Exclusive: UM breaks down how the late Chris Lighty helped him rebrand himself for business purposes and tells fellow New York rappers, "Don't try to do what the South do."
The day Uncle Murda doesn’t say how he feels will be a sad one. As it happens, the particular day the man now known as simply UM partook in a phone conversation with HipHopDX was also the day Big Sean released the track “Control.” Kendrick Lamar’s now infamous rhyme, “I’m Makaveli’s offspring, I’m the king of New York / King of the Coast, one hand, I juggle them both,” spawned no shortage of responses from Empire State emcees. And while legit contenders to New York’s throne along with dozens of underlings who couldn’t even inhabit the royal court took offense to the line, UM implied that New York may want to get their own kingdom in order.
“Either niggas in New York is making bullshit music, or they trying to sound like everybody else,” UM offered. “I just want niggas to be you. Stick to who you are, stop trying to be like everybody else, and make better music. New York definitely has to get their shit together.”
Call it tough love. Such is to be expected from a man who called himself Uncle Murda. But, remove all the tough talk, and UM himself will tell you he has more to offer. Additionally, he’s been affiliated with Ruff Ryders, Def Jam (under the stewardship of Jay Z) and the late Chris Lighty. All of which makes him a person who can offer a perspective on New York’s contributions to Hip Hop through roughly three different eras. The fact that he has virtually no filter when he speaks upon such matters is just an added bonus.
UM Credits Chris Lighty For His Original Name Change
HipHopDX: What got you into rapping, and what let you know that it was real?
UM: I was rapping since I was a little shorty. I had a little group and shit with a few guys and me ever since I was young. We started out, and that’s when I first met the big Tuneheadz. Around like ’99 or 2000, I got my first situation with Ruff Ryders, and that’s when I really started taking the music shit serious.
DX: When you got down with Ruff Ryders, who was on the roster at that point?
DX: Was this before they added Jin and Cassidy?
DX: That’s what’s up; that’s a live scene. Let’s bring it a little more current and talk about the name change. At one point, you were going by the name Uncle M for business purposes. You said that whenever you would have business ventures with major corporations, you would go by Uncle M.
UM: God bless…Chris Lighty had did that. There was a few things he had lined up before, and they were scared of the “Murda,” so he would say, “Call him Uncle M.”
DX: So why go with the UM now, instead of going with Uncle M?
UM: I just like the way the UM sounds a little better. At the end of the day, we in it for the money, and if it can’t be Uncle Murda, I don’t want it to be Uncle M.
Why UM Embraces The Gangster Rapper Label But Wants More
DX: How much has the game changed as far as what’s commercially acceptable? Chris Lighty and 50 Cent got the Vitaminwater deal despite his content. Now we have rappers like Ross and Lil Wayne losing sponsorships. Do you feel any pressure to change your content, for fear of losing commercial viability?
UM: Nah, I’m not gonna change the content of my music. It’s still gonna be the same shit. Certain things I think Rick Ross and Lil Wayne got in trouble for, wasn’t… The content of they music overall is friendly. I think it was just a few lines, the content in they music ain’t really change, and sponsorships will fall back in line.
DX: You’ve said before that some people would take the name and throw you in the “gangster rapper” box, but you have the ability to make different types of tracks. How do you feel the perception has changed?
UM: I don’t mind being thrown into that box. I embrace that. I know I can definitely expand, and I know it ain’t just about that. I can make all types of music, but I could see why they say, “I’m the face of Gangster Rap.” I’d like to say I am bigger than that, and I can do more than that.
DX: With the name change, and UM being somewhat of a relaunch, what would you want to say to cats who may not have been up on your music?
UM: You gonna get a real nigga perspective on things, and you gonna hear some of the realest shit that you ever heard. You gonna be entertained by my music, and you gonna laugh. I got all types of shit. It’s not what you’re used to, because you’re not getting what I’m bringing to the table from nobody else in the game. If you go listen to the new UM CD, prepare yourself to listen to that real, street shit. You gonna get them real, street stories, and I’ma detail it for you real nice. You gonna be entertained, and you gonna feel like you watching a fucking movie. It’s just all around good music at the end of the day. If you like getting your dick sucked, and you listening to my music while your bitch suck your dick, she gonna wanna suck your dick for an hour. If you got a beef with a nigga, you gonna wanna go shoot a nigga. You gonna want to handle it like right now.
DX: Speaking on dropping the next project, do you have a title and a time frame for when you plan on dropping the next project?
UM: Nah, we still working on the title. Soon as we get the title, then we’ll start working on the date. We’re still working on the perfect name for this next shit we cooking up.
DX: Do you feel like at times fans pay too much attention to controversy as opposed to the actual product?
UM: I think they do, but I don’t even think it’s enough controversy nowadays. I think shit is too fucking… Everybody is too happy go lucky, and I think we need some more controversy. They definitely do, because nowadays the music is so fucking boring, we need some controversy so mothafuckas can pay attention to something. People don’t even live with the music; they just be on to the next one. A rapper come out, or somebody’s album comes out, and they play that shit for a week or two. Then they’re looking for the next thing. They don’t give a fuck. Before, you used to really love the artists, build with the artists and really want to know what the mothafucka was doing. Now they ain’t buying nobody’s story.
UM Details Leaving Def Jam & Wanting Major Label Visibility
DX: With that being said, and the way things used to be, did you have to change your approached based on the fact things have changed?
UM: I changed my approach just a little bit, and I know I can’t be as aggressive on every record. I don’t try to sugarcoat too much of what I’m doing, but I changed it up just a little bit, so it can get accepted and not scare nobody off. I know shit is wack nowadays, and I don’t want nobody to get scared. I start bringing some of that reality shit, because shit ain’t so happy out here.
DX: You had the deal with Jay Z at Def Jam. Being from Brooklyn and representing Brooklyn so strongly, how did it feel to get that deal through someone who held down your borough and represented as well?
UM: That shit felt good, and that was one of the biggest moments of my career. It felt real good to get embraced by Jay, and know he was fucking with my shit. It was an honor.
DX: So what exactly happened with your deal over at Def Jam? It seems like when Jay left the building, you were no longer rocking with them. What exactly happened with that from your point of view?
UM: When Jay Z was there, I was mainly dealing with him. When he left Def Jam, I didn’t really know who to go up there and talk to. I didn’t really know how my project was being worked, because it wasn’t really no communication between me and the label when Jay wasn’t there. So I just asked to be released, and started grinding from there.
DX: After the deal, you kept releasing tapes and getting support. What specifically can a major label like Epic provide for an artist such as yourself?
UM: They can just get me over that hump, and I feel like me changing my name makes it a little easier too. For instance, if I was in the Def Jam situation, or if I was at Epic and I had a record like “Warning” come out, I could have capitalized with major support. My thing is, I don’t look for nothing from the labels. I know what we gotta do out here with my crew—the whole GMG and the whole Tuneheadz—we know what we gotta do. What we’re looking for the label to do is, when we put out the product, and we got that record that catch, just take that record and take it to the next level.
UM Says New York “Has To Get Their Shit Together”
DX: “Warning” mad some noise, but now you’ve got the song “Why They Mad” where you say, “I’m the last nigga from New York to get signed sounding like a New York Nigga.” How do you currently feel about the sounds coming out of the New York scene?
UM: I think New York just gotta shape it up a little bit, because we going through an identity crisis out here. Either niggas in New York is making bullshit music, or they trying to sound like everybody else. I just want niggas to be you. Stick to who you are, stop trying to be like everybody else, and make better music. New York definitely has to get their shit together. It’s not about bringing anything back. It’s just about New York doing what New York do. That’s it. It’s not about whose gonna bring it back, or we gotta come back, it’s about New York doing what New York do. Don’t try to do what the South do. Don’t try to copycat, and stop making this corny shit. Just make good music.
DX: There’s clearly a New York sound out there, but then you’ll hear certain rappers say, “We gotta bring New York back.”
UM: We just gotta make more of it, so people can start fucking with New York more. We started this shit, and mothafuckas grew up off New York music…that Up North sound. Mothafuckas in the South don’t want to hear New York niggas sounding like them or trying to be like them. They like to get out they zone for a minute and hear that good old New York shit Jay, Nas and B.I.G. used to talk. It’s that old Lox and Mobb Deep shit. Get back on your shit.
DX: I watch some of these interviews, and I hear artists say “New York doesn’t support New York artists”, but then, I hear your records get played…do you feel like New York supports New York enough?
UM: New York supports New York, but I think it goes back to the artists sometimes. That’s not just to say the DJ’s is totally in the clear. You got times when New York niggas is making records trying to sound like somebody else, and it just don’t sound good. So the radio has no other choice but to play some other shit that does sound good. It’s a business at the end of the day too, so you got the label paying for certain things to be in rotation. You just gotta make sure your shit count, and you gotta put the best shit out there. For the most part, I feel like New York supports New York. When they make the right type of shit, they get the right type of support.
DX: Sticking on the topic of New York—and this is coming from the outside of course—but there seems to be a movement to gentrify Brooklyn. How do you feel about that?
UM: You mean like how Brooklyn is changing?
UM: I mean everything changes, and I don’t expect things to stay the same. Mothafuckas just gotta adapt. It’s all good, because Brooklyn’s gonna always be Brooklyn. Even though it’s a lot more white mothafuckas moving in, it’s all good.
DX: On that same note, you’re rolling with the Nets as opposed to the Knicks, right?
UM: I’m rolling with both. I fuck with New York overall, and I’m Brooklyn to the death. I hope they do it and bring one home for Brooklyn, but I fuck with both.
UM Talks Materialism, Trayvon Martin & “Stop & Frisk” Laws
DX: We’re going to single out a few other individual songs to talk about too. On “You Know What I’m Talking About,” you say, “They’re scared to let me touch a hundred mill / They know I ain’t forgot about Biggie getting killed / I ain’t them other dudes, I can’t pretend nigga / The only rapper, still thinking about revenge nigga.” Let’s go a little further into that. Do you have a theory on what exactly happened with that?
UM: I got a theory…I ain’t about to sit here and say, “I think such and such, and I think such and such did it like this.” But I feel a certain way about it, and that’s that. I’m not gonna tell you what I think, and who I think [was involved], but I definitely feel a certain way about it.
DX: True. What about “Thug Soul” where you speak about feeling somewhat suicidal at the age of 13? What made you open up like that on the record? And do you feel like this should be talked about more often?
UM: I feel like it can. But my reason for feeling like that, at the time, was because I was young. And being that my mother passed away, I felt cheated. I felt like doing something stupid, and I was lost for a minute.
DX: Hip Hop is often labeled as materialistic by outsiders, and even sometimes from people within the culture. Coming from an environment like Pink Houses in New York, to where you are now, and having the things that you have now, do you feel artists like yourself should have the right to celebrate those achievements and the newly acquired wealth? Do you feel this can be inspiration to those that don’t currently have those things?
UM: Yeah, it’s just like you get people who come from the same environment that I come from, you give them hope. Whether it be Rap, school, or basketball, you give them hope like, “Maybe I can do it too. I should go hard, and maybe I can get up out the mothafuckin’ hood.” Then they don’t just feel like they gonna be in the hood forever, or that they gotta sell drugs, get a gun, or run with a certain type of crowd, like that’s what it’s all about. There are other things out there, and I want mothafuckas from my hood to see different parts of the world. Certain mothafuckas never even left, and they’ve never seen anything outside of New York. I know mothafuckas that never got on a plane. I want mothafuckas to open up they mind and feel like they can do something else. They can go different places, and see that it’s not just the hood. I understand what they go through, and I understand why sometimes they feel hopeless out that mothafucka. I understand why they might feel like this is all we got, this is all we know and this is all I’m gonna put my time into. I get it.
DX: A lot of rappers were up in arms when George Zimmerman was found not guilty in the Trayvon Martin case. And in New York, “Stop And Frisk” was recently deemed unconstitutional. These things are kind of loosely related to your subject matter, but how do you personally feel about them?
UM: First of all in New York, in certain communities and certain hoods, you getting stopped just because you’re black or Puerto Rican. They just stop and disrespect you. In Florida, with the “Stand Your Ground,” I don’t really understand it too much. I just feel like if the situation was a little different…like if [Zimmerman] was a black man that did that to a little white kid, they would have threw him and his whole family in jail.