Twenty years ago, the Los Angeles riots happened as the aftershock of the Rodney King beating in 1991 – where a year later King’s uniformed aggressors were acquitted despite being caught on video bludgeoning King. L.A. rapper Thurz released his solo debut album L.A. Riot last year, tackling the heavy subject and its 20-year repercussions. Formerly of the group U-N-I, Thurz came from a place of party raps before evolving into his current self. He’s a casual conspiracy theorist (he was heading to the bookstore following our interview to buy Behold a Pale Horse at my suggestion), who aims to mix social consciousness with mainstream accessibility a la Outkast. Thurz is keeping that in mind as he finishes his follow-up album Blood On the Canvas. His recent appearance as a rapper on NBC’s Parenthood kicked his fame up a couple of notches, but he’s taking it in stride. After all, he still can’t leave a club in Hollywood without the Po-Po waving their batons at him.
VICE: 2012 has been a pretty big year for you, but 2011 really started with L.A. Riot. What inspired you to initially do that project?
Thurzday: A friend of mine was doing some research at the time and the 20-year anniversary [of the L.A. riots] was approaching in 2012. So, it sparked my interest, being a resident of Inglewood in L.A. I was here when the riots broke out. I was a kid, but I can still remember seeing ashes come down from burning buildings, and seeing angry folks in the community, and police in riot gear. So it was something that I also wanted to research and grasp a better understanding of what erupted the city in flames. As far as my mind-state, I wanted to draw a line to that historical event to my mind-state artistically, and what I was going through in my life. So I was able to pull the spirit of the riots and apply it to my music for what I was experiencing. At that time, I broke away from my group [U-N-I]. There was like a move in L.A. to where a lot of artists had to fit this mold of what cool was, and I wanted to burn down that barrier. I was just able to draw that line and you know, kind of create this great project, L.A. Riot. It’s dear to me and it represented my mind-state at that time and still pays homage to my home, my city, my fans.
What is it like for black men dealing with the LAPD in 2012?
Luckily, I haven’t really had any incidents this year, but I have had some run-ins with police officers. They never really give you an explanation as to why they pull you over. It’s always some BS. You may fit some description, driving through an area that you’re not even a resident of, and they're just going to pull you over on some BS and say you have a broken taillight. So it’s just, uh, racial profiling still exists. I know that there are some good officers that are in the police department, but it’s those certain punk ass police that always mess it up [laughs]. Mess it up for everybody.
Do you recall one incident specifically where you got home and you were like man, FTP!
Yes. Walking outside of a club in Hollywood. First, shit was going down outside. I don’t recall what the incident was, but they closed off the area. It was an easy area for me to walk to my car. And you know, I was trying to get to my car so I can get out and go home. And [the cops] wanted me to walk all the way around the block. I was trying to say respectfully, like, “Sir, my car is right there I can just walk right to it.” And this officer just started yelling at me like, “I SAID YOU CAN’T WALK OVER HERE! YOU NEED TO WALK AROUND THE OTHER SIDE!” He had some other officers around him, and he was talking to me like he was trying to intimidate me. You know, I’m still respectful like, whatever, okay. I just started walking the other way, but slowly. I wasn’t going to run because he’s yelling at me. Then he charged at me with his baton and hits me to the ground. Then this other officer pulled out her mace incase I got up and attacked him. I was stuck like, I wanted to kill this guy. I wanted to strangle this officer. I felt so much rage man. It’s just…I’ve never really been in a moment where I couldn’t react without expecting the worst reaction coming to me. I know I would’ve probably got my ass whooped and been the next Rodney King if I would’ve attacked that officer. But, yeah, that’s my main run-in with some crooked cops.
Do you ever go back to those places mentally when you’re rhyming?
Definitely. All my music I just pull off of experiences, and stories, and everything that’s relatable to my actual life. That’s kind of what led me into the title Blood on the Canvas for my next project. I’m just pulling stories and experiences and creating a score to this lifestyle that me and my peers live.
Are you feeling that the more that your fame is growing – you know showing up on TV and stuff like that – the more you are feeling like people want you to kind of dumb-down your content? Or has that not happened yet?
Well, it is something to consider. You kind of to have to gauge your demo and you kind of have to gauge what this music business is about. You have to realize what’s gonna work. Obviously, it's always best for artists to stay in their own lane and always be in their comfort zone. But when you decide to consider what level of artistry you want to be at – and you kind of have to understand what molds need to be made to build your brand – do you want to be Shasta Cola, or do you want to be Coca-Cola? It’s always those things you have to consider, so, you may want to compromise on something, but not too much. With my new music, the sound is a little bigger. I still have great content to it. I’m just making it more infectious; I want people to sing my songs more. I want people to relate to it. I know people are going to relate to my lyrics, but I want to make sure they relate to the whole song. I want them to sing it – sing it at a show word for word – and just go back to a time in their life where they could reflect on what this song is and what it means to them.
You said you wanted to make your music more relatable. With Blood on the Canvas, what did you aim to do differently from L.A. Riot to get to that point?
So,L.A. Riot had a lot of live instrumentation. You could hear some Rock influences in there, you could hear some Jazz in there. I don’t want to say I modernized the sound, but we looked to make...not be current but looked to be more ahead of the time. I wanted to kind of take an approach, like a Stankonia approach almost, because when [Outkast] dropped that and Aquemini, I never heard anything like that. I think Outkast is the best group to do it, to have commercial success and still have dope records that mean something. I don’t want to say I took their approach, but they did it best so I’m following suit, but still creating my own lane. Sound wise, I started off with THX and kind of created a sound that we hadn’t really done. That set the tone for the album. So it doesn’t sound like L.A. Riot, it sounds like a new genre of Thurz.
What inspired you to become a solo artist and leave U-N-I?
Mainly just growth, and reaching a point of maturity to where you don’t want to compromise any vision you have. When somebody’s not on the same page, it’s a handicap for your artistry. So, I didn’t want any handicaps. I wanted to be great, and I can’t be great with somebody that’s not going to be great by my side.
So tell me about this “Parenthood” appearance. How did it come together?
So my boy, he works at Kobalt. Shout out to Chris Lakey. He’s good friends with the casting agency behind “Parenthood,” and they were looking for a rapper that fit the bill, and he recommended me. So they looked up my music, and they were fans of what I was doing. They liked all my videos and they contacted me like, “We want you to do this,” and they sent me the script.I was reading it like, “Damn! They want me to say the N-word on TV?” I was like, you know what, I'ma do it. I'ma make it tight. And it worked out. We met up on the set, and we executed it. I had to send them my lyrics prior to, and they approved it. They approved the record that we used which was “Great Going Good,” and you know, they were fans. They loved everything I was doing. They were all hype on set when I was performing it, so it was a great experience.
Do you see yourself moving into acting?
Yeah, I definitely want to do some more acting. I want to make great music and still try to do some great film work. I feel like we don’t have anybody close to what Spike Lee has done, and we need that new generation's Spike Lee. So if I could have a team around me that could accomplish some powerful, just creative film work, I would love to do that.
What’s your opinion of street flicks? I don’t mean like Boyz In The Hood, I mean like State Property.
Um… I feel like, it was cool. It served its purpose. It was cool. It was fun to watch. Honestly, the acting wasn’t...A-list celebrities in there doing that. But there are some street flicks. Would you count Paid in Full as a street flick?
I love that one. That’s a classic to me. There's real actors in there. When you just have a cast of rappers, it’s questionable as to what the quality is going to come out to. You’re not going to get that Blockbuster film with just rappers. I do prefer movies that cast people whose life is to capture a character, rather than whose life is just to be a rapper.
Did you feel that with Boyz In The Hood...
Being from that area, did John Singleton nail it with what that looks like everyday?
Yes, to the T. Yeah!
Over 20 years later, does it still look like that? Is that way of life still a thing?
Um, it’s still relevant. That’s a classic movie; it’s timeless. You still got cops who act like that. Like when he pulled over Cuba [Gooding, Jr.]. It still goes down like that. It’s still so relevant. The only thing that's really changed is some of the attire and the cars. It’s still like that. Yeah.
What happened to L.A. Hip-Hop? When did artists’ pants get so tight? When did this happen?
[Laughs] Fashion is a cycle. Music is a cycle. It’s just a cycle man. Everything comes and goes. So, you had people rocking skinny jeans in the past few years, and you know, it’s changing. You got pants that get smaller, people are trying to be more fashionable. It reminds of how people dressed in the 70s and 80s almost. In the 80s you didn’t have baggy pants. It’s kind of similar to that. In the 90s, you had baggy jeans and big t-shirts in the early 2000s. I used to rock a 38” waist or a 40” waist in jeans and a 3X tee and some Air Force Ones. It’s just an evolution.
Do you feel like the music changed once the pants got tighter?
The music, I could say – when I was part of U-N-I, the music we made was brighter. It wasn’t the norm for what L.A. was known for. So we had represented, before Kendrick Lamar, we were those good kids in a mad city. We represented, our music represented non-gangster people who were in L.A. who just wanted to enjoy life, talk about women, drink, party, smoke something. That’s what it was about. That’s what the music really represented. Now it’s evolving to where I had to step away, and I had stuff that I wanted to reflect on and say. My life wasn’t just about partying, that wasn’t what I was living after I was nearing the end of what U-N-I was. I wasn't partying like that. My life changed so my music changed.
Were you shocked by the results of the election where the country was actually even more split than it was the last time around?
We know it's like that, we know in this country that racism is going to exist forever. The same states that were slavery states are still those same states that are calling Obama a n-----, not trying to keep a Black man in office. It’s sad. People try to say that the country is not racist or whatever, but there's still shallow-minded people. Ignorance is just always going to exist. So I’m not surprised at all.
Are you a conspiracy theorist?
Somewhat. I’ll talk about little conspiracies here and there, but I’m not like, a geek about it [laughs]
Do you think certain rappers are in the Illuminati?
It’s hard to say, because from what I know about the Illuminati... Well I don’t know, but what’s told is it stems from the opium trade, the slave trade and Queen Elizabeth. It just seems like a tier that rappers wouldn’t be able to touch. A tier of people. Like that 33rd degree that I don’t feel like any rappers would have enough power or status to approach that. I know rappers do have influence over the Black demo, like the urban demo and a few suburban kids. But I feel like they’re not that influential. It’s like a brand like, Coca-Cola again, [laughs]. I don’t think they have that much power. I know music is powerful, Hip-Hop is crazy… You know what? Damn. I take that back. Man. Now that I look at it like that. I don’t know. I don’t know if there are any rappers in the Illuminati.
So you get a package in the mail that says, “Your Illuminati membership kit.” Do you open it up or do you put “return to sender?”
[Laughs] Hmm, that’s a good question. Man, the curiosity would kill me! I would have to open it up!
But if you open it, then you know! And that means you’re in.
Damn the curiosity would kill me. I would have to know what's in that box. But damn!
You wouldn't maybe steam it open and then seal it again?
Yea! [laughs] We'll do that. We're going to do that.