Mixing hip-hop with visual art, he has worked with A Tribe Called Quest, Naughty By Nature, D12, Eminem and many more. SKAM2? moves through the underground scene between different cultures and localities. 

We sat down with SKAM2? for an exclusive interview on The Mainly Eminem Podcast. Read an excerpt or listen to the podcast below.

You know his work, and you know his name, at least because it was mentioned in “Stan”. However, he rarely agrees to interviews, so it is a treasured opportunity to ePro and Mainly Eminem podcast to learn more about SKAM2?, his past work, and his current projects. Ladies and gentlemen, we are delighted to be joined by SKAM2?.

Let’s start from the very beginning of SKAM2? and figure out where his name came from.

Man, I don’t even know. In junior high, maybe sixth grade or something like that. But I spelt it differently. I spelt it the regular way. And then, one day I, with a bunch of other skaters, got harassed because they blamed the skaters for all the graffiti in downtown. And man, I had to have been like 13-12, something like that. And they just went through all our stuff and took photos of us and the whole nine yards, which was crazy. They saw my sketchbook and put on the Polaroid, like, “Oh, S-C-A-M”, and all this, trying to link me to graffiti, which wasn’t even happening. But I kind of felt like, hey! And they just hated me anyway, so…

Then, 2 was because it was the second version of the name. And the question mark… I don’t remember how or if there was a specific thought. At the time, I had a character, which I used with a question mark. And I don’t know if I had the character first, but it might have been something with that. But no, there wasn’t an overarching great origin story — “the definition of SKAM2? is this, and it’s about the plight of mankind!” Nah, it wasn’t none of that. I just thought it was cool.

Cool origin stories are often written backwards, and teenagers don’t really think that far ahead when picking themselves a moniker. Did SKAM2? prepare himself for his career as an influential artist? Was he even specially trained in art? No, SKAM2? was paving his own way without any institutional support.

Completely self-taught. When we came to America, my pops gave me what I thought was a bunch of comics. But it turns out that it was his comic, the sci-fi and the action, all the stuff my dad liked. He imparted it on me. One day, I was looking at something and like, “I wonder if I could draw this?” And I did it, and it came out. It was kind of one of those moments, like, “Oh shit, I can draw. Wow, alright”. And I just stuck with it from there. When I came to the States, there was graffiti, comics, and cartoons. There was all this stuff we didn’t have that much of in Jamaica, so I’ve just kind of imparted into it ever since.

What about this specific genre of album artwork? Is there an artist who might have given SKAM2? Inspiration? Yes, and more than just one.

I’m a huge Iron Maiden fan. Derek Riggs, Derek’s the GOAT. He did all that Eddie stuff. Derek Riggs will not work with Iron Maiden, from what I read. So they’re still doing that character to this day. That art was indelible. In terms of hip hop — Matt Doo, Organized Konfusion, the “Stress: Extinction Agenda” album. That was dope. That was one I really loved. Rest in Peace to Matt Doo. OG Slick, “Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde”. Those are some that stick out. Those things fueled me. That made me say, yo, I want to be the album cover guy. I just started running up on people. “Look at my artwork. Look at my artwork”. Everywhere I went — Miami, New York, LA, everywhere. And that’s how I got wherever. When people saw my art, some wanted it, and some didn’t. But once in a while, I would land on something good.

SKAM2? spent his early childhood in New York but moved with his family to Miami when he was nine. The Miami scene has shaped him. This is where he found recognition of every side of his multifaceted creative personality. Although, for him hip hop was not the first choice either of music or of culture.

I grew up off of punk rock and metal and didn’t get into rap until high school. I had a homie, and, ironically, I got him into drawing comics, and he got me more into rap. And the first couple of things I heard were Common and Redman. At the time, all I knew was the stuff that was on the radio. Some of it was good, but it was, you know, radio stuff. It was very formulaic and made for mass digestion. But then we got into these guys who had these punchlines, and some of them I didn’t get. And the ones that I did get, I was like, oh, wow, oh, that’s ill. And I would re-listen and re-listen until I caught stuff I hadn’t caught before. I found a large appreciation for the witty side of things. From there, I got a little deeper.
I remember seeing House of Pain, the “Jump Around” video; it used to play in a pool hall at the 183rd St. flea market around here. In the pool hall they had the videos playing, but no volume. At the time, all we knew was the Beastie Boys. But these guys, they came tatted up like, what is this, this Irish shit? What? They just looked live. They look so live, and it was the energy of punk and awesome hip hop shit. But I hadn’t heard the song. I didn’t hear the song for months. I just saw the video every day and I never even heard the song. And when I heard the song, I was like, oh shit, this is live.
I wanted to dive deep into this new thing. All the underground rap, all this shit that a lot of people didn’t know about. That’s what got me down the rabbit hole.

SKAM2? seamlessly merges visual art and his rap skills when it comes to creative expression. If classic American comics influenced his drawing style, were there musicians that similarly impacted his understanding of hip hop and rap?

To be honest, if you would have told me back that I would rap, I would have laughed at you. I didn’t have that thing in my head. A lot of artists wanted to do it from when they were young. I just wanted to draw when I was young. I started rapping because I wanted to learn another form of expression. The music I really liked wasn’t something I wanted to do because I didn’t see myself doing that. I wouldn’t say that I had the inspirations in terms of what to do with my music.
Further on, I got into it, and I would see the artist use different things, even things I didn’t understand at the time. Let’s say I was a huge 2Pac fan. He had songs I liked that were dope. I didn’t quite understand it. When I got more into my craft, I realised it was his delivery. He could convey emotion through his delivery, and that’s what really connected people. Then, I started hanging out with Eminem and Proof, and these guys were doing compounds. I was like, oh, whoa, what’s that? You guys are rhyming the same thing, a whole verse. And they would also build on ideas. I had never seen that before. Those are the things that inspired me in a sense. I was like, yo, this is the next level of rhyming. When I first heard Nas, “New York State of Mind”. I literally threw out my raps in the garbage. I thought what I was doing was just goop. And Nas was poetry.

I didn’t set out to do what he did, but it made me realise there was another level to this. But those things were few and far between. I could listen to Biggie, and I would love what he did. But I didn’t want to do that. You know, I didn’t live those lives. These guys were all so marred in hip hop. I was skating, skateboarding. I’d listen to punk and metal. And yeah, I didn’t have that life. While I liked it and had an appreciation, it might not have spoken to me the way it might have spoken to some other people.

So, I’m on the fringe. Also, being somebody from Miami was different. The underground rap was coming from New York. It was the same thing when Eminem would show up. “He’s in Detroit, what?” And then I’d be there, and they’d be like, “You’re from Miami? Get the fuck out of here. Where are all these weirdos coming from?”

While we know where they were coming from, we want to know how they came together. What unexpected connection could put them in the same room, more even, in the same record studio? SKAM2? and Eminem recorded “3hree6ix5ive” in 1997 and released it in 1998. When did they meet?

That was probably 1996-1997. There was this guy, Rick Posada. He was a big A&R at Electra. He was Old Dirty Bastard and then Busta Rhymes A&R when they were at their heights. You know, “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Can See”, “Shimmy Shimmy Ya”. He was also Flipmode Squad A&R. He and Paul Rosenberg were roommates and Paul was a lawyer. So I had some instances, some little things with art and people trying to do stuff and take credit. So Rick said, “Yo, you know, you need a lawyer”. So he linked me up with Paul. And when I met Paul, he played me the tape. He played some of the songs from “The Slim Shady EP”. And I was like, wow, okay. He said some stuff on there that I never heard anyone outside of Miami say. You know, where he was like, “You finna get stuck stolen snuff”.

I never heard anyone who wasn’t from Miami say those words. And I liked the music. He was trying to get the word out. They were on their grind, heavy with it. And from that, I was like, “Well, give me a couple of copies, and I’ll get it to whoever it needs to get to”. And that’s just on the strength of, you know, your friend of the friend. And this is dope. I think dope stuff needs to be heard. That’s it. Nothing more than that. In that way, I feel you’ve earned whatever that connection can come. I gave it to Stretch and Bobbito [they hosted an underground hip-hop radio show broadcast in New York]. Well, I gave it to Bobbito. I got to give it to Martin Moore & Mayhem [WNYU (89.1 FM) New York University radio station]. Me and A.L. took it to Riggs, and he wrote the Unsigned Hype. I was able to get it to a couple of key people. And whenever Em would come to town, Paul would be busy doing real shit and we’d just be running around doing some underground rap stuff.

New York was just the place for it, and underground rap stuff meant they had to record a track together. That was now the famous “3hree6ix5ive”, which was recorded in a manner very different from the one adopted now, explains SKAM2?.

Unlike nowadays, we were together in the studio at The Spinners. I knew I wanted to do a track, and to me, Em was so off the wall, so I wanted the right track for it. Em didn’t like the track for “3hree6ix5ive”. I kind of pressed. I was like, yo, this is it, this is the track. And then he finally wrote the verse for it. And boom, there it was.

However, it is not their only joint. Later, both SKAM2? and Eminem will appear among other artists on “5 Star Generals”.

That was Shabaam Sahdeeq’s single. He was on Rawkus Records at the time. We were so broke. What we had in New York at the time was a two-fare zone. It was so far you had to take a train and a bus. Now, you can get a free transfer on the metro card or whatever you have; it’s all one thing. But back then, you had to pay separate fares. So, me and Shadow, we only had enough money that day for one of us to go. Shadow was ready to go, but he said, “Yo, that’s your homie, go. Go kick it with your homie. Whatever”. I went over there to hang out with everybody at The Spinners in Brooklyn. As soon as I walked in the door, Shabaam was like, “Skam, whaddup? Jump on this”. We started writing, and Em pulled out a little piece of paper with the little micro scribbles on it. I was like, what is that? That’s your handwriting? He’s like, “Yeah”. He was just like, bloop, bloop, bloop, threw some connective tissue in there, and had his verse in 10 minutes. He was the first person to have his verse. So, that’s how “5 Star” happened. Had it been another way, that would have been Shadow on that track.

“3hree6ix5ive” showed off not only SKAM2? a rapper but also SKAM2? a visual artist. Its cover art is incredible and is highly coveted among the collectors. It is difficult to buy now, and apparently, it was difficult to sell back then. At least, it certainly didn’t get enough attention from SKAM2?’s distribution company.

I drew that in 1994. The funny thing about that is we got jerked by our distribution. They were telling us we weren’t selling. But they were distributing it with a generic black cover. So if you went into the warehouse, you wouldn’t see it, and you’d be like, damn, they’re really not selling. But everybody I knew would be like, “Yo, man, you guys must be making so much money. That record is everywhere”. We’re like, what? What are you talking about? What’s interesting, I had a little bit at the time, and I thought I was getting more. I was out in San Diego, skating or whatever. When I needed some bread, I would find a record store and like, “Yo, boom, whaddup? I’m Skam. I got some vinyl”. I sold two boxes that I had, not knowing I would never get any more. I only have one record now because Ill Bill gave me one of his.

Yet Eminem knew how good SKAM2?’s artwork was and commissioned a new one for “The Slim Shady LP”. The art from the album is legendary now. How long did it take to come up with such vivid and inventive imagery?

None of it took that long to create, honestly. In the mid to late 1990s, creatively, I was on fire. I just came up with stuff so unusually and easily. Maybe not always easily, but I just came up with a lot of stuff. My technique was not as polished, but the ideas were there. So, with that, I remember we were in the studio. I don’t know what song Em was working on. It was me, him and Paul. And they were like, “Yo, we want you to do the artwork”. I said, hey, what do you want me to do? They said, “You know the vibe. You know what it is, you know the songs”. And that was it. I didn’t even know how to spell Vicodin. I didn’t even know what a Tylenol Four was. I didn’t know about half of the stuff he was talking about. But I’m younger than him. The Mummy came from the “Come On Everybody” song. Where he’s like, “If you ever see a video for this shit, I’ll probably be dressed up like a mummy with my wrists slit”. If you look at the artwork, there’s a razor blade stuck in the Mummy’s wrist.

I didn’t know much about trailers and trailer parks. So I drew one, and my homie said, “That’s not what a trailer looks like”. And I was like, what? What do you mean? I had to go look it up. At this time, I didn’t use Google or anything like we do now. I scrapped the old one. I have the sketch, I actually do have the original drawing. And then I did that one, which looked more like a proper trailer.

That was also the Disco Pimp needle. It was too wild. And the spider pills, it looked cool. I felt like they weren’t going to use that. But I thought it was cool because he’s got the pimp hat with the feather, and he’s tying himself off with the belt, which is, when you think about it, it’s kind of fucked up. All that was done with a marker. I would draw the line art in ink on Bristol board; that’s what the comic artists generally use. Then, I would make a bunch of photocopies and colour them in marker. The thing is, with marker, there’s no Ctrl+Z. I could get almost all the way done with something, make one little fuck up and start all over. You had to get to a place where you would nail it.

The Slim Shady LP 20th anniversary First look at Eminem’s capsule merch collection

This remarkable artwork came back to life again when Shady Records released Eminem’s capsule merch collection for “The Slim Shady LP” 20th anniversary.

However, the collaboration between SKAM2? and Shady Records was not limited to Eminem’s solo records. His artwork for D12’s single “Shit on You” is also a group portrait of band members. There is Bizarre with a hip hop cup, a mummy again, Swifty McVay falling up the top with a bag of cash. Just under him, Proof with the guns blazing. Then, at the bottom, Kon Artis, aka. Mr. Porter holds Kuniva in a chokehold. It is one of the very few works that SKAM2? didn’t colour himself, delegating the job to a hired hand. It was early Shady Records days, and the relationships were simple. Eminem and Paul just reached out to the artist, suggesting he can make some art for a single.

All this work earned SKAM2? a mention on arguably one of the biggest songs of that decade, “Stan”. In the first verse, Stan mentions:

I know you probably hear this every day, but I’m your biggest fan
I even got the underground shit that you did with Skam

Did that attract more publicity and attention to the artist? Maybe, but SKAM2? did not see it coming at all.

At that time, I was in San Diego. I didn’t have a cell phone, but I had the phone number of the place where I was staying. You had to call me on a landline. Em and Proof called me from Hawaii. I guess they had just recorded it, and they played me that little clip over the phone. And I was like, oh, I got a shout-out. I had no idea what the song was about, so I didn’t really get it. But in hindsight, they knew it was going to be a big song. Proof was like, “Yo, you’ll probably get a deal with that”. And I was like, okay, Proof, I’m not going to get a record deal because someone gave me a shout-out. Then it came out. I was like, oh, wow.
Fast forward, you see him performing with Elton John. Can we say that’s arguably the biggest shout-out in hip hop history? Is there one bigger that’s not in a negative manner? Right before COVID, I was in Italy. We did a show with M-1 from Dead Prez, and somebody came up to me afterwards and said, “This is crazy! Today I listened to the song, “Stan”, and I was wondering who that was. And I was looking up who that was. And I’m here talking to you right now! This is crazy”. And I was like, is he bullshitting me? But why would he bullshit me? I was like, that is crazy. You’re right.

Grateful fans don’t just walk out to talk after a show. People tattoo SKAM2? ’s artwork on their bodies. And often, it is important for them to acknowledge the artist and keep his signature even on a tattoo. How does SKAM2? feel about his work living its own life on somebody’s skin?

The Vicodin pill is the number one tattooed piece of art. It’s wild. Though I’m extremely honoured first and foremost. There’s a couple. A woman has a whole lot of Eminem tattoos and she has the D12 thing from the “Shit on You” cover. She has some other stuff also. She asked me for permission to get the signature, and I was like, oh, that’s weird. I was like, okay, sure. So, she has the Vicodin pill, and her husband got the Iron Man pill tattooed. And I was like, wow, that’s pretty good. That’s something you don’t see every day. And I saw another story about this tattoo artist who offered someone a free tattoo, and it was a really dope story. The one they did was super crispy. It was really good. And you know, I’m honoured. The combination of the music and the art and what it did, how it touched them in their lives, that they would want that forever on their body. All I can say is thank you.

Obviously, SKAM2? has never stopped collaborating with hip hop household names, way outside the Shady Records circle. His artwork for A Tribe Called Quest’s “Beats, Rhymes & Life” is just as famous as the SSLP project. He made a logo for the Drink Champs podcast (and he has a long history of working with DJ EFN). SKAM2? works with new-generation rapers as well. For instance, he did the tour art for Denzel Curry’s 2055 ULT Experience. There are many things that connect two artists, explains SKAM2?

We’re from the same neighbourhood. We went to the same school. We’re a generation apart. But people wanted to introduce me to him because he was into some of the rock stuff and the skateboarding. And I was the only black skateboarder for miles and miles and miles. You got a lot of shit for doing it too. Every black skater from my generation got a lot of shit for being a black skateboarder because people didn’t believe that was something black people should do. So it’s really dope to see how these kids can do whatever they want now. I mean, he’s not a kid anymore, he’s a grown man.

Having been in the game for so long, does SKAM2? see the difference between now and then? Technology has changed, society has changed, and business models are going through a transformation. How do independent artists can keep up with the industry?

It’s changed in so many ways. I stay making music. I actually do more music than I probably do art. I need to do more art. But one of the biggest differences is when we had a posse cut, everyone was in the room. Everyone was in the room, and you had that energy and the competitive nature. Now it’s someone does it first and they send it to you. You can digest it and see how you want to go at it. Or vice versa, you record something and send it to them. I miss that vibe, sitting in the room and actually working with people.
In other ways, it’s definitely a lot easier because we all have our own equipment. I can sit here without the pressure of having to pay for a session or dealing with somebody who might be doing me a favour, and that’s going to mess with your vibe and performance. When I did music in Miami, if you were, for lack of a better term, more on the lyrical, New York side of things with what you did, everybody wasn’t into that. Most of the local folks weren’t into that too tough. We would do sessions, and people would walk in and be like, “What the fuck is this? What are these guys doing? The fuck is this shit?” I’ve had people walk in this session, hear a beat, and walk back out. Now you get to do your shit the way you want to do it if you know how to use your equipment.
There are fewer roadblocks in one sense, but there are just as many other roadblocks. Because everything is so easy, the barrier for entry is nonexistent. Back then, if you wanted to do this, you had to get your money up to go to a studio. You had to make sure your shit was tight so you didn’t waste time in the studio because you could only get what you paid for. If you wanted to DJ, you had to buy vinyl, you had to carry your records in. Everybody didn’t want to do it because that shit didn’t look fun. Now it’s like, “What? I just put them on my phone. I’m a DJ!” Any and everybody who isn’t as invested in it can do it.
Also, no matter how bad you think something is, it will find its audience. There’ve been songs that I was like, oh my god, this shit is terrible. And I’ll send it to people, like, yo, look at this bullshit. At least maybe one or two will come back and be like, “Oh man, that shit’s slapped, dawg”. I learned a lesson about sending out music to people just to say it’s bad. I might get people more fans by doing that, you know?
We still have gatekeepers, and marketing is hard. If you did music back in the day, you could have come to the Poet Cafe. Nobody knew who you were, and you ripped it. People might not even remember your name, but I guarantee you, one-two-three months later, people will still be like, “Yo, this guy from the UK came and ripped it last two shows”. You ripped it on Stretch and Bob, and people were bootlegging the tapes they would get all the way to the West Coast. People would talk about the dude from the UK. Now with so much shit, I can hear something utterly amazing and don’t remember that dude’s name half an hour later. And I don’t feel pressed to go find it because five gazillion songs are coming out every week.
So those are some of the few big things. You have to be an entertainer. Now, your music is not a commodity. It’s a business card. That scenario has morphed people. You have to go on TikTok and provide copious amounts of content and make sure you’re interacting with everybody for them to build a vested interest and, for lack of a better term, some love for you and what you’re doing. You have to do all this stuff because you don’t have a record label feeding everybody with playing it on the radio a gazillion times. People will come and buy things mostly at a show. That’s your best place to sell something, some physical merch. Finally, they have on-demand vinyl. It’s ridiculous. You’re not even going to make money if you do the on-demand vinyl. It’s tough, and it’s expensive. And CDs. I don’t even have something to play a CD. How crazy is that? I had to buy a CD-ROM drive for my computer. So it’s a little different, but you can sell the things. Those physical things are more merch than how people listen to the music now, but they do sell.

After all these years, is it time yet to look back and assess the work done, pointing out the biggest accomplishment, the highest achievement? SKAM2? doesn’t think so.

I feel like I haven’t done it yet. That’s me in a nutshell. Believe it or not, I often get told that I’m too humble. My mom taught me when I was young. She always said, don’t idolise anyone. So I don’t. I don’t idolise anybody. I don’t have a problem talking to anybody. If you’re cool, you’re cool. If you’re not, whatever. My life won’t change. It’ll be the same as five minutes ago before I met you. Who gives a shit? So yeah, still working on it.

It’s up and onwards, then. Any specific plans for 2024? SKAM2? laughs.

One, I want to stop saying so much in interviews. That’s one. I want to get a lot of music off of my hard drive, and I want to get going. I want to show people what I’m really capable of. Only the people around me on the day-to-day know about some of the stuff I’m doing, and they want to punch me. They’re like, “Yo, why isn’t this out? Why? What the fuck?” I want to fix that. I want to get all this stuff out there into the world and keep going and meet more cool ass people and see more of the world. That’s it. I just want to go. I want to go, go, go, go.

I got a single about to drop on February 6th with my homie Shottie called “Not a Soldier”.

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