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SkinnyFromthe9 has had the type of turbulent childhood that you might find in a movie script. Before the Florida-born, New Jersey-bred rapper began buzzing on SoundCloud, he was a kid who was shuttled about, coping with poverty, homelessness and parental figures doing hard time. Naturally, he found solace in hip-hop.
“I was listening to a lot of Eminem because I could relate to him,” the 22-year-old artist, born David A. Villegas, tells XXL. “I didn’t feel like I was alone.” After his dad began serving a three-year prison sentence, Skinny’s mother became involved with another man, who’d become his stepdad. Together, they engaged in scams and identity fraud for the majority of Skinny’s adolescent years—a hustle that paid off until Skinny’s stepfather was arrested during a stint in Nevada. “My mom was a single mother with seven kids, so I ended up being homeless,” Skinny says. “I was sleeping on the streets, shelters and hotels. There were times when we didn’t eat, times I didn’t have shoes.”
It was at this point that SkinnyFromthe9 realized he needed to grow up fast. After moving to Somerville, N.J. as a teenager to live with his father, he received his first mic. Hip-hop then switched from a passive form of therapy to more active catharsis. He began recording his own songs—sunny, uptempo bangers that narrate his gloomy life and times—using restaurant jobs to pay for studio sessions. “I would always get fired because something with music came up,” Skinny says.
His dedication is beginning to pay off. SkinnyFromthe9 is currently riding the wave of his biggest track to date, “Love Blast,” which he dropped to close out 2017. The catchy single has more than 3.5 million streams on SoundCloud, and will likely grow more popular once he releases the official music video (slated to drop next week). As of late, Skinny has been spotted with everyone from 6ix9ine to fellow Jersey rap star Fetty Wap—he joined the latter for Wap’s FMF Tour in January. “I had it all at one point, I lost it all and now I’m paving my own lane,” he says. “That’s why I’m grateful I’m here where I’m at right now.”