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yU was born Michael Willingham Jr. on April 14, 1978 in Cheverly, Maryland. The year of his birth forms the second half of his moniker – “the 78er” – with “yU” in reference to his battle rapping days on Davey D’s Hip-Hop Corner website. While most of the competition was posting with typical “oh, you mad ‘cause I’m stylin’ on you” braggadocio, yU was honing his storytelling skills and putting his opponents in wild predicaments (like working for mall security). People couldn’t understand his approach, so they began to ask, “Why you do this?” and “Why you do that?” With the numerous “Why you?” questions, yU the artist emerged.

His first real shine came with a spot on 2003’s The Antidote: The Healing Pt. 2 compilation from Urban Ave 31. The project featured singer Raheem DeVaughn and yU’s crew The Remainz, with a buzz spreading to Europe and introducing the budding lyricist to an overseas audience. At home, a new generation of talent was bubbling in the Washington D.C./Md./Va. area, which led to the formation of the Diamond District, a group consisting of yU, producer/MC Oddisee, and MC Uptown XO, and named after the geographical region in which they all came of age. The trio’s In the Ruff LP was a showcase of the hip-hop creativity that had long been overlooked amidst the area’s legendary Go-Go scene, and to an extent, its penchant for violent crime and political chicanery. The album also paved the road for yU’s abilities to emerge on his solo efforts – 2010’s Before Taxes and 2011’s The Earn.


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