Local hip-hop act Secret Agent 23 Skidoo captures ‘Best Children’s Album’ | TheUnion.com

Local hip-hop act Secret Agent 23 Skidoo captures ‘Best Children’s Album’

Stephen Roberson
Staff Writer

Cactus Skidoo remained a cool cat, even during the biggest moment of his professional life.

The Nevada County family hip-hop artist, who performs as Secret Agent 23 Skidoo, captured the "Best Children's Album" award on Sunday for 2016's "Infinity Plus One." When his name was called, he didn't panic. He had his speech ready, his crew by his side, and his 15-year-old daughter Saki Sullivan (AKA MC Fireworks) — the one who grabbed the gold-plated gramophone trophy — smiling ear-to-ear.

"It's pretty crazy," Skidoo said. "For the past month or two, I'd be like half asleep and I'd think about what it would be like to go up onstage and what I'd say in my speech, and then I'd jolt myself awake with adrenaline.

"So when it actually happened, I was totally prepared for it. I asked myself, 'How can I not be stressed? Because I've done it in my head like a million times.'"

"I was more stressed than you were," said Spencer Williams, who performs as Spends Quality and works with Skidoo as a producer and performer.

Much of the work on "Infinity Plus One" was produced at Williams' Nevada City studio Cedarsong Sound.

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KID-HOP

Skidoo spent more than a decade touring nationally with GFE, an eclectic hip-hop act that included as many as 13 members, before the performer from North Carolina shifted gears.

GFE became unpredictable, particularly with rotating band members, and Skidoo wanted more security and control.

"At best, a 13-piece group with no leader is unstable," he said. "We happened to hear this radio piece about the emerging scene that is basically intelligent, independent family music. It's kind of like this non-geographical scene, and it's a non-genre scene. You've got cats doing bluegrass, rock, reggae, but they were trying to create music for families that was not dumbed down, not sugar-and-sweet, not over-commercialized.

"I heard about that, thought, 'OK, this is interesting.' We started putting some songs together. And even from the time we had like four or five songs, it just had a momentum of its own. Because nobody was doing hip-hop in that scene."

Over the past decade, that momentum has produced five albums, two Grammy nominees and, now, a Grammy win.

NEW DIRECTION

"Infinity Plus One" is Skidoo's fifth album. The first, 2008's "Easy," was recorded when his daughter was 5.

Through the first three albums, he followed Saki Sullivan's development. By 2014's "The Perfect Quirk," she was growing up.

"She was turning 12, and our target audience, I try to keep it in the mind of a 7, 8-year-old," Skidoo said. "So it got to the point where I could no longer just follow her progression. I had to figure out something else."

Skidoo wrote some songs that targeted a younger crowd, and he also started pushing the envelope of musical complexity and lyrical depth for "The Perfect Quirk," which produced his biggest song to date, the psychedelic "Imaginary Friend."

The lyrics tell the story of a child with an imaginary friend trying to convince him he's the one who's imaginary. The concept has been picked up by Jeremy Renner's production team and is being made into the animated feature film "I.F."

"There's a great tradition of really fun darkness, not so much in kids music, but in kids literature, everything from Lemony Snicket to Shel Silverstein," he said. "So I wanted to play with that a little bit."

INFINITY PLUS ONE

"The Perfect Quirk" solidified Skidoo's desired direction — strange, surreal storytelling over complex music with plenty of funk.

So that's where he went with his latest effort, focusing more than half of the songs on telling weird stories. The album was dedicated to Williams' 10-month-old son, Dilla.

The opening track, "My First Multiverse," is about a child accessing the multiverse. "Lucktricity" is about a young girl who builds an infinite luck machine, then gets bored because she knows how everything in life is going to turn out.

"With this one I was able to push the complexity of it as far as I wanted to," Skidoo said. "It paid off."

Williams knew immediately his partner was on to something special. Then again, Williams said Skidoo's been on the trajectory to greatness for a while.

"The chill of his music aside, he's one of the most skilled MCs I know," he said. "Hearing where he was at two or three albums ago, and going and performing these songs, it's a collection of the best stuff. I have a blast, and you watch how the kids react to it. You see the potential of it … He never stops flying with the new thing, so I knew this album was going to be special. I was just honored to be a part of it."

THE BAND

Secret Agent 23 Skidoo is a revolving cast of characters that at one point featured family only, when Skidoo was touring with wife Brooke Sullivan and daughter Saki Sullivan.

Now he has different artists on both coasts that perform with him in a mix-and-match setup. Locally, Williams and singer J. Kendall are a big part of the mix.

"Now, no matter what, if I get a gig, I just say yes," Skidoo said. "I know I have enough people to make it happen. So that stability I wanted is there."

WHAT'S NEXT?

There is, of course, Renner's animated film, which is being produced through Renner and Don Handfield's the Combine, along with Straight Up Films and Cinesite. Shane Morris, who got a "story by" credit for "Frozen," is writing the script.

Development and pre-production begins this year.

Next month, Skidoo's collaboration with the Ashland, North Carolina, symphony "Mozartistic," symphonic hip-hop based in part on the life of Amadeus Mozart, will be released.

"The other part of it is a symphony based on a bunch of parts that have to work harmoniously together," Skidoo said. "So it's symphony as a metaphor for society. Right now a lot of people are feeling like we only work if we pull apart and think about ourselves instead of thinking about everybody. When I was working with the symphony, I just saw what a beautiful metaphor it is."

To contact Staff Writer Stephen Roberson, email sroberson@theunion.com or call 530-477-4236.

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