Thurz Talks ‘Designer’ EP, Red Bull Sound Select and Taking Risks [EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW]
It may be cliché, but listeners should expect the unexpected when it comes to Thurz. The Los Angeles, Calif., rapper has made flipping perceptions and taking risks his mission as an artist. His past moves and forthcoming ones are proof that this is a plan in action, not just in thought.
Thurz got his first break as part of the duo U-N-I, comprised of himself and Y-O. The two gained significant exposure following the release of their 2007 street album, 'Fried Chicken & Watermelon,' as outlets such as MTV, Billboard, XXL and The Source all pinned the two as a new act to watch. U-N-I would drop a few more projects over the next few years before shocking everyone and announcing their split in 2011.
While U-N-I's split caught many off guard, the picture became clear when Thurz released his solo debut, 'L.A. Riot.' The critically-acclaimed album showed a new side of Thurz, a more socially conscious and politically-driven one. The project's concept centered around the 1992 Los Angeles riots, spurred by the videotaped police beating of Rodney King. The intense tone of the LP was in stark contrast to the relaxing, cheerful music that U-N-I had produced.
Thurz was now seen in a new light and he hopes to make this happen once again with the release of his 'Designer' EP. While he has delivered stray songs and a mixtape called '517 W Queen Tape' since 'L.A. Riot' arrived, this new EP represents his first official project since his breakthrough album arrived.
With the 'Designer' EP set to drop on Nov. 4, The Boombox spoke with Thurz about the upcoming project and his career. He talks about the concept of "designer music," the creative process behind the 'Designer' EP, what inspired 'L.A. Riot,' his involvement in the Red Bull Sound Select program and much more.
Check out what Thurz has to say in this exclusive interview.
The BoomBox: I was reading that you interned at Rhino and Capitol Records in college.
Thurz: Yeah, Rhino was right at the end of high school.
Cool. Obviously you got into the music industry, so what did you learn during your time there.
At Rhino, I worked under a product manager named Komeka Freeman, and then another guy, can’t remember his name at the moment. I learned a lot about marketing at that internship. I actually became a fan of Fleetwood Mac because Rhino dealt with a lot of older catalogs, reissuing older music and finding different ways to market and capture an audience for that older music.
At Capitol Records, I learned a lot. I learned how to put press kits together. I was working on Faith Evans and they had a rap group called Czar-Nok. So, I was calling up all these strip clubs throughout the U.S., and all these different barbershops; any place that seemed would be receptive to a hip-hop single, I was calling them up and sending out free samplers of their music. So, I learned a lot on how to attack from a marketing angle. It was pretty informative and helped me out a lot.
Listen to Thurz's 'Los Angeles'
So once you got into the music industry yourself, you kind of had a leg up in knowing how to market.
Yeah, for sure. I’d say it definitely gave me a better perspective on how to market music and how to find new listeners. I’d have to say the major difference from when I was interning was the pop of the Internet. It really increased and you were able to reach a lot more people just through online marketing, and that wasn’t really a big tool when I was interning.
Obviously many people know you from your days with U-N-I and then you went solo a few years ago. I want to talk a little about that and specifically your album ‘L.A. Riot.’ It was really an eye-opening album and a dramatic change in tone for you. With songs like ‘Rodney King’ and the whole concept of the album, it showed a whole new side to you as a rapper. Was that part of why the split happened? Did you need to get out on your own and express these issues that were pressing in your mind?
Definitely. There’s a lot of different factors that led up to me making ‘L.A. Riot.’ Obviously leaving the group wasn’t something I openly wanted to do because there was a lot of work that went into building that group up. So, I had a lot of emotion at that time. I was researching about the riots and through that research, I was able to draw a line through a lot of feelings and emotions I had to a lot of the feelings that people had during the riots. Just using this historical event to express myself to burn down and rebuild a new artist and continue to get better.
With that project, I definitely wanted to reestablish myself as an artist that could talk about anything. I just want to be an artist that’s limitless and no parameters as far as music and content. I make “designer music” so anything that I experience is creating a fabric and I’m the only one that’s going to be able to cut it, tailor it, design it and present it to the world. It was a project that I wanted to give to the world and let people know I’m a real artist and I’ve got a lot more to say.
Listen to Thurz's 'Rodney King'
It’s crazy when you look all that’s happened in Ferguson and it seems like now there’s constant stories of police brutality. The album’s just as, if not more, relevant now than it was in 2011, when it dropped.
Yeah, it’s crazy. I just touched on things that have been occurring for a very long time and it’s going to be issues that still come up to this day. But I just wanted to discuss all that stuff, pulling experiences from Los Angeles and people in the community or people I spoke to. It was definitely a creative project, concept-driven and a lot of work when into it. I’m proud of it.
For a while you were promoting that you would be releasing ‘Blood on the Canvas’ but now you've moved to the 'Designer' EP. Is 'Blood on the Canvas' still on the table?
Oh yeah, for sure. It still is. The ‘Designer’ EP is part of the ‘Blood on the Canvas.’ It's going to be ‘Blood on the Canvas: Designer LP.’ The EP is just getting a sample of where I've grown musically. I'm having a lot of fun on these records and just… the music is very dense. I just wanted to test it out with the EP first. I'm definitely proud of my growth and the music that's going to be coming from this project and the album. It’s just the best way to really introduce them, which is putting out the EP first.
Listen to Thurz's '21'
I noticed that the singles you’ve put out so far, the production and the vibe seems a little more upbeat and vibrant, especially when I look at ‘21’ or even ‘Right Now.' Was that a conscious decision to take a dramatic turn from what we saw on ‘L.A. Riot’ with a different vibe?
Yeah man. I just want to be unexpected. I want people to never know what to expect. Obviously I want to have a standard of quality with the music, but I want people to be surprised whenever they hear a new solo record from me. I'm not scared to put some new shit out. I'm about having fun right now. I'm taking the risk. It's not even really a risk to me because it represents me at the end of the day.
With these new records, they're all from scratch. I had a lot of different musicians coming through like Andrew Gouche. He plays bass for Prince. He played on this record. I got Clyde Carson, Kent of Overdoz, BJ the Chicago Kid and my homie Preston Harris of HS87. Everything was built from scratch with this project. We just wanted to make sure it sounds like nothing else out and that's really big. Like when I dropped ‘L.A. Riot,’ I made sure it sounded like nothing else that was out. So I'm always trying push the envelope with the sound and with the message.
I really enjoyed the ‘Right Now’ single. It's an upbeat production and you’re incredibly honest about your past experiences and how you see your role as an artist today. I think the line that hit me was "Stuck between Worldstar and NPR / Where street money don’t stretch that far." I wanted to get your thoughts on that song and the concept behind it.
That's actually the intro to the project. I just wanted to lay out my cards: who Thurz is, where I came from, what I've experienced, where I'm at right now and where I plan to go. That's the best way to really put that song into a short explanation.
Listen to Thurz's 'Right Now'
On ’21,’ I thought the production was really interesting. You had the old school electro-funk style. It kind of reminded me of Zapp and Roger Troutman with the vocoder. I was wondering if that was an influence for that and if you had an intention to go back to the old school G-funk, L.A. music with that track.
Yeah man. It was intentional. That was like one of the prime records that shaped the soundscape for the project. When we did that, we were at Spaced Out and we had all the homies over, drinking, partying and having a good time. Me and the producer Marlon [Barrow] just went from scratch again and I told him what tempo I wanna be at. I want people dancing to the song. I want to party like I'm 21 in Vegas! When we were in Vegas, we were going crazy. I want to put a song together that represents that, where people can relate and you want to have fun too. That's what ‘21’ is. I'm proud of that record. That's the single. It's unexpected, people don't expect it, so it has that quality factor that I strive for.
This EP will be coming out with a Red Bull Sound Select. I wanted to get some insight from you on that program. What's involved in Red Bull Sound Select and what's it like being an artist with them?
Man, Red Bull Sound Select is a great program. Their approach to marketing is very unique and they strive to do things out of the box. So for them to really want to invest in independent artists and actually break music is a testament to their vast marketing strategy. I applaud it.
I first got on board with Sound Select just helping out on the production end with the shows in L.A. A lot of the higher ups caught wind of my music and wanted to enter me in the program. I am definitely on board for that. Our first show was with Run the Jewels at the Troubadour last year. So now we are doing #30DaysinLA, which is Red Bull Sound Select's music series they're doing in Los Angeles next month, I'll be playing with Run the Jewels and Mystery Skulls at the Echo, so I am excited for that. It’s just a great program. I’m just happy to be involved. I’m happy about my music and helping me reach more listeners.
Listen to Thurz's 'Perfect Words'
As far as how the music gets put out, are they operating like a record label or is it just kind of assisting you in getting the music out?
They’re assisting me. It is like they are supporting independent artists and just helping out wherever they can lend a hand. I am the machine and they just kind of assist with my productivity.
Cool. Obviously, a running theme of the almost last decade or so has been this “New West” concept and even you were kind of a part of it when U-N-I was first getting going. Now you see TDE, obviously Kendrick, YG and guys like this getting popular. What's your thoughts on the West Coast scene right now, and especially Los Angeles, and where you think it's at and what more we can expect to see in the future?
It’s definitely a great time right now. What’s crazy is none of these artists are new. Everybody has been striving as long as anybody. Most of the people who are shining right now definitely deserve it. I applaud YG. He’s definitely been doing his thing for a very long time. And it’s crazy, I was actually introduced to his music through Marlon. Marlon goes by Chordz as well and he did some production on ‘Toot it and Boot It’ which was YG’s breakthrough single years ago. So, just to see his success is inspiring.
Obviously, I have known Kendrick for a minute. I haven't spoken to him in a minute, but I definitely assisted bringing him on stage and all that. Seeing his success is just crazy. And that’s dope and I applaud that. I’m just happy seeing everyone succeeding, man. I’m happy and I’m just trying to do my part, and make sure that the world hears it and have a good time and party with me.
Listen to Thurz's 'High Castle'
That’s great. Alright, as we wrap up, I have to get your take on this. I know you’re a big hoops fan and basketball season is right around the corner. I wanted to get your thoughts. What are you most looking forward to for this season?
[Laughs] You know, that's not even really a question. You know what I am looking forward to, the Lake Show! I just want to make the playoffs. I want to get that eight seed. I am trying to be realistic. I’m trying not to be delusional, but I think the Lakers are going to have a really good season. I am excited.
Kobe’s bouncing back?
I don’t know if I want to say he’s bouncing back, but it's gonna be a legit squad. Like, what’s crazy is there is a lot of chemistry that was building last year. Kobe was very anxious to play and I would’ve wanted to play as well, but when he came back, the team chemistry shifted and disappeared and that kind of f--ked up the whole season. This year, I think that Kobe is going to be ready to go. I think we've got a lot of good role players that have a different mindset than last year and will be ready to execute. I just think that it is going to be a good season. I'm excited.
I mean I am a big Derrick Rose fan as well. I am excited to see him come back and do damage. I want to see what the Cavs do. I love Kyrie Irving and to see him and LeBron and Kevin Love together, that’s going to be a problem. I still think they slept on Andrew Wiggins because I think that he is going to be that next dude. It’s kind of crazy. He wasn't too crazy in college, but he put up some good numbers. His game reminds me of, it’s Jordan-esque or Kobe Bryant-esque with more athleticism. He’s like a better version almost. But we’re going to see how he turns out in the NBA, but I think that he’s going to do good.
That’s good man. I might be fighting with you for that eighth spot cause my Pelicans, I’m hoping they’re on their way back to playoffs.
Y’all are pretty solid!
I hope so, just gotta stay healthy. Alright man, I appreciate you taking the time. It was great talking to you.
Aw man, likewise.