Justin Skipper claims to have seen God at Back Booth one night. He credits his vegan diet with curing his adolescent schizophrenia, manic depression and alcoholism. He says a mysterious friend introduced him to the Nonsense Records family, a friend he didn't see or hear from again for years and whose existence at one point he even questioned. Justin Skipper, the scrappy, full-bearded son of a former Southern Baptist pastor, will make as many grand revelations as he's given time for, but one verifiable fact about the 25-year-old is that the boy can rap.
When the venerable hipster mag URB — whose annual "Next 100" list has pointed the public to acts from Amy Winehouse to the Strokes in the last decade or so — opened the list for Internet users to select this year's inductees to the expanded "Next 1000" list, the early (and current, as of press time) top vote-getter was Justin Skipper.
"We didn't do anything for that," says Skipper, who goes by the stage name S.K.I.P. "They contacted `Nonsense` and were like ‘Hey, we really like what S.K.I.P.'s doing.' It's really cool. I don't how to take it, actually." In addition, he placed second behind his own housemates Sol.illaquists of Sound in Orlando Weekly's Best Hip-Hop Act poll this summer, and all of this occurred well before the release of his first widely distributed album, titled Autobiographicology.
Again, he can rap.
The album is a manifesto against social enemies — conformity, hypocrisy, materialism — often decried in Orlando hip-hop, but Skipper is admittedly the most confrontational of the Nonsense (and extended Epitaph) family. Whereas S.O.S. frontman Swamburger, the sole producer on Autobiographicology, specializes in a pleading, searching, draw-them-with-honey approach to self-improvement, Skipper seems more certain of his moral ground, and less patient with those he perceives to have compromised their own. On album standout "John Was a Rich Man," S.K.I.P. fictionalizes the horrible fate of a Wall Street fat cat over a Mama A.Free.Ka and Alexandrah—assisted chorus and mourning guitars by Florganism's Kris Gruda: "While sitting in his office unaware his time was near till his focus caught in the distance, closing in on his wicked sneer, turned to see a plane heading towards him. And in that moment God closed her eyes and just ignored him." For punctuation, audio taken from Sept. 11 tapes cues the infamous explosion and screams of people below as the track fades.
Skipper insists he is merely pointing a mirror back at society. "I hate the Christian church, but my dad is a great guy," he says. "He was a pastor, and you find yourself victim to the evil deeds of people who are in power. My dad didn't want to play ball with a lot of the politics, so, consequently, he got fired a lot."
The family moved around Florida, with some stays in Texas, and Skipper withdrew into himself. He says he turned to drugs and alcohol and was "almost kicked out of the house."
"When I was at UCF, I discovered underground hip-hop at the Park Ave `CDs` Jr. over there. I stumbled across an Aesop Rock CD, which totally blew my mind." With enormous difficulty, Skipper began introducing himself to others in the scene and writing his own raps. A friend at Valencia Community College brought him to Vocalization nights at Will's Pub, where he met the budding Nonsense family. "I felt like it was home. The guy's name `who brought me` was Don and I didn't see him again for a year and a half. I almost had the feeling that he was an angel. He was there to take me to this place."
Skipper dropped nearly everything in his life to hang around the Nonsense family, but first he had to get over his own crippling insecurities. "`Swamburger` took me downtown and taught me how to sell CDs and stuff, which was difficult, but at that point I'd already lost my job, so I made it happen. I'd get yelled at, cursed at and made fun of. I'd go into the bathroom stalls at a bar and cry for 15 minutes, pull myself together and go back out. I had a car and it got repossessed. I went into credit-card debt. I basically removed myself from, like, the system. I kind of went underground. No one could find me. I just said, ‘I'm going to destroy the things that made up my life beforehand, and just re-create everything' the way I wanted. So anything I didn't want to be part of, paying credit cards or whatever bills, I wasn't a part of. I only associated myself with the things I wanted to be part of."
The term "schizophrenia" is Greek for "split mind," which may turn out to be the only way to describe Justin Skipper. A lost boy in his early 20s can find justification for shunning everyday reality through his art, while a majority of society would find it merely irresponsible. Skipper's descriptions of seeing "all time stop" during a conversation with a friend could be considered particularly alarming to some, but inspirational to others. "`I saw` two white orbs from `my friend and I` lifting us up off our toes, and the throat, nose and mouth are portals for energy to come out. At that moment … there was a rainbow arc that was going from my open mouth to his open mouth."
But how much is from the side of the mind where inspiration lies? When common symptoms of schizophrenia are auditory hallucinations and paranoid delusions, where does a natural gift end and mental illness begin? "When I got into college, I was medicated for that," he says. "When I changed my diet to vegetarian, then vegan, I dropped all my meds. All the depression, the schizophrenia, everything just went away." According to Skipper, this is where hip-hop saved his life.
He took on the name S.K.I.P. as an acronym for Samaritan Knowledge Intervenes Preconditioning, inspired by the New Testament parable of the Good Samaritan. "One of my spiritual gifts is that I can see walls and blocks," he says. "I can read people through their eyes. There's a lot of stuff on the album that's pointing out different problems in people's character." He offers another track from Autobiographicology, "Porcelain Doll," as an example. The song tells of an insecure woman who, Skipper claims, ruins herself through plastic surgery. "She's a little big-boned, but she utilizes all these extreme measures to look like the girls in the magazines," he says. "They're willing to give up who they are to reach this, and that's the evil. That's who I was all through high school. I'd wear anything, or buy anything, to fit in with the crowd. The things that need to be put in check are not so much the actions, but the intentions."
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