In the U-N-I-verse, Yonas â€œY-Oâ€ Michael is Kobe Bryant and Yannick â€œThurzdayâ€ Koffi is LeBron James. Luckily for us music purists, theyâ€™re playing on the same team. The Los Angeles duo, known as U-N-I, garnered praise in 2007 for their debut street album â€“ Fried Chicken & Watermelon â€“ and are set to release their first independent LP this summer, titled U-N-I x Ro Blvd. Present: Yonas, Yannick & Ro “A Love Supreme.” In Y-O and Thurzdayâ€™s world, itâ€™s always a family affair, and their forthcoming effort proves to be no different â€“ Los Angeles beat maven Ro Blvd (the U-N-I-verseâ€™s Phil Jackson) produced the entire album.
With a shared passion for verbal artistry, the duo met during their formative years in high school. â€œWe just clicked and started pushing forward with the likeness in our passion for music,â€ Thurzday says of starting out. â€œIt was just great chemistry. We just happen to be more of a force together.â€ Despite being deeply rooted in west coast tradition, U-N-I strayed away from the enduring gangsta rap archetype. Fresh kicks and thought-provoking rhymes are more their style. So, as the sun sets for the day in the U-N-I-verse, hip hop enthusiasts wait for the duoâ€™s impending sonic assault. Tomorrowâ€™s forecast: Promising.
â€œWe donâ€™t wanna be known for just good music and good tracks, we want to have the full package â€“ the lyrics, the nice concept â€“ and then when you come to a show, itâ€™s more.â€
Format: First things first, what does U-N-I represent, both literally and figuratively? Really what does it signify to you both?
Thurzday: Itâ€™s off The Rootâ€™s Illadelph Halflife, â€“ the joint with Common â€“ â€œUniverse at War.â€ To us, itâ€™s a first person statement. Myself and Y-O, U-N-I-verse, ainâ€™t nobody against us. It also stands for being universal and not being boxed into one sound.
Format: How do you go about making sure U-N-I doesnâ€™t fall into that â€œboxed inâ€ category?
Y-O: I would say it just comes natural for us. We donâ€™t really try to like compare our songs to other artists. Itâ€™s really based off our everyday lifestyles and the stuff that we might have been through growing up. Itâ€™s no limit to our music, we just donâ€™t want to box ourselves in. It just goes back to the name, U-N-I, trying to be universal â€“ always putting out music that everyone can relate to whether their age or their race. We just want to unite every culture under one umbrella.
Thurzday: Also, as far as being creative, we try to take each song with a new approach and try to do something we never did before. We try to break grounds as hip-hop artists. We try to think out of the box and a lot of times stuff just flows for us and we just vibe off of something, come up with a crazy concept and then just execute it.
Y-O: Even if a song has been done similar to what weâ€™ve done â€“ like â€œK.R.E.A.M.â€ for instance, thereâ€™s been many sneaker songs out there, but I donâ€™t think someone has sat down and come up with a creative and full concept and thought of an original video for it. Weâ€™ll spend a day or two, or even if it takes a week, just to come up with a neat concept that will stick around for years.
Format: What does a typical day in the â€œU-N-I-verseâ€ consist of?
Y-O: Right now weâ€™re just working on our next project â€“ A Love Supreme. Weâ€™re usually in the studio coming up with creative concepts, listening to some original tracks. And if weâ€™re not in the studio weâ€™re usually out in the streets, selling some CDs â€“ our Fried Chicken & Watermelon album, itâ€™s a street album. If not that, usually shopping, getting the latest kicks, the flyest clothes. Myself, because Iâ€™m single, I might be out in the streets and see some fly honeys and flirtinâ€™ with em, you know. [Laughs] We like to have fun. Kind of like hang in the shadows and not clubbing every weekend, we donâ€™t want to over saturate our presence.
Thurzday: Every morning I wake up, I scramble some eggs, drink some milk, have a protein shake, I run around the block 10 times, run up some stairs like Iâ€™m Rocky and prepare myself for the competition. [Laughs]
â€œI like the black Michael Jackson. [Laughs] I used to want to perform like him, and then I started hearing hip-hop. And then I really got into MC Hammer.â€
Format: You guys mentioned A Love Supreme, is that the name of your next album?
Y-O: Yeah, itâ€™s all produced by this producer named Ro Blvd. He produced â€œThe Launchâ€ off the Fried Chicken & Watermelon street album.
Format: Can you talk a little bit about the album?
Thurzday: Basically itâ€™s just expanding our sound. A lot of people got good vibes off Fried Chicken & Watermelon, and we just want to expand that. Really show people what all we can do, and what else we can do before we go to an official release. We just want to gain as many fans as possible, you know, independently. Itâ€™s us working on our own and expanding on our own, basically. All of our tracks are produced by Ro Blvd. Itâ€™s really no other way to describe it other than an Aquemini-Stankonia feel to it. But itâ€™s still U-N-I.
Format: I read that you met at St. Bernardâ€™s high school, in Los Angeles, during emcee battles held during lunch time. What was it that made both of you say, â€˜I want to make music with this guy?â€™
Thurzday: Y-O aside, I was looking for someone who spit hot shit and he was like â€˜Hey.â€™ He said he spit hot fire. Hotter than Dylan. [Laughs] We decided to link up and started The Rap-Ture Kamp, a four man crew â€“ myself, Y-O, Ablaze and Unjust Ant. We just clicked and started pushing forward with the likeness in our passion for music. It was just great chemistry. We just happen to be more of a force together.
Y-O: While we were in Rap-Ture Kamp, when we started in 99, we put out a couple mixtapes and albums and then there were a lot of requests that people wanted to hear more of Thurzday and myself, Y-O, so we finally got together, talked it over and decided to branch out of Rap-Ture Kamp in 2006. And then we released the Fried Chicken & Watermelon album in 07.
Format: Take me back, what was it like for U-N-I starting out initially?
Y-O: I wouldnâ€™t even say it was hard or anything, because we started in 99 as a group so we already had the chemistry. If you really think about it, we actually made the album driving to the studio, or just listening to the tracks on our own then just going to the studio and knocked it out.
Thurzday: In the afternoons we would just record a song, put a little mix on it, put it on MySpace, check the feedback for it, put some more songs up and then we started doing shows. As an artist, your stage shows are just important as your songs. We went all out on the songs and went all out on the stage and just started making a name for ourselves.
Y-O: Thatâ€™s one thing we focus on other than making good music, is our stage performance and presence. We want to be a complete package to the whole world. We donâ€™t wanna be known for just good music and good tracks, we want to have the full package â€“ the lyrics, the nice concept â€“ and then when you come to a show, itâ€™s more.
Thurzday: We try to be like LeBron James. [Laughs]
Format: Why not Kobe, youâ€™re from L.A.?
Y-O: Come on Thurz.
Thurzday: Yeah, Kobe is the man, but LeBron is just a man-beast and on a musical level weâ€™re men-beasts. [Laughs]
Format: Who were some artists, not necessarily rappers, which influenced you guys to make a career out of verbal artistry?
Y-O: The person that really made me pick up the pen was listening to the KRS-One Boogie Down Productions live album (Live Hardcore Worldwide, 1991). I was on punishment or something and I just flipped in the cd, it was my popâ€™s, and ever since then I just kept the ball rolling and I got into Mos Defâ€™s Black On Both Sides. That was like the first CD I bought with my own money. Then it was Redman, and growing up, listening to Kris Kross, then of course J Dilla, a whole lot of Bigge, Roots, Common, and I gotta say Pac. It goes on and on.
Thurzday: My mom is from Belize and my father is from the Ivory Coast, and I grew up with my mom so I would hear a lot of Caribbean music, a lot of reggae and a lot of soca. My people just loved music, so everyday in our apartment music was playing. And I liked Michael Jackson, before all that stuff. I like the black Michael Jackson. [Laughs] I used to want to perform like him, and then I started hearing hip-hop. And then I really got into MC Hammer. My older brother introduced me to a lot of east coast music, like Wu-Tang and A Tribe Called Quest. Used to also listen to the Pharcyde. My music spectrum just grew and I knew I wanted to be an emcee.
â€œFor the past couple of years, L.A. has been spilt territory, itâ€™s real clique-ish out here.â€
Format: Even though Y-O is from Seattle, both of you call Los Angeles home at the moment. Do you find it more difficult to appeal to fans seeing as L.A. is so culturally and musically diverse?
Y-O: I donâ€™t think itâ€™s difficult at all. There is a whole movement out here that hasnâ€™t been exposed to the other states. Out here it just makes it a lot easier to get the respect, plus you got MySpace. I wouldnâ€™t say itâ€™s a difficult job because to gain more fans is always a challenge.
Thurzday: I agree. Itâ€™s not really hard to appeal to different fans, L.A. is already a melting pot. Thatâ€™s how you get Fried Chicken & Watermelon â€“ in that itâ€™s not a boxed in sound. We have a mix of different stuff and that kind of reflects L.A. culture.
Format: On your MySpace page it said that U-N-I is â€œdetermined to unite the people wherever they perform.â€ Is that, kind of, indicative of a larger divide you see in hip-hop, or is that just something you guys try to do regardless?
Thurzday: Itâ€™s something we try to do regardless, but there is a divide in hip-hop. For the past couple of years, L.A. has been spilt territory, itâ€™s real clique-ish out here. You have your gangsta rap artists, Iâ€™m not gonna say any names, or put anybody down, but they are all about their careers. Theyâ€™re not trying to put anybody new on. Theyâ€™re not trying to have any new sound. Itâ€™s kind of like a dog eat dog world in L.A. So, we come about, and we have good parents, good people around us that support us, and our whole thing is to share with the next man and try to be down with everybody like itâ€™s a big family. I consider that the new L.A. movement. A lot of people are gonna be uniting and pushing for a new cause, a new image of west coast hip-hop, and just hip-hop in general.