Studio Sessions | Thurz's influence spans from pre-fame Kendrick Lamar to ‘Grand Theft Auto’ Dr. Dre
Rapper Thurz of U-N-I taps in for the latest installment of “Studio Sessions” to discuss working with Dr. Dre, Kendrick Lamar prior to fame, and much more.
When blogs ruled the music industry in the late 2000s, rapper Thurz was one-half of what is arguably L.A.’s most heralded duo in that space, U-N-I. A decade later, he’s grown to be respected for his artistry by legends like Dr. Dre, who he made a song with the first time they met.
“I ended up freestyling what was in my head, and then he fine-tuned it. He got on the mic and did some chorus ideas. We literally made our first song in an hour or less. That gave me the pass to keep returning and working with the Aftermath family,” Thurz told REVOLT.
In this installment of “Studio Sessions,” the prolific musical savant explains how he ended up on Dre’s Grand Theft Auto compilation of songs. He also discusses working with Kendrick Lamar prior to fame and U-N-I dropping more music in the near future.
Who was the first major artist you were in the studio with?
That would have to have been Xzibit or Talib Kweli. Talib took us on tour in 2009/2010. He always looked out and let us rock on dates in the United States. He also did a few records with us. Being in the studio with him was a cool experience, almost on some big homie shit. Xzibit was set up through Cashmere. The homies Kosta and Ryan were doing a project around dubstep, and we worked with another production crew called Chase & Status. We linked with Xzibit at our homie Nick Breton’s facility called Truth Studios. X came through, and we collaborated on a record that came out pretty dope.
How did you mesh your creative process with those artists?
Xzibit specifically had a lot of energy. He was coming in very aggressive with how he delivered his vocals and lyrics. I was studying how every phrase had character and color. Taking note of that, I thought, ‘Oh, this is how these professional rappers do it. They make sure every phrase has intention behind it.’ I started applying that in different studio sessions. With Talib, I was a fan of his since Black Star. They really changed the course of how I wrote raps. Talib is very detailed with what he’s saying. It emphasized all lyrics need to have meaning. I saw the style he maintained over the years, and I was able to see him execute it.
I got into your music when you were a part of U-N-I during the blog era of the late 2000s. What are some of your favorite blog era studio sessions?
One of my favorites was doing the remix to ‘I Do This’ with Kendrick [Lamar]. He was definitely the homie. Doing the sessions was very exciting. We were in Carson and could execute what we wanted to to make it a fun time. I also did some other records with Kendrick that’ll probably never come out (laughs). We saw what Top [Dawg] had going on with artists like Ab-Soul and Schoolboy Q. Seeing them in the earlier stages was dope. We recorded the remix at the TDE studio in Carson. I remember it being a super basic studio. It wasn’t all plush. It was a cool back house. MixedByAli was there. It was definitely humble beginnings. We’d bring Kendrick on stage at all of the U-N-I shows and perform the remix. We even did it on tour when he wasn’t with us. We essentially were ushering him into the game when we’d bring him out at shows we’d do with artists like Busta Rhymes and 50 Cent. We were big fans of his.
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I’ve seen you in the studio with Dr. Dre. How did you first connect with him?
That’s the big bro. I was actually working with the homie [Jason ‘J.LBS’ Pounds]. We were at the Red Bull studio in Santa Monica wrapping up a project and finished mixing and mastering everything. I went to the crib, and Pounds went to Record One [Studio]. Pounds hit me up like, ‘I got a request for you to come up to Record One. Tyhiem [Cannon] wants to show you the facility we have here.’ I almost didn’t make it to the studio because my son had choked on a Lego (laughs). I had to make sure he was good. I got the Lego out, made sure he was good, and then made it up to the studio. They showed me the studios, and then MeLL Beets played some beats when Tyhiem walked in and asked, ‘Have you met Dr. Dre yet?’ I was like, ‘I haven’t, but I’d love to. It’d be an honor.’ Dre was sitting in the lounge area. As soon as I walked into the lounge area, Dre was like, ‘Thurz!’ It was like we knew each other. We sat down and had a really cool conversation about where his mindset is at and how he wants to have creative people around him to make some dope ideas. I told him about myself, and he told me who he’s heard about me from. He started playing some beats at the end of the conversation, and one of them was called ‘Sangria’ produced by MeLL Beets. He asked if I fucked with it, and I told him, ‘Hell yeah.’ He asked if I was trying to work — of course, I was. We went into one of the studio rooms, and we ended up making our first song together. I ended up freestyling what was in my head, and then he fine-tuned it. He got on the mic and did some chorus ideas. We literally made our first song in an hour or less. That gave me the pass to keep returning and working with the Aftermath family. That was in 2016.
When you’re in the studio with Dre, what is your working relationship like?
Pretty much, there are no egos in the room, but Dre is the conductor. Everyone is an instrument, and he has you in there for a reason. I contribute concepts and bars and either writing with Dre or featured on a song. We always pass bars to each other. We both get on the mic and try to get the best ideas recorded. The goal of the sessions is to have the highest integrity and make the dopest idea possible.
Didn’t you play chess in the studio with Dre?
Yeah, but it wasn’t in the studio. We were just posted in the crib. Fellowship and community are a big part of creating the family at Aftermath. So, sometimes Dre would just have us hanging out at the crib. He’s a good chess player, man. We’d just be having conversations and building. Dre is competitive at chess. I’m a decent player. I think he’s a little more advanced.
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Earlier this year, Dre released some new music via the Grand Theft Auto video game. You were featured on a song called “Falling Up.” How did you get involved with that process?
We did that song a while ago, and it resurfaced for GTA. He was trying to find six songs that made sense. He has an extensive catalog, but he called me out of the blue like, ‘Yo, I’m fucking with ‘Falling Up’ for the GTA shit.’ I was like, ‘Hell yeah, let’s run it up.’ That’s pretty much how that happened. It was a song that existed, and he polished it up.
What was a typical studio session like for U-N-I?
For A Love Supreme, we recorded a lot of that at SAE [Institute], a school in Hollywood. The homie Glenn Gonda reached out to me after we did ‘Fried Chicken & Watermelon’ [in 2007]. We had the blog buzz. NikeTalk was a gathering ground for people to talk about shoes and new music, so I’d be on there. Glen would hit me up on the side like, ‘Hey, I’m an engineer. Pull up to SAE; I got you guys on studio time.’ I took him up on his offer, and we were able to record A Love Supreme at a dope facility. We had all of the incredible mics we didn’t have access to before that. So, those sessions were next level. Most of the creative process happened at Ro Blvd’s house in Sun Valley. Yonas and I would bounce ideas off of each other, agree on melodies, and ensure we were on the same page to execute a dope song.
How has your recording process evolved over the years?
U-N-I sessions were more of a party. For my studio sessions now they’re almost like therapy sessions. I may only have time to get in one or two times a week, and it’s me reflecting on a key moment that week and turning it into a song. So it evolved from more of leisure to more of a therapy.
Speaking of therapy, have you ever cried while making a record?
I have. It hasn’t come out yet, but it might be on the upcoming project. I was talking about balancing and being present for certain moments. It was a self-reflecting moment. It was some real shit.
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What would you say is the funniest session you’ve been a part of?
I’m not a big smoker, but I was in a session with Redman, who’s one of my favorite rappers. When Redman is passing you the blunt, you can’t say no. I remember hitting the blunt and immediately was high (laughs). It was some high-grade rapper weed. I was stuck in the session like, ‘Damn, I’m smoking in a session with Redman, but I can’t really talk’ (laughs). That was one funny moment. Another one was smoking with Ty Dolla $ign. Ty would always have the highest grade weed. He had some shit called Skywalker and I remember the first time I smoked it, I felt like I could see the music coming out of the speakers after that (laughs).
Even when you aren’t making music as a part of U-N-I, you’re able to keep your name buzzing. I saw you were in the studio with D Smoke.
That song hasn’t come out yet; maybe one day it will. That’s my bro. I love everything he’s doing. He cares about the craft of rap. He comes from one of the most important families in Inglewood. Anything Smoke and I can do will uplift the city and anyone who’s Black and creative. That session was overdue because we were supposed to do a few songs in the past. The homie Dame Taylor had some space at Studio City Sound. Smoke and I pulled up there. I started this concept, Smoke came in and I told him, ‘This is what I’m thinking.’ I had some ideas for a chorus, but he was able to push the chorus to another level. That song definitely needs to come out.
You’ve worked with so many artists. How do you adapt to their different styles?
I’m just always open to collaborating. I appreciate what everyone brings creatively. I like being around authentic people. When I go to sessions, I’m not trying to do anything out of my norm. I don’t have real parameters for my creativity; I feel I can do anything. I try to be my best self and bring the best out of other people.
Is there a session you’ve been in that’s near and dear to your heart?
I was in the studio once for 15 hours. I was going through some personal shit, and the studio is my outlet. I think we did six songs in that time frame. The magic hour kicked in around four in the morning, and I cranked out three songs until 8 o’clock, and those are some of my favorite songs I’ve recorded. I was tired, but I didn’t want to go anywhere else. They haven’t come out yet.
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What do you have coming up for the rest of the year?
The Party in My Living Room app. I got a lot of projects coming out with the homies. A new U-N-I album is coming out. It’s going to be an exciting year.
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