Jay-Z's Hall of Fame intro gets a remix from UR hip-hop scholar

January 12, 2022


Rapper, producer, and current University of Richmond artist-in-residence Mad Skillz wasn’t expecting a phone call from Questlove last October. But that’s the kind of thing that happens when you’re one of the planet’s most respected hip-hop scholars.

It turns out that Questlove — author, filmmaker, and longtime drummer for The Roots — was on a recruiting mission. He was preparing to direct a last-minute Jay-Z tribute video for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and he needed someone with deep knowledge of Jay’s vast discography. Skillz was first on Questlove’s depth chart.

“He asked, ‘Would you be down to do this?’,” Skillz recalls. “I said, of course! And he was like — ‘OK, great, I gotta call Beyoncé’….”

The result of that collaboration is a 4-minute video that played just before Jay-Z’s official induction in October 2021. The video features rhymes and verses from Jay-Z’s past work, selected and adapted by Skillz, and presented by an all-star parade of admirers: LeBron James, Rihanna, Aziz Ansari, Halle Berry, Samuel L. Jackson, Common, David Letterman, and 35 others. Also on board: Jay’s mom, Dr. Gloria Carter, and his daughter Blue Ivy.

“I had like nine days to pull together all the lines,” Skillz says. “We wanted certain lines said by certain people. You know, who could we get to say this so that it would mean the most?”

The video is artful and genuinely moving, and word is that Jay-Z himself got a little choked up when he saw it.

“He even tweeted it!” Skillz says. “And Jay don’t ever tweet.”

Meanwhile, Skillz is back in the classroom this spring with Erik Nielson, UR professor of liberal arts and author of the book Rap on Trial. Together, the two co-teach “Voice of Hip-Hop in America,” a class designed to consider hip-hop in the larger context of American culture.

Skillz’ UR connections go way back. He grew up in Richmond and got his start rapping at the university radio station, WDCE. Nielson says he was thrilled when Skillz agreed to help teach the class, first offered in 2018.

“He really is a celebrity here in Richmond,” Nielson says. “It’s been amazing to see how influential and inspirational he's been to other people.”