It’s feeling like a skaiwater summer

The Nottingham rapper and producer refracts their omnivorous music taste into a singular vision on their new album #gigi.

June 18, 2024
It’s feeling like a skaiwater summer skaiwater. Photo via publicist.  

skaiwater is nonbinary and uses he, she, and they pronouns; this interview uses the singular they for consistency.

skaiwater “hates asking for help,” they admit halfway through our call, but that might be because the L.A.-based, Nottingham-born artist knows how to do it all. “I’ve been in the engineer chair, the producer chair, and the artist chair,” skaiwater explains. “I’ve been the cameraman, I’ve been the audio person, I’ve edited the video, I’ve edited the audio, I’ve mastered other people’s shit, so I think it’s helped me understand how to communicate what I need from anybody I’m working with.”


You could chalk this self-sufficient streak up to their star sign (they’re a Virgo; “I have Libra in my shit though”) or birth order (skai is the oldest of four siblings) or upbringing (their family moved around Britain “every two or three years on average”). But it’s perhaps best understood as the natural result of an auteur’s tunnel vision, honed through years of producing, recording, and mixing music, first for their dad and brother, then for themself.

skaiwater’s self-knowledge only boosts their carefully curated collaborations. Take their deceptively poppy March single “light!,” produced by 9lives and featuring Lil Nas X. “I was kind of in my Pink Friday, YMCMB phase,” skai says. “But the process [of working with another producer] was pretty straightforward.” 9lives agrees, calling the recording session “super chill and natural” over text. “I love how skai is always open to trying something new and never scared to experiment with her sound,” the underground producer says. “That’s gonna take her far.”


Their new album #gigi pushes skaiwater’s music, a blend of hip-hop, pop punk, and dance scenes from London to Chicago, to intense new heights. There’s the Bonnie-and-Clyde Jersey club thumper “box” and the throbbing melodrama of “choke;” the baile funk-indebted “richest girl alive” could go decibel-for-decibel with some of Rio de Janeiro’s toughest tracks (some, not all), while “play” sort of sounds like if the Jackson Five were in the studio nonstop listening to New Orleans bounce keystone “Drag Rap.”

Once your ears adjust to the overdriven bass and occasionally nightcored Auto-Tune, you might begin to tease out various emotional threads in skaiwater’s music, though their Playboi Carti-derived flows and love of distortion can make deciphering their lyrics less-than-straightforward. Still, that open-hearted energy is there from track one: I need, your love, today / Give me, the strength, to stay… “My writing is a little more fleshed out,” skaiwater says of their growth from rave to #gigi. “I have become a little more vulnerable, not that it wasn’t there before.”

Eschewing hyperdetailed confessionals, skaiwater’s vulnerability is instead conveyed through huge melodies and impressionist vignettes — when they tell me the first albums in their digital collection were 808s & Heartbreak and the 2008 self-titled album by Bad Boy R&B group Day26, it just makes sense. And while the lovelorn pulse of “princess” and “wna torture me tn?” could lead you to the conclusion that skaiwater has “been used,” reducing their maverick tendencies to mere loneliness might be missing the point. Whether gently chiding a lover for demanding too much on “run” or failing to escape their own romantic obsession after an Oedipal autoenucleation on “bleach,” skaiwater’s strain of solitude seems less rooted in alienation and more a product of deep self-awareness, of knowing who you are and what you won’t stand for. When your standards are high, not everyone can meet them.

The FADER hopped on a video call with skaiwater 10 days before the release of #gigi to talk about their start making music, coming out as nonbinary, and how their songs reflect where they’re at in their life right now.


The FADER: I know that you first started making music when you were 16 or so. What did that early music you were making sound like? And what spurred you to get into making music of your own?

skaiwater: My dad had told me to start making music because we were freestyling in the car one day and he was like, “you should make music,” and I was like “Okay, I'll go and get a mic.” I was already recording my brother's shit and I was already making beats and shit, so I just needed the approval —my dad used to rap, so I needed the approval from him to do that, you know I'm saying?

My first song was on my own beat, but then I started making YouTube-type beats so it’d be whatever I was feeling. [When I was] 17, I was listening to a lot of underground rap [and] also going through my [phases]: Paramore, Beabadoobie, XXXTentacion, Clairo, Alex G. I think that’s where a lot of this genre came from, I was looking at bedroom pop shit, indie shit, pop punk stuff — but also I was listening to a lot of Travis [Scott] and Uzi and [Playboi] Carti and [Lil] Durk. That’s where my musical journey started, back when I was 17 years old.

We’re in a moment where the traditional career runway for an artist has shifted and shortened. I’m curious what that experience has been like for you, jumping from making music on SoundCloud for a core base of fans to getting some viral buzz and all of a sudden receiving a ton of scrutiny on your music.

Mentally, it’s not like, there yet I don’t think. I mean, obviously it’s there, because I’ve been in the shit for years and I’ve been doing it, but I’ve always looked at it as a hobby that turned into a job instead of like a professional job. The past six months I’ve been trying to look at it differently. So I’m definitely still trying to learn —I feel like I’m nowhere near the professional I could be yet.

I feel like I'm still making the adjustment from like, it being from my bedroom to… [pauses] It’s just hard to explain, bruv. I just said to somebody that I always took it serious, but my environment around me never took it serious. So I’m still getting over that hurdle I think. But I’m glad that where I’m at now, people still get what I’m trying to go for as an artist.

When you go in the studio, what’s going through your head in terms of “here’s how I want to make this sound?”

There’s always some shit going on in our life, so I try to reflect what has gone on today in my human experience. The sound can differ depending on what it was that happened. Like, if I feel I’m trying to get some shit off my chest, the melody I pick to start the song may be different than a day when I don’t have a care in the world. But for the most part, I just try and find where the melody is and build off of there.

Would you say that when you’re making beats and songs, you’re starting with the melody and then working in the drums and lyrics? And are you starting with the melody on the vocal side or the beat side, or does it vary?

On the vocal side. Well — I start with all the melody, and then the drums. I shouldn’t have given the sauce away, but fuck it.

Especially on the album when you’re on the same track with Karrahboo or Lil Nas X, who approach stuff from more of a rap perspective than a singer perspective. They’re a lot more engaged with the drum patterns than your vocals are, so it’s cool to hear you explain that.

Yeah, that makes sense. Personally I've always resonated [with] melody before writing. And I’ll get very in my head about shit, so I always focus on melody and pocket first. But I’ve also been drumming and programming drums from a very young age. So I never worry about that part either.

But it does make sense that sometimes an artist’s verse … I wouldn’t say compliment, but it’s more in line with the rhythm of the drums, cuz I probably recorded it without [laughs]. I’ve honestly noticed that kind of thing with my timing, or even when it comes to mixing and my pocket, I try to appreciate all those things about my music, cuz I do it for myself first.

That’s really interesting to me because even with musicians who make guitar music etcetera, I don’t think it’s necessarily common to write the whole song essentially a cappella through and then go back in and figure out X, Y, or Z.

I heard that’s what Michael Jackson used to do though! He used to sing every part of a song, he’d sing his part and the instruments and the fills and the drums and stuff. So I do think -- I don’t know bruv, if we’re artists and we’re gonna work on our craft, we should be able to make a song [laughs]. We should be able to make a song without any help. Well, maybe not should, but I think it’s definitely something I’ve always wanted to do, have the ability to make a song without having to ask -- I hate asking for help in general, I’ve realized that, so that’s probably why it was definitely a goal of mine from young to be able to do that when I started. Anybody can do it, but I think a lot of people are just scared to try.

When you look back at the music you were making a few years ago versus what you’re doing now on Gigi, where do you feel you’ve grown the most as an artist?

I have become a little bit more vulnerable with my writing. Not to say I wasn’t before, but I think there was definitely a level that I had when I was younger that I was kind of ignoring. I’ve definitely gotten better at producing different kinds of music, I’ve been producing more consistently.

It sounds like most of the recording process happened after you moved to L.A. last year. What is this album reflecting about your life right now?

Damn. A lot of shit bro, to be honest. Being away from family, long-distance shit, being away from friends. Or learning about my identity out here. But like I said, I do try to reflect my everyday, so I’m assuming some of those songs speak to that. In the moment I’m not really thinking too deep about what I’m trying to communicate, but I do listen back to [my own music] and be like, “Oh it’s exactly this.”

When you talk about understanding more about your own identity over the past year, I’m curious about what the environment for trans and nonbinary people is like in the U.K. versus L.A.

I wouldn’t know! Growing up in the 2000s, it was no community or like voice for shit like that. I didn’t even really understand the actual verbiage [and] identity part until I was an adult. It took me leaving home and educating myself, meeting new types of people. That was really the first time understanding it for me. There wasn’t anything to educate me back home, or didn’t feel like there was — maybe I missed it. But it wasn’t much of a community. I think the closest I had was like my aunties and my mother had gay friends or trans friends, but for a young black person socialized as a male there is definitely, it’s hard to come by naturally.

Where did the album title #gigi come from?

When I started the project, I wanted to call it Gaia. I was trying to make a project about the goddess of earth and the balance between masculine energy and feminine energy, but then it kind of shortened down to #gigi once it became more of a personal persona.

The persona’s more a name than anything, I feel it just represents where I’m at now as an artist compared to a year ago. I didn’t really think of the name being too deep; it’s kind of just a self-titled for this era of my shit.

It’s feeling like a skaiwater summer