In today’s era of streaming numbers creating overnight social media stardom, the surest test of a new artist’s validity is still the live show.
Case in point: rap newcomer Lil Skies released a debut album, Life Of A Dark Rose, that defied expectations — and frankly, logic — to chart on Billboard‘s Hot 100 list behind a small army of devoted fans online. However, that’s online. In the real world, I had yet to see Lil Skies in action. How would he work a stage? Would he be as energetic as the response to his intriguing debut? Could he draw a legitimate crowd and hold their attention for an entire hour-long set?
Those were the questions I had in mind as the 19-year-old Chambersburg, PA rapper took the stage at the Echoplex in Silver Lake, Los Angeles on a recent Thursday night. The answers I received during that set convinced me: Lil Skies is the real deal, with the skills and presence to be a genuine rap superstar in relatively short order.
It’s a common joke about the young generation of Soundcloud-bred rappers that they’re all too addled by painkillers, cough syrup, and illegal-obtained anxiety medications, but Skies defies every expectation born of his unconventional, tattoo-dappled image.
The kids in attendance shouted along to almost every word (surprisingly, there were very few n-bombs uttered by the mixed-race crowd — I was proud of the youth that night), as he bounded shirtless across the Echoplex’s stage, feeding off their youthful exuberance for a full hour, which is longer than the runtime of his impressive debut, Life Of A Dark Rose.
There’s no slur to his delivery and he’s no Xanax-anchored zombie onstage. Instead, he moves with the confidence and energy of a skilled veteran, supported by collaborator Landon Cubes filling in barely-needed hype duties. He exuded charisma even to the back of the room where I lurked, wary of the rowdy mosh pits that have a tendency to form in the front row of shows at the Echoplex.
There was another reason I wanted to avoid the jostling of the young crowd, a new device I happened to be testing out that night. Only days before, I’d been invited to a media event for Samsung’s new Galaxy S9+ and given a device for review. I’m a music writer, which means I probably wouldn’t be able to help anyone with all those technical specifications and upgrades over the last iteration of the device — my previous phone was also a Samsung, so I was at least I was familiar with the practical use of the new device — but I could definitely ascertain how it would do at a concert, where phones seem to be a hot topic of discussion these days.
Since one of the main things the company touted as far as improvements was this new model’s camera, particularly in low-light situations like the ones at the underground venue where Skies was performing, his show was a good chance to check out real-world application. The only problem was, the phone was still so new, there weren’t any cases, so I was terrified I’d drop the thing and be unable to replace it, hence, my back row accommodations.
But even from far away, the camera lived up to expectations and captured bright, clear video at nearly maximum zoom. Lil Skies moves a lot and never seems to slow down, yet I was able to capture clean video and still images that revealed much of the detail of his tapestry of tattoos with relatively minimal pixelation. These videos helped reveal that Skies was everything I would expect from a performer who, despite his young age, is already a veteran. He lit up the stage like he’d been at it for years.
His ease and grace with both the mic and crowd in the palm of his hand are perhaps a testament to his status as a second generation artist; his father was a performer under the name Dark Skies and it’s from the elder Skies that he takes his own stage name.
Of course, it was all on Lil Skies to prove himself Thursday night, and that’s exactly what he did, demonstrating that age, experience, and skill aren’t always as related as we might think. He flashed all the signs of an artist who knows his craft and will be a worthwhile ticket at any stage he books in the future. Provided he can scale that energy as his crowd sizes and venues expand, he’ll absolutely live up to the potential of both his debut and his artistic legacy.