You’ve gotten the opportunity to familarize yourself with them through their music (probably because it was bestowed as free gift,) but how well do you actually know about Yannick “Thurzday” Koffi and Yonas “Y-O” Michael, the efficacious duo that makes up U-N-I? For clarification purposes, TSS Crew’s TC caught up with them as well as Romel “Ro Blvd” Ventura, the sole producer behind the duo’s latest achievement A Love Supreme, and eradicated all stereotypes, offered thoughts on being web superstars and just exactly what was up with that Nelly diss.
TSS: Before we get down to the nitty gritty, we had to play What’s In A Name?
Thurzday: The name U-N-I is basically derived from [The Roots’] Illadelph Halflife; the “UNIverse At War” song with Common and I figured it fit us perfect being in the L.A. scene. Coming out of the city, you’re going to face a lot of opposition, so it’s “U” then Y-O and I then “I,” myself Vs. any opposition trying to prevent us from accomplishing our dreams. When I told Y-O and Chris, our manager the idea, they loved it and it’s been working ever since.
As for Thurzday, my last name is Koffi and in West Africa, it’s a nickname for “boy born on Friday.” And everybody called me by my last name and the meaning didn’t really apply so I told everybody “Just call me Thurz.” And it stuck!
Y-O: Mine is simple. It’s just a childhood name that I grew up with. My mom still calls me Yo and it’s short for my real name which is Yonas. It’s an African name given to me by my grandmother from Eritrea. It means soldier. It’s a name that everybody can relate me to or knows me as so I kept it simple.
Ro Blvd: Well my government name is Romel and I always said if I made it, I would want my stage name to have a part of my actual name. I always went by Ro but when I started making music towards the end of high school my mom gave me a stack of records, not even knowing that people sample. And one of them was a soundtrack to a movie called Boulevard Nights which truthfully, is in my top 5 movies of all-time because it’s been an inspirational influence in my life. And I was out ripping and running in the streets like everybody else but I chose to use Boulevard because the term “street” is often stereotyped into something negative. So to me, boulevard is thinking like Saturday Night Fever; John Travolta on the strip having fun so that’s the image I wanted to portray.
TSS: Interesting you say that because when people refer to L.A. music they typically think “gangsta rap.” Did you all go particularly out of your way to avoid that stigma?
Thurzday: Gangsta music is part of L.A. culture — no avoiding that, but growing up, my brother put me on to a lot of East Coast music like Tribe, B.I.G., Wu-Tang — all the classics. I used to tape videos on Rap City as well. So that’s the type of music of that really captivated me. So when we did the first street album Fried Chicken & Watermelon, we wanted to get everybody’s attention in the same sense of the stereotype they only thing Black people eat is chicken and watermelon, all West Coast rappers are gangstas with limited subject matter. So we followed through with straight up Hip-Hop. We make music that reflects our lives and it was just natural for us to represent something else that we’re generally stereotyped for.
Ro Blvd: I grew up watching The Box so it exposed me to a mixture of music to gain influences. I remember listening to Onyx from the start and being from California, I was more of a B.I.G. fan than a Pac fan. But when I started to make music was hearing Kanye and The Neptunes early material. I can say I’m one of those who can be considered a new-new age artist.
TSS: How did you guys link up, let alone for an entire album?
Thurzday: Originally we were part of this four man group called Rapture Camp and me and Y-O broke out to do our own thing. We was looking for producers and Ro was one of the first names to come up. So a mutual friend gave me his number and AIM info and we met up on Sunset [Blvd] and was playing some of the music we recorded and I remember he was like “This shit is dope…y’all remind me of CNN…”
Ro Blvd: (Laughs) Yeah, Capone-N-Noreaga…from BACK in the day!
Thurzday: I was like O.K…(Laughs) But then he played his beats and we back to his studio and the first song we record was “The Launch” from Fried Chicken & Watermelon. So that spawned the whole relationship, the material kept getting better and here we are: A Love Supreme!
TSS: A Love Supreme has become your signature opus is such a small time period. What was the deciding factor to give it out for free?
Ro Blvd: I believe we all had the mutual understanding that we just had to put it out for the fans…for the supporters. We just had to put out great music for everybody. The greatest feeling is reading someone’s comments like “You guys had the audacity to put it out for free? Thank you.”
Thurzday: Yeah, basically we just wanted to get it in everybody iPod. Have all the kids in high school talking about it, have everybody memorizing the words so we can pack out all these shows. It was a good way for us to solidify ourselves as indie artists and it can pay off when big corporations take notice. And all this is by choice; we wanted to raise our stock without a label trying to make us something we’re not.
Y-O: And we just understood the common person is going through financial hardships, everybody don’t have the money like they used to and I’m sure fans really appreciate it and really understand where we come from.
TSS: What was the pressure like to have craft an entire album with every track sounding unique Ro Blvd?
Ro Blvd: Fluid. I think that best describes the process in a word. Honestly my skill level wouldn’t be at this point if it wasn’t for Thurz & Y-O. They were like “You could see the clouds and sky…but you have the potential to see into space.” They broadened my horizons. They’re free spirits when it comes to making music and our ideas just bounced off of one another. There were days when we were just in the studio talking about real life situations and songs like “Windows” and “My Life” are the end result.
TSS: As a new age producer, what kind of instruments do you use?
Ro Blvd: I’d say I’m a new school cat — with an old soul. I still have have my Akai 2000 XL and I have a Motif [keyboard] and I have an ASR as well. I really haven’t dabbled in the software.
TSS: Thurzday, does the album’s title coincide with John Coltrane’s album of the same name?
Thurzday: No, actually there’s a Floetry record [“Supastar”] that Ro was using his drunken-style scratch technique to cut up (Laughs) and was scratching the vocals to Common’s verse “Dreaming of a love supreme…” It was the first song we recorded and it basically started the movement. So based off the sample, we just built our own meaning behind it. Like Ro said, each song was inspired by what we were going through at the time. We view each day as A Love Supreme because you gain knowledge each day; you go through an experience that sculpts you in some way everyday so you have to take it and learn from it. And tomorrow’s not promised so we’re showing a supreme appreciation for life right now.
Y-O: Each song is inspired by a particular conversation. “Lauren London” came about on a random, typical day in L.A. I walked in the studio with nothing planned out and we just started talking about Lauren London because I was just feeling her that day! And Ro started fuckin’ around with this The Time sample and we just took it from there. And then you got a joint like the title track which is a true story. Everybody asks if I really got robbed at gunpoint by a liquor store. We just put moments of our lives on wax and just spoke up on it. Living a supreme life.
TSS: It’s not all “love” though. Tell me about your verse on “Stylin” Y-O. I believe there was straight jab at The Knux…
Y-O: The story behind that is they had an interview on the L.A. Weekly and I read it with my own eyes, and they basically said they started Hip-Hop out here and not U-N-I. And my first reaction was “What the fuck does that mean?” We don’t even know each other. Y’all from New Orleans, not California. I just had a million and one questions! So the very first thing I did was reach out. Because you know the media, writers like to start beef. So as a young man I tried to get in contact with the cat [Krispy Kream] which is funny because I bumped into him at a club and he came up to me like “Yo, what’s up.” And I was like “This ain’t the place to talk.” It was a party atmosphere so he gave me his email and I was hitting him up “We need to talk, here’s my number, hit me up.” NO response. Time was ticking, A Love Supreme’s date was closing in and I’m like “I’m trying to talk to this dude before we put the record out.” (Laughs) Still NO response, I was like “Fuck it. Put it out.”
And just the other day, he hit me up on Twitter with a “Yo, what up?” Mannnn, you gonna hit me up like we after drop the record? So I’m gonna call him to clarify it and if he didn’t say it, “I’ma be like…my bad.” (Laughs) But I was just defending our name.
TSS: And you go in on Nelly on “Voltron..”
Y-O: Yeah, that was just a straight shot, fuck that man. We had the “K.R.E.A.M.” song which was the first video we ever did and it blew up on YouTube. Bonafide sneaker anthem! And that was the beginning of our success. So two years later, here comes Nelly and Jermaine Dupri with this “Stepped On My…” dahhhhhhhhh! “Stepped On My J’z” video with a similar concept. And I didn’t even take it to my heart, until my MOM calls me on it. She’s like there’s a video similar to “K.R.E.A.M.” And I was like “By who!!?!?” And she tells me Nelly! Like if any ol’ person calls me on some B.S., I tend to ignore it but when my mom tells about something like this, you know it’s bad. So I took it to heart and got pissed.
Because we got our names from that video and it blew up in the summertime with the Wu-Tang and Lupe sample and it was just a perfect record at the same time. And now we looking like biters because you have the bigger name [Nelly] so they’re gonna see your video first. Finally I put it on wax, got it off my chest and now I’m over it. I can move it. It might have even been an A&R that brought the idea to him but you know I couldn’t let that go by.
TSS: So how would you guys view the reception thus far? When you dropped it on YoThurz.com the website blew up.
Thurzday: Yeah, it’s been really positive. I’ve heard a few negative comments hear and there but that comes along with putting out music, but the positive side has been overwhelming. Everybody loves the lyrics, everybody loves the production, when we do shows, the reception is crazy and I’m just happy to be a part of it.
Y-O: It’s been great man. I’ve been just thankful for people taking time to review it. We got an XL in XXL, 4 Cigs from you guys, it’s a good look. The big ass traffic rush on our YoThurz.com was crazy! It was only up for 5 minutes! But I guess it was a good thing.
Ro Blvd: I can’t front: the majority of the stuff I’ve been reading is all great. But with all that positivity, you see a little handful of negative comments. I just come to think of it as straight up hate. Like factual, I could understand if there was an equal balance of good and bad opinions but you get one outta the blue like “This thing SUCKS!” I mean I take any opinions I can get but if there’s just a little tiny bit of negativity then you can basically chalk it up as hate.
TSS: Speaking of positive receptions, the “Hollywood Hiatus” video found it’s way onto MTV’s networks. What’s the concept behind that?
Thurzday: Well when I was working, before I got fired…