Free to be him

Daniel Judson was trying to wrap up the hallway shots. Secret Agent 23 Skidoo kept calling for more takes — he wanted to nail the stunt on his skateboard.

Judson, an Asheville filmmaker who prizes efficiency on the set, clearly wanted to move on. Evening was approaching, and the light and exterior possibilities outside Ira B. Jones Elementary School were starting to diminish. Looking at his phone, Judson sighed and restarted Skidoo’s “Gotta Be You,” the subject of the music video shoot. He lowered his camera to the level of the highly polished floor and got into position. 

Skidoo, sharp in a snazzy fedora, starting to get his board rhythm back, executed a perfect kick flip. But after a tremulous second fighting for balance, his purple Adidas lost their grip and thudded to the floor

“Let’s go,” Skidoo said, shaking his head like a DJ keeping time. So he missed — it doesn’t have to be perfect. He’s gotta be him. 

Secret Agent 23 Skidoo was filming the video in support of Make Believers, his new CD that he’ll celebrate May 20 at the Orange Peel. The first release of his new label Underground Playground Records, the CD took him two-and-a-half months to write and followed his usually creative format — the idea first, the music next, the song last. As with his other two CDs, he called in a lot of local musicians to help him, including Kellin Watson, Jonathan Scales, Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band, Secret B-Sides and Mad Tea (formerly Mad Tea Party).

The sound is different this time, though — not just drum machine, hip-hop beats and instrumental loops, but more old-school, golden-age hip-hop, all set on top of funk, swing, salsa and surf rock.

Skidoo has done “kid-hop” for about five years. It started when GFE, a big-kid band he’s also in, was taking a break. He’d had some ideas for kids’ music, and what with his daughter Saki growing up, the timing was perfect — especially because Saki, at 5, was rapping and mixing herself (as MC Fireworks, she has toured all over the United States with her father and has had a No. 1 hit on SiriusXM’s Kid’s Place Live). Kid-hop was a good way for Skidoo to mix music and family (his wife Bootysattva sings), particularly since a lot of buddy beats at the time were bad.

“What Vanilla Ice did to white hip-hop, Barney did for kids’ music,” Skidoo said in a voice as smooth as it is low. “People think of kid’s music as simple and sugary sweet and dumbed down. My kid grew up listening to Queen, Bob Marley and the Beatles — amazing bands with amazing songs.”

But they don’t speak to a kid’s experience, so Skidoo, called Cactus by his friends and Joel Sullivan by his relatives, decided he’d do the rapping. Since then, he’s played Lollapalooza, the Smithsonian and Austin City Limits.   

The Orange Peel show also features juggling by the 40 Fingers & A Missing Tooth, hula hooping by the Asheville Hoops Troupe, mini golf by Sweet Tee Mini Golf, balloon twisting by the Jolly Balloonsmith and ice cream by Ultimate Ice Cream.

His music is about respect and self-respect and letting kids know that what they may consider their weirdness is probably something to be proud of. Realizing you’re different means you’re figuring out who you are, Skidoo tells them. Hip-hop, which is more spoken than sung, is the perfect delivery system because it too is different, weird and colorful, which is what all of us can be if we let the magic happen, Skidoo says.

“My hip-hop is a super-high-energy show with lots of dancing and big, thumping beats,” he said. “The kids love that — it’s on par with their energy level.”

— Paul Clark can be reached at paulgclark@charter.net.

who: Secret Agent 23 Skidoo
what: CD-release party
where: The Orange Peel
when: May 20 (2:30 p.m. $7, free for 3 and under)

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