Shaqwan Donnie Lewis,[1][2] (born June 2, 1974) also known as Skillz, or Mad Skillz is an American rapper known for his acclaimed 1996 album From Where???, a reference to his origins in Virginia, not a New York City or Los Angeles rapper.[3] He is also known for his yearly "Rap Ups," which he has done annually since 2002 (except in 2013 which was only based on sports).

Birth nameShaqwan Donnie Lewis
Also known asMad Skillz
Born (1974-06-02) June 2, 1974
Detroit, Michigan, U.S.
OriginRichmond, Virginia, U.S.
GenresHip hop
  • Rapper
  • songwriter
  • DJ
  • producer
  • filmmaker
Years active1992present
Associated acts

Skillz is credited for putting Virginia on the hip hop map as he was the first artist to break out nationally from the state, while having performed and collaborated with The Roots, Nas, Missy Elliott, Cee Lo Green, Diddy, Raheem Devaughn, Musiq Soulchild, Pharrell Williams, Bilal, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Common, Q-Tip, Large Professor, Chris Brown, Freeway, Travis Barker, Jay-Z, Nicki Minaj, Jazze Pha, Will Smith, DJ Jazzy Jeff, and DJ AM, among others.

Skillz is also the creator of the web series "Hip Hop Confessions", a series of shows that gathers hip hop purists and hip hop lovers alike where they reveal something hip hop related that they have never told anyone. The show has featured Q-Tip, Peanut Butter Wolf, Kwamé and DJ Jazzy Jeff.[4]

Early life

Skillz was born June 2, 1974 in Detroit, Michigan, and after spending his early childhood in Fayetteville, North Carolina he then moved to Richmond, Virginia at a young age. He credits Run DMC for getting him involved in hip hop as a child. He fell in love with the culture and immediately began to practice all four elements religiously.


He first made a name for himself by finishing in second place (Losing to MC Supernatural) in a national freestyle competition, which eventually resulted in a recording contract with Atlantic Records. At this time he went by the stage name Mad Skillz rather than just Skillz. Mad Skillz' Atlantic debut album, From Where???, and its single, "The Nod Factor", were released in 1996, but neither received much commercial or critical attention. The album's title was a reference to the regionalism in hip-hop, and at the time the state of Virginia did not have a large hip-hop scene. In the late-1990s more of a Virginia scene emerged, and he allied himself with fellow Virginia natives Missy Elliott, Timbaland, and The Neptunes. He made appearances on Timbaland's albums Tim's Bio in 1998, and Indecent Proposal in 2001; Timbaland made plans to sign Skillz to the Blackhand label he was developing; however, this label failed to materialize. He along with Danja Mowf, Lonnie B, and Kalonji The Immortal, members of Skillz' Supafriendz collective, also appeared on a remix of Aaliyah's hit single "Are You That Somebody" in 1998.

In 2000 Skillz was known for his tell all single "Ghostwriter". Within this single, he names (but his label edited out) artists for which he has written hit singles. It has alluding lines such as 'I'm a ghostwriter, I'm the cat that you don't see/I write hits for rappers you like and charge 'em a fee'. Unedited versions of the track have not surfaced, but Skillz is known to do a live performance in which he includes the names. In one live performance he mentions P. Diddy, Foxy Brown, Mase, Will Smith and Jermaine Dupri. One artist who openly admits Skillz has written hits for him is P. Diddy.

Skillz eventually got a deal with Rawkus, where he recorded his 2002 LP I Ain't Mad No More, the title of which commemorated the official change of his MC moniker from "Mad Skillz" to just "Skillz." The aforementioned LP was never officially released in the U.S., however, during the Sprite Liquid Mix Tour in 2003 he sold some bootleg versions of this CD. The CD was re-packaged without several tracks as "Confessions Of A Ghostwriter" in 2005. A Supafriends LP, Supavision, and another solo LP.

The Scritti Politti Cd Single for 'Boom Boom Bap' features a track written as a collaboration between Skillz and Scritti frontman Green Gartside entitled 'Hands Up' and credited to Skillz'n'Green. The single was released in the UK in 2006.

Skillz's latest album was released Dec. 30th 2014 and was entitled Made In Virginia produced entirely by Bink Dog. He said he has no plans to return to rapping after releasing that project. He is also the founder of the supergroup, Supafriendz V.A. Playaz, with Timbaland, Magoo, N.E.R.D., Fam-Lay and Clipse. He has recently gone back to his original moniker Mad Skillz and has returned to producing and deejaying.

In November 2017 it was announced that Skillz would be an artist-in-residence at the University of Richmond starting in January 2018, teaching a course on hip hop with Professor Erik Nielson.[5]

On February 13, 2019, Mayor Levar Stoney declared it to be "Mad Skillz Day" in Richmond, VA to commemorate the 23rd anniversary of Skillz's debut album From Where??? and to recognize his "positive influence on our city."[6]




  • 2002: The Neptunes Collection Vol. 1
  • 2004: The James Brown Collection
  • 2006: Got Skillz? - The Timbaland Collection
  • 2009: Design of A Decade ( J. Period & Don Cannon)
  • 2011: Infamous Quotes Mixtape


As lead artist

List of singles, with selected chart positions, showing year released and album name
Title Year Peak chart positions Album
"The Nod Factor" 1995 7626 From Where???
"Move Ya Body" 1996 8527
"Y'all Don't Wanna" 2001 926 Confessions of a Ghost Writer
"Crew Deep"
(featuring Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliott and Kandi)
2002 83 I Ain't Mad No More
"Off the Wall" 2003
"Suzie Q"
(featuring Cee-Lo Green and Jazze Pha)
2004 Confessions of a Ghost Writer
"2010 Rap Up" 2011 92 N/A
List of singles, with selected chart positions, showing year released and album name
Title Year Peak chart positions Album
"One for the Money"
(Royce da 5'9" featuring Skillz and Diamond D)
2012 TBA


  1. Mad Skillz Discography at Discogs
  2. "Mad Skillz". Retrieved 9 March 2015.
  3. Allmusic From Where??? review
  4. "Episodes - Hip-Hop Confessions". Retrieved 9 March 2015.
  5. Times-Dispatch, COLLEEN CURRAN Richmond. "Rapper Mad Skillz to be artist in residence at University of Richmond". Richmond Times-Dispatch. Retrieved 2017-11-12.
  6. VA, City of Richmond (2019-02-13). "Mayor Stoney proclaims February 13, 2019 as "Mad Skillz Day"". @CityRichmondVA. Retrieved 2019-02-16.
  7. "iTunes - Music - Made in Virginia by Mad Skillz & Bink". iTunes. Retrieved 9 March 2015.
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