For his 40th birthday, rapper and kid-hop artist Secret Agent 23 Skidoo wanted to celebrate with something big. Fond of seeing the world, he considered taking a trip to Amsterdam or another desirable destination, but as he mulled it over, another idea took its place.
“I kinda ended up thinking, ‘Forget the vacation, put the time and money into this album instead,’” he says. “I dig traveling a lot, but nothing’s better than being in the studio without limitations. Especially in Echo Mountain, working with [engineer] Julian Dreyer and the local musicians.”
The result of this personal anniversary splurge is the extraordinary Infinity Plus One. The album will launch on Saturday, June 4, at The Orange Peel. An 11 a.m. showtime is geared toward young fans and their families, and Skidoo’s team will film a music video at the event. “Come dressed in your most funked-out attire, bring your dance steps and be ready to be in a movie,” he says.
The whole project is a testament to how the musician refused to hold back in achieving his vision. “The ideas I had were all over the map musically, and I wanted to indulge all of it, from full brass band and a DJ, to strings, harp, Gypsy-jazz guitar, analog synths — everything,” says Skidoo, who lived in Asheville for many years but id=s currently based in California. “Also, I went in deep on the album art. I collaborated with three artists [from] London, NYC and Asheville to make it look tight, and it even glows in the dark. There’s a secret message on the back when you activate the glow-in-the-dark layer that is the first clue to guide you toward a hidden prize and free stuff. I went crazy and did everything I wanted on this one.”
A founding member of the Asheville hip-hop collective Granola Funk Express, Skidoo began making rap music for children after the birth of his daughter, Saki, herself a lyricist who spits under the name MC Fireworks. As her brain and soul developed, Skidoo’s music kept pace on a conceptual level. But around the release of his 2014 album, The Perfect Quirk, Skidoo says that Saki grew past the point of relating to “kids music.”
Now that Saki is 14, her dad has changed his approach, not only to reflect her interests and that of listeners her age, but to truly loop in the rest of the family as well as hip-hop heads who might have eschewed his past work.
“I’m experimenting with ‘all-ages’ music, like the equivalent of Pixar or Jim Henson or Shel Silverstein,” Skidoo says. “I’m aiming for something that has aspects that apply to everyone on their own level, like old Bugs Bunny cartoons. I’m sure that angle is influenced by raising a teen — the border where kid meets grown-up.”
As its title suggests, Infinity Plus One centers on themes of limitlessness, incorporating the multiverse, human potential and the unending nature of outer space. Starting and ending the album are the electromagnetic emanations of Earth, recorded by the Voyager spacecraft in 1977 as it carried the gold records created by famed astronomer Carl Sagan. “The fact that, in order to attempt first contact with extraterrestrial life, NASA decided to make gold records that would last a billion years each and blast them out of our solar system with instructions on how to build a record player, is so absurdly beautiful it’s mind-blowing,” Skidoo says.
The story “crawled in [his] brain and set up shop,” as did the accompanying tale of the love that blossomed between Sagan and Ann Druyen as they chose whale songs, rock ‘n’ roll, greetings in every language and other sounds to represent their planet. Skidoo honors these influences in numerous ways, down to designing the physical CD of Infinity Plus One as a replica of Sagan and Druyen’s sonic creation.
“But the coolest part is that when I wanted to scratch parts of the record on the song about it [‘Tastes Like Space’], Marley Carroll was all like, ‘Oh yeah, no problem. I got that record on vinyl,’” says Skidoo. “Crazy, man.”
Beyond the intergalactic bounce at the heart of the album is an eclectic mix of musical styles that primarily incorporate Asheville-based musicians. “Glimmer” features hypnotic string instrumentation by members of the Asheville Symphony and the impossibly gorgeous vocals of Indigo De Souza. In addition to lyrically nimble odes to Skidoo’s daughter and his wife, “Long Days and Short Years” features a moving Sidney Barnes soul hook. Skidoo says the DNA of that rousing chorus has strands of Roy Orbison’s “Anything You Want,” Bob Marley’s “No Woman, No Cry” and Ray LaMontagne’s “You Are the Best Thing” with mixing and production influenced by Charles Bradley’s debut album, No Time For Dreaming.
Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band is the funk backbone of Infinity Plus One, while Carroll, Ryan Barber, Debrissa McKinney (making her rap debut), stephaniesid and members of Zansa, Sirius B, The Fritz and The Secret B-Sides provide additional Western North Carolina flavor. Representing California are J. Kendall, former Spearhead beatboxer MC Radio Active and, of course, MC Fireworks.
“There are 30 people besides me on the album,” Skidoo says. “And they all crushed it.”
WHO: Secret Agent 23 Skidoo
WHERE: The Orange Peel, 101 Biltmore Ave., theorangepeel.net
WHEN: Saturday, June 4, at 11 a.m. $5/free for kids younger than 3