The media world is filled with dudes who talk a good game, but show little substance to back it up. Then there’s the other kind, whose actions speak much louder than their words. Maybe you never heard of them as they operate in that gray area behind the scenes, below the radar, and most definitely beyond the hype. But their work and its impact is no less relevant.
Harvard and Columbia grad Skiz Fernando started off in the early ’90s as a journalist for The Source Magazine. He went on to pen the critically lauded, “The New Beats: Exploring The Music, Culture & Attitudes Of Hip-Hop” (Anchor/Doubleday, 1994), one of the first books to venture deep into the artform and culture. Following his exposure to the industry and the many, now-legendary artists of that era, Fernando started his own record label, WordSound, mashing up genres before it was cool, and cranking out 65 full-length albums from the ’90s until now by artists as diverse as Prince Paul, Bill Laswell, and The Bug. Fernando, himself, started producing records under the alter-ego Spectre The ILL Saint, his foray into experimental beats and bass with a decidedly dark undertone. His debut LP, The Illness, garnered all kinds of accolades upon its release in 1995, and since that time he has built a substantial catalog of nine releases, culminating in his most recent offering, The True & Living.
But music is just the tip of the iceberg for Fernando, who has gone on to write, produce, and direct three films, including “Crooked,” a personal tale and homage to the music industry in the ’90s. He also recently published his first cookbook, “Rice & Curry: Sri Lankan Home Cooking” (Hippocrene Books, 2011), recommended by The New York Times. While some might call Skiz a renaissance man, he is simply a creative personality who is passionate about many things, and likes to keep it moving. I should know–because I’m that dude.— S.H. Fernando
So how do you juggle all your interests? Do you have A.D.D.?
It’s tough—there’s not enough time in a day—but at least I’m never bored. I could be writing during the day and making beats at night with a nice break in between to cook a serious meal. That’s just the daily operation (which is one of my favorite Gangstarr albums, by the way). But, honestly, I need to do all the things I do in order to survive. I’m grinding everyday just to pay my bills like everyone else.
How did you go about starting your label, WordSound?
I borrowed $1000 from my friend Bill Laswell, who’s a well-known producer. He won a Grammy for producing Herbie Hancock’s “Rockit” back in ’82 but since then he’s been involved in so much more. Right now we’re working on a film about Ethiopian music since he’s producing a lot of new stuff there now.
How did you make the transition to film?
I’ve always been interested in film, and over the years I’ve made music videos and what have you, but my first real foray into film was doing “Crooked,” which I wrote, produced, and directed. And financed. That whole experience was my film school right there, and the biggest lesson I learned was never put your own money in the pot. But, in this case it would never have been made otherwise. From there, I started doing more documentaries like, “Made in Brasil,” which is about the new music scene in Brasil, and now this new one in Ethiopia, which should hopefully be ready by this summer.
Tell us about your alter-ego, Spectre The ILL Saint?
Spectre is my darkside transformation trip, and really the complete opposite of Skiz. He allows me to transmute feelings into music, so any stress and negativity is exorcised, and it becomes something you want to hear.
How about the new album, The True & Living? What was it like working with Killah Priest?
There’s a lot to say about the album, but I’ll just let the music speak for itself. But please listen to it, really. It’s another evolution in my sound. And I think much more accessible. Album number nine and I’m already into ten, which is already sounding sick. But anyone who knows me, knows I’m a huge Wu fan. I used to hang with RZA a lot back in the day, doing articles for the Source, Vibe. And Killah Priest has always been one of my favorite lyricists. His shit is apocalyptic and really fits my whole vibe. We collabo’ed through the internet actually. He voiced the track in Cali and emailed it to me. Very quick and professional. We spoke beforehand and I told him the title of the track, and he took it from there. He also gave a shout out to my nephew Johnny C. Fernando, who died in 2011, which was deep.