When South Florida’s SoundCloud rap scene first started to catch fire, Ski Mask The Slump God was one of a handful of artists rapping over menacing, distorted trap beats and running up huge streaming numbers. 

Now, as time has passed and these artists have been given some space to differentiate themselves, it’s becoming increasingly clear that Ski Mask is one of the most inventive and compelling figures in this wildly popular scene. He’s beginning to separate himself from his peers.

As with any of these artists, it’s important to look at the entire narrative surrounding them. Ski Mask’s prolific output, collaborations outside of his peer group, and eccentric personality are strong signs that he’s got staying power and is capable of vaulting from novel newcomer to mainstream mainstay.

Traditional rap heavyweights are embracing him.

Although he made a name for himself through a consistent stream of solo material and strong word of mouth in the South Florida scene, Ski Mask’s music has earned him a crop of collaborators and co-signs that go beyond the scope of many of his peers. 

Isaiah Rashad praised Ski Mask on Twitter in early September—major recognition from one of rap’s most acclaimed young talents. Then came a nod from bona fide rap royalty courtesy of Missy Elliott in August. The superstar praised the 21-year-old MC’s flip of her “She’s a Bitch” beat on “Catch Me Outside.”

Missy has always had a sharp ear for emerging talent, but a co-sign holds even more weight when a newcomer is repurposing one of your hits into their own track. Further goodwill was shown towards Ski Mask when Missy cleared the sample, allowing “Catch Me Outside” to appear on Apple Music and Spotify.

the fact that Ski Mask is stylistically malleable enough to work with talents like Yachty and Ferg IN ADDITION TO rappers like Craig Xen and Lil Pump speaks to his potential going forward.

Ski Mask isn’t content with social media shoutouts or sample approvals, though. He’s made a point of getting in the booth with mainstream artists more than many of his peers—working with ASAP Ferg twice, on “ILoveYourAunt,” which flips Missy’s “Get Ur Freak On,” and “No Tilt,” which also features Lil Yachty and was produced by TM88 (Drake, Gucci Mane, Young Thug). 

Both tracks feel loose, spontaneous, and validating for Ski Mask as a more commercially viable artist. Today’s young rappers don’t need to pack their albums with A-list features to capture an audience in the way they did a few years ago. But the fact that Ski Mask is stylistically malleable enough to work with talents like Yachty and Ferg in addition to rappers like Craig Xen and Lil Pump speaks to his potential moving forward.

He’s also been in the studio with Timbaland and previewed their collaboration “RRRRUNNN!” in a one-minute video. Based on the short clip, it already sounds like one of his catchiest and most technically impressive tracks to date. Ski Mask called Timbaland his favorite producer in an XXL interview and said he plans to drop a mixtape entirely built out of older instrumentals which should provide further ground for him to showcase his versatility.

While some rappers who came up through similar avenues have made a point of bucking the genre’s traditions and norms in service of carving out their own identities, Ski Mask seems to be striving for something even more challenging: He’s finding a way to maintain his core identity and fan base while expanding his circle to include more mainstream collaborators.

He’s developed a unique personality and sense of humor.

While some of his South Florida peers like Fat Nick and Lil Pump occasionally revel in their goofball personas and cartoonish deliveries, the scene that Ski Mask emerged from isn't known for its humor. Artists like Pouya, Wifisfuneral, and XXXTentacion can take their art to intense, serious extremes.

Ski Mask's humor often skews juvenile (think Seth MacFarlane), but it’s refreshing to hear him subvert the status quo of his subgenre with a mix of reference humor (check “TheHumanCentipede,” “Evertookatab?” or “JustLikeMyPiss”) and over-the-top adlibs. He’s shown a willingness to actually try and get a chuckle out of listeners in ways that sets him apart from his peers. Take “Catch Me Outside,” which is filled with references to Garfield, Peter Griffin, and Like Mike—to name a few.

SKI MASK'S SENSE OF HUMOR AND unique palette of cultural references creates a compelling dissonance.

When XXL asked him what his goal in hip-hop was, Ski Mask replied, “I want to make people have fun again, and show [them] that people can just rap and snap.” That’s a pretty stark contrast to what Smokepurpp said (“You gotta do a lot more than rap. Rap is not just rap. If you don’t have an image, you’re not capturing nobody’s attention”). Or Denzel Curry (“I’m just going to try and take over the whole game”). Or even Lil Pump (“I want to be the biggest thing that’s out because I’m different from everybody. I don’t sound like nobody”).

There’s nothing wrong with those other artists’ goals, but Ski Mask’s intentions fall perfectly in line with his overall eccentricity and penchant for filling songs with colorful references and scatological humor. His jokes might not always be classy, but when executed well they can be quite funny (For example, his likening of the number of women he wants to “The Cheetah Girls or The Coven” on “EverTookaTab?” or the deadpan “I don’t count my money / Money counter count my money” on “Winnie”).

On a project like YouWillRegret, his choice of production isn’t especially different from other South Florida rappers, but his unique palette of cultural references creates a compelling dissonance. From a lyrical perspective, it's a lot more interesting to hear Ski Mask rap about Chuck E. Cheese and Pizza Hut on “Adventure Time” than it would be to listen to another artist use that beat to rap about xans.

He’s honed his flow to elastic perfection.

Ski Mask has always been nimble, packing syllables and internal rhymes in the space between bass and snare. On older cuts like “Pull Up” and “Playboy Bunny!” he showed plenty of raw talent, but was largely in line with your typical speedy southern trap rapper—not yet doing something truly innovative. As his star rose and he developed a unique identity Ski began to stretch that skill, piling so many words into a single measure of the beat that each line often feels like two full bars.

This is evident on Drown-in-Designer standouts like “Where’s the Blow!” and “I Like Bricks,” where Ski Mask shows an improved ability to find pockets and adapt his flow to keep the listener engaged. While there have been several technically gifted rappers who have emerged out of South Florida, few of them are as willing to switch up mid-verse or mid-track like Ski Mask.

A single flow can take a rapper a long way, but Ski Mask’s dexterity and desire to incessantly switch up his style makes him one of the most engaging MCs of his peer group.

He made another leap from Drown-in-Designer to YouWillRegret, where his deliveries are bouncier and looser. From the former’s May 2016 release to the latter’s drop in June 2017, he seems to have gained an ability to play with the tone and dynamics of his voice. He’s picked up an understanding of stretching and clipping syllables that shows a rare level of creative flair and vocal elasticity. Though he’s still cutting his teeth, he’s developed himself in the style of New Orleans legends like BG or Juvenile—both of whom use a throaty southern bounce in their vocals that doesn’t ride atop the beat so much as it sinks into it and then shoot back upwards like a trampoline.

“Catch Me Outside” is perhaps the best example of this, as Ski Mask bounces around the thumping kick on the first verse: “Why they be talking like they might know something / I’m Madagascar, I'm royalty like lemur king / Told her be careful, my penis just like limousine / And I don’t want to eat pussy if it just smell like Hennessy.”

It’s also evident on “BabyWipe,” where the rapid fire hook literally leaves him breathless. As the track goes on, the rhythm shifts subtly so that the chorus feels like it occupies a whole new groove by its final repetition. It’s easily one of his most incendiary performances. A single flow can take a rapper a long way, but Ski Mask’s dexterity and desire to incessantly switch up his style makes him one of the most engaging MCs of his peer group. 

Someone like Lil Pump has major charisma on the mic, but his flows aren’t always sharp, while a rapper like Pouya has perfected his machine gun delivery but doesn’t play with his intonation like Ski Mask. Though these artists all have their own trademark cadences, few of them have the versatility and malleability of Young Voorhees.

But his path to mainstream success isn’t without obstacles.

Ski Mask came up as part of an especially dark, drug-and-violence fueled scene, and his music can veer into unsettling and abrasive territories. “Catch Me Outside,” for instance, had to lose the incredibly offensive line “I’ma beat that pussy ‘til it’s black as Ms. Lauryn Hill” when it went from SoundCloud to Apple Music and Spotify. Objectification is unfortunately nothing close to uncharted territory in rap, but Ski Mask’s most famous friendship makes some of his flippant commitments tougher to stomach than other MCs.

His relationship with XXXTentacion—the cult rapper who has crossed over into the mainstream (and even earned a Kendrick Lamar co-sign) despite unsettling charges of assaulting his pregnant girlfriend—has been a defining part of his narrative. The two met in a juvenile detention center, and collaborated frequently early in their careers. They also co-founded the loose collective Members Only, which includes a host of other South Florida rappers. As their sound and scene permeated the mainstream, X built a rabid fan base by doubling down on his vivid and unsettling depictions of depression and violence, while Ski Mask has mostly moved into a different phase of his career both thematically and sonically.

Ski Mask is doing a lot right as a new artist trying to establish himself in the midst of a massive regional explosion. He’s a charismatic and gifted figure on the mic who has positioned himself smartly for the future.

Still, the two remain close, with X appearing on YouWillRegret’s “H2O.” Beyond their collaborations, though, their careers do seem to be diverging in several ways. X’s Revenge Tour, for which Ski Mask as an opener, was canceled. Since then, X has mostly skirted the public save for planned appearances at the new iterations of Rolling Loud. Ski Mask, conversely, just announced a European tour for December and has actually increased his media presence, doing more interviews and improving his visibility.

Besides a curious feature on Noah Cyrus’ “Again” and a planned Juicy J collab, X has maintained a level of isolation and insularity that Ski Mask has largely eschewed by opening himself to collaborations not only with rap elite, but also artists like Famous Dex, Rich the Kid, and Madeintyo—who each have their own regional appeals. X might have a more passionate cult following and greater name recognition (though infamy is perhaps the more apt term), but Ski Mask seems to be building for the future in a different and more sustainable way.

While both have embraced horror movie characters and personas—with Ski Mask in particular latching onto Jason Voorhees—he’s perhaps more in the vein of a Freddy Krueger or Ghostface. Menacing, yes, but also more self-aware and able to lean into the inherent absurdity of what he’s doing, which should give him more staying power than many of his peers.

It’s still early, but he's beginning to separate himself from the pack.

Ski Mask The Slump God is developing as an artist and still learning along the way, but he's doing a lot of things right as a new artist trying to establish himself in the midst of a massive regional explosion. He’s a charismatic and gifted figure on the mic who has positioned himself well for the future. He's setting himself up for a sustainable career, long after the hype from the South Florida SoundCloud explosion dies down.

Ski Mask The Slump God is performing live at ComplexCon on the Pigeons & Planes stage. ComplexCon goes down on November 4 and 5 in Long Beach, CA. Find out the full lineup and buy tickets here.