covered every year in similar fashion and provided a lyrical scrap book of sorts.A hit record so often depends on timing and can vanish as quickly as it comes. But these records actually become more valuable as time goes on. They act as moments in time that remind us where popular culture was that year or that year or that year. And these markers are examples of how connected and relative hip hop is to popular culture. What other genre could/would allow such relevant commentary? These “Rap Up” records combine word-play, opinion, comedy, news and poignant commentary. And they’ll stand the test of time because they aren’t based in a trendy sound or an “in” term, their based in the popular moments that we shared in entertainment each year.

The Fine Print here is appreciating these pieces of popular history. No other art form can compare to these yearly accounts. And years from now, when Skillz decides he’s had enough, lets hope another worthy storyteller steps up.

P.S. Skillz, if you’re reading this, I heard that you almost didn’t do a “Rap Up” for 2011. Don’t ever waiver again. The Twitter comments demanding it might have spurred you to write this year, but in coming years please know that you’ve created a series of historical accounts that are valuable to those far beyond your timeline.

That’s The Fine Print

No Comments »

  1. wooooooh. nice column Bizz! where’s the fine print been!? keep it coming

    Comment by J Lox — January 6, 2011 @ 7:58 pm

  2. Soo True, we need Skillz to do this forever, he’s started something… my wife is one of many main stream hiphop listeners, and she looks forward to this every year. it’s the only reason she know who he is.

    Comment by Bils The Promoter — January 7, 2011 @ 1:01 am

  3. Didn’t really know too much about this series. Id heard of it here n there but thanks for outing me onto it. I just went back n heard all of ten. Your right, great time capsules

    Comment by Ricky — January 7, 2011 @ 8:45 am

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