NATIVE Exclusive: Skales has a newfound appreciation for life

“Happiness is peace of mind to me, doing what you love and being profitable from it. Of course, I'm happy!”

Much like any other industry subject to the forces of capitalism, contentment is quite the elusive concept in the music industry. As artists advance in their careers and with each new release, there’s an expectation of commercial success and constantly levelling up, which is almost always about whether the artist can surpass their current level of acclaim. From breaking out to proving consistency to rising to the top of the popularity pyramid, there’s an emphasis on forward motion that makes it difficult for many artists to truly relish the accomplishment of putting out a project.

Very often, when I speak to artists who have just put new music out, it’s easy to hear the high hopes in their words and glean the anxiousness for success in their voice. When I spoke to Skales less than a week after dropping his recent EP, ‘Healing Process’, it was surprisingly refreshing to hear him speak with gratitude and a deep level of contentment. “It’s been really good” Skales offers when I ask him what the reception had been like in the early days since the release. “In fact, more than anything, I’m happy that the project is out ‘cause it means a lot that I’m here and I’m still doing what I love.”

This appreciative demeanour is the polar opposite of what he offered us two years ago: “Someone like Olamide would say ‘Skales should have killed himself by now.’” At the time, Skales was in a peculiar place in his career, where he was no longer the easy target of caustic jokes about unsuccessful artists. He was four years removed from “Shake Body”, the hit single that would rocket him back into prominence following his exit from Banky W’s EME imprint, two albums and several big singles deep into his resurgence, but there was still a disconnect between his successes and what was initially expected of him. And a lot of that stemmed from his switch-up from rapper to pop artist.

Back then, Skales pointed to his achievements as justification for revamping his primary style of music, noting that it had opened doors, given him so many opportunities and made him into the bankable artist. Today, he’s less keen on these types of explanations that convey some sort of frustration, opting to count his blessings, stay in the moment and putting his current situation in perspective with his journey so far.

About a week before ‘Healing Process’ came out, Skales dropped a trailer in anticipation of the EP, crystallising his mindset and the circumstances that inspired the EP into an affecting short video. In between bright shots of Skales strolling and taking in the sun on a beach, we see clips of the singer receiving medical care, and going by the drip by his bedside, it’s safe to presume it was pretty serious. Being able to come out on the other side with a clean bill of health, and the fact that life always has challenges waiting on every corner is what inspired the project’s title and loosely informs the songs on the EP.

NATIVE: You always seem to go for profound titles for your projects, why is that?

“I pick my album titles based on whatever I’m going through at the moment, or whatever I write down that feels right. Like ‘Man of the Year’, I had those issues after I left EME, many people wrote me off and didn’t think I was gonna come back, but then, boom!

For ‘The Never Say Never Guy’, the road wasn’t smooth, there were a lot of stories and doubters, and that was a challenge to myself to prove them wrong. With ‘Mr Love’, that’s a nickname my friends call me because they know me as a lover-boy, and the album basically was about love.

For this project, a couple of things happened and I started appreciating life a little more. I was sick for months and many people didn’t know, but I kept thinking about the fact that I could afford to pay for my healthcare and there are people that cannot afford these things. Also, I went through being hurt by people, disappointments and failures, and I know that I’m not the only one that deals with that.”

Going by the title and the trailer, you’d probably expect ‘Healing Process’ to be an overly introspective project, but that’s not what Skales delivers. The EP lands within Skales’ established flair for rhythmic music better suited for dancefloors. Like his previous projects, the title baits you in with something profound, but switches into a set of songs that are partly enjoyable and partly banal. Unlike his previous projects, though, Skales sounds rejuvenated and in better control of his powers as a songwriter.

With seven tracks clocking in at a brisk 21-minute run time, ‘Healing Process’ is far leaner than Skales’ previous three albums, all of which suffered in quality due to the amount of bloat and filler tracks. By being concise, ‘Healing Process’ cuts out any excesses in a way that emboldens Skales’ best qualities as an artist that conjures bright melodies and favours hook-driven writing. On the opening track, “God is Good”, Skales predictably gets prayerful, fortifying the sheer relatability of the theme with a personal approach to his writing and an impressive display of his singing chops. On the standout selection, “On Your Side”, he imbues the bouncy, fast-paced song with a dotting charm that’s pulled from the R&B playbook, creating a blue-eyed love song that can slot into wedding playlists and club sets.

An integral part to the enjoyability of ‘Healing Process’ is the impressive production, boasting a set of colourful beats that skate around afropop, dancehall and even veers into trap on the Ice Prince-assisted final cut, “A‘Lagos”. This project is far from a reset for an artist who defines himself as an artist who primarily makes Dance music, but it also feels like a new chapter, by being a reupholstering of Skales’ sound, and gone are the tendencies towards selecting insipid and overproduced beats. For that, Skales gives major credit to Kezie, the teenage producer who serves as the main co-conspirator on the EP and is now signed to Skales’ imprint, OHK Entertainment. With this creative partnership, ‘Healing Process’ amounts to a replay-worthy project that also stands as Skales’ best body of work till date.

As much as it can be described as a collection of happy-go-lucky songs, Skales explains that the relation between the content of the EP and its title is implicit since the intention is to use his music to create pockets of unreserved happiness for listeners. “Basically, all I’m saying is, every second, every minute, every hour, every day is a healing process, because there’s a lot of things we can’t change or control, and we have to go through them and move on” he explains. “I’ve come out of my own difficult experiences with a better appreciation for life and that’s what I want my music to show.”

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Very often, when artists have been through life-impacting situations we expect them to detail it in their music, so that we can identify with them as people who also go through difficult situations just like us. Skales tells me he’s well aware of these expectations, but he’s gotten to a point in his life where he’s focused on the emphasising the positives, and it’s easy to see why. He’s survived through multiple, career-derailing valleys; in interviews and on his Twitter he’s let the world in on the domestic abuse his mother suffered and the difficult circumstances she raised him in, and he’s had to battle a serious illness to be alive. With all of this being public knowledge, he believes he’s earned the leeway to deliver music that reflects where he is at the moment, even though it is attached to a baggage of difficulties.

NATIVE: Do you think you wear the underdog tag as a badge of honour?

Yeah, I think so. Being an underdog is my story and I’m not even trying to sound bitter, man. This is a kid that came from a city that’s over 14-hours by road, into a megacity that he doesn’t know anybody, and he’s come this far. I’ve worked hard and I’ve sacrificed so much to get to where I’m at.

NATIVE: What’s the biggest sacrifice you’ve made as an artist?

I’ve emptied my account many times to make sure things happen. It’s not a smart decision—I won’t advise anybody to do that [laughs]—but sometimes, you just have to take the risk and I’m grateful it’s paying off.

At the moment, Skales is satisfied with everything he’s achieved. While he has plans to remain consistent and keep growing upwards, he’s not letting the constant race for sustained prominence give him anxiety. Contentment doesn’t equal complacency – if anything, it indicates a strong level of security and Skales is so secure about himself that he’s not too bothered by not being the biggest superstar. He considers having a huge fan base across Africa—East Africa especially—and in the UAE as indicators that he’s doing well for himself, he’s scored big collaborations with Major Lazer, Nicki Minaj, Akon and more, and he only sees more positives for himself going forward.

For an artist who spends a lot of his time touring and performing, Skales isn’t happy about the ongoing pandemic that has restricted travels and cancelled the possibilities of large gatherings in the foreseeable future—“I won’t lie, it hurt my feelings so bad”. However, he views as one of those things he can’t control, so staying safe, connecting with those closest to him, continually creating (he’s working on a rap album) and embracing happiness is how he’s coping.

NATIVE: What would you define as happiness?

Happiness is peace of mind to me, doing what you love and being profitable from it.

NATIVE: Are you happy?

Of course, I’m happy!

Listen to ‘Healing Process’ here.

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Dennis is not an interesting person. Tweet Your Favourite Playboi Carti Songs at him @dennisadepeter