At the beginning of his song, “Prayer,” rapper and former U-N-I member, Thurz, candidly addresses his listener: “everybody askin’ me ‘bout U-N-I/plain and simple: didn’t see eye to eye.” Although buried deep into Thurz’ debut solo project, L.A. Riot, the earnest bars mark the end to U-N-I’s much-buzzed five-year history. It’s an unfortunate circumstance, but fans of the L.A. duo can take solace in knowing that U-N-I’s demise doesn’t coincide with Thurz’ doing the same.
On Riot, the audible similarities between Thurz and West Coast luminaries such as Dr. Dre and N.W.A. are strikingly apparent: the songs pack force and angst, while a few tracks sound vaguely similar to classic Left Coast cuts. However, Thurz doesn’t let the obvious nods and influences dictate his work. Rather, he imbues a 21st century South Central citizen’s perspective of the violence and strife that has plagued the notorious region since the days of Straight Outta Compton.
The album’s first three tracks blow down the door with grit, socio-conscious imagery and anger. “Molotov Cocktail” and “F**k the Police” pound eardrums with Tom Morello-like guitar riffs, as both raise Hell and detail towards the album’s overall ethos. Wedged between the two aforementioned tracks, “Rodney King” utilizes a sparse, airy beat to give a hair-raising account of the man whose mistreatment provided the catalyst to some of the worst riots in American history: “the pigs try to swarm on me, they say I physically resist/I wanna stand my ground, I’m just a one-man army.”
It’s this production (provided by DJ Khalil, Ro Blvd and Aaron Harris) that makes the grisly bars all the more salient. “Two Clips” (barring the chorus’ likeness to The Chronic’s “Day the N****z Took Over”) has a bull-rush momentum that highlights the area’s trouble with gang violence in a witty little double-entendre: “wrong territory with some blood-thirsty Crips.” Yet, it’s the spacey 80s synths of “Manifest Outro” that provides an almost optimistic revolutionary attitude at the album’s close.
By implementing a stellar mission agenda from the start, even Thurz’ flaws aren’t total guffaws. Riot’s moments of weakness merely leave the listener underwhelmed, as the album’s highs collide against infrequent mediocre lows. “The Killers” (while introspective) rehashes pop-rap clichés with a sappy piano-fueled beat and a singsong chorus that detracts from the song’s lyrical potency. The battle-rap bars of “Riot” feel out of place on an album that’s far from simple lyrical boasts, while the Strong Arm Steady-assisted “Colors” ends in a convoluted, thematic tangle (is it about a person’s true personality? Or is it a veiled critique about South Central gangs’ “colors”?).
Despite these momentary speed bumps, Thurz manages to stuff Riot with plenty to throttle the West Coast revivalist movement into warp speed. Tack his debut album onto the billboard next to Kendrick Lamar’s Section.80 for feeder material as the new generation keeps its name in Hip-Hop’s collective mouth. And, maybe, people will stop asking about U-N-I’s dissolution, instead opting to ask, “Thurz, when will your next project drop?”
Label: London Live | Producers: DJ Khalil, THX, Ro Blvd., Aaron Harris