‘I’m the greatest.’ Skillibeng poised for end to 2022 after first American show

·5 min read

Skillibeng has no doubts about his place in the music world.

“I’m the greatest,” the Jamaican dancehall star told the Miami Herald Sunday, minutes after his set at Planet AFROPUNK: Miami.

And judging by his rapid ascent to the apex of the dancehall, it might be hard to disagree. Consider this: having never once stepped foot on American soil, Skillibeng was not only the headliner at AFROPUNK’s Miami iteration but closed out the festival. Such an honor only makes sense once you realize that Skillibeng’s “Crocodile Teeth,” an infectious record with a haunting piano riff that has been remixed by Bobby Shmurda and Nicki Minaj since its 2020 release, has been tearing up the streets for more than a year.

“It was a great moment for Skillibeng,” the 25-year-old artist said. “My first time here. So [Afropunk] gradually became a mark for me in my life and in my whole movement.”

As Skillibeng cycled through hits like “Whap Whap” and “Brik Pan Brik,” his allure became clearer. He’s a wizard when it comes to creating melodies, often altering his thick Jamaican accent to sound Stitch-like while peppering in onomatopoeia (“brrrrrrp” is his go-to ad-lib) to ultimately give him one of the most unique voices out. Throw in a potential project set to be released in the summer, plus the two tracks he previewed Sunday — one featuring French Montana, the other Fivio Foreign — and its clear the second half of 2022 could be huge for his career.

The Miami Herald caught up with Skillibeng after his first performance in America to talk about being in the United States for the first time, how he’s been able to garner such big features and his future plans.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

C. Isaiah Smalls II: First time performing in America, at a festival at that. That’s big. How was it?

Skillibeng: Skillibeng has been doing a lot of shows and a lot of big shows. You know, Afropunk was just a whole new vibe for me ‘cause it’s in the United States and it’s my first time here. That was the whole energy towards the show. That’s what made it different ‘cause it’s my first time in the United States, you know. So it was just a great feeling.

CIS: I heard you were supposed to have a show here last year. What happened?

Skilly: Coronavirus and all of that. I was just chilling, you know. I wanted to have the right energy when the place was, um, very active, again, like back to normal with a normal crowd in front of me going crazy. I just wanted that. So that’s why I waited.

CIS: Did that additional wait time add any pressure? Were you nervous?

Skilly: I’m never nervous. I’m always ready, dog. I’m always ready. But, you know, what made me not really hurry to get in the United States was having a catalog of music. You had gotta have that catalog so people can really relate to you. You could perform and all of that, but it’s a whole different energy when people know the songs you performing. They could sing along and stuff like that.

Jamaican dancehall artist Skillibeng performs at Planet AFROPUNK: Miami in the Overtown neighborhood of Miami, Florida on Sunday, May 22, 2022. This was the 25-year-old’s first show in the United States.
Jamaican dancehall artist Skillibeng performs at Planet AFROPUNK: Miami in the Overtown neighborhood of Miami, Florida on Sunday, May 22, 2022. This was the 25-year-old’s first show in the United States.

CIS: Speaking of that catalog, you previewed some unreleased music with French Montana and Fivio Foreign. What has that collaboration process been like since you started making waves stateside?

Skilly: It’s been crazy. A lot of crazy international artists are reaching out to Skillibeng and that’s just natural because it’s of my talent. I give thanks for that, you know, and it’s been magical ‘cause a lot of these people I never imagined working with ever. I always wanted to, but I never imagined. It’s all getting easier for me nowadays. My music is reaching a whole massive, new generation of people and they accepted me, dog. It’s not even only rappers. I’m linking with people from England, I’m linking with people from the Caribbean, I’m doing a lot of different kinds of collaborations and that’s just the fun of music.

CIS: One of your biggest collabs to date has to be Nicki Minaj hopping on “Crocodile Teeth.” What was that like for you?

Skilly: That was a whole crazy, um, moment for me ‘cause I, I always saw Nicki as one of the greatest female rappers ever. And for Nicki to be on that track, it was a glorious moment, dog.

CIS: I just saw even YoungBoy Never Broke Again remixed “Whap Whap.” Why do you think all these artists are showing you love?

Skilly: They’re attracted to me ‘cause of my music and my music is doing great numbers for a person from such a small country. I think they respect that and they love my music, the energy it gives and the sound of it. And, you know, that’s why they love me so much, dog cuz everybody loves Skillibeng and Skillibeng has that sound that people want to hear. It’s just that alien sound out that nobody knows, that nobody could do. They want that from me.

CIS: It probably helps that you can hear the influence of other genres too, right?

Skilly: I’m the greatest. But, you know, my genre was always dancehall. That’s my first genre, but I’m a very musically inclined person. I just love music.

CIS: Any artists in particular you want to work with now that you’re here?

Skilly: Yeah there are, but I’m not gonna say ‘cause you know how it is. But there are and I think they will [work with me] ‘cause, you know, we put it in that work.

CIS: Got it. Not trying to spoil the surprise. Before I let you go, what’s next for you?

Skilly: I got a album coming out. I just dropped the E.P. with a small compilation of songs I released before. But you know, that was just kind of an introduction to the U.S. market and I got a new album coming out with bangers on it. So I want everybody to look out for it.

CIS: When?

Skilly: It’s in the summer. I can’t say when, but it’s in the summer. This summer.