Indianapolis emcee Skypp has been on an impressive grind over the last few years, cranking out a series of artistically ambitious albums that achieve excellence on both sonic and lyrical grounds. His latest effort, Tenth, chronicles the wordsmith’s experiences growing up on the streets of Indianapolis’ Eastside, marking his most impressive release to date.
“Tenth is dedicated not only to my neighborhood but to all neighborhoods like mine across the world,” Skypp says on the track “Live Right.”
Throughout the album, Skypp uses spoken-word interludes to share the wisdom he acquired on the streets with those still caught up in the struggle. "I've been through everything they've been through,” Skypp says. “Some people don't want to take advice from someone who hasn't been in their shoes. So I let it be known that I've lived in the same shoes, and I learned that you don't have to keep following those same footsteps. You can definitely make a change and take a new direction."
Despite the serious themes at play, Tenth is not a dour affair. Skypp is both a compelling and entertaining emcee. Like Kendrick Lamar, Skypp has a gift for creating parables out of his street life experiences. But Skypp also possesses a 2 Chainz-like ability to mine humor from those same tales of hustling.
Tenth is an important entry into the canon of Indianapolis rap, and on merit alone it should elevate Skypp’s notoriety both locally and nationally. Head to OfficialSkypp.com to hear for yourself or catch Skypp in person at the album release party on Sunday, July 8 at The Spotlight.
NUVO: Tenth is named in tribute to East 10th Street. I understand you grew up near the intersection of East 10th and Rural. I’ve lived off of East 10th for nearly 15 years, and I know that area can sometimes be chaotic. What was it like growing up in that environment?
Skypp: It's not a "can be" situation, it is! [laughs]
NUVO: To be honest I was shocked when I first moved to the Eastside and saw what was happening in the blocks surrounding 10th and Rural. At almost any time of day or night you could find sex and drugs being openly solicited with very little interference from the police. What was it likegrowing up in that environment?
Skypp: As a kid, it's easier to deal with because you don't see it for what it is. As a youngster, you don't really understand what you're seeing. I just stayed with my friends a lot, and nobody really bothered us because we were just young kids.
There was one situation I remember. Me and my baby brother have very bad asthma. One night, my brother had an asthma attack. We were running outside asking for help. We didn't have a phone at the time because ours was cut off. We were outside like, "Help! Someone call 911!" So the whole block comes to our house on 10th and Rural and starts running in. When I say we were wiped clean, they stole everything, man.
One thing I did deal with firsthand was my uncle. He was a very bad alcoholic. He was one of those people on 10th Street walking up and down with cups of change. We had situations where he stole our bicycles to go buy alcohol. There were a lot of crazy experiences.
NUVO: Despite the chaos, there are truly great people living on East 10th. This community was neglected by the city for far too long, and nearly all of the negative influences are a product of poverty and other social struggles.
Skypp: It either makes you or breaks you. It can inspire you or it can destroy you.It just depends on what kind of mind you have.
NUVO: There's a spoken-word breakdown near the end of the album’s title track where you say, “People who ain’t from the streets only see negativity / They don’t understand how the hood makes you a stand-up person.” How did your experiences growing up on East 10th shape who you are today?
Skypp: On the cover of the album, you have images of street signs with names like Loyalty Lane, Sophisticated Way, and Integrity Avenue. The initial cover had actual Eastside street names like Tuxedo and Rural. I recreated the cover because I didn't want this to be like a street album—I wanted it to have more meaning. So I changed the street names into these themes, which I explain on the album.
Being a stand-up person is part of having integrity. We had OGs in the neighborhood that made it their responsibility to teach us good things even though we were surrounded by negativity. Those kind of people had a lot of integrity, and we appreciated them. In the hood, you always say it's your hood against whoever. You know, 10th Street will go to war with anybody. That's just teaching loyalty. It's all about what you take from the experience. On first look, there's nothing positive there, but it's all about how you perceive things. Some people didn't take anything positive from the experience—they may have ended up getting murdered or going to jail. But I took all positives from it.
NUVO: Over the last few years, gentrification has slowly been transforming East 10th and the surrounding area. There are concerns that some longtime Eastside residents are being priced out from their own neighborhoods. What do you think about all the changes happening along East 10th?
Skypp: I was just over there to shoot a video last week. I was peeping the new apartment buildings. I think it's a good thing. I don't think the community is receiving it well, but I don't think it's necessarily a bad thing. I think it could be a positive thing if they're leaving room for the low income people. It's a poverty-stricken neighborhood and there's not a lot of positive things going on around it. I don't really like speaking on these things because I don't really know everything about it. So let's just hope it's for the good.
NUVO: I want to move away from Tenth for a moment and ask about the title track of your 2016 album Jaffe. That song strikes me as an important piece in your body of work. Tell me about “Jaffe.”
Skypp: It's about my best friend who was murdered in 2011. His name was Dakarai Jaffe. He was a very influential person in my life. He was one of the people who motivated me to do music. Back in the day, he hosted my mixtapes. He was also my manager. He went to IU's Kelley School of Business, but he had to drop out to handle some things back at home. The summer he was trying to get back into IU was the summer he got murdered.
So I decided I was gonna take his name and make it live forever. But not in a sad way, I wanted to use it in a way that was inspirational and positive. So I turned Jaffe into a synonym for real. So instead of saying "keep it real," I say "keep it Jaffe."
That whole song is based around what he was like as a person and what can happen when you're in the streets. What happened to him was very unfortunate because he was a good person. Sometimes when you hear about a person being in the streets, you're automatically like, "How can that be a good person?" Dakarai was as good of a person as there is. He was just in an unfortunate situation where he had to make something happen for his mom and his family.
NUVO: I don't know much about your personal life, but in the lyrics of “Jaffe,” you reference being a teacher. Is teaching your day job?
Skypp: Yeah, I used to be a full-time substitute teacher at Warren Central High School. I do it part-time now because I want to focus more on music. I've been a substitute teacher at Warren Central High for going on five years.
NUVO: Your music has attracted interest from major record labels, but thus far, everything you’ve issued has been independently released. Is it important to you to get signed and break out from the Indianapolis scene?
Skypp: I'd love to get signed to a major label if the conditions are good for me. But as an independent artist, I feel like the sky's the limit. I really feel like I can take this all the way. I want a big enough buzz where I can affect the world with my music. That's always been my goal. I want to reach as many people as I can and give them something worth listening to. But if it doesn't go national, that's OK. The music has still served its purpose locally.