Essentials: Skillz 8Figure continues to fashion himself as a singular pop star with ‘After Dark’

An impressive follow-up to last year's 'Gangsta Luv'

About a year ago, Skillz 8Figure’s initial emergence as a nascent Afropop star had a shadowy charisma to it. Without much of a visual identity, and with just one prior official showcase on the late 2019 Ground Up Chale compilation project, the singer dropped his debut EP, ‘Gangsta Luv’, a sumptuous multi-genre blend of direct writing, candy-coated melodies. He soon found a fervent fanbase eager for his honest confessional and soothing melodies and has been on the rise since then.

However, much like the many artists who broke out last year, it can be tempting to wonder how much more wholesome his early trajectory would be without the near-halting effect of a global pandemic. For Skillz, though, his project stuck—one of the best from last year, in fact—and it positioned him as an artist with no ceiling, even if he hadn’t revealed too much of himself just yet.

On his new sophomore EP, ‘After Dark’, the Ghana-via-Sierra Leone singer isn’t out in the open entirely, but he’s opened up a bit indicating that that he’s intentional about revealing parts of himself. The cover art is graced by a picture of the artist that looks like it was shot with the camera of a mid-level android phone, and parsed through several filters to further obscure his face. In some ways, it is a representation of the EP, where Skillz continues to fashion himself into a singular pop star, by leaning into a laidback, arcane sort of personality.

Skillz 8Figure has undeniable ability at curating catchy songs that play into new age Afropop conventions.  Considering how instantly impressive ‘Gangsta Luv’ was upon discovery, ‘After Dark’ feels very much like the next stage in the evolution of his artistry. It’s a refined take on the positives from his debut while expanding the scope of his artistry in intentional and definitive ways. There’s the obvious inclusion of five featured artists, with Oxlade playing the eager pal on the lustful “Make Sense”, Psycho YP chipping in a typically imperial, melodic rap highlight on the boastful “Like Dat”, while Skillz and Twitch 4EVA continue to flaunt their bromance in the pre-released lead single, “4Life”.

Perhaps due to being relatively unknown in the Afropop scene, the women featured on the EP are its more exciting external contributors. Instant standout and arguable the EP’s thematic centrepiece, “Self Love”, features a thrilling back-and-forth between Skillz and Enam, as they trade patois-inflected quips over a Reggae-Fusion beat. The song carries the energy of a loosely structured freestyle session, especially the first verse where each artist’s lyrics unfurl like stream-of-consciousness bars—“been on the grind like drug addiction/check me song on your radio station”, Skillz boasts. In her elevating showcase, Enam’s siren-like voice acts as a balance to her collaborator’s husky vocal tone.

The same M.O undergirds the final song, “Fall”. This time it’s Melissa’s dulcet melodies that serve as the foil to Skillz’s playful yodelling. On both these standout collaborations, as with the rest of the EP, Skillz exudes spontaneity, an element of his artistry that is becoming a superpower. Even though he isn’t the most inventive songwriter, there’s an honesty in his lyrics and a looseness to his melodies that makes his music instantly catchy. On a song such as the opener, “Julie”, where he sings, “I just want you to ride me like a rollercoaster/no fear, only you fit to be my lover”, it shows how well-versed he is in regurgitating Afropop’s tropes when it comes to romance, but Skillz’s performance is brimming with so much confidence, the song comes across as resourceful and infectious.

‘After Dark’ is loaded with the same mid-tempo, neo-Highlife swing that made his previous tape delightful and filled with infinite replay value. At the same time, musical eclecticism is quite more pronounced on the project without the need to sacrifice its cohesive ambitions. A Harpsichord riff emboldens the contemporary R&B edge of “Fall”, an indelible acoustic guitar riff and syncopated horn sprays colours the Afro-Trap leanings of “Like Dat”, while “Sempe” has the percussive beat synonymous with a post-SFTOS Wizkid song. Even with his influences peeking out, Skillz is unravelling himself as a budding pop star with his own twist, and ‘After Dark’ is more proof that he’s doing it exactly how he wants.

Listen to ‘After Dark’ here.

[Featured Image Credits: Instagram/skillz8figure]

Dennis is a staff writer at the NATIVE. Let me know your favourite the Cavemen songs @dennisadepeter