Stokeley Clevon Goulbourne, better known as Ski Mask the Slump God, has stormed the hip-hop industry like a bat out of hell. The tongue-twisting lyricist caught many fans’ attention with his “Lyrical Lemonade” music videos directed by Cole Bennet and his collaborations with recently deceased rapper XXXtentacion — which amassed scores of streams while X was approaching the peak of stardom with his 2017 debut LP, “17.” The two MCs were also known to be tight friends who hailed from similar areas of southern Florida.
In many ways, 2018 was a major year for Ski Mask to build off of his fame and prove his capabilities as a studio artist. In May, he released a mixtape, called “BEWARE THE BOOK OF ELI,” which runs for a quick 22 minutes. Despite its brevity, the project demonstrated what a full-length, focused-in production from Ski Mask can look like.
The eccentric rapper’s music can make you laugh at his bizarre comparisons, punchlines and ad-libs, and rage with his mosh-pit production and irate energy, while still allowing you to admire his rapid flows and piquant rhymes. You might be tempted to write him off as a new-school Busta Rhymes, but the outlandish lines you’ll hear from Ski Mask are unlike anything produced in Busta’s tenured career.
The Slump God continued his 2018 campaign with the release of “STOKELEY,” his debut album, on Nov. 30, but had to compete with Earl Sweatshirt, Lil Baby and Meek Mill, who were releasing projects on the same day. Consequently, Ski Mask’s work was overshadowed by these other releases from well-renowned MCs, but still manages to bring the heat with a project he was confident enough to put his name on.
Ski Mask kicks off the album with the song “So High,” which sounds more appropriate as a mid-album interlude. This move is confusing, as the song only includes a monotonous chorus and two identical verses split between three repetitions to fill the two-and-a-half-minute experience. The track could be an appealing interlude, but as an opening track? C’mon. The mellow vibe of “So High” does not blend with the majority of the music featured on “STOKELY,” and it doesn’t effectively lift the project off as a whole, so I’m just left scratching my head.
On one hand, Ski Mask could be setting up his audience for a startling surprise with the subsequent banger “Nuketown (feat. Juice WRLD),” standing as the second track and “real” intro. The electric song begins with a sample from a video game saying, “Round one, fight,” so as to commence the battle between the two artists, a battle to discover the more intense performer. The final product is magnificent. Ski Mask puts up a solid argument for hype-man of the year as he viscously screams the chorus:
“Cutthroat, cutthroat, cutthroat
They be on my nuts though, nuts though, nuts though
‘Cause I don’t give a f—, h–, f—, h–, f—, h–
I might be around squirrels ’cause a n— is a nut, h—“
Juice WRLD puts up a convincing effort with his furious second verse. His performance was even more satisfying, because when I saw the “Lucid Dreams” rapper listed as a feature I figured he would be all soft and singing. When I initially started listening to the track and heard its fierce energy, I couldn’t see how Juice WRLD could possibly fit in, but Ski Mask effectively builds anticipation for the guest appearance by including it at the end. Along with its element of surprise, Juice WRLD’s performance may be one of the most enjoyable features of the year.
The most popular song on the track-list is followed by a whimsical recreation of “Drop It Like It’s Hot (feat. Pharrell)” by Snoop Dogg, titled “Foot Fungus.” Producers Roofeeo and Kenny Beats put together an intoxicating, bass-bumping beat for Ski Mask to chug through, and the instrumental mirrors the rhythm of the original, but with a dark twist. Ski Mask makes the track a shining light within the project with his rapid-fire delivery and colorful lines, like “Ma’am I’m makin’ green eggs and ham, b—- you know I am” and “Hawaiian punch a n—– that be tryna play me.”
After “Foot Fungus” comes “LA LA,” a demonic banger that includes similar screaming to that included on “Nuketown,” but Ski Mask extends the screamo-style lines to a full verse as he yells:
“Gucci on my body feel like water, I can’t swim (Yuh!)
So I bought a Gucci rubber ducky with the fins (Yuh!)
When I was a youngin’, hated home, I was 10 (Yuh!)
Told my Dad, ‘I’m selling molly,’ ninth grade in (Yuh!)”
The furious chorus of the track also radiates its blood-thirsty theme. Ronny J’s (long-time collaborator with Ski Mask) production on “LA LA” is heavy and explosive, accented with funeral-like piano keys and Ski Mask delicately singing “la-la-a, la-la-la” in the background throughout the track, in order to draw contrast from the absolute insanity of the rest of the song.
After that heavy number, comes “Unbothered,” a lighter jam that rides with kicking bass and electric guitar samples. However, from that point on the track-list suffers from a staggering four-track section of disappointments.
“Save Me, Pt. 2” returns to the R&B style singing of the project’s underwhelming opener. The mood of the song differs drastically from the majority of the album, and I think this type of sound is out of place based on the rest of its content. The following track, “Adult’s Swim,” sounds like Ski Mask recorded it years ago and pulled it out of the vault; it doesn’t bring much value to the project. On top of that, “Far Gone” suffers from a thin beat and an anticlimactic feature from Lil Baby, which includes some of the most obnoxiously auto-tuned vocals I have heard this year (and I like auto-tune).
Luckily, strong songs like “Reborn to Rebel” and “Faucet Failure” on the latter part of the album help to recover the project’s momentum. The closing track, “Cat Piss (feat. Lil Yachty),” has an alluring beat and Yachty provides a decent contribution. Although these tracks add to the album, they definitely do not carry the same fire and quality of the earlier songs, making “STOKELEY” a bit uneven overall.
Ski Mask the Slump God definitely hasn’t grown out of what some would call repugnant subject matter, with the general disrespect for women, glorification of drugs and reoccurring references to s— and p—- embedded in his works. He pushes the boundaries for what many people can stand, but his crude language and blunt lyrics are part of the reason why his fans gravitate to him.
His outspokenness helps create the distinctly amusing mixture that is a Ski Mask the Slump God song, and the metal accents to his trap sound also support his lack of concern for civility. Ski Mask is a rage machine. However, the MC did shed some light on his intellectual capabilities as a lyricist with “Reborn to Rebel,” so maybe he can grow from being just a “fun” rapper.
“STOKELY” is far from the well-rounded and complete project hip-hop fans want from an artist who possesses so much potential. Nevertheless, Ski Mask is able to please fans with several flaming titles, and the debut is by no means a complete failure. The 22-year-old rhyme wizard has plenty of time to polish his album structure, and there certainly is reason to anticipate Ski Mask’s forthcoming releases.