Interview by: Martin Bauman
The West Coast scene has seen a massive revival in the past five-plus years, as the latest generation of emcees has staked its claim on the hip-hop landscape. Since the mid-2000s, a slew of West Coast artists, from Pac Div, to Blu & Exile, to U-N-I, to Fashawn, to Miguel, to Aloe Blacc, to Kendrick Lamar and the rest of Top Dawg Ent., have gone on to critical acclaim. Among that esteemed group is Inglewood’s Thurz (formerly of the aforementioned U-N-I). Since going solo in 2011, Thurz has been working hard to prove to listeners that he has more to offer than his previous light-hearted, party rap fare. He’s proven that right off the bat. After the enormous success of his solo debut, L.A. Riot, and the buzz following his 517 W Queen Tape, he’s ready to release his follow-up full-length release, Blood on The Canvas. The Come Up Show caught up with Thurz to discuss his upcoming album, memories from U-N-I, Outkast’s influence, and much more. Read the full interview below.
TCUS: How did you first get introduced to hip-hop?
Thurz: I guess my first attachment to hip-hop came with Kriss Kross and MC Hammer [laughs]. I was in like the third grade. Kriss Kross caught my attention by their apparel, how they wear everything backwards; then MC Hammer, the “2 Legit 2 Quit” and all the dance moves was all fascinating to me when I was a kid. So that sparked my interest in hip-hop, and then it got more refined from the influence of my older brother; he put me onto a lot of East Coast music and different West Coast music, you know, Biggie, A Tribe Called Quest, Wu-Tang, Souls of Mischief… It started in third grade, though. Kriss Kross and MC Hammer, man. I have to give them their props.
damn yo…Chris Kelly of Kriss Kross found dead…Kriss Kross was important to me in early elementary…Cross Colors and everything…RIP
— THURZ ALEXI KOFFI (@Thurzday) May 2, 2013
TCUS: Speaking of MC Hammer, tell me the significance of these three names: MC Hammer, TLC, and Jodeci.
Thurz: Ahh man, that was my first concert! [It was] at the Great Western Forum with my uncle [laughs]. It’s crazy, because when I was a kid, obviously kids aren’t supposed to use profanity around their parents. But when Jodeci came out, they were cursing; they came out like rappers [laughs]. They were like thug R&B dudes and they were cursing, and I’m looking at my uncle like “he said a bad word!” Seeing them rap was really inspiring to see how they took the stage, and their stage presence. The whole crowd went crazy, and I was like “damn, this is what I want to do!” I want to be able to get in front of thousands or a hundred thousand people and be able to have people know my records and be able to rock out.
TCUS: Moving to the influence of another artist, what’s the significance of Redman’s Muddy Waters to you?
Thurz: Man, that was the first tape that I bought with my own money. I was in like seventh or eighth grade. That album helped shaped the way I write, and that was one of my favourite albums at the time. It still is to this day. There’s so much raw energy on that, the beats are banging, and Redman is just witty and comical, man. With that album, he changed how I put my music together. You know, there are other artists that helped influence who I am today, artistically, but he was definitely key when I was in the seventh grade.
TCUS: Correct me if I’m wrong, but you actually had the opportunity to open for Redman before. What was that experience like?
Thurz: Yeah man! That was when I was with [U-N-I]. We did a Sneaker Pimps show; this was at the Crash Mansion in downtown L.A. That was my first time getting to meet Redman; he was high out of his mind [laughs], but when he got onstage, he was rocking. That was an insane moment for me.
TCUS: What can you tell me about St. Bernard High School?
Thurz: That’s the home of the light-skinned girls, man. If you’re from L.A., you obviously know that St. Bernard was infamous for having all the pretty, curly-haired light-skinned girls with rich parents that stayed over there [laughs]. I went there for high school; I played ball there, and I did a lot of rap stuff over there too.
TCUS: Speaking of the rap stuff, what can you tell me about the Rap-Ture Kamp?
Thurz: [Laughs] Man, Rap-Ture Kamp, shout out to Unjust [Ant]. He opened up this studio in his house and gave me my first real recording experience; [that was] off 81st and 5th in Inglewood. It was a collective of us; there was me, Yonas, Ablaze, Unjust, and Mike Pye, and we used to all get together every week – mainly on the weekends, because that was the most time we all had free – and we’d just be in there like 48 hours, Saturday and Sunday, just trying to create, record, write, challenge ourselves, battle rap, everything.
TCUS: From there, you and Yonas went on to create U-N-I. That may be over now, but what memories will you cherish most from that experience?
Thurz: That was my first experience going to different countries and being able to rock different countries. That was major for me. You know, I was able to travel with my parents to Belize and different countries when I was younger, but being able to exit the U.S. and [get] paid to go rock somewhere where English is not the native language… that was major for me, man. That opened up my eyes a lot.
TCUS: What was it like growing up in a household with Belize and Ivory Coast as a background? How did that shape you?
Thurz: My stepfather [deejays] as a hobby; him and his brother have all this deejay equipment, so they used to do a lot of different Belizean parties. My aunts and uncles [also] used to always have these different parties where their friends would come over and there was nothing but soca, reggae, punta, and all this culture and music. That flow of music was so constant, every week, and the dance style [too]. I come from a rhythmic background, so I’m able to implement that with creating new records, that energy of wanting to make people move. I guess that comes from all the music that was played in my household.
“Summer breeze in the Keys/ Off the coast of Belize/ Is where I’d rather be…” – Thurz in “Hell’s Angel”
TCUS: You attended Loyola Marymount University. Ultimately, you decided to become an emcee. If you were doing it over, would you still pursue a degree?
Thurz: Yeah. I was double-majoring [at LMU], so I was a finance major and a marketing major. I was gonna just be a straight marketing guy, but after doing internships at Capital Records and Warner Music Group, I figured I didn’t really need to major in it because everything is based off relationships. I [ended up dropping] that as a major and [focusing] on finance, just to get a cool degree, [and] have a backup plan and be able to make some money for myself. I wouldn’t do anything differently. With those internships, I was able to make great relationships with new people and learn how the music business works: learn how marketing works, learn how press releases work. It all helped me and shaped me into the artist I am today, so I wouldn’t change anything about it.
TCUS: Speaking of relationships, you’ve maintained a close friendship with Miguel throughout the years. What is it like to see him on the level he’s reached?
Thurz: It’s exciting, man! It’s inspiring. He just had a mishap at the Billboard Awards, and that s— was hilarious, but that’s my dude, man. I’m glad he’s even at that level to where the world is talking about a mistake, and to where the world is loving his music. That “Adorn” record is a classic record for our time; it’s like the Marvin Gaye “Sexual Healing” of our time.
TCUS: How did the two of you first meet?
Thurz: My boy Kenya used to throw a few shows – well, he still throws shows out here – but I hosted a show and Miguel was on the bill. We would just always be passing by each other and conversing, and just building a relationship that way. I first heard him via MySpace; I heard the song “Quickie” on MySpace, so when I was able to see him perform it, I was like “this dude is really dope.” He has a great voice and a good personality, so we’ve been cool for a minute.
TCUS: Going in a totally different direction here, what’s the most influential book you’ve read?
Thurz: I actually have it in my backpack, I believe [rummages through backpack]. It’s a book my uncle gave me; it’s called The Twelve Universal Laws of Success [by Herbert Harris]. It’s about fruition, setting goals for yourself, and living your goals, man – writing down what you want to accomplish and doing all the necessary actions to accomplish it.
TCUS: I understand you’re a sneakerhead. What was the first pair of shoes you owned that got you into collecting?
Thurz: Hmm…. I guess what really made me want shoes more was playing basketball at Valley Park. I was maybe nine years old, and the North Carolina Tarheels colourway of the [Jordan] 11s came out. My mom didn’t buy them for me; a few of my teammates had them, and I was like “damn! I wish I could get those shoes.” So [after getting] my first job – I worked at Togo’s [Sandwiches] in high school – me and my cousin used to go crazy and just buy as much gear as possible, trying to be the freshest in school. What was really the trend in high school was having as many clean, white Air Force Ones as possible. That was really how it started, man. Of course, Jordans are iconic for sneakerheads, but the most [of my shoes] were Air Force Ones in high school – along with a few pairs of Jordans.
TCUS: Going back to the subject of basketball, what’s the significance of Penny Hardaway to you?
Thurz: Dude, that’s one of my favourite players. The classic moment with him going against the Bulls in the playoffs… He was that next dude, man; I wish those injuries didn’t happen. He had some of the best shoes to really come out after Jordan. I really love the whole Penny Hardaway/Nike collaboration: the Foamposites, the 1/2 Cents, the 1 Cents… everything, man. They’re just dope kicks. Him and Shaq on the Orlando Magic were iconic. I had a jersey of Penny Hardaway [that] I used to wear every weekend [laughs]. My mom used to get mad, like, “why don’t you wear something else?!” But I was like “nah, it’s Penny Hardaway time” [laughs].
Penny Hardaway “@kicksonfire: Who was your favorite player as a kid?”
— THURZ ALEXI KOFFI (@Thurzday) February 5, 2013
TCUS: You’ve also been working on an art project recently, what can you tell me about that?
Thurz: That’s with my guy Drekidd; he’s actually finishing up a class in animation, so we just did this collaboration that’s coming out really crazy, man. He animated me speaking, talking about my history, my upbringing, and all my influences. It’s gonna be a crazy project that goes in line with Blood on the Canvas.
TCUS: Speaking of another influence, I understand you’re a big fan out Outkast. What kind of an influence have they had on your career?
Thurz: Man, I have all of their albums. 3000 is probably my favourite rapper; everything he puts in a verse, I always find it so relatable. [He] made me readjust my approach on how I want to come across to a listener, and make sure I’m as relatable as possible. I want it to be like I’m having a conversation when I’m writing a song, sometimes. You’ll see that more on Blood on the Canvas, where a lot of songs are reflective on me and my peers. It’s gonna be more of a conversation that’s very relatable.
TCUS: You actually had the chance to record at Stankonia Studios. What was that experience like?
Thurz: That was legendary, man. Big Boi showed a lot of love, and The Flush opened up their arms to me out there. We’re on the same management team. Yeah man, I went out there during A3C and I didn’t get any chance to sleep [laughs]. I was in that studio right after my show. I played them a few of my records, and they started playing me beats, and it was like “yo, we wanna get a verse for you before you leave.” My flight [was leaving] at 6:00 in the morning, so we were in there until like 4:30 in the morning. That’s where I recorded “Epic Win”; I recorded the verse [there] on a C800 Sony mic. Everybody was bugging out. Rick and Jaron showed mad love in there; shout out to them, Dreamer, and Big Boi.
TCUS: An interesting fact about your album L.A. Riot is that Washington Prep was teaching a course on it. What can you tell me about that?
Thurz: My boy James Coffield, he’s the head of the music and art program over there. He has lectures and discussions about music, so he wrote down my album for his students and gave them the history of the riots in Los Angeles, and what my album reflected on. They were able to study that historical event and use my music as the score to it.
TCUS: I want to get back into the 517 W Queen Tape for a little bit. This is a quote of yours from “Trippin’ N Trickin’”: “Bank fees don’t bounce reality.” Can you elaborate on this?
Thurz: I’m saying you don’t want to have a bounced reality check, from dealing with a promiscuous broad or a crazy female. Just keeping things in perspective, and not trippin’ on promiscuous women [laughs].
TCUS: I’m gonna hit you with another quote, this one comes from “Keep The Faith”: “Product of fatherless planes but mom knew how to fly it.” Can you elaborate on this?
Thurz: Yeah, man. My biological father is from the Ivory Coast, but I don’t have a relationship with him. My mom was a single parent, and she was the captain of the flight, man. She was the person responsible for everything [in my life]. Luckily, my stepfather [came into] my life when I was around eleven years old, and into my teenage years. But those first ten to eleven years, I was with my mom the whole time. She was the captain of the flight.
TCUS: Since we’re a Canadian blog, I have to ask you about a Canadian connection. How did you and Rich Kidd first connect?
Thurz: He hit me on Twitter, I believe, and they came out to L.A. At the time, I was just leaving [U-N-I], and they were coming down to network and build with folks. I was managing a shop called Holy Grail in downtown, and they came through to the shop. They were feeling all the kicks that we had in there, and they copped a few pairs. We agreed to meet up and go over some music, and we just build a cool relationship from there, man. That’s my T-Dot family right there.
TCUS: You used to be with Holy Grail, but I understand you’ve got a new venture. What can you tell me about COLORS?
Thurz: I’m the buyer over there and the event coordinator, so I bring in a lot of the clothes and I do all the parties. [We] did an opening event with Young Guru; I did an in-store with me and Stalley; [Taz Arnold and I] did a party over there; I brought in a lot of Ti$a gear. We’ve got another party coming up, BET Weekend; I’ll be putting those details out real soon. Richard Torres is the owner over there, and they added me as part of the team.
TCUS: I’m gonna get back to another quote from the mixtape, this one’s from “L.N.S”: “The only feeling that makes sense is if the people feel you.” Can you explain?
Thurz: You’re only gonna make money if you’ve got fans. The people are gonna pay attention to what they want, so [it’s a play on] “sense” and “cents”. [The music] is only gonna make people feel something if it’s real, and it’s only gonna make money if it’s real. That’s what I meant by that.
TCUS: I have one final quote for you. In your song “Blood on the Canvas”, you talk about “painting masterpieces on dirty napkins.” Can you talk about this?
Thurz: I’m referring to just putting so much work into something and having to walk away from it. Why would you want to put a Mona Lisa on a dirty napkin and throw it away? That’s what I was referring to. My past work, with the earlier part of my career, where people know me from and got familiar with me from… I worked hard to build all that up – putting out all these crazy videos and gaining a following – and by not being on the same page and wanting the same goals [as my partner], you’re painting a masterpiece on a dirty napkin. I’m just inviting anybody who’s listening to never do that, and always have a clear goal and clear communication with whoever you’re working with.
TCUS: In the theme of “Blood on the Canvas”, what can you tell me about the upcoming Blood on the Canvas album?
Thurz: It’s a real big sound for me, man. It’s the best music I’ve recorded thus far. I’ve got all the family on there: DJ Khalil, Ro Blvd, THX, Phonix, the Futuristiks, Dahi, Rocki… It’s a cohesive-sounding project that should really progress music, everything as a whole: songwriting, lyrics, having fun, some singing on there, everything. It’s a big album for me; I’m proud of it.
TCUS: How close are we getting to a release date or another single release?
Thurz: We’ll probably start releasing some new music really soon. I want to get some records out for the summer; I have some fun records that I want to put out and have people party to. Summertime, man. It’s coming up.