Hailing from the sunny side of Los Angeles, the gifted rap duo of U-N-I, had no problems rising to the surface to reach a multitude of fans that exceeded the physical scene of their hometown. This very website took great notice as their ascension in 2009 saw them leading the example on how to thrive independently, landing an album in stores and getting a few of their videos on MTV. And then…nothing.
As the unofficial leader of the group, Thurz isn’t allowing his God-given talent go to waste because of a dormant brand. In his Smoking Session, he sheds light on the dissolution of his group but he’s making more noise with his decidedly dark solo debut, L.A. Riot, inspired by the beating that was heard around the world.
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TSS: Let’s tackle the elephant in the room: U-N-I. It seems like it was the most peaceful group breakup in Hip-Hop history. No public diss records or fights but did any of that go down behind the scenes? Be honest.
Thurz: There were arguments but it never got physical. It wasn’t necessary to ever get to that point. It was just like on some grown man shit like, “You’re not really trying to do this and your lifestyle is consuming your life.” [Laughs] I’m trying to make a statement in music and be the best out here. Cats are putting out music and I know we’re better than them and you’re really not trying to step up to the plate and I had to let the word know. A little while after that, we were meeting up to discuss where U-N-I was going and I had to pretty much be real like “Your raps…you’re not holding up your end on the lyrical side. I know you want to be this unique artist and all that but to succeed as this group, you have to step it up lyrically and ditch the cookie-cutter shit.” So after that, we just decided to break right there. The respect wasn’t there friendship-wise and definitely not artistically.
TSS: To expedite the point, you pretty much outlined everything on “Prayers” (“No man should piggyback…I was writing and reciting and lobbying…you was out partying”) How much did it hurt to make that track or was it a weight lifted off your shoulders?
Thurz: It was a long time coming honestly. People were constantly asking me the same questions “What’s up with U-N-I? When does Kings Come Marching come out? Where’s the new music?” So I had to write the record and put it out. I just gave people enough to where they would understand.
TSS: Considering the MTV placements and independently getting an album in stores, was U-N-I ultimately a wasted opportunity in your eyes?
Thurz: Nah, definitely not. I wouldn’t even be at this point artistically or mentally if it wasn’t for that experience. It help me build up by networks and my net worth and I learned how to make better decisions as an independent now. I’m grateful for the experience.
TSS: So lastly, is U-N-I dead? Can we put the tombstone on it?
Thurz: It’s in a coma.
TSS: But Thurz has a new movement. Explain exactly what the 92 Crew is.
Thurz: We took the spirit of the community during the 1992 Los Angeles riots and use it to express our feelings musically and visually and want to start a digital riot so to speak. It will be nonviolent but still going against the grain and making noise. The 92 Crew consists of myself, London Live, and producers Ro. Blvd, Aaron Harris, THX, DJ Khalil, photographers and illustrators, the whole nine. We’re all working together and supporting the idea whether it’s a photo or art piece. And it extends from us–the creators, to the supporters–the fans. Anybody supporting this riot is part of the 92 Crew.
TSS: The first act of the 92 Crew, L.A. Riot, is more surreal than anything we’ve heard from U-N-I i.e. “Hollywood Hiatus.” Did this concept come before or after the split? Did you intentionally want to establish Thurz as an author of this sound?
Thurz: It kind of happened during the split. The first song I recorded was “Los Angeles,” where I had this idea to have fans call in and give their take on what the city was to them. Then I sent it to a few DJs just to get responses and they all loved it. They thought it as a dope Hip-Hop record and loved the flow, the beat and the concept. Tomas was doing research on the riots and I lived through it. I wasn’t involved in looting or anything but I remember seeing buildings that were burned down and police in riot gear and mobs of Black folks.
So then it hit me like BAM! L.A. Riot. That would be a dope album title because it kind of represents what I have to do at this moment. And that’s to burn down this old image to really let the world know who I am as a solo artist.
After I stuck with the name, we were like “we can’t go further without paying homage to the Rodney King, the beating and trial that lead to the whole incident.” So that’s where that song came from. Tracks started coming in left and right and it was a beautiful experience and it just created itself from scratch.
TSS: Did you feel yourself getting into character when creating it or putting on the makeup for the video?
Thurz: Yeah! It took like five hours just to put all that one. But it meant a lot. It was a cool little experience. Nobody is really taking that approach so it was kind of like me making some musical history.
TSS: What was it like working with Black Thought?
Thurz: Oh man! I meant Tariq in New York when The Roots brought U-N-I on stage at the Highline Ballroom. He’s one of my top 5 rappers and when we got off stage, I’m standing right there with my girl and he comes up to me like, “Yo! That shit was dope!” And I’m like “WHAT!?!” [Laughs!!!] You’re Black Thought! What are you talking about? So we connected again through our mutual friend Truck North and I was suggested we do a record. So DJ Khalil made a beat and I sent it to him and he responded back like “Fire!” And in an hour, he sent me his verse and I was blown away. So that night I recorded my verse and sent it to him and he was like “Yo, your shit is hard…I’m gonna redo my vocals.” And I was like “Nah!” [Laughs] Leave it like that. And we went back and forth and that’s how we got “Riot!”
TSS: That’s crazy because the U-N-I name came from a Roots song off Illadelph Halflife.
Thurz: Yep! Sure did.
TSS: L.A. Riot also doesn’t align with any of the current sounds of the newer Los Angeles artists. Are you subliminally saying that music coming from the town is soft right now?
Thurz: I don’t know if soft is the word but I’ll say “cool.” L.A. has gotten too cool for its own good. Everybody wants to portray this lifestyle…I don’t want to sound conceited but I feel like U-N-I paved the way for all these artists out right now. For how we put out music and presented ourselves to the fashion and representing the sunny side of L.A. And I feel like all these cats that are doing it now just to do it. And I definitely wanted to get away from all that. It can only go so far. And I’m not trying to talk negatively about anybody but I wanted to connect with the same audience and do something that meant a lot to me. But yeah, L.A. is on that cool shit now. There’s a few visible cats who are making noise but the majority of niggas want to ride down Crenshaw and talk about bitches all day.
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TSS: I hear you. When people think riots on the grander scale, it usually equates to violence. You speak on how Crips and Bloods came together momentarily to riot against the police do you think unions like this can form peacefully?
Thurz: I mean there’s always going to be shit that goes down but there are plenty of Crips and Bloods who are cool and go into each neighborhoods and say what up. There’s always going to be niggas that’s fucking shit up or niggas that are angry. There’s a lot of folks who are unemployed trying to get it anyway they can get it. Some people haven’t been taught any other way. There’s always going to be people who come from more unfortunate situations than others and it shows through their actions. Therefore, we have nigga shit [Laughs].