Imagine being back in college, pre-gaming for the coolest house party on campus, with all the boys in one big smoke circle. Jared with the Bluetooth speaker nervously asks what he should queue-up on Spotify. Clarence instantly screams, “Gucci Gang!” and a few of the boys laugh (good one, Clare Bear). Jared, slightly annoyed, instead plays tracks from his usual heavy rotation, and no one questions literally anything when the smooth “I,” the opener off Lil Skies’ Shelby, comes on. Songs like “I,” “Nowadays, Pt 2,” and “Flooded” are propelled by Skies’s easygoing ethos, an undeniable talent for catchy melodies with a laidback yet bouncy flow that’s fit to serve-up a metric ton of lyrical cheese. But Skies has always maintained plausible deniability; he’s ‘joking,’ often embracing the corniness with total self-awareness. Bars like “They say I got next / Ni**a I got now” (“Flooded”), or the misogynistic meme: “Nah, fuck her good / Make me a sammich” (“Mansion”) go down with a twisted kind of sugar, Skies upping the Floridian twang of “sammich” to help us ignore the gross laziness of the sentiment.
Throughout the record, lyrics remain general enough for universal identification, but specific enough to continue the ‘story’ of Skies, the Rapper. “No Rainy Days” fully illustrates a kinship with Juice WRLD in that both are willing to cobble contradictory sentiments together that — in the moment — work. Besides the Swae Lee-aping of “Breathe,” the first half of Shelby is solidly stacked with music to put on in the background of the aforementioned smoke circle. The second half of the album… well, it’s just as implicitly agreeable. Track 11, “Through the Motions,” appropriately describes how this critic was feeling by a fifth listen, as well as highlighting the present state of the album thematically. And Skies takes the lull in energy as a moment to reflect, before auto-crooning, “They used to count me out / But now they want to count me in” with just the amount of verve the song needs to propel it to a million Spotify listens or something. But in truth, Skies isn’t as cynical as, say, Russ — nor is he an industry plant. Like Wiz Khalifa before him, Skies is making unchallenging turn-up music, but with a slight emotional edge. On that point, one can only wonder why the track “Name in the Sand” — a truly fascinating, fractured take on R&B-rap — was left for the end of the record. That side of Skies deserves expansion.
Published as part of What Would Meek Do? | Issue 7