Interview by Clare Shearer
Images by Cameron McCool
Video by Issue Inc.
“It’s great to see the light shining on Los Angeles...
it’s a melting pot of talent. I haven’t seen a city
thrive like this since the New York era,
—ThurzEverything essential is coming from LA at this point.” — Thurz
Los Angeles-born and raised rapper Yannick Koffi is known by Thurz (short for Thurzday). Previously one half of now defunct rap duo U-N-I, he moved on to solo work in 2011. His first album “LA Riot” commemorates the1992 Riots and his second solo release, “Designer EP” comes out November 4. Twitter @Thurzday. You can find him on twitter @Thurzday.
Short for U-N-I To The Verse, a hip hop duo consisting of Thurz and Y-O. Known for reviving a more classic hip hop sound, they were named “Best Breakout LA Artist” at the 2008 MTV Video Music Awards before dismantling in 2009 to pursue their own individual projects.
1992 Los Angeles Riots
A six day series of riots, lootings, arsons and civil disturbance that began in South Central Los Angeles on April 29th, 1992. The riots erupted after the police officers who were videotaped beating Rodney King were acquitted by a jury on charges of excessive force and brutality.
Thurz is a rapper in constant regeneration.
In his earlier days, from 2007-2009, he formed one half of U-N-I (to The Verse) with high school friend Y-O. The duo rapped about girls, shoes and parties while reviving a more classic style of hip hop. In 2011 and newly solo, Thurz dove straight into the aftermath of the 1992 Los Angeles Riots. With a harder edge, “LA Riot” tapped into the zeitgeist of racial tensions in Thurz’ own backyard.
But when asked if “LA Riot” or any of his music in general is political, Thurz instead invokes his personal brand of music-making – “designer music.” He likens his process to that of a clothing designer who cuts and tailors fabric according to the feeling and mood of the time. Using the fabric of his own experience, Thurz shapes his music by infusing culture and history with his current state of mind.
His new release “Designer EP” takes a similar turn in lyrical style, tailoring a personalized dialogue into an upbeat, layered sound. Thurz shared an acoustic preview with us, performing his new singles “21” and “Right Now” in our Silverlake backyard.
Legendary 1990’s rap duo from Atlanta, consisting of Chris “Mac Daddy” Kelly and Chris “Daddy Mac” Smith, best known for their 1992 hit, “Jump”.
Considered a pioneer of pop-rap in the late 80’s and early 90’s, and best known for his infamous Hammer pants and hit singles, “U Can’t Touch This” (1990) and “2 Legit 2 Quit” (1991).
De La Soul
Hip hop trio from Long Island, NY, formed in 1987. Their debut release, 3 Feet High and Rising (1989) was hailed as the future of hip hop; filled with low-key clever rhymes and an eclectic alt-sound in a range of genres.
Considered the most revolutionary rap group of the mid-1990’s and a conceptual force, Wu-Tang was a loose congregation of nine MCs. The clan set-out to overtake the world of hip hop, pursuing as many solo projects as possible.
Tribe Called Quest
Hip-hop group of Q-Tip, Phife Dawg, and Ali Shaheed Muhammad, who produced a range of hip-hop classics on their five albums between 1990-1998.
A genre of Caribbean music that emerged in 1970’s subculture of Trinidad and Tobago as an offshoot of Calypso, influenced also by cadence, Funk and Soul.
Kanye West “Late Registration”
Universally acclaimed second studio album of rapper Kanye West (2005) with elaborate production and string arrangements then unique to hip-hop, winning West the 2006 Grammy for Best Rap Album.
1994 debut album of New York-based rapper Nas, now cited as one of the most pivotal albums in hip hop history, and a landmark for East Coast hip hop.
Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)
1993 debut album by The Wu-Tang Clan, considered one of the most important hip hop albums ever. It’s unpolished underground sound paved the way for 1990’s hard core hip hop and reinvigorated the NY scene.
Second solo studio album by Wu-Tang Clan member, GZA, released in 1995 and regarded as one of the most important hip hop records to date.
Founded by George Clinton in 1956, Parliament was originally a five-piece doo-wop group that, by the 1970’s, gained a sister-group and morphed into Parliament-Funkadelic, Clinton’s funk music collective.
A founding father of funk, and often referred to as “The Godfather of Soul”, Brown’s prodigious career spanned and influenced many genres, making him one of the greatest American musicians of all time.
World Star Hip Hop
Premier online media site launched in 2005, dedicated to current news, releases, apparel trends, etc. in the Hip Hop community.
YG (Young Gangsta)
Compton-born rapper known for his mixtapes, albums Toot It and Boot It (2009) and My Krazy Life (2014), as well as his record label Pu$haz Ink.
LA-based hip hop & soul producer, best known for his work with Eminem, and a member of music groups Self Scientific and The New Royales.
Rapper from Harlem, NY, and a member of hip hop collective ASAP Mob. His 2011 debut mixtape and 2013 album, both entitled Live. Love. ASAP, received mass acclaim.
LA-based producer who has worked with the likes of Snoop Dogg, 50 Cent, and Erykah Badu.
A funk innovator and legend, George Clinton founder of collectives Parliament and Funkadelic (together known for a style called P-Funk) in the 1970s and 80s, and for his solo career starting in 1981.
An electronic group formed in 1996 in Gothenburg, Sweden.
Clare Shearer: Where are you from?
Thurz: I am from Inglewood, California.
CS: When did you start making music?
T: Probably in second grade, after I heard “Warm It Up” by Kris Kross.
CS: Is that what you listened to growing up?
T: Kris Kross, MC Hammer. And then my uncle and my older brother put me onto real hip-hop I guess, like De La Soul, Wu Tang, Tribe Called Quest, and all the good stuff.
I’m influenced now by a lot of things, a lot of different artists not necessarily all hip-hop, different genres—I have a Caribbean and African background – a lot of soca, reggae.
CS: How and when did you decide music was what you were going to do?
T: Probably in high school, when I was rapping with some friends and every weekend was dedicated—Saturdays and Sundays, as much of those 24 hours in each day—to recording at the studio with my boy. We were just really tryin’ to record and put a mixtape together. So at that point was when the desire to really pursue music was stuck in my head, and at that point I started looking for internships to learn more about the music industry.
My first internship was at Rhino Music Group, by Warner up in Santa Monica, and then after that I interned at Capitol Records while I was at LMU. So I was doing a lot of internships just to try to gain knowledge about how everything works, like how to put press kits together. I was doing stuff for like Faith Evans and runnin’ with the street team at Capitol Records, art department, marketing. I was just trying to learn as much as I could and apply it.
CS: How did you pick the name Thurz?
T: My last name’s Kofi, and in West Africa it’s a nickname for “Boy Born on Friday.” I was born on a Thursday.
CS: What’s the story behind your shift from U-N-I to your solo project as Thurz?
T: It was just a growing process—I was doing a lot of songwriting in the group and I just had a lot more I wanted to say outside of the free-spirited music at the time. So, you know, I broke away from that and tried to do a project. There was a lot of emotions at the time, breaking away from the group, because I worked hard to really get that group off the ground, just from doing internships and everything. I applied everything to that group. So when we split, I was like “damn I gotta start over.” I was kinda pissed.
And at the time we were doing research about the LA riots and all that. I was drawing lines to different emotions from that historical event and it inspired new songs, and I had a lot of commentary from people who lived in the area where it broke out. It turned into this concept project where I payed homage to the city and just destroyed my old self and kinda rebuilt something new. I was essentially becoming a new artist and starting all over.
And with this new Designer EP, now I’m in a happier place – still creative and still musical, but it’s a lot more fun music. It was a great thing for me to leave the group because I grew more as a person and grew more as an artist. Art definitely imitates my life, so with designer music, I’m just pulling this fabric from all my life and just tailoring it for listeners.
CS: Do you still think it’s important to make your music a little more political?
T: It’s not political, it’s designer. LA Riot is designer music too. I don’t make political music I just make music from a perspective of a watcher and from the perspective of someone who’s participating in different activities like going to a party or something. So, the LA Riot project was all designer music as well, it’s just a different tone than what Designer EP is. But it’s really, you know, I grew up in LA and I saw the news. I witnessed a lot of that stuff kinda erupt.
“Art definitely imitates
my life, so with designer music,
I’m just pulling this fabric
from all my life and
tailoring it for listeners. ”
CS: Yeah, you were almost right next door.
T: I was young kid, my grandma was right down the street from all that stuff. But it’s all designer cause it’s all from my perspective, and I just tailor-cut it how I want it to be and how I want it to portray my experience.
CS: What is your favorite album right now?
T: My favorite EP is the Designer EP. [laughs] My favorite album right now is Late Registration by Kanye West. I like all his albums actually, but those earlier albums do resonate more with me, just the density of the production on Late Registration, like string section, orchestra and all that. And just the concept behind the music was remarkable. It’s not a debut album but I put it up there with like the Illmatic and 36 Chambers and Liquid Swords. It’s a great hip-hop album. I love it.
CS: Is that part of your inspiration for your new album?
T: Loosely, I don’t wanna give him too much credit. Cause on this project, we just went in and created our own world. We just were studying Parliament, we were studying James Brown, and we wanted to give people something they haven’t heard before. It wasn’t tied into being inspired by any rapper, essentially it was just really sound-driven.
CS: What do you like to do outside of music?
T: Basketball, World Star… NPR. Just joking. [laughs] Family.
CS: You’re into shoes, right?
T: I am into shoes [laughs] I tried to get out of it, it was an expensive hobby. Not so much these days, I’m more chill, I just like relaxing if I can with family. And watching basketball and playing basketball, those are my favorite pastimes right now.
CS: How do you feel about the rising creative scene in LA?
T: Man, I love it man. It’s great to see the light shining on LA because it’s a melting pot of talent – all these different genres, all these different styles, and there’s a lot of fashion infused in everything – from Downtown to Silverlake to the West Side of Los Angeles, Inglewood, it’s a great place right now man. I haven’t seen really a city or area thrive like this since like the New York era, like in the early to mid-90’s when everything essentially hip-hop was coming from that area. Everything essential is coming from LA at this point. You have groups like Overdose, you have this whole ratchet movement, with YG and the like dollar signs. All these different scopes of music coming from this one place, so that’s pretty cool.
CS: Is LA good for you creatively?
T: Definitely. You have a lot of things that inspire you – the weather, there’s an event going on every day, you have the beach. I wouldn’t want to live in any other city in the States outside LA and New York. And maybe somewhere in the Bay, maybe Frisco. [laughs]
CS: What’s next for you?
T: The EP comes out in November, then I’m just gonna be wrappin’ up the album, so I have Blood on the Canvas designer LP coming out sometime next year. Then I’m just gonna keep recording with friends, I’m gonna be lockin in the studio with DJ Khalil, Rocky, THX, all my friends that I’ve helped out throughout my career. I just want to continue working with those guys.
But I do want to reach out and experiment, I’m always open to new sounds and all that. Definitely wanna get into some film projects with my friends Patrick Norris and Katie Smith. We’ve been working on something and developing a [TV] show for the past year, so we wanna like really push the envelope with it. We wanna get it out soon and really start the ball on that one.
[Thurz refrains to comment on the TV show itself, we’ll have to wait to see.]
CS: Any dream collaborations?
T: George Clinton would be awesome. Little Dragon would be cool. The Foo Fighters, that would be cool, I haven’t heard of them doing anything in the hip-hop vein, like collaboration wise. Might be crazy. Dave Grohl is an awesome writer so I’d like to see what we could come up with. Everything is one question or conversation away.