Mixtape Review: Skillz, J. Period and Don Cannon-Design of a Decade

JLBarrow • May 26, 2008 • No Comments

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Skillz – Design Of A Decade v.1 (The 90s) (hosted by J Period & Don Cannon)

Shaquan Lewis aka Skillz is an immensely talented rapper. Unfortunately, he’s been overshadowed by the name brand artists for whom he ghostwrites. And while he often brags of being “your favourite rapper’s favourite rapper,” he’s released just two full-lengths over his 12-year career.

So any Skillz release is an event. Design Of A Decade is the first volume of a mixtape series promoting his upcoming LP, Million Dollar Backpack. Like many great mixtapes, Design is concept driven. Skillz handpicked his favourite beats from the 90s, from Organized Konfusion’s 1991 classic ”Fudge Pudge” to Scarface’s “Fuck Faces” from 1998.

Refreshingly, he breaks the ‘90s throwback mixtape template: no DJ Premier, Pete Rock or RZA. Skillz also allows J Period and Cannon’s mixing and blending to shine. And there’s no skits; just an intro, an outro and an interlude. Skillz keeps the original song structure of the 90s classics, modifying hooks in creative ways and playing with the song concepts. He brings in talented newcomers on a few songs, though Little Brother’s Phonte is only rapper with name recognition.

In an amusing highlight, Skillz recreates the false start of Redman’s “Tonight’s Da Night,” replacing the “punk smooth shit” Red kicks at the beginning of the song with cartoonish trap-rap. Skillz particularly rips the beats for “Tonight’s Da Night,” Cool Breeze’s “Watch For The Hook” and “Fudge Pudge” with guests Phonte and Lil Roc. Most of all, the mixtape shows his progression. From Where??? trafficked mid-90s braggadocio; Design Of A Decade presents a versatile emcee wryly critiquing hip-hop. -Aaron Matthews

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