Thurzday Talks "L.A. RIOT," Rodney King And Crooked Cops
Exclusive: U-N-I's Inglewood connect discusses the inspiration behind his first solo album, personal altercations with the police, and if we're ill-equipped these days for a major riot.
This past March marked the 20th anniversary of the infamous Rodney King beating, an event that culminated in the 1992 Los Angeles riots following the jury acquittal of four police officers and their appalling actions caught on camera by George Holliday. And yet, what citizens around America witnessed that day was not an isolated case of police brutality and social injustice, but rather an everyday occurrence that otherwise would have gone unnoticed had the footage never crossed their evening news segment.
A native of Los Angeles himself, Thurzday is all too familiar of the inequality within his city. With that in mind, the Inglewood emcee will be tackling a variety of serious topics on his first project outside of U-N-I with L.A. RIOT. Much like George Holliday’s raw footage from 20 years ago, Thurzday looks to shed light on social themes that rarely are discussed in the mainstream media, with recent records “Rodney King” and “Los Angeles” setting the tone of what’s in store come this summer.
DX: “Light in darkness can spark a riot.” Where did that concept come from?
Thurzday: It came from the Rodney King situation; the trial and the footage being caught on camera. It just shed light on the whole relationship that the L.A.P.D. had with Black males in the community. There was a lot of brutality and it was all in darkness. It still goes on today, but people wouldn’t be as aware if the Rodney King footage didn’t hit the news. That was the light in the darkness.
DX: Speaking of the Rodney King trial, your first solo album L.A. RIOT is you attempting to chronicle the events that occurred with the Rodney King beating, the jury acquittal, and the subsequent rioting. Tell me about the inspiration behind this project.
Thurzday: The project started with the first song I recorded for the album, “Los Angeles.” Ro Blvd made the beat and initially I was gonna go in on some Jay Electronica-type stuff, just some crazy raps and all that. But I sat back and listened to it, and I wanted to involve my fans into the record. So I had people call and e-mail me voice notes of a well-intentioned statement of what Los Angeles meant to them. And I just wanted to paint an honest picture of what Los Angeles is. So I was able to get all these little positive comments of what Los Angeles is, as well as a few negative comments, and kind of painted this picture of Los Angeles, and that’s what sparked the project. At the time some of my folks were doing research on the Los Angeles riots, and that title struck me. I was like, damn, I want to do a project called L.A. RIOT. It’s not solely based on historical events. A lot of the music is intense; it’s like scoring the lifestyle of a young male in Los Angeles.
Like I have a record called “Niggaz” on there, and the record is a self-critique. I’m looking at myself, I’m looking at some of my friends, and I’m looking at the word “nigga” and I’m giving a little history of the word and I’m studying why we call ourselves that on a daily basis. And at the end of the song, I’m like I don’t want to be this word, let’s be kings. A lot of the music on there is kind of intense and uplifting and knowledgeable. And that goes hand in hand with the “Rodney King” record. It’s a riot in music, a riot in art, and I’m just kind of going against the grain of what’s popular. It’s not the same hit record that you hear over and over and over. I’m not trying to do that.
DX: You were talking about the record “Los Angeles,” one I’ve listened to several times. You mentioned the sound bites from people, just kind of talking about their love for Los Angeles, and the way that they perceive it. But I feel like your words are a bit dynamic in that they sound like a struggle for survival by the way you are talking about Los Angeles. Would you say that’s true?
Thurzday: Yeah. People always come here to follow their dreams. But Los Angeles is the city of broken dreams, and I just really wanted to make an honest picture of that because there are always a lot of positive remarks from outside people. Yes we do have the best weather, and a lot of beautiful women, but when it comes down to it, it’s a place of broken dreams.
DX: You mentioned talking to someone about the Los Angeles riots, and I believe that was somebody from the #92 Crew. How did you initially link up with them? Was it through this project or had you guys worked prior?
Thurzday: That was Tomas Whitmore. He worked on a lot of stuff with U-N-I, as well as our first few videos like “Beautiful Day” which was our first video on MTV. We went to college together as well, so we always had a cool relationship. When he heard some of the music I was recording for this project, there was a lot of synergy between what he was doing and what I was doing and we just wanted to put it together and create something timeless.
DX: Describe to me the scene in Inglewood during the Los Angeles riots. What do you remember?
Thurzday: It didn’t come that far west, but I remember we were driving to my grandma’s house, she lives on 55th and Central and that’s in South Central. And we were on Slauson crossing Normandie, and I just remember seeing a whole bunch of police in riot gear lined up on Slauson. And then on the other side of the street you see a lot of angry African-American folks upset. There were news cameras and news vans, and we were trying to drive through it. It was crazy. And when we got home, I saw footage of my mom’s car on the news when we were in the car trying to get through it. Being young, I was like six or seven years old when the riots went down, you can’t really grasp everything that’s actually happening. You have to look at everything when you’re a little older, and you realize, wow, that was a major historical event.
DX: Prior to the jury’s acquittal of the four police officers, was the Rodney King trial something that your family was following on the news?
Thurzday: My mom was definitely following it. Everybody that I knew was following that trial. A lot of people weren’t aware of how f’ed up the L.A.P.D. was, and everybody wanted to make sure that those four officers…And it was probably more than that, because the footage only shows them, but I know there was like 20 officers really out there. But everybody wanted to make sure that justice was served, and when it wasn’t, you know, everybody went crazy.
DX: Definitely. And on the record “Rodney King” it’s almost like we’re reliving the events that occurred that night in March of 1991, from the car chase to his brazen actions when he came out of the car to the tasing and the subsequent beating. Was that the type of angle you were attempting to take on that record?
Thurzday: Yeah man, I wanted to give a first-person perspective of Rodney King. So I wanted to make sure I had all the facts and I wanted to make a story out of it. I wanted to let people know how Rodney King was feeling, and I made sure I included certain elements so you could feel where his head was at during that time.
DX: Artists at the time had put their own spin on the event, such as Ice Cube, Geto Boys and Dr. Dre. Did you get a chance to go back and listen to some of those records for inspiration on how to approach such a serious topic?
Thurzday: Yeah, I was bumping a lot of Death Certificate throughout this project. But, I realized nobody ever did it from the angle I did it. Previously I wrote a script for the record “Pulp Fiction Pt. 1” featuring Fashawn on A Love Supreme , so I kind of had that same mindset. I play the narrator in that song, so I wanted to do something where I was the actual character. And so I was able to make myself Rodney King on that record.
DX: How does the rest of L.A. RIOT play out? Are you covering more events that occurred, like the “L.A. Four” or the looting and armed defensive from Korean-American businesses? What else are we going to be hearing on this album?
Thurzday: I’m doing preliminary research and we’re gonna follow up with a documentary after the release of the album. I met up with one of the “L.A. Four,” Gary Williams, and I’m gonna have clips of people in the neighborhood that were present giving their retrospect and looking back on that time and just analyzing it and using some of that dialogue from these people to tie in different records throughout my album.
DX: You mentioned the documentary. Is that still titled “The Rodney King Evolution?”
Thurzday: No, that was just a visual that we used to release the “Rodney King” record. The documentary, I don’t want to give too much information on it because I love where it’s going and I want to surprise people with it. That’ll be something I get into at a later time.
DX: Who do you have on the production side? I know close associate Ro Blvd laced you with that “Rodney King” beat.
Thurzday: Yeah, I have Ro Blvd on there. I have a gem of producer, his name is Aaron Harris. We used a lot of live instruments on this project and tried to stay away from samples. “Los Angeles” has a sample, but most of the music on there doesn’t have samples; it’s all original music. My man Aaron Harris, he produced “Pause 4 Porno” on Dr. Dre’s 2001, and we have some great records together. He actually produced the “Niggaz” record. Besides them I have DJ Khalil, THX, and I might be doing something with Terrace Martin and possibly Brook D’Leau from J*Davey.
DX: That’s a nice line-up of producers that were probably following the Rodney King event as well, so they can give their own input as you guys are recording.
Thurzday: Yeah, I’ll definitely have footage of them giving their experiences with the riots.
DX: Is Y-O gonna be on the L.A. RIOT album as well?
Thurzday: No, I only have a few features. Miguel is on there doing a hook, as well as BJ The Chicago Kid. I also have a record with Black Thought. U-N-I, right now we’re focused on doing solo stuff but later in the future we’ll be doing more group stuff.
DX: Have you yourself personally had any serious or intense run-ins with the cops?
Thurzday: Yeah man, I’ve had a few. Nothing to the point that I got arrested, but one time I got hit with a baton coming out of a club, like hit to the ground. Another time I was out in Compton with my cousin, and we got handcuffed and thrown in the back of the patrol car for really nothing; a tail light supposedly. Just regular police profiling man. Out in Culver City, police are always fucking with young minorities. There’s always something with the police. There are some good cops, but the bad ones have given a bad rep for the masses.
DX: Yeah, and police brutality, like racial inequality is something that’s continuously swept under the rug but it’s still evident to this day. And you can just look to the cases of Oscar Grant and Sean Bell as ways to confirm that.
DX: These days it’s all about social networks, Facebook, Twitter and whatnot. I couldn’t even imagine what it would be like had the Rodney King trial taken place in this day and age.
Thurzday: Man, I was just having this conversation with an older guy, he was talking about his neighborhood and he was saying there’s a lack of communication within the communities. So if a riot were to break out today, he was saying it might be worse because there’s a lack of community value that was a factor in the ‘90’s. In 1992, communities were more close knit, like people knew who their neighbors were. And today, because of social networks, people are really on Twitter more than actually meeting people. So there’s this disconnection between parents and kids, there’s a big disconnection between how police officers communicate with their communities, and the underlying theme that would make a riot worse today is communication, or the lack thereof. So, with the different age that we’re in now, I couldn’t really fathom how it would play out. I don’t even know what would happen today.