U-N-I was a hip hop duo from Inglewood, California consisting of Yonas 'Y-O' Michael and Yannick 'Thurzday' Koffi. They met in 1999 while attending St. Bernard High School. They quickly recognized each other’s talents on the basketball courts and during freestyle battles in the school’s cafeteria. In 2007 the duo released their satirically titled street album Fried Chicken & Watermelon, which sold nearly 6,000 copies, and followed this up in 2009 with the Before There Was Love mixtape and their second street album A Love Supreme. And eventually separating in 2011.
Born from the ashes of gangsta rap Los Angeles, Inglewood indie rap duo U-N-I are the talk of the Internet and guiding hip-hop's path in the city by juxtaposing music with customized fashion. The groups two MC’s 'Thurzday' and Y-O' have loaded up on accolades over the past 2 years on the strength of their observant, life-affirming rhymes that revolve around everything from limited-edition sneakers to cosmic existentialism and old-school video games to down-home musings on life, declaring their love for music while appreciating plus-size ladies and enjoying lap dances.
Though the two rappers–"Thurzday" (Yannick Koffi) and “Y-O” (Yonas Semere Michael)– hail from an area of Los Angeles commonly associated with the trappings of violent ghetto life, their debut street album, Fried Chicken and Watermelon–powered, melodic and groovy, employing angelic strings, electro-bounce and Nintendo 64 scores–eschewed Dickies, lowriders and high-powered armory in favor of positing their lives against a greater Black experience that was at once earthly and universal.
Their progressive swagger and throwback fashion sense may initially compel comparisons to “hipsters,” but the duo’s truth is at once more complex and far simpler: Y-O has been sporting a vibrant mohawk for going on five years while Thurz notes that the group is innately fashion-conscious and not willing to sacrifice substance for style. Y-O explains, “What duo out of Cali you know looks like us? My man Thurz stays with the latest hats & kicks. I stay in thrift shops putting together $20 outfits & still walk the Red Carpet.”
True to their laid-back sneaker pimp theory, the aficionados flipped the Wu-Tang Clan’s “C.R.E.A.M” into the popular song “K.R.E.A.M.” (Kicks Rule Everything Around Me), complete with a Do The Right Thing inspired video, garnering the attention of major shoe corporations including Adidas and Puma and landing them in the footwear department of Slam Magazine. Their other visuals–the lazy, color-rich, slow-rolling “Beautiful Day” and the genre-jumping, kaleidoscopic “Soul Hop”– continue to play in rotation on MTV Jams and VH-1, while the duo hit MTV2’s Sucka Free for a freestyle appearance.
U-N-I’s latest offering, A Love Supreme is put forth with a “recession-proof theme” for folks who have fallen on hard times in our struggling economy (soon to be available via free via download). The effort continues the band's mission of expanding and texturizing hip-hop's conversation: tackling the lust, love and hate of relationships (“Right Now,” “Desha Dayana”), tossing crafty, whimsical odes to black actresses (“Lauren London”), dramatically dealing with the mundane aspects of struggling artistry through borderline poverty and senseless crime on the sublimely dark “Halftime.” Where Fried Chicken and Watermelon was a spontaneous and easy-going trip backed by a handful of producers, A Love Supreme is a matured and intimate journey produced entirely by west coast producer RO Blvd., who is steadily garnering acknowledgement in underground movements for his boundary-crossing inventiveness.
Yonas “Y-O” Semere Michael was raised in Seattle, Washington by an African-American mother and a father born in the Northeast African country of Eritrea (bordered by Sudan in the west and Ethiopia in the south). He moved to Inglewood in 1996 with his mom and sister, crying at the U-Haul, until he “fell in love with the palm trees, the women and the weather” of Los Angeles and fed his musical jones by ingesting west coast artists.
During Y-O’s freshmen year, he linked up with sophomore Thurzday who took the moniker from his last name “Koffi” which meant “boy born on Friday,” but flipped it so the phrase could be on the money. The two noticed they had much in common: Thurzday’s mom was from Belize; his biological father from the Ivory Coast. His stepfather was from Belize, as well, and his uncles were all DJ’s, playing soca, reggae and dancehall in the house at all times. His musical education was broadened by one of his uncles who introduced him to De la Soul via the group’s seminal 3 Feet High and Rising when Thurz was only four years old. In the seventh grade, the MC came across Redman’s funny, witty and hard Muddy Waters, which widened his ideas of what hip-hop could be. By the time the two MC’s met, they were so well versed in hip-hop lyricism that they took out upper classmen with ease during schoolyard battles.
Taking their name from the Roots' "UNIverse at War"–“you and I verse at war,” a nod to their renewed allegiance and self-confidence–Thurz and Y-O went on to open up shows artists such as The Roots, Ludacris, Lupe Fiasco and Redman and proceeded to promote their brand via social media networks–a marketing plan that cost Thurz his day job as a statistics analyst at an actuary firm in October 2008, when his bosses monitored his internet hours and found an exorbitant amount of time spent on Okayplayer.com and Myspace. “My productivity did decrease a little bit,” Thurz admits with a giggle. “Now I'm a full-time rapper with no plans to go back to the plantation.”
For his part, Y-O, who pays his bills by driving a van full of “rugrats” from school to a childcare center says, “The entire ride consists of paper balls being thrown at the back of my head. But when I pop in our music the kids can recite all the words.”
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