Although he was a key player in the scene's revival (it's now well and truly eatin'—ScHoolboy Q will tell you) , Yannick "Thurz" Koffi is sorely overlooked when it comes to West Coast hip-hop discussions. Since splitting from the well-loved U-N-I duo, which also included Y-O, in 2011, the Inglewood, California native has been a man on a mission.
Last year he released his debut solo album, L.A. Riot, a lofty conceptual record which channeled the energy of the 1992 Los Angeles riots over a booming soundtrack, and followed up with the stellar 517 W Queen Tape this September. Oh, and he's notched collaborations with Asher Roth and 9th Wonder, performed at two A3C Festivals and made a cameo in NBC's Parenthood along the way.
With his buzz nicely brewing, Thurz is looking to strengthen his assault with a second LP, Blood on the Canvas. We caught up with the rapper to give fans a little more insight into his new album—what it will sound like, who will be on it and when it will finally be dropping—as well as how he has adapted to the solo grind, juggling music with fatherhood and being one of the first guys to put a certain rapper called Kendrick Lamar on way back when.
You just recently wrapped up a performance at the A3C Festival for the second year running. How was that?
That was cool. I've done A3C for a few years, just going back out there and getting up with all the homies that's still going there. Rocking a show, that's always a cool experience. It was love.
What's the response been like to your 517 W Queen Tape?
It's been very positive, man. A lot of people have been hitting me up, a lot of people have shared their favorite songs, so that's really dope. I just wanted to do that project, show my versatility and not be boxed into just one type of sound. I just wanted to let people know I can do everything, and that they should expect the unexpected.
The mixtape's closing track is called "Blood on the Canvas," which is also the title of your upcoming album. What's the link between that song and the new LP?
Basically that record kinda warms people up for what Blood on the Canvas is. That title basically means life is art, so the project is really a score to the lifestyle of my peers and myself, and just pulling all these different references that I've seen and what my friends have experienced—that I've experienced—kinda just painting this big picture of how I grew up and what makes me.
Does that track represent the sound of the album?
No, it doesn't represent the sound, I just wanted to end off on a note like that. I really liked the bars that I wrote for that record and I just wanted to put all that energy out there. The sound of the album is really just meant to broaden the brand of Thurz and still have great content. Sonically, I want to take it to another level and just make big music that I've never made before. I just want to try something new.
I watched your recent interview with VIBE in which you said that you always strive to have a "message" in your music. What messages are contained on this new record?
The main message is that everybody can tell you how to live, but you always have to take that walk on your own to figure out what works for you. That's really the underlying theme: Everybody can give you advice and pull you in different directions, but only you can paint your picture how you want your life to be.
You've worked with some top names in your solo career: Black Thought, Killer Mike, DJ Khalil, 9th Wonder. Which artists and producers will be joining you on Blood on the Canvas?
I've still got DJ Khalil on there, that's family, that's an inspiring guy right there, one of the best producers ever. I've got Phonix on there. Phonix put his foot in a lot of the production. THX is incredible, too. He put his foot into several records and we got a lot of work that we're doing.
Me and THX really created the sound. We started off and set the mark for this album and everything else just fell in line. We have Ro Blvd, The Futuristiks, DJ Dahi, Rocki Evans, Dawaun Parker; a lot of heavy hitters. We just all came together and inspired each other and when you're inspired, you create the best music, the best product, the best art.
As far as features, I got GLC, the homie Like from Pac Div, Black Milk, eLZhi, Ty Dolla $ign, Miguel; it's all the homies, I just work with my friends.
Dope. Now you've gone into detail before about the U-N-I split, and it sounds like things got pretty heated. What's your relationship with Y-O like now?
There's no relationship.
None at all?
Haha ok. So how do you feel your solo material differentiates to that of U-N-I?
I don't have to compromise anything. With U-N-I I did the majority of the songwriting. Now I have visions and I don't have to compromise anything. I build with producers, we create a sound and we have a concept, and it all comes together. It's natural, it's organic, it's original, and I'm proud of it.
You had a pretty good run as a duo, though, releasing four projects and collaborating with the likes of Bun B and Evidence. Do you ever regret finishing the group?
No, not at all. It was just a tool for growth and I'm trying to fly.
The term "new West Coast" is often used to refer to new guys like Kendrick Lamar, Dom Kennedy and Casey Veggies. But it's funny because yourself, along with Fashawn, Blu and Pac Div, were really helping to revive the scene a few years beforehand. How do you take that?
It doesn't bother me at all. I was one of the first people to put Kendrick Lamar on stage, doing shows with 50 Cent and DJ Quik, bringing in my band to do "I Do This" with Kendrick. I was one of the first people to introduce his music to larger crowds. I'm happy to see people doing well and being well-received—that's great. With my next wave of music I'm not even trying to compete, I'm just doing Thurz.
Any fan that follows you on Instagram will know you have a daughter. How do you balance music with fatherhood?
It's not difficult, it's just about having good time management, making sure I keep her active and I'm there present, but when it's time for me to work, I work. That's my focus: Giving my all to what I'm doing at the time.
What does she think of her daddy being a famous rapper?
[Laughs] She loves music. She's always trying to sing and she may even hit me with a freestyle or try and rhyme some words, so it's always funny, man. Parents are the most influential on their kids and I'm glad that I can influence her in an artistic way.
Looking ahead to Blood on the Canvas, when can we expect to hear a first sample?
Maybe this week. I don't know. [Laughs] But we got some really good stuff coming.
And when will you be releasing the album?
We're looking at the first quarter of next year. Originally it was supposed to be out Oct. 2, then it was supposed to be out Oct. 16, and then it was supposed to be Nov. 6. It's good, though. We don't want to rush a masterpiece. We have very powerful records on here, great records that transcend a large scale. I just want to put out the best music, be the best artist I can be and make sure people connect with me.