Schott Free Calls "UN Or U Out" New York's Last Pure Boom Bap Record
Exclusive: Mic Raw and Schott Free check in on the 10-year anniversary of The UN's debut, and detail the importance of contributions from Pete Rock and others.
It’s a meeting of people from all over the world, from a multitude of backgrounds.
It’s united in one common mission: to improve the lives of humans in both small and large ways.
It’s centered in New York City.
Oh yeah, they rap too.
While they might not stir up as many heated debates and controversies as the intergovernmental organization, The UN Rap group definitely flies the flag of a classic style of Hip Hop. As group A&R, Schott Free says of their 2004 UN Or U Out LP re-issue coming this April, “It’s good to get an old-fashioned, New York City boom bap record.” The close-knit group, of which member Mic Raw says, “First and foremost we friends,” includes Roc Marciano, Dino Brave, Laku, as well as Mic himself. While Roc Marciano may have possibly gotten more press as a member of Busta Rhymes’ Flipmode squad in the early 2000s, as Schott tells it, each of the group members made their own individual contributions to the record that celebrates its 10-year anniversary in 2014. The crew also handled some of the production and beats on it, while super producer Pete Rock added his own special sauce. What this recipe adds up to is a record firmly in the NYC, boom bap tradition, right alongside some of the music of Large Professor and Alchemist—connections that Schott points out on his own.
For stories behind individual tracks on the album, what we can expect in the future from the reissue as well as the group, and what they think of today’s Hip Hop, it’s best to just ask the body’s delegates themselves.
Scott Free Says UN Are On The Tier Of Mobb Deep & Wu-Tang Clan
HipHopDX: For the UN Or U Out album that is being re-issued this year on it’s 10-year anniversary, what did you think of it before it was recorded and released?
Schott Free: Honestly, the job of an A&R man is what? To find hits. Any time I put my time in with any group, or Matty C put in his time with any group, I always kinda thought in the back of my mind, “This is a revolution. This is the next group. This is the next big shit.” The whole point in me putting my time in with The UN, I was compelled by the fact that they was stars. A lot of times with groups, you always have one kid is nicer than the other kid, or you have one cat that carries the sound, or whatever it may be. But any time you find a unit that has more than two guys, that’s a rare thing. Wu-Tang: we had eight motherfuckers. That doesn’t happen all the time. The UN, you had four emcees. To me, at that point in time coming after me and Wu-Tang, you had four emcees that I felt were really on that tier of the Mobb and the Wu. I wouldn’t have fucked with The UN, wasting my time with The UN, if I didn’t think they were on the tier of the Mobb and the Wu.
I heard four different emcees with four different styles that came together under one house. So again, yeah, I thought it was gonna be an overground sensation. I wasn’t really intending to make a cult classic. Cult classics come when people have slept on something or when a small mass of people love something, and then it gradually spreads. That makes it a cult classic. I thought this was gonna be an overground sensation off the top.
Mic Raw: It makes me feel good to hear you say that. That’s real. Of course when you’re recording stuff, you want it to have an impact, but I didn’t know. We all thought what we was doing was dope, so it didn’t surprise me that people liked it. It didn’t surprise me that people were digging it. But you don’t know how far it will go, with people calling it a classic. I don’t think we was even thinking that far. We was just trying to make some dope shit.
Mic Raw Clarifies Calling Today’s Rap “Corny” On “Avenue”
DX: Is there any new material on the re-issue? Any remixes or unreleased tracks?
Schott Free: There’s two or three unreleased songs on there. They may have been heard before, may have not been heard. I don’t know. Somebody said one of the songs was on the Strength & Honor mixtape that Roc Marciano put out. Right now it’s on vinyl. I know one of them is “UN Da House.” There’s another joint up on there that I can’t think of right now off the top of my head, but there’s definitely a couple of new flavors on there. In terms of the artwork, the artwork on the new edition is a little bit different. The UN Or U Out font is basically in a computer blue, but before it was in computer red. If you got the first edition vinyl you can tell the difference, so look out for that blue colored vinyl.
There’s gonna be a limited gray vinyl that’s gonna be out too. Just to add on to the artwork real quick: if you got your first UN album, in terms of vinyl, you should really analyze the cover of the vinyl. If you look at the cover of the UN record it says, “Not to be confused with some bullshit.” But you really have to look close at the record to read that. That was something that a lot of people didn’t know, but some people discovered it. Some people figured it out. It basically says that all over the background, “Not to be confused with some bullshit.” You forgot about that one too, right Raw?
Mic Raw: Yo, you just said it. I remember. I remember because I didn’t see it right away. When I saw it, I was like, “Yo, this is crazy.” I ain’t know you had did it like that, that was dope though.
DX: You didn’t even know that that was on there?
Mic Raw: Like we said, we all worked as a cohesive unit. It was us four, but Free was part of the unit as well. He just didn’t have a mic. That was something that [Scott] Free took creative license with. It was a pleasant surprise when I saw it. I was like, “Oh, that’s dope!” That was Free’s thing right there, because I didn’t see it right away either.
DX: During the outro of the fourth track on the album, “Avenue,” there’s a conversation between some people that has the lines, “The game ain’t the same…It’s corny right now man, I’m not even really feeling it.” Do you still feel that way about Rap today?
Mic Raw: I feel that way times probably a hundred now. I thought it was bad back then, but it’s even worse now. Hip Hop grows, you know? It’s growing. I just feel like it’s a different genre now. It’s branching off into different genres. It’s not what we was doing. The stuff they doing now, they creating new…I don’t even know if you could call it Hip Hop. Now, there’s some Hip Hop elements in some of the stuff they doing, but a lot of these records they got singing, and it’s just different. I’m not cut from that cloth. I’m not tryna sound like a dinosaur or nothing, but I’m definitely not feeling a lot of the stuff I be hearing. I be hearing some jewels, but you gotta go digging for the jewels though. It’s always like that.
Schott Free: I’m not talking everything. You have some cerebral rappers out here, your Kendrick Lamars, and your Jay Electronicas, et cetera, et cetera. But there’s a lot of bullshit out there too. There are a lot of cats out here that be jumping on stages. Where’s the rapping at? Where’s the music at?
Mic Raw: The emceeing!
Schott Free: Yeah, the emceeing. The whole culture. There’s a lot of cats out here that be getting a lot of praise and I just don’t understand it.
Mic Raw: I second that. They praising a lot of cats that I don’t know where it’s coming from. I feel that.
Schott Free: I don’t want to sound like a hater or nothing like that, so basically what I can say is I just don’t understand a lot of it. And a lot of it is not from my area. It’s not really how I get down. But what I do have to respect is that other areas and other countries; they’ve taken Hip Hop to where they wanted to take it. And that’s pretty much the essence of me being a Zulu and everything. That’s pretty much what we wanted to see. We wanted to see Hip Hop grow, but at the same time it’s like we always say: never disrespect and never forget the grain. Basically, that good old-fashioned New York City boom bap that just starts with a basic mic, two turntables and some records; that element can’t be forgotten. And sometimes people forget. if you don’t have that element involved in the structure of your record, then it’s not Hip Hop. You can’t call it Hip Hop.
Why UN Chose To Record “UN Or U Out” On Two-Inch Tape Reels
DX: So was the UN record trying to remind people of that, and change the fact that the game was corny, like you said?
Mic Raw: We was just being creative. That wasn’t our objective, “We gon’ change people’s minds.” We was just doing what we do. That’s the way we knew it and that’s the way we did it. But we knew that there were gon’ be some people who felt the same way that we felt.
Schott Free: When you look at the course of the album UN Or U Out, you have to understand that that record came together basically over the course of four years. When I started working with The UN at the Greene St. Recording studio, that was in 2000. Then they had the fortunate luck while working up in there of running into Pete Rock. Then Pete Rock basically put them on PeteStrumentals, a project that he wasn’t even intending to put any emcees on. But he was so struck by the group that he wanted to put them on two joints, which was “Nothin’ Lesser” and “Cake.” In the process, we all just kept working.
Everybody had already kinda heard of Roc Marciano, because he was already running around with Busta Rhymes and he was on the record with Ghostface Killah and Bus on an album. People had already kinda heard of him, and Greene St. is also already legendary in Hip Hop. So what you have is, that UN album is almost a transformation of where Rap was going. Going from that boom bap—that Loud sound…that shit that I was givin’ y’all—to the places that it was going. It seemed like a lot of masters, you know, The Alchemist…There are songs by Alchemist that aren’t unreleased. There are songs by Large Professor…Q-Tip is on the clean version of “Forget Ya Bitch.” Think about that. Did you even know that there was a clean version of “Forget Ya Bitch?” But there are so many masters that came through and kinda touched that record that it signified for me the transition and the last element and the last remnant of pure Hip Hop.
When we started that record, we started off two-inch [tape reels]. That doesn’t happen anymore. So what the UN album is, is the last of the Mohicans in terms of the eras being transformed from the two-inch reel phase to this Digital Era to these different, other genres. It’s the last of the New York City boom bap era. The last New York City, pure Boom Bap record made.
DX: There are a lot of classic Hip Hop sounds on UN Or U Out, like Soul samples and sampled drum breaks. Is it a bit of vindication for you that now, 10 years later, a lot of artists are still getting mileage out of a sound that you were doing before it became “cool” again?
Mic Raw: Oh, absolutely. That’s what it’s all about. That’s a beautiful thing, because Hip Hop is about growing. So when you using them Soul samples and we opening that up to people, that’s a good thing. That’s a good thing. I definitely feel good about that.
Schott Free: I mean, it’s Hip Hop. Sometimes they do it the wrong way. Sometimes they do grab a hot Soul loop, come off and really be saying some garbage over it. Not all the time. If it’s made with the correct elements, that doesn’t mean that it’s good music either. I’ma salute cats that go in and have proper elements and get it done the right way. But just because you go in and do it with the correct elements involved doesn’t always mean that you’re authorized and you’re gonna get a salute from me. I’m stuck off a rapper, Willie The Kid. I know he got a new one that’s out right now. Last year, that’s one of the new guys that did it all grammatically correct. We could talk about Roc Marci all day, but that doesn’t count for me because he’s on my team. But talking about somebody outside of my team, somebody that I’m not affiliated with that I’m looking at? Willie The Kid. And Joey Bada$$ is flipping a couple heat rocks too. Shout out to him.
But again, it’s Hip Hop. Some do it better than others. Some are more talented than others. I still see a lot of old dudes that didn’t come out 30 years ago still tryin’ to do it. To me, if you wasn’t a king 30 years ago, why you gon’ be a king now? Just because you stuck with it? Maybe. But the cream always rises to the top. It don’t take but a second to tell. It ain’t hard to tell.
How Pete Rock, X-Ecutioners & Others Collaborated With The UN
DX: Can we expect more from The UN as a group after this, like another album or tour?
Mic Raw: That would be dope. It’s a possibility because these cats, The UN, it’s not a put-together unit. We friends. Some of them I’ve known since single digits. First and foremost we friends, so that’s always a possibility. We got a lot of stuff that people never heard either. It’s a possibility, definitely.
DX: What’s your favorite song on this UN record?
Mic Raw: I like “Mind Blowin,’” because it got all of the elements of Hip Hop on it: the strong drums, and everybody styles on that joint. I just think the whole joint, from the production down to how everybody approached the track with their different styles, and it just had that boom bap feel to it.
Schott Free: Yeah, that’s a raw joint. My favorite song on the album would probably be “It Ain’t No Thang.” I enjoyed The UN when they were in there as producers, when they were in their production mode. But I enjoyed them most when they were able to come into a studio and there was a master already—from Pete Rock or someone, and all they had to do was get into their form and they styles. “Ain’t No Thang,” that’s a pure UN record. That’s a good day. That’s breakfast, lunch, and dinner right there. Everybody just came in, and you could just hear it in their styles. Everybody just played their part and it ain’t no thing. It’s a great record.
DX: Another specific track on there, the sixth one called “P. Money Setup,” is an intro with a dude named P-Money who says he’s from New Zealand. What’s the story behind that?
Mic Raw: He used to be in the studio with us. When we was recording we had a lot of cats in there with us.
Schott Free: I used to keep all kind of motherfuckers in there for the session. We had Axl Rose in the session one time. You never know who was gonna be in our session. Sean C was the A&R man at Loud with me. Whenever it came to anything with cutting or scratching, remember that Sean C is also probably an affiliated member of the X-Ecutioners. X-Ecutioners is also Team Loud and all of that. P-Money was basically an X-Ecutioner from New Zealand. That was they man from New Zealand. He was South Pacific deejay champion. When I needed some cuts, P-Money just happened to be in town, and Sean sent him over to the studio, and the rest is history. So the P-Money affiliation basically came from Sean C and the X-Ecutioners.
DX: Why is now a good time to drop a re-issue of the project?
Mic Raw: 10 years!
Schott Free: Yeah, 10 years…I think also that I’ma just keep it real Hip Hop. I don’t really know the people, but I just heard people walking around talking about some other dudes called The UN. So it’s a good idea to solidify the fact that we were The UN and put out records as The UN 10 years ago. Real Hip Hop cats know that, so that’s significant. Again, it’s the climate of Hip Hop. It’s good to get an old-fashioned, New York City, boom bap record. We don’t get them that much anymore. There’s only one Pete Rock. There’s only one Large Professor. There’s only one Alchemist. So while these guys are away and working on whatever projects they work on, it’s always a good idea to have something brand new and refreshing. That’s why, like I said, I gotta salute new and upcoming artists doing it. There’s always a couple diamonds in the rough. Use this album as a gauge, as a thermometer. For real. You can’t lie to yourself.