Words by:

Photography: Michelle Helena Janssen
Assistant: Eli Lawson
Styling: Leah Abbott
Styling assistant: Amber Rose Montague-Ferris

For an artist relatively new to the game, Skiifall has supporters in all the right places. Earlier this year, Drake’s OVO camp debuted his second single, Bentayga Dust, on their new radio channel Sound 42. The late Virgil Abloh was also a champion, tapping a then-unreleased track from the rapper in an advert for a collaboration with the NBA. It’s something Skiifall casually refers to on Zoom – which took place before the designer’s death – as “the Louis Vuitton thing”. In fact, the longer we talk, the more he seems unfazed by his accomplishments. There’s an unspoken acknowledgment that the Montreal-based artist has only scratched the surface of his potential.

When we connect, Skiifall – real name Shemar Mckie – is about to begin a 12-hour studio session. Wearing a grey hoodie and a snapback, he looks like a typical 20-year-old but has the self-possession of someone older. His style is similar, with his Instagram feed hinting that you’re just as likely to see him in a shirt as you are in his current attire. Musically, he’s on a creative streak: recent releases such as the R&B-inspired My Gully and the Drake-reminiscent Lost Angeles (the song in the aforementioned advert) – both taken from his multifarious debut project WOIIYOIE TAPES Vol. 1 – have carefully built upon his lilting, hypnotic breakthrough single Ting Tun Up. That track, released in 2020, received co-signs from the likes of Jorja Smith and BBC Radio 1Xtra’s Kenny Allstar, and even led to a remix with northwest London rapper Knucks earlier this year – something Skiifall pretty much manifested.

Jacket: Paria Farzaneh
T-shirt: Telfar
Trousers: Fen Cheng Wang
Shoes: Dr. Martens

“While I was recording [Ting Tun Up], I had my plan already: we gotta get this shit to go crazy in the UK,” he tells me, eyes widening with excitement. The rapper has an affinity for UK-forged sounds – something he’s eager to explore further through collaboration. On a recent trip to London, he made sure he connected in the studio with Unknown T, Lil Silva and Sampha, for a track due out next year. “It was honestly one of the best sessions ever. We were all rapping on beats that we wouldn’t usually rap on. Everyone is going to expect it to be very drill but it’s a mix of so many things.” he explains passionately.

Skiifall’s releases embody this multistranded approach: UK drill, trap, jazz and dancehall all make up his slick and melodic musical makeup. His Caribbean influences in particular are traceable to his childhood in Saint Vincent. In 2007, when his mum was preparing to move to Canada, she left him a gift that would go on to prove foundational: “She left me this MP3 [player] and it had a bunch [of reggae and] dancehall on it, like Vybz Kartel,” he remembers vividly. Listen to almost any Skiifall track and you’ll be swept up in tropical rhythms and Patois-inflected lyrics – like Ting Tun Up‘s “couple mans pon the block no status dem tun singers, trappers, and rappers”.

Jacket: Vintage Pele Pele via Sekkle Archive
Trousers: Exemplar
Shoes: Nike

Two years after the departure of his mum, an eight-year-old Skiifall joined her in Canada, first in Toronto, then settling in the Notre-Dame-de-Grâce neighbourhood of Montreal, where the first school he enrolled in was a music school. A subsequent spell of bad behaviour led his teachers to push him towards the high school band, which is when things began to fall into place. “My music teacher taught me how to write music. She gave me the formula,” he says, matter of factly.

But music wasn’t his only creative passion. “If I wasn’t doing music I’d probably be acting, that was like my dream job,” he reveals. He remembers how he’d been selected to attend a casting audition for the Disney show Girl Meets World in Los Angeles, but his Saint Vincent passport ground those dreams to a halt. Had it not been for the success of Ting Tun Up, he says he would have gone to film school in Toronto – but that track blew up and altered his path once more. Now, he sees music as the lens through which he can explore his various creative impulses. “I love to model, I love clothes, and I can do all of these things right now because of the single thing that I love doing: making music.”

Gilet: Exemplar
T-shirt: Stylist’s own
Armour: London Costume Studio
Trousers: A-COLD-WALL*
Shoes: Nike

Taking these multidisciplinary ambitions into account, it’s perhaps no surprise that he considers Kanye West an inspiration – right down to his perfectionist nature. “I’m not the type of person to record all day and then let people touch my work. I love being part of the production and present within the music. So when you listen to it you can tell that I’m in the studio making sure it’s going to blow people away.” Citing Ye as someone he’d “like to learn from” in terms of his “production and how he uses samples”, he also – maybe less predictably – mentions Dua Lipa, Charli XCX and Halsey as dream collaborators.

Characteristically, Skiifall intends to scale up the ambition of his next project, which is expected to drop in early 2022. “In a sense it’s me showing my arrogance and being very verbal about things like police brutality and living as a Black person,” he says, before stating that it will be “inspired by Yeezus”. Looking even further to the future, Skiifall tells me that he has aspirations to “produce for other people, write for other people” as well as to step behind the camera to direct.

Full Look: Bottega Veneta

For now though, he’s content to stay grounded and focused, taking each win, co-sign and collaboration in his stride. As the conversation wraps, he mentions that he hasn’t been back to Saint Vincent since he left, something he and his family are eager to rectify.

“My grandma called me before I came to London because she wanted to know if I wanted black cake. She’s bribing me because she wants me to come back,” he laughs. “So I gotta go back.” The welcome party will be one for the ages.

Break of Dawn ft. BADBADNOTGOOD is out now via XL Recordings