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Lei Takanashi‘s laptop has had the Y2K bug for the last eighteen years.
Chip Skylark and his rap collective ECW aren’t here to resurrect New York rap. Instead, they’re tearing down its walls and rebuilding it within their own matrix. Since 2016, the 22-year-old Crown Heights rapper and his crew have brought the spirit of the Wu into the SoundCloud era of New York hip hop.
An eclectic rap collective boasting over 13 different members, running through ECW’s convoluted SoundCloud and Youtube discography is an intriguing journey through a wormhole within New York’s rap game.The music of members like Bammo Gzz show that the crew has spitters who look to bring that traditional, gully and visceral, New York rap into the fold. Other members like Yo Chill are more products of the internet age. Unafraid to show off their eccentric and outlandish style through delightfully bizarre music videos that standalone as works of excellent internet cinema.
ECW doesn’t follow traffic. They swerve and chaotically run through it. Its members aren’t suited up in Nike Tech’s jacking Chicago Drill or cooking up oversaturated trap bangers more fit for Magic City. Instead ECW, or Dubworld, is about bringing grimy New York rap into the year 3000. New York hip-hop soundtracked by spacey and futuristic beats, filled with synths and drums that sound more like glitched computer meltdowns. It’s almost as if the members of Dubworld are continuing to explore the dystopian future of post-9/11 New York as originally predicted by El-P on Fantastic Damage.
Chip Skylark stands as the member of ECW who best represents both sides of his crew. Mentored by fellow Crown Heights native, Mr.MuthafuckinExquire, Skylark follows a lineage of unapolgetically nerdy New York rappers. He drops ad-libs which sound more like Toad screams on his tracks and challenges Westside Gunn in dropping the most WWE references in his music. Yet, the quirkier side of Skylark doesn’t diminish the Brooklyn MC’s prowess on the mic. On songs like “Table Manners,” Skylark comes in with a head knocking flow and some clever MM.. Food like bars to describe a twisted night in New York.
“I’m at the table tellin em’ ketchup, chopped like lettuce/ They wouldn’t let us in because the bouncer told em better/ I’m a real Brooklyn n***a, smoke my fronto with the green/ Rock my Beef, no broccolis/ Make them walk, they follow me,” he spits on the track.
When I met Skylark at a stone chess table in the Lower East Side, his mouth curled into an impeccable grin. With Skylark was Tobias, a rising New York producer who released Beautiful Dog, a collaborative project with Skylark, earlier this year. On Beautiful Dog, Skylark shows off his versatility as an MC. Going between hard raps about facing court cases on songs like “Ran To The Chase” and then delving into trippy dance bangers on tracks like “Reboot Your Love.”
The dynamic between the two artists is clear outside the studio. Off stage, Skylark is easy going and composed but gets excited when something catches his attention. His style is intriguing, a mix of the old and new school. On his feet were a pair of Moon Yellow Yeezy 500’s that led into a bright pair of neon green Supreme cargo pants from last season. Up top, Skylark wore a bell hat with a rugged Carhartt vest that he frequently wears to shows.
Emblazoned throughout the vest are the letters of his crew. When Skylark is on a bill it is rarely a solo act. He always takes the opportunity to turn any hipster venue in New Brooklyn into The Tunnel in ‘97. Skylark never fails in delivering a rowdy set with his entire crew wilding out on stage behind him. Alone, Skylark is a formidable artist. But with ECW, Skylark is looking to build a landmark that will stand for years within this concrete jungle.
So you’re from Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Tell me about your background a bit?
Chip Skylark: My parents are from the West Caribbean Islands. My mother is from Haiti and my father is from Jamaica. My father came to New York when he was twenty and my mother came when she was about three. They are pretty Americanized, but I still have principles from a West Indian home. So my morals and values are pretty different. Honestly, if you know much about Jamaican culture, it is all about music, fashion and freedom.
What music you grow up on?
Skylark: Mad reggae, hip hop, 80’s rock. My father was deadass a movie buff. He fucks with everything, I can’t lie. My father put me on to Outkast, 2Pac, Biggie and all that. My mother put me onto R&B classics and soul. Mary J Blige, SWV and shit. My parents grew up in the 90’s. My mother had me when she was sixteen in ‘96 so she was at the heart of that shit.
When I was younger I used to try to imagine myself in the 90’s with my moms because she was so young. I was like “Dang Ma, I wish I was just there with you.” I wish I had sense. The atmosphere today is different.
So what is Dubworld?
Skylark: This world that we live in is manipulated, you feel me? The world we are born into isn’t our world. But it is a free realm for us to create our own world and ourselves. I have my own world. And I’m still governed under certain systemic laws.
But in my world I manipulate how those laws apply to me. But only to the truest natures of those laws, you feel me? I’m not here bending wine and being fake in this world. There’s real shit and fact in the world.
My world is Dubworld. It is not for the weak and sensitive. It’s not for the judgmental. It’s for everyone. But its founders are warriors. We don’t really deal too much with the opinions of others. Opinion don’t matter, facts matter. How you feel is how you feel. How you project how you feel onto others, is the next problem. I don’t want to project negativity. You can say our music portrays negative scenes and shit but it’s real.
ECW has built this intriguing image revolved around ‘Y2K.’ What’s up with that whole motif?
Skylark: Y2K is just the state of our time. It not just about a switch in the digits, but a switch in the whole culture. Y2K is about the dimensions of culture and fear in America. 9/11 marked the start of a new government tactic of dealing with its people in so many different ways. So much shit that was declassified and is now out. Y2K is about the reach of the information that we all have access too. It is about rewriting history and understanding that what history set for us is a lie. History is written by the victor.
Y2K is about the cultural phenomenon of rap for us. Rap music was intended to be a platform for oppressed people in New York City to have an outlet and speak about the shit going on in their hood. You know what it hittin for. New York started that shit. History needs to be learned and it needs to be relearned. Stop with the sensitive opinions and all this super sensitive judgement over silly words and shit. We need to understand that the facts matter and progress from there. We’re living in the digits. 10101010101000101.
Green dollars, Green bills, Greenbacks with holograms on them.
What has really impressed me about ECW is that it is a large and diverse team of talented rappers and producers from across New York. How did it start?
Skylark: So basically the first four members originally started as myself, Shaqqy, Yo Chill and Rob Locke. We all went to City-As, an alternative high school in the West Village. I met Shaqqy first but my boy Simsbentley already went there and he kind of edged me on to go there.
Chip gonna tell you right now. City-As was a sorcerers school. It like fucking Hogwarts. It’s filled with a whole bunch of wondiferous people. It’s a home for a whole lot of talent and geniuses that just face conditions in which they can’t really conduce themselves. Whether it be home or vices that just keep them from doing their homework. City-As a home to help kids proceed with life. Most high schools won’t give you the tools City-As gives you at all. I have a fat resume thanks to City-As. It is a portfolio based school. They don’t apply by the regents like most alternative schools. They don’t stress any testing. It is not like a grade-based school. However much you put in is how far you’ll get.
The school doesn’t really tell you to raise your hand to use the bathroom. If you got to handle yourself you go handle yourself. Most people take a smoke break or some time to breathe. There was this park across the street and when you walk in, everybody is chilling and smoking weed. It’s a vortex you feel me. Some people that end up having one credit to graduate stay for like three years. But it is an experience. Some end up dumbing out while others become millionaires.
So ECW is yourself, Shaqqy Sunflwr, Yo Chill, Red Note, Bammo Gzz, Laron, Monkeyrad7, Rob Locke, Simsbentley, Stony Kold, Big Trusst, Fleesko Mack…
Skylark: We also got affiliate members like Frenchy Finesse, Burton… Grim Genesis! What the fuck is wrong with me. Grim Genesis, Seven Head.
I met Seven Head [Grim] in 2014 through ACAB, who also went to City-As. He said that I should hit up his producer at the time. So I hit up Grim on Facebook and he’s like ‘Yo man, I heard your shit before already and this is my favorite song. Here’s 15 beats.’ He sent me these beats and the next day he sent me a Vine of mad acid tabs, buddha and amethyst with some J Dilla chop behind. He tells me he’s in Staten Island and got a free crib. I never took the ferry in my life. When he told me that shit was free, I came through man. The energy was real bro. We started getting into it and now we’re elites. Seven a monster. He something the rap game really need to be afraid of. I’m not going to lie bro, I pride myself on having the hardest regime.
Speaking of producers you frequently work with. What could you tell me about Laron.
Skylark: I won’t speak for Laron, but he is the producer. He affiliated with TME, ECW and Freemind. I’ll tell you personally though, we got about 110 beats from Laron.
Laron produced a lot of the tracks on your first project Lighting Strikes Twice.
Skylark: It is crazy because last night I was going through my Facebook and saw this message I had with Laron when I dropped that project. It didn’t really hit me at first that it was an almost predominately Laron-produced tape.
I actually didn’t even want to put that tape out because I didn’t feel it was fresh. Certain songs like “Finesse Kid” and “Pay Me Later” are my favorite shits right there. But like I said before, I personally got like 100 beats from Laron. I can’t speak for other members, but ECW got a whole lot of unreleased Laron tracks. Most of the beats I got from Laron he made it right in front of us tripping. He was heavy in the game with us and was just the magic kid. Sit in front of us with his laptop in front of him. You’d only see his eyes.
“Finesse Kid” was really one of the first songs that got me hooked to your music and Dubworld.
Skylark: That mixtape is what you are going to get when you fucking with Chip. I don’t really like having too many different producers when I’m making a project. It doesn’t keep the continuity or the feel of whoever I work with. When I’m working with someone, it will hit me like a couple songs in that we have to release a project together. If the first two or three songs don’t sound like something new or different, then it’s not hitting for me. With that project, in my heart, I really wish it was shorter. Certain songs decrease the value on that tape.
How do you think you’ve grown from that tape into something like Beautiful Dog?
Skylark: Lighting Strikes Twice was a mixtape son. Beautiful Dog was an album. There is a big difference between how those shits were put together. Lighting Strikes Twice was actually just a compilation of songs that I just made in 2016 after ECW dropped Heatwave. It was whatever was left on DJ Oh Nah’s computer.
Beautiful Dog on the other hand was some shit I knew I needed to do and it was going to get done. It happened so smoothly because I actually planned on that. For Lightning Strikes Twice, songs were just made when they were made and got compiled. When I was making Beautiful Dog, I wanted songs to go in a specific order and have beats flow naturally into other tracks.
Word up, in the first two months of me and Tobias working, we already had five songs already done. We were originally going to make it an 8 song project; not knowing that those first five songs that we made were just bridges to other sounds. I think the first five songs were “Reboot Your Heart, “Lied To Myself,” “Comes From The Heart,” “Ran To The Chase” and “Table Manners” All those core songs had their own sound and part of the tape’s breakdown.
“Ran To The Chase” is definitely a more personal track on the album.
Skylark: That shit is really, really, really deadass bro. If you want to ask about a song, that’s the song to ask about. I’ll tell you where I was at in my head. I had got stopped by the cops, deadass, three times in one day. It inevitably came to my untimely arrest. I did not want to go to jail. I wrote that song in the middle of all my legal bullshit. Tobias sent me the beat and we just laid it down.
“Ran to the chase/Life in a safe/Ain’t nowhere safe/Wasn’t on run from a case/NYPDK we spit in their face/MK Ultra had my brain on the brink/Fuck a TV, they do not care what you think/Serve your words, I don’t care what you think/Shorty that’s next to me is next to the brink…”
That was one of my favorite songs to make. I feel that if someone wants to know about Chip Skylark they just have to listen to that song.
How’d you link up with fellow Crown Heights resident, Mr.Muthafuckinexquire?
Skylark: Big Kahuna, he’s like two blocks away from my house in Crown Heights. That’s my brother yo. I met him when I was 16. I sent him an email in like 2012 because I wasn’t really fucking with shit. I was tired of listening to Pro Era and all that. There was just one summer where I was bumping mad El-P, Cannibal Ox and all that Def Jux shit. I ended up running into Exquire’s shit and I thought that shit was the fires. He probably one of the the nicest, most organic, Brooklyn MC’s after the OGs you feel me. That’s the truth, he’s my brother.
He responded to my email and I asked if he could executive produce my album at the time, which was going to be called God, Mind, Buddha, Body. That was gonna be my magnum opus and still is because it isn’t out yet. He hit me up the next day and was with it to help me. At the time I was working with my other homie, Simsbentley, and we were on the hunt that whole summer for a studio. We ended up over right across the street from the Roxy Hotel in Tribeca. I walk into this storefront after school with my son Sims and this lady popped out the back of the store and asked if we make music. Turns out there was a studio in the back.
This was all in a week’s span. I hit up Exquire about the studio we found and it worked out perfectly. That same studio I formerly met Exquire at, we recorded a song that was unfortunately never released. It was a sample that Madlib already chopped that Simsbentley then chopped to make it more current. Sounds fire. That same studio we brought Exquire to is also where he finished like several other mixtapes and upcoming albums.
I heard he has one coming up pretty soon?
Skylark: That same studio, Frisbie Studios—shouts out to Mary Frisbie—is pumping out this Exquire-Madlib album.
Exquire and Madlib? That’s insane.
Skylark: Yep, featuring several ECW members. It is not done yet but I’ll tell you that ECW gonna be on it. I think we kind of jumped the bucket from where my folks were from to where I’m currently at with my music. My father always told me if I really believe in something I gotta work hard for it. I can’t just dream about it. With my team, that was me exerting my most energy when it comes to making this music. Formulating a team and getting it to where it’s at.
Me as an Exquire fan, I always said that he needed an album with either Doom or Madlib. And that’s what exactly happened bro. There is this one song, “Alienation” that myself and Yo Chill are on.
*Skylark plays the song*
I was told he liked that right there.
Exquire or Madlib?
That’s you at the end there with the high pitched vocals?
Skylark: Yeah all of that is me. We recorded that one at Frisbie.
ECW has also collaborated with other great rap crews in this city such as [sLUms]. Could you speak a little bit about your work on May God Bless Your Hustle?
Skylark: 2017 was a year where I made sure if someone had something to say about ECW, I cleaned that up. After doing several shows together I met up with MIKE around the making of May God Bless Your Hustle which I didn’t even know I was going to walk into but it was just synchro. I didn’t even know they lived in Brooklyn at the time. They wanted to link up so we linked up. It was up season because I was really moving by myself through my endeavors.
I spent a lot of time in 2016 focusing on ECW. I asked what could I do to really add potency to ECW and still keep everything afloat. I said that everybody needed to work on their projects.
That same year we both organized a fire ass show at Super Chief Gallery with old fighting video games that you could play on the side. It put a perspective for people in the scene to look at a duality, Dub and [sLUms]. But again life isn’t really that simple. Perception is a hell of a thing. I look at MIKE and I’m like ‘Damn son, this person really reminds me of myself in his leadership.’ We do politick a lot.