Sky'high is fly, high and flying high

Issue 
Sky'high plays the Sista Solidarity women prisoners' benefit gig in Newtown, Sydney, June 16. Photo: Mat Ward

Forever Sky'high
Sky'high
Elefant Traks
Released May 25, 2012
Stream the whole album at:
www.skyhighforever.com

Rapper Sky'high is a strong, Black woman surrounded by strong, Black women. "This is correct," she tells Green Left Weekly. "My family's full of strong, Black women."

But when asked if there are any strong men in her family, she replies: "My father and brothers' father both passed away."

It's a typically tough part of Sky'high's tale. The Sydney spitter raps about it on "Love Don't Love Me", one of the many glistening highlights on her uncompromising debut album, Forever Sky'high. "Raised in the gutta down by the sewer side," go the lyrics, "step dad 'n' real dad both died by suicide."

But the rapper, who has Aboriginal, Fijian and Scottish blood pumping through her veins, is also typically stoic about their deaths.

There are still strong men in her family, she tells GLW: "My two strong lil' big brothers. One is finishing his HSC this year on a scholarship with Riverview, something no one in my family but my mum has accomplished. He also plays for Souths SG Ball [South Sydney Rabbitohs Under 18s] with a manager and all.

"The other goes just as hard. He might be in and out of juvie, but he's as loyal as they come and just scored a traineeship at Taronga Zoo!" She laughs. "Gotta love it!"

There's a lot to love in life for Sky'high and her family right now. Just days after her album was released to critical acclaim from quarters as unlikely as Rupert Murdoch's Australian newspaper, her mum landed a new job.

"It's never too late," Sky'high tweeted, linking to a picture of her mum in a Virgin Australia uniform. "No more pubs n clubs...finally! So proud of my Mum."

Sky'high, otherwise known as Skh'ai Gerrey, grew up with her mother, Christine, running strip clubs and pubs. Christine's own mother worked as a go-go dancer in Kings Cross.

The young Skh'ai was raised in the housing commissions of Maroubra and Ultimo, not far from where Star City Casino - now known as "The Star" - looms like a crass colossus over the lives of those with far less, a microcosm of Australian inequality.

Sky'high name-checks the gambling Goliath in "Casino", lamenting the lives lost inside.

It's been repeatedly said that established hip hop label Elefant Traks has also taken a gamble in signing Sky'high, since, in its own words, "some people just won’t get it".

An example would be mainstream music reviewers like James d'Apice, who suggested Sky'high must have been "sky high" when she wrote "Casino".

But the rapper has learnt to ignore the haters, not least from Kiwi producer P-Money, who made the music for most of her album after seeing the unsigned artist on YouTube.

When asked what she gleaned from the chart-topping producer, she says: "A lot! How to overcome negativity first and foremost. P-Money is deadest one of the best people I've met in my life to date. Love that lad."

She is equally effusive when asked about Emily Blake, who provides the honey-dipped backing vocals on "Casino".

"Emily Blake is one of a kind," she enthuses. "We've known each other for over a decade now. She's half Tongan, half Aboriginal. Emily Blake is underrated as fuck, deserves way more recognition. One of the best voices in Australia, I reckon."

Sky'high is at her most disarming when praising those she works with. It seems she scares the wits out of most people - one reviewer even called her "rough as guts" - yet on her album's liner notes she comes across like the sweetest schoolgirl when thanking people.

But all the best rappers can take on multiple personalities, and Sky'high is no exception - her character is as multifaceted as her music. Forever Sky'high verges from the grungiest grime to the slickest soul and her lyrics swing from the giddiest highs to the depths of depravity.

Some of her album's brightest-burning moments are also some of its darkest, such as the daydreamy/nightmarish "Nuclear Love", a spiralling story of drug-fucked lovers.

When asked if the song reflects the way she sees her own life heading, she laughs. "Hell no! 'Nuclear Love' is dedicated to all them junky lovers out there. Way too many... They need to WAKE UP!"

That said, the spine-tingling video to her album's rollicking, party-hard opener, "Let's Just" features more drug references than a pharmacopeia.

Like the misguided "Casino" reviewer James D'Apice, anyone following her Twitter updates might also think Skh'ai spends most of her time high. So what, exactly, is her favourite drug and why?
"What the fuck?" she laughs. "Oi, MUSIC is my favourite drug! Just because."

Anyone who gives her addictive album a spin will see plenty of reasons why.

Sky'high is playing launch parties for the album this week. For details click here. Green Left has bought a signed copy, complete with a colour promo poster, to give away. Just email your name and address to criticalfilms@gmail.com before the next issue of GLW comes out on July 4. Winner picked at random.

"Let's Just" features more drug references than a pharmacopeia.

The Life - a short documentary on Sky'high

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