SkinnyFromthe9 has had the type of turbulent childhood that you might find in a movie script. Before the Florida-born, New Jersey-bred rapper began buzzing on SoundCloud, he was a kid who was shuttled about, coping with poverty, homelessness and parental figures doing hard time. Naturally, he found solace in hip-hop.
“I was listening to a lot of Eminem because I could relate to him,” the 22-year-old artist, born David A. Villegas, tells XXL. “I didn’t feel like I was alone.” After his dad began serving a three-year prison sentence, Skinny’s mother became involved with another man, who’d become his stepdad. Together, they engaged in scams and identity fraud for the majority of Skinny’s adolescent years—a hustle that paid off until Skinny’s stepfather was arrested during a stint in Nevada. “My mom was a single mother with seven kids, so I ended up being homeless,” Skinny says. “I was sleeping on the streets, shelters and hotels. There were times when we didn’t eat, times I didn’t have shoes.”
It was at this point that SkinnyFromthe9 realized he needed to grow up fast. After moving to Somerville, N.J. as a teenager to live with his father, he received his first mic. Hip-hop then switched from a passive form of therapy to more active catharsis. He began recording his own songs—sunny, uptempo bangers that narrate his gloomy life and times—using restaurant jobs to pay for studio sessions. “I would always get fired because something with music came up,” Skinny says.
His dedication is beginning to pay off. SkinnyFromthe9 is currently riding the wave of his biggest track to date, “Love Blast,” which he dropped to close out 2017. The catchy single has more than 3.5 million streams on SoundCloud, and will likely grow more popular once he releases the official music video (slated to drop next week). As of late, Skinny has been spotted with everyone from 6ix9ine to fellow Jersey rap star Fetty Wap—he joined the latter for Wap’s FMF Tour in January. “I had it all at one point, I lost it all and now I’m paving my own lane,” he says. “That’s why I’m grateful I’m here where I’m at right now.”
Get to know SkinnyFromthe9 in the latest installment of XXL‘s The Break.
Hometown: “I was born in Hialeah, Fla., but I was basically raised in Somerville, N.J. High school, middle school—all my school years I was in Somerville.”
I grew up listening to: “During my kid years, when I was moving around a lot—because of my mom doing all of her illegal business—I was listening to a lot of Eminem because I could relate to him. I didn’t feel like I was alone. That’s how I discovered hip-hop, listening to ‘Cleanin’ Out My Closet’ one day on a car ride. I felt like I was the only one going through this stuff, so when I heard Eminem, I related to him like crazy. I always wrote music when we were moving. I never recorded though, until I finally moved in with my dad.
“When I moved to Jersey, I was listening to everything, because that’s when Em was on a hiatus; he kinda disappeared. So that’s when a lot of new rappers came out the woodworks. Drake, Mac Miller, Wiz Khalifa, A$AP Rocky. I listened to them but they didn’t really inspire me on a major level, it’s just that’s what was cool, so that’s what I was listening to. That was the stuff everybody was playing, and I liked it.
“But in 2014/2015, that’s when Fetty Wap blew up, and he had a whole different sound. That’s what I fucked with. He put his music on SoundCloud and he just grew; he became one of the biggest artists of our time. I appreciated Fetty Wap’s come up ’cause he’s from Jersey as well, and he made it.”
My style has been compared to: “When I was first making music, a lot of people said I sounded like Kid Ink—that was like, my freshman year [of high school]. But I think I definitely outgrew that. No one really tells me I sound like anybody anymore. I have my own sound.
“People say I look like Lil Pump, but that’s not music-related; that’s just a look. People started calling me Lil Pump’s brother.”
Most people don’t know: “I come from a family of seven—I have five brothers and two sisters. And I’m the oldest.”
My standout moment to date has been: “I would say the ‘Love Blast’ record going crazy—that’s what jump started everything; that’s when my whole life changed. I’m everywhere now. It’s a dream come true. [Also] going on tour with Fetty Wap. But I think what was really crazy was coming to XXL[‘s office].”
My goal in hip-hop is: “I want to take over; I want everybody to know who I am. I want my music to top the charts, I wanna be on tour, and I want to be a huge inspiration to kids who felt like they were neglected when they had a dream, no matter what it was. I wanna show the kids that dreams come true if you really work hard for it, and you put your all into it. I wanna symbolize positivity.”
I’m going to be the next: “Artist to pave the way for the less-fortunate people who wanna make music and chase their dreams. I’m going to be the next artist, legend—whatever you wanna call it—to show people that dreams come true when you really try your hardest and don’t give up.”
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