The backpack is synonymous with the underground Rap scene. Just like the Jesus piece or label pendant signifies “Major” label affiliation, the backpack is a visual sign that the one wearing it focusing on the art of emceeing and not record sales. Over the years, it’s become more symbolic as they’re not worn as much, because underground rappers have made it known that they’re here to rock the mic as well as enhance their bank accounts. Virginia MC Skillz (by the way of Detroit) fills his Milllion Dollar Backpack with dreams of attaining success while maintaining his underground sensibilities. But that’s not the only thing the noted ghostwriter keeps in his proverbial satchel.
He’s got a million ways to tell us how dope he is on songs like “Where I Been”, “Yeah You Know It” and “Sick.” On the latter he does nothing but let us know how sick he is on the mic for three minutes. In a nutshell he’s been sick for a long time, but over a beat by Kwame & A Kid Named Cus it works. There’s also a marching band director’s baton as several songs such as “Crazy World and “I’m Goin’ Make It,” have band infused backdrops. And Bink! provides a club/radio friendly joint on “(For Real) He Don’t Own Me” as Skillz woos the ladies over light piano keys and chants coupled with congas and a tambourine bassline.
He’s also got a pair of Flightposites in the bag. He plays like Iverson in an All-Star game throwing out dimes to his guests for easy layups. He provides them all beats that are their bread and butter. Freeway steals the show on “Don’t Act Like You Don’t Know,” which sounds an awful lot like Free’s “What We Do.” Skillz isn’t blown out the water, but Freeway has the advantage. The same thing can be said for Common on “So Far So Good” and Black Thought on “Hold Tight.” We’ve heard the guests so much on these type of tracks that he’s at a disadvantage before he even writes his verse.
Lastly, he’s got the biography of O. Henry in his bag as he shows a penchant for the surprise ending. “My Phone” finds Skillz living it up in Hollywood as he scoops ups starlet’s digits left and right. On “Preachin To The Choir,” he really goes in. Over rolling organ runs and a gospel choir, he tells the story of Shawn & Nicole as they turn to church to work out their marital differences. Though it may sound conventional, he throws a nice twist in at the end to freshen up a story heard numerous times.
All in all, The Million Dollar Backpack is a durable package, especially for anyone who’s a fan of music coming from the mid-to-late â€˜90s. Skillz is a more than serviceable MC and his bars are well constructed. He rarely makes you say wow or rewind the song, but he keeps you engaged. His biggest drawback is his flow/voice, because he only spits on one level and his voice is at the mercy of the track as to whether he stands out or gets lost in the track. With a little more diverse subject matter and avoiding topics that have been beaten to death (“Hip Hop Died”), Skillz could also have a commercial success next go around. Because at this point in his career, the critical acclaim he bears on his shoulders is nearly priceless.