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Ski Mask the Slump God - Stokeley Music Album Reviews

On his album debut, the South Florida rapper (and former XXXTentacion associate) employs a playful approach to celebrate style over substance.

Ski Mask the Slump God is “runnin’ around the city in a toga eating noodles”; he’s as sharp as “baby alligator teeth.” Flipping the pages of his debut studio album, Stokeley, is a thrill because at no point can you predict what’s coming next; its energy is the only constant. In unambitious hands, this could be exasperating, but Ski Mask skillfully navigates the constant flux. A vast database of pop-culture references injects sparks into an expansive album that is heavy on flash and light on substance. It works, for the most part.

Ski Mask isn’t as much an artist as he is a vessel channeling the voices of a horde of souls. He croons like a drunken uncle on the porch, screams choruses like he’s shaking off a straitjacket, and raps as dizzyingly quick as Twista—all sometimes on the same track. He came up on Busta Rhymes, Missy Elliott, and Jamaican music, so this isn’t a surprise. Hailing from Florida, he was the best friend and frequent collaborator of the late XXXTentacion, who also sat on the outskirts of traditional rap. Ski Mask’s debut album was created with XXXTentacion’s approval in mind and builds on the strange mannerisms that Ski displayed on his long-delayed May mixtape Beware the Book of Eli.

Stokeley’s production feels plucked from the farthest corners of the multiverse and, along with Ski Mask’s voice, plays into the constantly morphing atmosphere. Album opener “So High” pairs soothing, clean-toned guitar with a lazy 808 while Ski Mask gently trills as if he should be strumming a harp. “Nuketown” deflects attention from a mid-tempo, bass-heavy beat and allocates it to his jittery cadence. Each song feels like its own world. “Adult Swim” and “Far Gone” share stylistic similarities in their beats, but Ski Mask’s flow is a shape-shifting rap delivery on the former—he slurs his words and finds power in the resulting clumsiness—and a more restrained, melodic singing style on the latter.

One of the most stimulating things about Ski Mask’s approach is the way it injects fresh air into rap tropes like tales of the struggle, threats of violence, and braggadocio. He liberally sprinkles pop-culture references over Stokeley, often as a means of infusing color into a typical punchline. On “Adults Swim,” he compares marijuana to “ogre nut” and the size of his girl’s butt to the “diaper booty” on Cupid. On “Cat Piss,” he’s carrying so much money, he says, that it looks like he’s got Poké Balls in his pocket. A modicum of wit elevates his lyrics over the standard litany of “water jewels” and dripping wrists. But when he takes on serious subjects, he stumbles. He lacks the ability to give deeper emotions the gravitas they deserve. He fully drops the clown mask on “Save Me, Pt. 2,” an update to XXXTentacion’s 2017 track “Save Me.” As he raps about the relationship between drug addiction and mental health Ski Mask’s rapping clumsily gallops when it should walk.

Stokeley throws everything at the wall and, for the most part, it sticks. The album’s power comes from its unpredictably, which never becomes stale. Despite his mercurial instincts, his commitment to goofy punchlines never sways. And there’s a method to his madness; his pop-cultural flourishes are more than just popcorn and string. Stokeley is a manifesto for style over substance. That cuts both ways. His “Kids Next Door” and “Transformers” references are plenty memorable, but his anti-government jabs carry less water. But then, that’s true to character: The rapper’s real-life accessory is a Chucky Doll—not a textbook.


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