MP3 Killed The Rap Skit
Around the time a then-unknown De La Soul were preparing to drop their debut, 3 Feet High And Rising, producer Prince Paul was thinking of ways to link the tracks together.
What resulted was the “3 Feet High And Rising game show” idea, which immediately disarmed the listener and prepared them for an album that was going to ditch the gruff tone of gangsta rap in favor of a lighter, good-natured album. It worked. De La would go on to use themed skits again on De La Soul Is Dead several years later. Rap skits would become a staple on rap albums going forward—either to the enjoyment or chagrin of rap fans—depending on how well executed or pervasive they were throughout a given LP.
A rap skit is not to be confused with what can simply be an interlude, which could just be a freestyle or snippet of a track that the artist didn’t want to make a full record out of. Rap skits are usually short, acted-out pieces intended to convey humor, inform the listener, or just to set the stage for the following song. While many are of no value to the overall project, there are many skits that are as much a part of classic rap albums as the songs.
But when songs became available a la carte, paying a dollar or so for a rap skit wasn’t something most music fans were willing to do. And now that rappers are more accessible via ill-advised and horribly-constructed tweets, maybe the current fan feels they don’t need that. Even De La Soul have abandoned skits in favor of a clutter-free tracklist.
Is the rap skit a lost art or something hip-hop has simply evolved away from?
I don’t buy into the idea that rap music has just outgrown a trend and doesn’t need skits anymore. Popa Wu’s sermon at the beginning of Wu-Tang Forever set the perfect tone for the album before the strings of “Reunited” kick in, and there was an authenticity to hearing Ghostface Killah gush about customizing his Clark’s Wallabees on the introduction to “Glaciers Of Ice” (“Yo, son, I had crazy visions!”). Even the Beatnuts skit that starts with a decidedly paranoid “Marlon” being asked to chill by concerned friends at the beginning of “Slam Pit” adds a dark energy to the song—even before you hear the piano keys and scratching.
Granted, the latter is one of a slew of skits that end in screaming and gunfire, which can be a nuisance when you’re just trying to listen to an album in your car and the novelty has worn off. In the same vein, the insufferable sex skits that used to appear on rap albums are a type of skit we can probably bid good riddance to across the board.
Although it’s not fiscally wise or likely, there’s an unreasonable part of me that still wants rappers to think conceptually about putting together cohesive albums and to take a gamble on some skits. Rap skits were an important part of bridging the gap between rapper and listener, another way to illustrate what they’re trying to get across. While the current climate is more welcoming of rap albums with little to no cohesion or concept, I’m a full believer in the idea that everything comes full circle eventually.