CLINTON — A 2017 name change and a new reason for making music has given local rapper Random Tanner more social media followers and more opportunities to perform.
Tanner, whose legal name is Tanner Skiff, performed during the 2019 Glow Walk earlier this month and will perform during the Back 2 School Bash and Clinton Night Out on Aug. 15.
In November, Tanner served as a judge for Clinton’s Got Talent at the Gateway Area Community Center, and he’s slated to serve on the panel again this fall.
He was named Artist on Fire for July 2018 by Cedar Rapids radio station KOZY-FM, Hot 95.7 and will open for Tech N9ne at Danceland Ballroom in Davenport on June 4.
“I haven’t worked with him since 2017,” Tanner said.
Opening for an act isn’t as prestigious as it once was, Tanner said, but the Danceland event will put him in front of about 1,000 people, he said.
In 2007, as a new high school graduate, Tanner had a My Space page and was part of the rap group I.O.E.
“I loved doing it,” Tanner said, but he didn’t have a clue what he was doing. “I was making music just to hear myself sing.”
The members of the group had different goals and “things just fell apart,” Tanner said. They moved on, pursuing their own projects and their own lives.
Tanner grew up, had children, and with maturity came a different view of his musical pursuit.
“I wanted to rebrand myself,” he said.
Despite the objections of some of the fans he’d gained during 12 years of performing, Tanner ditched the name Skeez (”a terrible name,” he says), and unveiled Random Tanner.
“Everything changed when I changed my name,” Tanner said. “If you put it in Google, I’m the only name that pops up.”
Following the change, “things blew up in a big way.” Tanner began getting promotional material. He started selling merchandise including T-shirts with his new logo.
“Teachers tell me they see them in the schools,” Tanner said.
He began producing music – still original – that was more a reflection of himself. Tanner doesn’t cuss as much in his songs anymore, he said, and his music deals more with subjects that concern him.
“We actually had him do a couple of teen concerts,” said Jorge Rodriguez, manager of the Gateway Area Community Center. Tanner performed music that was age appropriate for the community center audience, Rodriguez said.
“We wanted to make sure the message was stay in school, don’t do drugs,” Rodriguez said. “He did a really good job adapting to the circumstances.”
Tanner is “hitting home runs” now because his music not only touches the last generation but it plays well with the younger generation as well, Rodriguez said.
“I think he does a good job of making it his own,” Rodriguez said.
“He’s one of our biggest community supporters,” said Emma Folland, who oversees the Clinton High School Leo Club.
Without Tanner, the Leos wouldn’t have 35 businesses collecting school supplies for the Bash, Folland said.
“He put it on Facebook, and it blew up,” said Leo Club Member Molly Shannon.
“I personally knew him from being in the community,” Shannon said, so when Tanner contacted the Leos about performing for the Bash, they were happy to book him.
“He has all clean music for certain events that he does,” Shannon said.
One of Tanner’s most popular songs is “Back When We Were Kids,” a collaboration with Alex Fischbach of Morrison, Illinois and whose audition for American Idol in 2015 made the show, though Fischbach didn’t. “Back When We Were Kids” mourns Anthony Davis, a friend of Tanner’s and a member of I.O.E. who died.
Tanner had about 7,000 followers on Facebook before the song was released, he said. Now he has more than 10,500.
Tanner hired a new video director to produce professional-looking music videos. Joe Gibbs produced music videos for “Sleep is For the Weak,” “Clockin’ In,” “Back When We Were Kids” and “Go Away” for Tanner’s YouTube page, which has more than 1,100 subscribers.
The music video for “Here for You,” another collaboration with Fischbach, features Tanner’s girlfriend, Elizabeth Sanquist.
“She’s really shy,” Tanner said, so getting her in a music video wasn’t easy. The couple and crew went to Davenport and Andover to record the video.
As shooting was wrapping up, Tanner asked Sanquist for one more shot. During the final take, Tanner got down on one knee and produced a ring.
“That was an actual proposal,” not a reenactment, Tanner said.
“I had my whole family there in the other room,” Tanner said. Sanquist had no idea it was coming.
Tanner sometimes travels solo, but usually he’s with his team, Jamie Miller, also known as Jamie Triller; Rolando Dennis, known as Ro Pesci; and Jose Rodriguez, known as D.J. Smokey.
He tries to schedule performances for the weekends that he doesn’t have his children, and he has to schedule around his job.
“I work at Gateway Supply, and they also hugely support my music,” Tanner said.
“It’s just so much self-promotion,” Tanner said. He spends a lot of time on social media and making contacts.
Tanner tried to set up a tour earlier this year but ended up with a single date in Los Angeles.
“We went out to Hollywood and met a lot of people,” he said.
The crowd at Hollywood Takeover at The Study Hollywood was not large, Tanner said, but he was able to do some networking.
Tanner is hosting a Thrift Store Prom at Main Avenue Pub on June 7, will perform at Korrupted Summer Days in Omaha on June 8 and will be live with Lil’ Wyte in Green Bay, Wisconsin on July 13.
He’ll perform Aug. 2 at Camanche Days Festival and Aug. 15 at Clinton’s Back 2 School Bash and Clinton Night Out.
Tanner has finished his debut album as Random Tanner, “Fast Forward,” and will be releasing it soon. He’s also working on an EP with Jamie Triller, he said.
Tanner’s music is available on Spotify, Apple Music and iTunes. His new song, “Overthinking,” will be released Friday.