by Garrett Caples
Luniz 10th Anniversary Special exclusive to hyphythizzgo.com
You’ve got to hand it to Yukmouth; during the Bay Area’s long post-2pac commercial drought—when E-40 and the by-then-Atlanta-based Too Short were the region’s only major-label platinum acts—Yuk routinely moved several hundred thousand units for Houston, TX independent Rap-A-Lot Records, maintaining a nationwide reputation without radio play, videos, or big-budget promotion. His success is partly due to sheer talent. Yukmouth’s flow is fierce, and while some fans were disgruntled when he smoothed out his voice on his solo albums, it soon became apparent that he was merely expanding his arsenal. His Luniz voice continues to crop up, but as one of many weapons at his disposal, and his continually-evolving technique keeps him current in an industry where styles quickly become dated.
Besides talent, Yuk’s success stems from sheer relentlessness. Having taken it upon himself to don the Thug mantle left vacant by the death of 2pac, Yukmouth has remained faithful to the role. Like Pac, he refuses to be politic, calling the game how he sees it, never backing down regardless of the opponent. As a result, he’s been involved in some legendary beefs: Master P; Scarface; Daz; Snoop (to name just a few). Most recently, Yuk’s been waging a two-front campaign against G-Unit and its erstwhile associate The Game. When we spoke he’d just released All Out War, Vol. 2, on his new Rap-A-Lot/Asylum-distributed label, Smoke-A-Lot. A 2-CD monument to spleen, War is the second mixtape by his multi-region crew, The Regime.
“Our click is from the East, Midwest, South, and the West, so we represent everybody,” Yuk says. “The Regime is Yukmouth, Tech N9ne, Gonzoe, Poppa LQ, Monster Gunjah, Menace, E-Blak, Dru Down, Young Dru, Young Skrilla, Ampichino, Nate Da Nut, Messy Marv, Mark Shyst. It’s the veterans and the young people I’ve discovered throughout my career. A lot of people come to you with CDs, rapping after shows; I happen to be one of the dudes who listens. I picked the best apples outta the bunch and formed the Regime.”
“We’re warming the streets up before we drop an album.. People heard about us from the song on my album Godzilla (Rap-A-Lot 2003), but I want people to feel us as a group; you can’t really see our diversity, our range of music, from just one song. On this new mixtape, we’re giving damn near 50 songs. We mean business.”
Indeed, and in more ways than one. While Yuk’s beefs are unquestionably sincere—fresh anger rises in his voice while discussing them—the budding label tycoon isn’t blind to the marketability of his battle with the whole G-Unit/Shady/Aftermath/Interscope juggernaut, currently the dominant commercial force in hip hop. 50 Cent and Game are even listed on the cover of War, along with more willing non-Regime participants like E-40, Jacka from Mob Figaz, and Guce of Bullys Wit Fullys fame.
“Game’s on the mixtape,” Yuk confirms. “It’s a skit where a girl clowns the shit out of him on the radio. There’s a lot of exclusive shit the average consumer couldn’t get unless you heard it that night. I got the actual shit, where 50 Cent dropped a nigga on Hot 97, the Fat Joe interview where he found out 50 did the song and he’s challenging him to a fight. I got Jay-Z on there when he dissed Game. It’s not only us; it’s a combination of everybody.”
Yuk has a point, for the sheer size of his coalition of the willing, not to mention its geographical diversity, suggests a growing backlash within hip hop against the corporate-funded hype machine that launched both 50 and Game in quick succession. The situation is extremely fluid, however. Game, for instance, takes his share of lumps on War, which features titles like “Playin Gaymez” and “It’s Not a Gayme,” as well as a surrogate, “The Lame,” portrayed with comedic panache by young San Diego rapper/producer Fifth. Yet surprisingly enough, according to Yukmouth, these portions of the mixtape are strictly historical.
“Right now, me and Game squashed the beef. He called me, after I pressed up the mixtape, and I’m like, ‘Yo, shit’s pressed up.’ And he’s like, ‘Ok, I understand. But from now on let’s not get at each other.’ I’m like, ‘Cool.’ Because he used to do the ‘Fuck you, Yukmouth’ at the beginning of every set, but he stopped that. And I respect that, so I ain’t gonna do no more songs about the dude because he’s holding his word.”
Anyone familiar with Yukmouth’s ability to hold a grudge—he’s still dissing now-retired Master P for biting “Ice Cream Man” 10 years ago—might be surprised by this abrupt about-face, but it makes sense, for Game’s war with G-Unit has inadvertently landed him on Yuk’s side of the fence. Word on the street was their beef stemmed from an incident that didn’t even involve Yuk, during a Game appearance in an Oakland record store, and for all the vitrol that’s flown between them, a beef based on a misunderstanding probably isn’t worth the effort given changing conditions on the ground.
In terms of his beef with 50, however, Yuk’s enthusiasm remains undiminished. “I’m willing to do a song with Game shitting on G-Unit,” he says. “I’m about West Coast preservation right now.” Preservation, it seems, is the very issue behind the 50 Cent backlash within the industry; unlike his clash with Game, Yuk’s beef with 50 is a matter of principle.
“50 Cent did a lot of snitching,” Yuk says, reiterating a charge frequently leveled against the G-Unit leader. “I won’t say what he said but he did a lot of dry ratting that got the hip hop industry fucked up. Major underground independent labels getting hit by the Feds, ATF, know what I mean? When dude got on BET and said what he said, he’s fucking with people’s livelihood. He’s got the magnifying glass on everybody, like everybody’s racketeering, trying to launder money. What’s all this shit coming from? Shit some rapper said on TV? When shit like that happens, it’s beef.”
“Murder Inc. ain’t the only label that got hit like that,” Yuk insists, referring to the federal prosecution of label heads Irv and Chris Gotti on money laundering charges, of which they were acquitted in early December. “Go ahead diss the shit out of Jah Rule, that’s not a problem. But when you start fucking with niggas’ livelihood, their money, their labels, it’s like, damn, are you hating on all black entrepeneurs? If you’re doing that, I have something against you, because I’m a young black entrepeneur.”
The connections Yuk makes here are striking in light of how weak the prosecution’s case was, reportedly based on a handful of text messages. The ramifications of 50 taking his beef with The Inc. off wax and into the federal court system would indeed be chilling, given that the Gotti’s are self-made record moguls and 50 is merely the nominal head of a imprint created by white corporate dollars.
“Of course Interscope is behind every move,” Yuk insists. “When Benzino started fucking with Eminem in The Source, Jimmy Iovine instantly put his money into XXL. Now every month all you see is Interscope artists on the cover. Irv Gotti said he was in a meeting with Iovine, because they all have the same parent labels—Universal, Interscope, Def Jam—so they gotta have big meetings and luncheons together. Irv sees the dude [Iovine] at the luncheon, and the dude really don’t want to look at him, talk to him or nothing, like he’s really in the beef. They’re at a table where all the execs have to talk, and Jimmy Iovine won’t look at him, like he’s really down with this beef and shit. He’s got 50 and Eminem’s back on that shit.”
“That’s a crazy way to do it because could it lead to another 2pac/Biggie sort of incident,” Yuk says. “I mean, damn, labels don’t give us life insurance. They’re putting niggas in danger, then a nigga dies and shit, and they get all the money. Same as Pac; Pac died and they got all the money.”
Whether or not Yuk’s conspiracy theories seem plausible or paranoid, it became clear early last summer that G-Unit was feeling the heat, when recent signée Spider Loc—whom Yukmouth had never met—was dispatched to snatch Yuk’s chain. “I got jumped by 6 niggas and they pulled out a pistol. I was by myself. But the very next day, by the time he got to the jewelery store, he got a call to give that shit back. So he hurried up and took his little picture with it, and then gave that shit back. I had his OGs, the people he looked up to, calling. ‘Oh what did I do; I didn’t know!’ He pleading his case like that. I had niggas that if they called the shot he couldn’t walk off his fucking doorstep, them type of niggas calling him. Had his ass on the phone apologizing.”
“As far as money, they’ve got better backing, but gangstas run the streets, man. Not money; gangstas run the street,” Yuk says defiantly. “I ain’t said I’m gonna kill nobody, but they definitely gonna get beat up or their chain snatched. Those dudes think they’re invincible with their bulletproof vans and shit. You still gotta go to sleep. Are you going to sleep in a bulletproof room? Or you still gotta hop on flights. You can have a lot of money and still be touched, man.”
(part one: The Luniz: 10 On It!
part three: The Mystery of Numskull)
by Garrett Caples