Down To Earth

27 June 2012 | 8:00 am | Aleksia Barron

Sydney MC Sky’high is one of the most intriguing Australian hip hop artists. Admired by some of the industry’s biggest names, she’s built a career in just two short years, and recently released her debut album, Forever Sky’high. She spoke to Aleksia Barron.

Skhai Gerrey, better known as up-and-coming MC Sky'High, is walking down a busy Sydney street, but that doesn't mean she's not up for an interview. Armed with a mobile phone and her standard toughness, she's ready to go. “What do you want to know?” she says frankly, giving the impression of someone who'll answer any question put to her.

What do we want to know, indeed? There's a lot about Gerrey that has people curious. She burst onto the Australian hip hop scene startlingly and suddenly, with New Zealand's super-producer P-Money backing her. She was voted Best Female MC in the 2011 awards and signed to Elefant Traks, a move that was seen as a significant departure for the Sydney label. She's built a reputation for slick live performances and honest, almost unsettlingly angry lyrics, and her debut album Forever Sky'High has been one of the most talked-about releases of the year.

A lot has happened for Gerrey in a relatively short amount of time – she only committed herself to a music career two years ago – but she's not exactly a newcomer to hip hop. She came across an old TLC CD in her mother's collection when she was nine years old, and was intrigued by rap after hearing Lisa “Left-Eye” Lopes dropping some verses. A few years later, she performed on stage as an MC for the first time: “It was at an Under 18s competition when I was 13 or 14.” How did it go? “It was good – actually, I won.”

After her initial success, she gave away hip hop almost entirely. “I didn't keep going with it. I never took it that serious until two years ago,” she explains. “When I was a teenager, fucking up was more fun to me than rhyming.”

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Growing up in a Sydney housing commission, Gerrey had some tough teenage years. Surrounded by drugs, violence and crime, she realised that she wasn't on a good path. “I wasn't going anywhere with life,” she says. “I thought, 'What have I got?' I didn't have any skills or nothing. But I thought, 'I'm pretty skilled at rhyming – I love it.'” Soon after, she realized that a life change was definitely in order. “What made me go heaps further is, my brother, he was up to the same kind of stuff that I was up to – up to no good,” says Gerrey. “He got arrested. That's what made me really, really get full-on serious.”

Once Gerrey decided to start carving out a stellar music career, there was almost no stopping her. She enlisted Sam Dutch, who she'd known since she was seventeen, as her manager, and caught P-Money's attention (he would later executive produce her debut album). Before signing with Elefant Traks, Gerrey actually took a couple of other meetings with major labels – and nearly canned the idea of signing with anyone. “I didn't like them,” she says. “They were just so proper. They were scammers. Coming from the streets, you can tell the conmen, you know? I didn't feel right.” Fortunately, she found a fit in Elefant Traks, even if she didn't think it was going to happen. “I was expecting the same thing. But I walked up and sat down with them all in the room, and we were all lookin' at each other, and I thought, 'I know you guys. Okay, youse'll do.'”

Then, album time. How long did Forever Sky'High take to write? “To be honest – you're gonna laugh – probably two months. And I recorded it in two weeks.” Gerrey isn't the type of MC to spend three months perfecting a verse. “Nah, fuck that. That's hopeless.” She simply writes what she wants to say – the truth. “I like to tell the truth a lot. Even if it hurts, I like it. I've stayed true this far, so I'll just see how far I go. I'll go very far with it, yeah.”