In the U-N-I-verse, Yonas “Y-O” Michael is Kobe Bryant and Yannick “Thurzday” Koffi is LeBron James. Luckily for us music purists, they’re playing on the same team. The Los Angeles duo, known as U-N-I, garnered praise in 2007 for their debut street album – Fried Chicken & Watermelon – 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 Thurzday’s world, it’s always a family affair, and their forthcoming effort proves to be no different – Los Angeles beat maven Ro Blvd (the U-N-I-verse’s Phil Jackson) produced the entire album.
With a shared passion for verbal artistry, the duo met during their formative years in high school. “We just clicked and started pushing forward with the likeness in our passion for music,” Thurzday says of starting out. “It was just great chemistry. We just happen to be more of a force together.” 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 duo’s impending sonic assault. Tomorrow’s forecast: Promising.
“We don’t wanna be known for just good music and good tracks, we want to have the full package – the lyrics, the nice concept – and then when you come to a show, it’s more.”
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 we’ve done – like “K.R.E.A.M.” for instance, there’s been many sneaker songs out there, but I don’t think someone has sat down and come up with a creative and full concept and thought of an original video for it. We’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.
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 I’m Rocky and prepare myself for the competition. [Laughs]
“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.”
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 wouldn’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: That’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 don’t wanna be known for just good music and good tracks, we want to have the full package – the lyrics, the nice concept – and then when you come to a show, it’s more.
Thurzday: We try to be like LeBron James. [Laughs]
Thurzday: Yeah, Kobe is the man, but LeBron is just a man-beast and on a musical level we’re men-beasts. [Laughs]
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.
“For the past couple of years, L.A. has been spilt territory, it’s real clique-ish out here.”
Thurzday: I agree. It’s not really hard to appeal to different fans, L.A. is already a melting pot. That’s how you get Fried Chicken & Watermelon – in that it’s not a boxed in sound. We have a mix of different stuff and that kind of reflects L.A. culture.