Skizzy Mars looks real comfortable waiting in a hotel lobby. Most of Skizzy's songs are about the kinds of things that happen much later in the evening in the hotel rooms upstairs, but if you were back in the small, cordoned off VIP area before his show at the W Minneapolis on September 8, you might have caught him right before he went on stage, and you could tell he's already spent a lot of time in lobbies like this one -- hanging back, wearing sunglasses indoors, watching his fans milling around the bar bathed in pink and purple lobby light.
Just after 8:30pm, Skizzy cuts through the crowd of college-age fans and older W Hotel VIPs, strolling up to a small stage in Saint Laurent sneakers wearing a twisted up bandana around his head a la Frank Ocean, with a drummer and guitar player in tow. All the cell phones go up as he goes into his 2015 track, "Weekend Millionaires," rapping, "I'm getting comments from haters like I'm not old enough, never really spoke enough, it's hard for me to open up, I'm harmful I'm dangerous, it's like I'm partially famous."
Skizzy performance is part of the Next Up: New Artists in Music series, a partnership between Billboard and the W Hotels that previously highlighted up-and-comers Gallant and Bebe Rexha. Before this series it was a summer of festival gigs for Skizzy, and before that it was a 40-city tour in support of his 2016 major-label debut album, Alone Together (on Penthouse Music/ Atlantic). Off to the side of the stage, a senior from St. Cloud State wearing a Skizzy t-shirt says and his buddy made the hour long drive down into the city because Skizzy was so good at his gig downtown Minneapolis last February. From the stage Skizzy asks, "Anybody drinking alcohol in the building?" When the crowd answers in the affirmative he says, "Good for you!" Then he starts into "Alcoholics," the first song released off of Alone Together. He pauses the dancing in front to sing-rap the bridge, "I got prescriptions and I need to fill 'em, I got demons and I need to kill 'em, blow got her numb, she need to feel it."
Halfway through the set he acknowledges the enthusiasm up front. "Minneapolis! You guys are really friendly and I feel welcome here," he says. He engages them in some very casual call and response. "Can I get a 'hell yeah,'" he suggests. "Can I get a 'yeah bitch!'" He straightens up. "This next song is about coming home real late," he says by way of introducing Alone Together's, "Comb." "I leave the club at 1 or 2 and hit your celly," he coos, "You just smoking at the crib watching Belly."
Possibly realizing that it was going so well it might be too easy to just dim the lights, he backs off and warned us, "It could be louder, Minneapolis." Before the next song he introduces his band -- his "brothers from another mother" -- and name drops a person who isn't on stage. "Yo, my homie G-Eazy is on this one!" The song is his feature on G-Eazy's 2014 track "Monica Lewinsky," and it's almost unnervingly dirty the way Skizzy pronounces "Mon-eh-cah."
About 10 songs in, Skizzy seemed to sense it was time to go upstairs to the actual hotel rooms. "One more song before I have to get up out of here," he says. "This song is called 'Recognize.'" It turns out to be the most upbeat sing-along of the night. "Money on the dresser, condoms in the second drawer, back in high school I had game but I never scored."
The Next Up: New Artists New Music series will showcase a total of four artists that have reached the Top 10 of Billboard's Emerging Artist chart (which monitors the most shared songs on Twitter in the U.S. by up-and-coming artists). The series kicked off with a performance by R&B upstart Gallant at the W Los Angeles - West Beverly Hills in May and followed Bebe Rexha at the W Seattle in July. Next Up will continue with soon-to-be-announced artists performing at the hotel's Washington D.C. location in October.
Skizzy Mars Set list:
Drink and Dance
Hit Me Harder
Do You There