T o say dancehall music has not seen a lyricist with the level of creativity and slickness of Skillibeng, even in the infancy of his career, since Adidja Palmer, the vocabulary physicist himself, isn’t far fetched. Five seconds of research reveal that the earliest track currently posted to his Youtube channel was Rain, done on the Lifestyle Riddim, just over 15 months ago. Since then, the man born Emwah Warmington has applied his dexterous touch to the pages on which he writes, assuming his flow won’t torch fallen trees.
For many, the moment of announcement for Skillibeng was either 50 Bag, the track in which he brags of his affinity for marijuana, his freestyle for BBC Radio 1Xtra, or Brik pan Brik, of which he later explains in his otherworldly track, Mr Universe, was his easy entrance into the dancehall sphere.
On close inspection, the track invokes memories of the fallen Pharaoh Adidja Palmer’s — known far and wide as Vybz Kartel and the Worl’ Boss — The Lyricist, in which he lays his claims as the greatest lyricist in dancehall. And that is what is immediately striking — the similarity in the craft and bravado exhibited by both men. They’re perfectly aware of their abilities and they leave our minds blown by the time the music fades.
But whereas The Lyricist was a reminder that the man was still the man, Mr Universe is an announcement, and undoubtedly one of the best songs in any genre emanating from Jamaican in 2020.
“Gi’ dem e brik wid ah easy entrance. Mi d’even think nuh sweat drop, fling dem down di sextant. I’m ah riddim peasant”
Straight out the gate, Skillbeng tells us what we only came to understand in time: he nary broke a sweat with Brik Pan Brik. That he also throws everyone else to the pit (the sextant) is where you first see the shades of Kartel’s Lyricist, as he separates himself from the rest of the pack.
“Bone and muscle wid di tendon. Suh mi rhyme dem tight like mi squeeze em extra. Secrete dem well hot”
The mark of a good lyricist is the tie-back, and Skilli excels here in tightening up on previous lines with references to the bodily function (sweat) which further adds to the imagery, graphic as it was, when he dared to go to the pit latrine.
Skilli also plays on the body geography and architecture in these three lines, with wordplay connecting the bone, muscle and tendon and with vivid imagery through his illustration of how tight and neatly wrapped up for consumption his lyrics are. Tendons connect muscles to bones and for Skilli, it must all connect.
The final line is the beginning of the wordplay on heat, commonly used to describe a ‘bad’ lyricist. He started spitting fire the instant we saw him in a solar system button-down shirt in the song’s music video, before he launches into a more typically bad boy shirtless look. It is that effortless for the man as skilful as Italia 90 hero, Salvatore Schillaci.
“Di big fire keep on get gas. Yes ah”
These are a mere nine words, but they are his signal to his listeners that the heat will not abate at any point. His career started hot and the fire will keep burning.
“From scratch mi build mi method. Begin wid di pressure, insist fi di tings yah very special”
But why should we listen to Skilli? He lets us know of his originality, constructed from scratch, which could easily be taken as an indirect shot at artistes who borrowed heavily from another. If so, it could be interpreted as a 360° spray of ammunition to what feels like homogeneous musical landscape. His attention to detail and insistence that he would be special is his warrior cry here. He’s here to stay.
“Mafia descendant, mighty dem is regular. Tek yuh temperature. Yuh cannot touch d link much less di pendant”
Lyrical badness is what Skilli proclaims and we cannot disagree thus far. There’s also the beginnings of another set-up, where he alludes to temperature as Kartel did early on in The Lyricist (“Watch yuh temperature yute. Yuh need fi cool dung”). The Mafia is known to be well connected and loyalty is priceless, and we assume the link within Eastsyde Records is tight knit, so as to ward off any envious of the pendant.
“ Nuh discretion from ah tension, den a dead man rise e disinfectant. Roll out wid di wet mop, Skilli well bad. Nuh regret, cah mi dem mek fi call mi next shot”
A lyrical hit is completed in the few lines which Skilli tends to and swiftly disposes of the victim.
“Pree mi gesture. Nuh feminine nuh inna mi gender”
In the midst of a winding maze of metaphors and unconventional word choice, we’re presented with a straightforward expression of his manliness which also reinforce the baddest-thing-lyrically persona. And, even then, it’s upside down in the true spirit of 2020.
“6 million, million times. An 100 hundred million. Light year vision”
A light year is 6 trillion (million million) miles. The man momentarily pauses the lyrical schooling to deliver a physics lesson after previously delving into biology. These things upon which he insisted are indeed very special.
“I care zero bout ah whisper. From before Corona mi ah social distance. Pree mi visual. Some pussy nuh inna mi picture”
If there is one thing patently obvious, it’s his commitment to staying in his lane. As a leader, Skilli confirms our suspicions by stating he was an introvert even before coronavirus, similar to the disclosures of the other man making a big splash on the local scene in Intence.
The slick bar is completed with wordplay on visuals and pictures, befitting of a track loaded with words worth a thousand pictures.
“Tactical decisions from mi G mi live dat. Nothing fix and obstacles and mismatch. Plus mi big Matic nuh interstellar contradiction. Mi brain pass ah star system”
There’s something to be said about ambiguity, which allows for debate, and at times Skilli offers up lines that only the man himself could decode and settle such argument. But the quest to set himself apart from a lyrical standpoint, and the planetary themes embedded in the song remain consistent.
“Who mi? Mi name Mr. Universe (Universe). Mi name Mr. Universe (Universe). Mr. Universe. Mr. Universe. Eastsyde rule e earth. Nuh tell mi seh yuh nuh see. Yuh sih?
No argument from me.
“Ah who fah style mi kidnap? Mi nuh sound like nothing weh inna existence. Roll mi spliff and show riddim how mi lyrics bad. Every flow mi build hot, fuego”
We truly cannot say there has been such a flow or style from a dancehall artiste before, and we agree once more with Warmington, for Skilli possesses the ability to bamboozle you whilst having you debate whether it is genius or gibberish he spouts. Such is the mesmeric appeal of the breakout artiste.
“Pass e quasars if yuh know mi distance. Drinking data fi mi chaser, suh mi flow wicked bad. Lyrics stain and riddim paint wid ah coal friggin’ hot. Tell some kleptomaniac dem better know fi respond”
The deep dive into his assassination of the beat and his mockery of convention continues with the silky but peppery bars. Quasars, you see, are distant objects that just so happen to be the brightest in the universe. We could argue that this man has the most sophisticated bars we’ve heard in some time, themselves an indicator of a (bright) and skilled lyricist.
If he laid out his credentials earlier on in the track, he grabs the stamp of approval from listeners before we could stamp it ourselves to cleverly weave a web of double entendre by linking his consumption of data to the communications juggernaut, Flow. The stain of coal and its heat are aptly represented in the next razor sharp line, which are consumed within the web that is Skillibeng’s harmonization of Mr Universe’s lyrics and accompanying riddim (beat).
He ends the assault with a warning to those who would steal his built-from-scratch lyrics to not bite his style, much as Kartel lamented in The Lyricist that other artistes brazenly did.
“Who is mi? Fresh Prince. E yah. Yuh sih? Fresh Prince. Who mi? Mr Universe. Mi name Mr Universe. Mr Universe. Mr Universe. Eastsyde rule e earth. Yuh sih?”
Skilli, at this point, anything you say in this song is correct.
“Easy entrance. Mi d’even think nuh sweat drop, fling dem down di sextant. I’m ah riddim peasant. Bone and muscle wid di tendon. Suh mi rhyme dem tight like mi squeeze em extra. Secrete dem well hot (Hot). Yessah. That’s right, over out. Di greatest. Yuh sih? Mr Universe”
Rarely does a single track immerse its listeners and spark such keen interest in students of the game to understand its wizardry. Mr Universe is the second of its kind, resting on similar themes of lyrical badness, graphic images, and heat, which combines to make the track a worthy successor to The Lyricist.