VG Skillz - conducted by Bill "Low Key" Heinzelman
These are the transcripts of an interview conducted with V-Zilla in March 2004, by DJ L.K. (Low-Key). V-Zilla AKA VG Skillz is one of Hip Hop's most gifted secrets. While from Houston, his sound is anything but southern, as the veteran emcee is truly a product of the 80's. His newest release "The Lockdown Sessions" will immediately destroy all misconceptions one would have about southern artists in this day and age. In the interview below VG discusses his the hardships coming up in the industry as well as his past, present and future dealings.
MVRemix: First off, why don't you introduce yourself and tell the people who may not be familiar with your music who you are?
No doubt…but first and foremost, I appreciate you taking the time to give some much- needed exposure to this blue collared artist. My name is V ZILLA a.k.a. Vg Skillz from the North side of Houston, TX.
MVRemix: Give us some info on your background, musically and personally.
I consider myself to be a product of the Old School. I’m from that 84’ Krush Groove Era so to speak, haha. Houston often gets overlooked in terms of size and of course with the whole TEXAS stereotype, but were the 4th largest city in the US, so as a kid I was easily exposed to and ultimately submerged in the Hip Hop Culture. I remember being like 9 years old and shit mimicking groups like The Sugar Hill Gang, Run DMC, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious 5, and Kurtis Blow. We would recite certain songs while walking to school in the morning or in the cafeteria at lunch, recess, back home, you name it. Of course the other big thing was that my friends and I were all into break dancing. When you’re young and impressionable, movies like Wild Style, Beat-Street, Breakin’ and Krush Groove are pretty damn influential. It ultimately led to us trying to create our own moves or attempting to write our own rhymes. All in all it was just a natural progression. Being from a Hispanic Background, I was surrounded by all types of music. If my mom wasn’t playing Motown, Disco or R&B, then my pops would be on some Spanish or Country shit. I had uncles that lived off what is now known as “ Classic Rock” and Heavy Metal, and then just being an 80’s child was enough, hahaha.., The Top-40 then was crazy…what more could you ask for.
MVRemix: Now what attracted me to your music was the fact that you are from Houston, however, your sound is anything but "southern". That is probably the last place I would categorize you if I didn't know. Now when people think of Houston they think of Scarface and Lil Flip. And I know this question gets asked to you a lot, how does a guy from Houston spit like a full blooded NYC or California native?
Not to sound repetitive, but I think it was just being from an era of Hip Hop before there was ever was a “Dirty South” sound or label. We had an AM station back in the day that just blasted songs from the previously mentioned Run DMC, Sugar Hill Gang, Beastie Boys, UTFO, Howie Tee, Fat Boys, LL Cool J, all that. I remember when the “Fresh Fest” came to Houston (showing my age now.) Whodini was one of the main acts and things just really escalated in the sense that Hip Hop was everywhere. So by the time EPMD and Eric B. and Rakim broke onto the scene, shit… that was pretty much it for me. I was sold on strictly becoming an MC. Late 80’s and early 90’s commercial stations in Houston were the same as well. 85-90% of their Hip Hop play list consisted of East Coast groups like Public Enemy, De La Soul, Special Ed, Big Daddy Kane, MC Lyte. Of course, being a Houston Native, I remember when I first heard of the GETO BOYS. (Along with the West Coast EAZY-E/NWA movement), the whole “Gangsta” sound just exploded. It slowly started to creep onto radio here in Houston, but it was still mainly in the streets, so of course I listened because the older cats were the ones that had all the tapes. The sound was hard, rough and rugged, and I had never heard no shit like that before, but it would have been “False” for me to switch my whole style up to become like that. They created a whole new movement based on their upbringing and lifestyles. So yeah, I loved groups like the Geto Boys, Eazy-E and NWA and though I grew up in a predominately black and Hispanic neighborhood, I wasn’t a gangster. I was already on a set path in terms of what I loved about the music and I just continued walking that path and never looked back. I stopped, listened and absorbed, but never pretended to be something that I wasn't.
MVRemix: Describe to us your progression as an emcee over the years?
I always tell people that I was fortunate enough to go to the best school in “Hip Hop”. The 80’s, the 90’s and now I am in the mix for 2k and beyond. It’s like every year I had to continue stepping it up to keep pace with how quickly the sound changed. I put a lot of emphasis on the “flow”. Early on, I was always more intrigued by the cats that just put their words together fluidly. MC’s that could ride the beat and make the simplest things sound so complex, but it was really just their fluidness. I think that’s one of my best assets. It was definitely something that I kept from some of those early influences. The trick in my opinion is to keep re-inventing your style without sacrificing who you truly are. I never used to spend a lot of time perfecting my craft, I got into a bad habit of being on this “one-take shit” and I’m out…needless to say that’s no longer an issue, haha.. The bottom line is there are too many nice cats out there NOT to be on top of your game. Though I get described a lot of times as a battle rhymer (reviewers love to peg me as this) I never really got into a lot of battles, not as much as some people think. I have an aggressive delivery, cocky type of tone when I’m spitting or whatever, and I have an equally aggressive live show, but that just stems from doing what I do best to get my point across and that’s to catch your attention. I don’t think that I’ve peeked yet skill wise, matter of fact, I know that I haven’t and I find that out with every show that I do or new track I start working on. There is always something new to learn. Someone is always a couple steps ahead of you.
MVRemix: Being from Houston do you find it hard to fit in with all the usual styles categorized with the South (pimp & crunk music)?
Damn, if you only knew the difficulty involved. The separation that the local scene has within itself is a big issue (egos) and the enormous amount of politics of trying to get put on in certain circles, such as radio. For example, I think it’s idealistic as an artist to try and tap into the “commercial radio” market in your area in attempts to create that much needed hometown buzz. With the right connects, that buzz could eventually spill into a nationwide buzz. I got a couple of intro’s that get some play during 2 different prime time mix shows on one of Houston’s biggest Hip Hop radio stations (97.9 The Box), but the politics of the game keep me from getting any more shine than that. I have never been one to knock the next man’s hustle, but it does say a lot when I know in my heart that I am equally skillful (if not more skilled) in certain aspects than some of these cats out now, but that I have to market myself outside of my hometown to gain any support, a decent following or just straight up acceptance. And trust me, that isn’t a knock to any of these local artist or a personal jab at anyone in general, just an observation that pertains to pretty much EVERY ARTIST from my Hometown that goes against grain in terms of style. I could speak on this shit for days, haha … The truth is, I do have my “Loyalist” here that make it out to every show and do show support because their able to recognize and appreciate the different forms of this genre. Myself included, I love music, period. The way I have always looked at this game is pretty simple. If you “got it” then you just “got it”, end of story. It’s just a shame that a lot of cats that do “got it” just don’t get the exposure they need to get over that hump.
MVRemix: You have the album "The Lockdown Sessions" out right now, so what do you want to accomplish with the album and what do you wants fans to take out of it?
I just want the album to be an eye-opener in regards to “under-exposed” artist such as myself, to kind of shake up the game by coming out of left field, knowing that I have been here the whole time. When I was recording this project, I was going through a lot of personal conflict and just getting tired of all the bullshit behind the scenes. You can only be on the grind for so long until you get tired of only having a soapbox to step on and speak from. The Lockdown Sessions starts off with the sarcastic “Sentence Intro” and quickly turns real serious, real fast with the first track “Lockdown Pt. 1”. It was like, “Ok, I’m not playing around no more, this is where shit gets real”. The concepts, ideas, emotion behind everything you hear on this album came straight from the heart. I was constantly pressing forward with this album. I didn’t go back and refine anything, if there are little mistakes or nit picky type shit within the project, then you got that too. All from the heart.
MVRemix: Give us the meaning behind the title "The Lockdown Sessions".
The Lockdown Sessions is just the over whelming feeling of being pigeon holed in this game in general. There are too many labels put on “Hip Hop” right now. Commercial, Underground, Back packer, Nerd Rap, Emo, whatever… shit is ridiculous to me. It’s funny too because I find myself getting caught up in the debate sometimes, so I’m trying to clear my mind of it all. It’s an endless argument. This album is a reflection of how I felt during these recording sessions. It was like I was being incarcerated or something, like every time I tried to get my foot in the door somewhere I was being restrained by one thing or another. With those thoughts came a lot of growth..
MVRemix: Do you have a favorite track on the album?
“All I Know” is one of my favorites on the album because lyrically, I just told it like it was. I didn’t care if it offended you and I sure as hell wasn’t concerned with being politically correct. I broke it down and made a lot of points regarding the politics of this game. I played around with the cadence and once I pieced the chorus together from some previous sessions with my DJ (Chicken George) it just came out perfect- “Before the rap industry messed with my mind”, yeah that track kills’em live. Another favorite is the “Unfaithful” track because I’ve always been a sucker for story telling, plus that was the first time that I’ve heard my words (bridge) brought to life by a vocalist. I can write that type of material, no doubt about it, but I can’t sing it, haha, So, the first time I heard it pump out the speakers I got goosebumps. (Shouts to Mona Behaya for blessing that for me)
MVRemix: You have a track called "No Mistakes", which is an ode to Rakim. Has Ra always been your influence growing up? Do you feel he is the greatest emcee of all time?
I think that Rakim was one of the best that did it. Takes me back to what I was talking about in regards to “flow”. Personally I think he is ONE of the greatest, yeah. I remember when I first heard “My Melody”, it was infectious. The night that Rakim killed Showtime At The Apollo I was taping that shit. He got up on stage, blue jean jacket and pants, dookie ropes, did a couple of his classics and murdered the crowd, that performance was the epitome of an MC. I was in a old school state of mind when I recorded this track. The rhyme was actually written sometime in early 1990. I found it in an old notebook and kind of revamped certain lines to make it pertain to my current train of thought, but the premise was to pay homage to an influence of mine. So when I got into the booth, I kind of lowered my voice a bit and attempted to capture his vibe. It flipped my producer Moonshine out when he heard it. Funny thing is, this was actually one of them one-take tracks that actually worked.
MVRemix: Give us your top 5 emcees of all time?
This is tough… I avoid this question all the time because the sound back then isn’t nothing like what it is today and so many cats have stepped it up to a level past nasty-ness. But when you say EMCEES, I am never one to bite my tongue and got to go with those who impress me now and/ or impressed me the most overall. So I would mix it up a little something like this: 1.Eminem 2.Nas 3.Rakim 4.Jay-Z 5.Big Daddy Kane (tied w/ Big Pun, Capital Punishment stays in rotation and the Blast Master KRS-One)
MVRemix: What emcees are you presently feeling, underground and mainstream?
To be completely honest with you, I got a CD case that I call “The Bible”..hahaha.. And that is what carries everything that stays in regular rotation when I’m in the ride (from Al Green to Xzibit, and every other genre in between- rock, soul, alternative, spanish, etc.) I’d be lying if I said that I cop every new release that drops nowadays, but I do keep my ear to the streets, as an artist you got to. Lately I been all over the new Royce The 5’9 album, Immortal Technique (who is coming to Houston March 12th, and I’ll miss opening for his show cause I’m heading overseas, arghhh) K-OTIX’ still untitled follow up album is banging (heard a advanced copy), If they don’t break out with this one, damn, I’m rioting or some shit, haha. I’m feeling Akrobatik’s “Lost ADATS” a lot, he’s dope and for some reason I been rocking the hell out of Ice Cube’s “Lethal Injection” CD lately. I would love to get Jean Grae on a track because she is just nice as fuck to me. I haven’t got to flex on a track with a female MC yet but when that opportunity arises, why not aim for one of the best… Let’s see, In terms of mainstream, I still rock Andre’s “Love Below”(Dracula’s Wedding, She Lives in My Lap, dope tracks) I’m still feeling the lingering effects of Jay-Z’s Black album and even though I didn’t really get off to Kanye’s album at first, he definitely says a lot of clever shit throughout it, you can tell that besides his comical method of delivery, he is a hip hop head, maybe I got to listen to it a little deeper when I’m on this upcoming 10 hour flight....
MVRemix: The production on "The Lockdown Sessions" is extremely dope. All the beats are mainly handled by Moonshine. So tell us about him and what attracted you to him as a producer?
Moonshine is a Swedish based producer for a group called The Narcissists (Stockholm,Sweden). Back in 2000 he ran across some tracks of mine floating around the web and contacted me about possibly rocking over one of his beats. He ended producing a track called “Houston to Stocktown” for one of my earlier releases and I was blown away. It was easily the best production I had an opportunity to rhyme over and you could see how my other shit was lacking in comparison. To Moonshine, I was the American MC that he had been waiting for to flex over his beats, so the connection was instant. He mailed me a Beat CD and I would record and arrange my vocals here in Houston, and ship them back to Stockholm where he would Mix and Master them, a year later we dropped E.X.H.A.L.E. and never looked back.
MVRemix: You have done a lot of touring as an artist, so tell us who you have toured with and what you have learned from all the touring experiences?
I was pretty fortunate enough to line myself up with the proper connections in regards to shows and getting the opening spots for Masta Ace, Atmosphere, Bootcamp Click, The Lyricist Lounge Tour, Jedi Mind Tricks, (gotta say whattup to Vinnie Paz, duke showed a lot of love towards my new Old and New CD) and of course I have toured overseas with The Narcissists (Sweden), we did a show with Loop Troop once, also from Sweden and just last June/July The Narcissists and myself tore down Germany from the North end to the South end with Feinkost Paranoia (Munich, Germany). I think once you experience support on international soil, there is nothing else like it. The Germany tour was the longest stretch of shows I’ve done to date and it took a toll on me physically and mentally. You learn to keep yourself in shape, and be prepared for anything and everything. Being that far away from home you quickly realize that you can’t just up and leave when you feel like it, but then the reality of it sets in, it’s like damn, “look at where I am at right now”… There are cats back home that will rep for the block all their life because their sites are not set any higher than that, and will most likely NEVER touch down over seas or see the places that I have seen, so I feel truly blessed in that regard. I usually try out a lot of different shit when performing to an overseas crowd, and if it goes over well, I bring it back home and tear the house down with it. I can’t front though, the most memorable experience was getting to chill w/ Masta Ace for like 2 days, I was plugging the hell out of my E.X.H.A.L.E. CD then, and to hear ACE be like, “VG, play that number so and so again” that was dope, to know he was digging it.. I was like, damn…That’s ACE right there, Juice Crew, Legend, impressive. Slaughta House, Sitting on Chrome and Disposable Arts are in my Bible, hahaha..
MVRemix: Is V-Zilla mad at the game of Hip Hop or is that just a misconception?
Good question. If anything I am just a “little” frustrated with it. As an artist, as a fan of Hip Hop, it just seems like since it became a “big business” it managed to head down hill in terms of “creativity” extremely fast. Let’s get it straight though, I ain’t mad at the prospect of making money or mad at the money that’s generated from it. I know that when it comes to my ventures and personal interest, I’m all about my “business” and can see things from that perspective. My main issue is the way that Hip Hop is dictated to the masses. How it’s passed off, glamorized and spoon-fed to the listeners as an all Fun, Girls, Money and Partying type of vibe and you got cats out here killing themselves to show the world that there is much more to it. You might as well start selling RAPPER STARTER KITS: Complete with Throwbacks, Matching Head/Wrist Bands, Platinum Chain and The Newest Slang Dictionary, hahaha. Think about it, I see youngsters all the time rocking jerseys of players that were retired or died before they were even born… haha….. Truthfully though, I get the best satisfaction from the blue-collar cats that tour 7 months out of the year and can make a living doing what they love and not compromising their principles. That’s what I’m aiming for. Sure, I want to be able to eat from this no doubt about that, but more along the lines of having capital to create a business, label, etc, that helps the next blue-collared MC/Group with no outlets, break into the market. Let it be known that I ain’t mad at none of these successful cats on top today, If something is HOT, it’s just HOT, no doubt, I can recognize and respect that. If anything, more power to them for getting more involved with the “business” side of their music. I just know that I have been around the block a few times now. I am experiencing setbacks everyday, but some positive breakthroughs as well. In the end, I’ve decided that if I’m going to play the game, I’m going to play it by my rules. That’s just the Taurus in me, we stubborn as fuck sometimes.
MVRemix: What do you want to accomplish with your career, long and short term?
I think overall is just to have “Longevity”. Short term I been slowly accomplishing everything that I set out to do. Right now I am searching for a distributor for “The Lockdown Sessions”. Luckily for me I got a strong hustle game, I managed to get my album in all the right spots for now and of course they sell out at the shows and through the website. When you can do a couple thousand units in a few months with no distributor and no label backing you, you’re handling your business in my opinion and once I get the scans, there will be more attention focused on me. So I am slowly knocking down all these walls. I’ve been through the whole “ labels looking at me” thing, had the “ listening session” with the CEO of such and such label (I don’t name drop when it comes to labels and CEO’s, that shit isn’t impressive unless you got a 6 or 7 figure advance or some shit), but what it ultimately comes down to is “Longevity”. I handle my business the best way I know how to and let the music speak for itself. I just want to be successful doing what I love to do and to provide for my Wife and myself. Right about now that possibility is looking real good.
MVRemix: What's going on for you in the immediate future? Any appearances, tours, etc, that the fans should know about.
I am getting ready to kick off the promotional tour March 10th through March 21st in Sweden and Norway with some up and comers from Houston, TX. Lower Life Form (http://www.lowerlifeform.com) and San Antonio MC, Mic Daggz will be getting their feet wet on European soil. Again, one of those things I talked about, trying to give that opportunity back to the heads that take their craft serious. I believe in their music and want to see them succeed in that regards. On the flip side, I will also be shooting the videos for “CLASSIC” featuring The Narcissists and “LEAVE YOU” for a future enhanced CD Project. When I return back home, I got a club venture I am about to get off the ground and start hosting, plus were going to re-up on the album situation and get the US tour ff the ground and into a city near you. So Stay Tuned, it usually heats up pretty quick, especially in the South…
MVRemix: Any last words, shout outs, plugs?
Straight up and down, DJ Low Key, I appreciate you giving me an opportunity to spread a little bit of the V ZILLA gospel man, mvremix.com of course for being an informative site that I know heads check for, Thanx to all the supporters that continue to show an enormous amount of love and stay checking for me through thick and thin. If you get a chance hit up http://www.vzilla.com, cop the CD, cop a shirt or just holla at ya boy and most importantly, to all artist trying to make their mark in this game, SHOW AND PROVE…yup... PEACE- ZILLA