By Candace McDuffie
Lil Skies sonically resides in a realm where raw and unfiltered emotion rules. The 22-year-old emcee made noise with his 2018 major-label mixtape, Life of a Dark Rose, which, on the surface, came across as part of the omnipresent emo rap that has permeated the music industry over the past five years. But upon further exploration, it is clear that the rapper born Kimetrius Foose — just like his mellifluous peers Lil Durk, Trippie Redd, and Lil Uzi Vert — is using his catalogue to process seemingly endless amounts of inner turmoil.
Songs like “Red Roses” and “Cloudy Skies” balance tender melodicism with cerebral unease; he’s obsessed with experiencing — and always expecting — worst-case scenarios. Whether it’s betrayal or abandonment from fraudulent friends and potential love interests, Life of a Dark Rose still manages to find beauty in solitude. His follow-up project, 2019’s Shelby, also examined these themes but felt more upbeat and polished, a quality he attributes to the dizzying nature of success.
“I was on the road a lot. I saw things I never got to see,” the rapper tells MTV News. “Seeing a bunch of fans and just going through the motions. I was dealing with things you deal with when people first get the fame, which is still true to this day.” Lil Skies’s second album, Unbothered, was released on January 22 and continues to map out progression on his own terms. He sat down with us to discuss his songwriting process, how he deals with unyielding depression, and how artists shouldn’t always be considered role models.
MTV News: Your music really appeals to young listeners, but after listening to Life of a Dark Rose, I realized that your lyrics actually are universal and don’t have an age limit. What do you think draws people to Lil Skies?
Lil Skies: I just keep it real on the songs, and I don’t be hiding nothing, even if it’s the ugly truth. I feel like my fans can kind of tell I put my all into the songs, maybe. I don’t know. I’m still trying to figure out that question myself. When I was making those songs [from Life of a Dark Rose], that was my early stages. I was just doing what I was doing best: making my music, going with the flow, and hoping that the people liked it. I just really kept dropping, and then it just got me where I'm at.
MTV News: To me, artists like you, Lil Uzi Vert, and Trippie Redd represent a noticeable change in hip-hop. From the emotional lyrics discussing sadness and angst to the edgy aesthetic, do you think this type of artistry was long overdue in rap?
Lil Skies: To me, I feel like hip-hop is different every period. Our generation, we don't know how to explain it because we're living in it. Even back then, when people would make hip-hop music, they didn’t even know how to explain it because that's what it was at the time. Whether it was selling CDs or wearing those big-ass gold chains or doing shit like that, that was their generation. It's just our generation. This is what we live, this is what we’re around, this is what our generation is going through. The majority of our generation is dealing with depression — now we’re just being more open about it in music. But in hip-hop people always were open about their struggles, it was just said in different ways, you know what I’m saying?
MTV News: When Life of a Dark Rose is compared to Shelby, you can hear the difference sonically. Shelby is a little refined, and I was wondering if you felt any pressure because it was your major-label debut.
Lil Skies: I always feel the pressure. There’s always pressure. If you care about what you do, you want it to be better than the last time. You want to keep elevating and keep going. What I normally do is I just record, pick my best songs, and just roll with it. That’s what I did with Life of a Dark Rose, that’s what I did with Shelby. You get to see where I'm at in my head and where I'm at in my life when an album drops. A lot of people nowadays want artists to make the same music and they want them to just do the same thing over and over again. I'm not trying to do that.
MTV News: This generation of rappers have experienced great loss over the last few years. We’ve seen what happened with Lil Peep, with Mac Miller, with Juice WRLD. With several prominent young artists dying from drugs, do you fear its toll on the industry?
Lil Skies: I do feel that way sometimes because we’re all living in this shit. When you’re a rapper nowadays, this is what your life is the majority of the time: in a studio environment creating. There’s a lot of smoking weed, there’s a lot of drugs. You have your bad days and you have your good days. Of course, you’re gonna think about that shit when other people are passing… you gotta know what you’re doing, pretty much. You gotta stay as safe as possible with whatever you’re doing. I don’t do hella drugs. I got my little certain things that I fuck with, though.
MTV News: Is that how you deal with your depression?
Lil Skies: I smoke a lot of weed. I get high. I self-medicate.
MTV News: With your visibility, a lot of young people look up to you. Do you believe that rappers should be perceived as role models?
Lil Skies: I get it, but at the same time artists are people, too. We go through things, too. We’re still human. We’re leaders to them but we can’t always be. It can’t always be, “Oh he's doing this, so you gotta do it, too.” No. I don't like to sit there and judge anybody doing anything because I don't know the whole situation. You're not going to know this whole situation. So before you judge, try to help. I know we influence certain shit, but we gotta live our own life, too. It’s not on some I don’t care-type shit, but I gotta do my own thing. I’m my own man. I’ve been living for a lot of people my whole life. But all of my responsibilities are taken care of, so at this point, I can’t let certain shit get to me.
MTV News: Is that why your latest record is called Unbothered? You’re just at the point where you’re becoming indifferent to the pressures and expectations of fame?
Lil Skies: It’s a note to myself. It’s me telling myself don’t pay attention to the hate and don’t pay attention to all the negative shit or whatever’s going on. Just stay focused, keep working, keep doing what you do. As long as you gave your best, that’s all that matters. With the album, I just want kids to know they should chase their dreams no matter what anybody tells you. That’s the biggest thing.
MTV News: What were some of your favorite songs to record for Unbothered?
Lil Skies: The first track, “Fade Away.” “Sky High,” “Ok,” “Havin My Way,” “Dead Broke,” “On Sight.” Now that I’m looking at the list, I fuck with them all [laughs].
MTV News: To those who aren’t as familiar with your music, what do you want them to take away from this project and from you as an artist?
Lil Skies: I just want to encourage people to follow your dreams. There’s going to be a lot of people talking and there’s going to be a lot of people trying to bring it down or whatever, but just stay focused and keep working towards your dreams. Never let nobody tell you that you can't do something.