Once upon a time is how the story should open, but this is far from a fictional fairy tale. This is the story of two kids who had a gift to rap, got caught up in the mix, and grew up in the record business.
The two have seen the highest of highs, and experienced the lowest of lows together. From crafting a hip-hop classic with a platinum plaque to match, to releasing not-to-well-met solo ventures. They went from Oakland, California, to Europe and back. The ride wasn't without its fair share of turbulance. From learning the workings of the music industry the hard way, to f*cked up record labels, to being bootlegged. And what rap group's career would be complete without beefs and break-ups?
The Luniz have done it all and seen it all, with one hell of a tale to tell. There's no better place to start at than from the beginnings.
Before the Luniz, before the Luni Tunz, before Yukmouth and Numskull- it was Jerold Ellis and Garrick Husbands. Two Oakland, California teenagers attending West Lake Junior High. Garrick, who hailed from Lake Merrit, had made a name for himself rapping with his group, Brothaz Wit Potential.
Jerold, who came from the 69th Village, was a hustler that just so happened to possess the ability to draw. Garrick and his crew sought out Jerold's talents for their logo and eventually he joined Brothaz Wit Potential as a non-rapping crew member. But Jerold soon thereafter caught the rhyme bug, as most did upon their introduction to hip-hop in their mid-teens. Jerold was a natural and in time his skills began to overshadow his peers.
While Num was grindin' his way into the rap game, Yuk was grindin' in the crack game, a hustle that held up his true calling. "I was gettin' off bundles after school. Eventually I started goin' in and outta juvenile hall."
So rap had to wait. Yuk had a few things to go through before he would be convinced to pursue rap full-tiime. "After junior high, I wasn't really f*ckin' with rap, just straight hustlin'. And in eleventh grade, I got caught slangin' and since I had all my other dope cases, they sent me to Los Ceros camp for a whole year.
By then I'm tired of going to jail so I decided to get on the music sh*t and start writin' real f*ckin' tough. That's where I wrote "The Ice Cream Man," and all the hot sh*t that put us on the map. I even drew the Luniz condom man there. I came up with the concept for the Luniz, like crazy music. I came with Numbskull's name and my name. The whole time I'm in jail, I'm talkin' to Num, and I got weekends. So every weekend I'm chillin' wit Num and we're puttin' the plot down. I was tellin' him that as soon as I get out we gotta do this rappin' sh*t Ocuz everybody is makin' it. From Kris Kross to Another Bad Creation."
To the Luni Tunz it seemed like a sure-fire plan, getting someone else to believe in them was another story. Frustrated, the duo retreated back to the block and picked up on the one-way street where they left off. What happened next was any D.A.R.E. officer's nightmaresomething good actually came out of selling drugs. Yuk's sister was involved with local baller Chris Hicks, who was nicknamed C&Hthe name had very little to do with his initials.
"It was a drought with the yay-o," remembers Yukmouth. "And he slung the yay-o at the time so my sister plugged us with him."
Chris, coincidently, also dabbled in rap and was affiliated with Too $hort and his Dangerous Crew.
Upon their meeting Yuk and Num recognized the hood-star and asked to get put on. "We hooked up with him and bought a couple [of] ounces," continues Yuk. "And we like, yo, you the guy with Too $hort.' He was like, yeah I f*ck wit $hort.' So we was like, man we rap too, f*ck this crack sh*twe bust. Why don't you introduce us to $hort?'
He was like, man, whatever. Let's see what you got.' So I get up and bust "Ice Cream Man". Right from there, he was like, O f*ck $hort, I'ma put you out myself. I got my cousin Dru Down, his album is almost done, we got a couple more songs left, I'ma throw you guys on that and we gon' take it from there.' So from that day, we was still slangin' crack, but we was in the studio."
Dru, Yuk and Num instantly clicked, and their chemistry turned collaborations like "911," and "Ice Cream Man," from Dru's Explicit Game, into street classics, as well as put an incredible buzz on the Luniz. It was a no brainer to begin working on their debut.
The first song Yuk and Num did in the studio was "5 On It". Num, who chose the record to sample, adds, "we did "5 On It" two years before it came out and we always knew it was a hit."
A hityes. An international smash and a Hip-Hop classic? No. No one could've imagined what the Club Nouveau looped intro had in store for the Oakland-based group.
From there, C&H took the numbers he did with Dru Down's album, along with the Luniz' "5 On It" and began shopping for record deals. He hooked up with a dude named AJ who brought The Luniz to Noo Trybe/Virgin and Dru Down to Relativity. Subsequently, AJ also got deals for Richie Rich, who signed with Def Jam, and Mac Mall at Relativity.
"AJ knew Eric Brooks who had just got his own label from Virgin," explains C&H. "They flew us down, we auditioned, they heard "5 On It," and it was a done deal."
The crack game is one thing, the independent rap game is another, but the major recording industry is a completely different realm. The Luniz and C&H were feeder fish in a shark tank. A fact they would soon learn.
"Virgin gave X-amount of millions to Eric Brooks to start a black division of Virgin," explains Yuk. "[He Started] janky-ass Noo-Trybe Records. (Eric) has gotta be the most conning, schemin' muthf*cka in life. This muthaf*cka would smile and everything, but as soon as you leave that door, you about to get f*cked off. He about to f*ck you instantly. And at that time we're naive about the money situation and the royalties and points and how sh*t go. "5 On It" come out, this sh*t is on the radio and I'm still in the Village, on the block slangin' crack."
The instant "5 On It" hit radio, it took off and transformed The Luniz into stars. Their debut, Operation Stackola went platinum in the US and Germany, and the two hit the road as opening acts for Notorious B.I.G., Jodeci, Mary J. Blige, Junior Mafia, and Naughty By Nature. Life was good. But for the two teenagers who had never experienced anything like this everit was too good. Yuk and Num were eventually kicked off of the tour, but Yuk contends that it was for all the wrong reasons.
"These muthaf*cka's would get in trouble and blame the sh*t on us," says an animated Yukmouth, who's now sitting up at full attention, ready to go off. "Lil Cease burnt his whole hotel room up. They blamed it on the Luniz. N*gga, we wasn't even in that hotel, how did the Luniz do that. That's not our room. Another incident, Naughty By Nature beat some undercover cops ass. Treach beat they ass with that big-ass chain on his neck. And the real police rush our van searching for a big-ass chain and they know we don't do that. The only thing we had did was, our hotel room got raided and they found a gun in Numskull's room, but they let that sh*t slide."
Nevertheless, as one door closed, another one opened. The Luniz said goodbye to the United States and left to tour Europe. It was an eye-opening experience that they'll never forget. "When we got to Germany we knew that we're real f*ckin' celebrity's," reminisces Yuk. "They treated us like we was the f*ckin' Beatles."
But while things we're all good in Europe, back home was another story. Everywhere the two went they were treated like royalty. Being a rap star was beautiful, but they just wished it was paying. "We get back to the States, it's time to get back to business," Yuk assertively states. "We still ain't got no checks. They're saying we gotta re-coup or something. So we start getting loans from the label.
Everytime we call up Eric Brooks and complain about something and ask for some money he'll give it to us, but at the same time he had us thinking C&H was f*ckin' us. But C&H couldn't f*ck us because he ain't have no control over Noo-Trybe Recordsthey was f*ckin' us. But in the mix of givin' us our little money, they was pittin' us against each other. Eric` would take meetings with us, without Chris. He'd take meetings with Chris, without us. Plus [Eric's] doin' kick-backs on everything from promotions to videos.
For example, we shot a video for $300,000, this video cost $200,000 and they put $100,000 in their pockets. That's what they've been doin' to us the whole f*ckin' time. So [when] we got back from Germany, we set up a publishing deal. When we got that publishing deal, money was straight, but we still ain't seen no money from Virgin. We hit Virgin up and they saying we gotta re-coup. So we start on the next album, Lunatic Muzik. And they start cross-collatoralizing, they said since we started spending money on Lunatic Muzik, we gotta re-coup for this new album that we just started on. They said all money that was coming from the first album, was going to re-coup for the second album and on Lunatic Muzik they spent the most money."
But there was another issue that had to be dealt with when it came time to begin working on Lunatic Muzik, except this time it was internal. After the release of Operation Stackola, Yuk and Num's relationship began to unravel.
"Before the second album, me and Yuk wasn't f*ckin' wit each other Ocuz of stupid little sh*t," admits Numskull. "I was the outside cat. Dru and Chris grew up together, Yuk and Chris grew up together, so I wasn't a n*gga from where they was from. I didn't really kick it wit them n*ggas, I already had children and n*gga's just fell out.
Yuk and Num were able to reconcile their differences enough to come back together to record their sophomore album, Lunatic Muzik, but things had definitely changed between all parties involved.
"We had lawyer problems. We was firing our managers. We wasn't getting' along with C&H," says Num. "It was a lot of sh*t we didn't know about [in] our contracts and when me and Yuk wanted to know, everybody was closing doors on us. So we was like, Of*ck it.' We gon' find out on our own, or we just ain't doin' sh*t for nobody no more."
"When we started Lunatic Muzik, everybody was puzzled," explains Yuk about the recording of Lunatic Muzik. "Everyone wasn't there [mentally and physically]. Everyone was worried about who was gettin' who and where's the money comin' from and who's money was gettin' took. So basically it was me in the studio. Num, I hate to say it, was on some party-hardy sh*t, he got his money. He wanted to live life to the extreme and I don't blame him for that, but we got studio time. He'd show up, but he'd come so late that I'd have my verse laid and the chorus so he know everything it's about. He could write his verse and leave. The whole album was like that. C&H would be in there sometimes, but it was mainly me. That's how my solo deal came about."
Stop. This is where all parties involved agree on when business with the Luniz, C&H, C-Note Records, and Rap-A-Lot truly began to go sour.
"I'm in the studio 24/7. At the same time, Scarface was workin' on his Untouchable album," explains Yuk. "So we rubbin' elbows and Mike Dean and Tone Capone was workin' on both of our albums. Plus, my homeboy Rico, who's from my hood, is workin' for Rap-A-Lot. All of them were getting in J's ear [James Prince CEO of Rap-A-Lot] about giving me a solo deal. He seen me in the studio puttin' it all together and he came at me like, OYuk, let's do this. You coulda been doin' it. Why don't you come get this money.' So I was like, Of*ck it'. He was the first person to believe in me as a solo artist. C&H didn't come at me about a solo deal. Noo-Trybe didn't come at me with no solo deal. Only Lil J. So I roll with him. And as soon as I start rollin' wit J, that's when everybody started goin' againest Yuk. Saying OF*ck Yukmouth,' Othe Luniz broke up.' And it was never no sh*t like that. Me and Num never broke up, we always stayed in contact to this f*ckin' day. It's just we didn't do no more albums for Noo-Trybe Records. People were probably all in Num's ear, and it wasn't as tight as it was, but I still stayed in contact with Num, and C&H."
Though Yuk maintains that's the only reason he went solo was because the opportunity was presented to him, Num feels otherwise. "I think Yuk wanted to go solo ever since "5 On It". I never tripped on it though, I never hated Yuk for thatever. I never said nothing in no interviews about him doing solo sh*t. Even when we was doing Lunatic Muzik, he was in the studio with other producers in his ear telling him he should go solo. I heard all that sh*t. I didn't give a f*ck."
C&H on the other hand did, something Yukmouth didn't take lightly and ended up dissin' Chris on his Thugged Out LP.
"I had some sh*t on there dissin' C&H because he was holdin' up my Rap-A-Lot deal. He was hatin', we had to really chase this n*gga around for a year before he signed off for me to put it out. Why you gon' hate? You didn't come at me about no solo deal, so why you gon' hate when the next muthf*cka come at me with some money? I'm still The Luniz, you still got the main money, my solo sh*t is just a branch. What is you trippin' on?"
C&H stands by his claim that he had Yuk's best business interests in mind when he refused to sign-off on Yuk's release. "It was too soon for them to go solo. The second album didn't sell well and I knew that if Yuk went solo, [The Luniz] woulda been over."
And he was right. In order for Yuk to go to Rap-A-Lot he had to relinquish all rights to the Luniz name that C&H owned. Undaunted, Yuk found a new home in Houston, Texas with J Prince and the house built by Geto Boys. In the midst of Lunatic Muzik, Yukmouth assembled The Regime, included more gun-talk in his raps than jokes, and his voice went from cool and calm to energized and raspy. With Tupac Shakur's spot vacant, Yuk took it upon himself to carry the thug torch with his Thugged Out (1999) and Thuglord (2001) releases.
Yuk and Num were rarely seen together, there was a definite rift between the two with a reasonable explanation. They began to live two completely different lifestyles, which is obvious upon meeting them.
Yuk greets you at the door in full rap-star mode. Multiple custom platinum chains adorn his neck. Platinum bracelets and Jacob watch wrap around his wrists, platinum teeth in his mouth and dressed in the latest fashions. He sits down and pops a bottle of Moet. Num, on the other hand, is the exact opposite. Besides a wedding band, no jewelry. Clothesregular t-shirt and jeans. There's no champagne in sight. Just a glass of cold beer in the freezer and a Mickey's forty ounce. Yuk would be classified as an extremely flamboyant character while Num describes himself as a "family oriented, humble, down to Earth cat."
"After n*ggas got breaded, we wasn't doin' the same sh*t anymore," Numskull explains. "We both changed when it came to money. I didn't wanna do the same sh*t they was doin' anymore. Me and Yuk just fell out, we just didn't wanna f*ck wit each other no more. Not because of not liking each other, but because we'd been together so long, we had no way of gettin' away from each other. We was arguin' in the beginning, but we had no way of gettin' away from each other Ocuz none of us had money and we knew we had to stick together to do somethin'."
The two went their separate ways. Yuk did his thug-thizzle with Rap-A-Lot while Num laid low only to stick his head out long enough to release a group album with fellow Oakland-ite, Clee, independently. Both of their solo endeavors were met with mediocre success and Luniz fans weren't too pleased with either of their newfound artistic decisions and prayed for a reunion.
During the five year hiatus, talk of a Luniz album would come and go but nothing ever materialized. It wasn't until their families got involved that Yuk and Num began to consider coming back together.
"Our wives got us back talkin'," Numskull openly admits. "Because they started talkin' over the internet to each other about these n*ggas need to get back and do their sh*t. Yuk can't do it without him, he can't do it without Yuk.' At first I didn't want to. I didn't wanna f*ck with Yuk ever again, but I wanna be out there too. I wanna get back to where the f*ck I was, that sh*t was fun. I think I belong on stage."
It just so happened that around the same time, C&H had been throwing around the idea of a new Luniz album to a few record labels and sparked a few interests. He approached Yuk and Num with a proposition to attempt to reclaim their former glory and after a few talks to clear the air, it was official, the Luniz were back. But there was just one problem, just as C&H wasn't havin' Yuk go to Rap-A-Lot, Rap-A-Lot wasn't letting Yuk go back with C&H.
"Chris had came with an offer but Rap-A-Lot wasn't goin' for it," reveals Yuk. "They wanted the group." That raised another problem, although Yuk was completely sold on Rap-A-Lot's operation, Num wasn't. "My whole thing was, I wasn't gonna do a Luniz record on Rap-A-Lot. I said no at first. They wasn't doin' sh*t for none of Yuk's albums. So what the f*ck make me think they gonna do a Luniz album right? So I said no to Rap-A-Lot for about 6 or 7 months." So after all that time, what changed Num's mind? "I needed the bread, and they wasn't gon' let Yuk go so I had to do something. I said f*ck it and gave them one album. I made sure in my contract I could leave as a solo artist. The only reason I'm signed is for this Luniz album."
Finally with all of the contract details out of the way, it was time to hit the studio. But in what has become typical Luniz fashion, if it's not one thing it's another, and something else had to go wrong.
"For the first two months of working on the album, I was on house arrest," admits Yuk. "So all I have is from 12pm to 12am. But these muthaf*cka's don't get to the studio until 10pm. So we never get to make no new sh*t. I'll catch up on the song we already did, but we can't start a new fresh vibe. I'm not feelin' this new Luniz sh*t, The Silver & Black. It coulda been a thousand times better. We coulda had better producers, better features, everything. It was just left in the hands of C&H. He used his producers, we got a couple of features, but it wasn't people we wanted. IMX?! Come on. That album is not The Luniz to the extreme. We do got a couple a hits on there, but it could be a thousand times harder."
Despite Yuk's restrictions, the duo's differences, and creative issues, The Luniz completed 24 tracks for their to-be triumphant return-Silver & Black. But to no avail disaster lied right around the corner. Just when everything seemed to be finally getting on the right track, The Luniz train was completely derailed. Silver & Black somehow made its way into the hands of the wrong person, and in turn the streets of Oakland, and the internet. You could pick up a copy of the 17 track bootleg at the barbershop in downtown Oakland for two dollars, or download the entire thing off of the world-wide web.
"We hadn't done a show in two years and muthaf*ckas was callin' us to do shows," recalls Numskull. "That's when we realized it was really out there like that. (Plus) my wife would go on the internet and she'd find every f*ckin' song."
"Muthaf*cka's in Australia were calling me up in February 2002, talkin' about they got it," adds Yuk. "It had to have come from an inside source. I ain't gon' snitch, but it had songs on there that a certain muthaf*cka had, and me & Num didn't have access to those songs."
Numskull talks a little more freely about who he believes is responsible for the predicament of Silver & Black's bootlegging. "C&H is the one who bootlegged our sh*t. He was at the Oakland Raiders game sellin' them. Everything we worked for, tried to come back for, he just f*cked it all up tryin' to get a lil' couple hundred here. Was you that broke n*gga? I'm that broke too but damn."
C&H admits to leaking a song, but is quick to kill any notion that he's the cause of the bootlegging. "I leaked out "Oakland Raiders" at one Raider game and I told Rap-A- Lot. It was only one song. I gave some away and sold some for ten dollars. Just the Raiders song alone. It was already known, I was tryin' to create a buzz because the album was supposed to come out last year. That's the only song I bootlegged. Why would I wanna kill my sales. I'm the one getting paid for that. That doesn't make sense. I think one of Yuk's boy's that was staying with him did it. They fell out and he took the CD and brought it to Oakland and gave people the CD."
And the allegation that he was the only one to have access to all the songs?
"They said they wanted to listen to their sh*t and I said no, I didn't want anything leaked out. So they went back to the studio when I wasn't there and had the engineer burn them a copy. How was there any songs that they didn't have?" Asks C&H. "Everything was at one place. The whole album was done in the same studio. How did you have some songs and not the other? What songs you didn't have any access to? It's not makin' no sense. Cuz on the bootleg, the Fat Joe song's not on there. The "Hiedi-Ho" song is not on the bootleg. They both had every song."
Meanwhile, Rap-A-Lot was defenseless. They no longer had their deal with Virgin and couldn't release the album before the bootlegging was wide-spread. All The Luniz and C&H could do was wait until Rap-A-Lot found new distribution. Something that grew very tiresome for C&H, especially when other labels were offering to buy out The Luniz' contract. "I sent Rap-A-Lot a letter saying they was in breach of contract and that they have so much time before we can walk."
Little did Chris know that as soon as Rap-A-Lot inked their new distribution deal, J and The Luniz were making plans to reconstruct Silver & Black. "We was about to start doin' new songs," reveals Yuk. "We was gonna do some stuff with Dre, The Neptunes. We was gonna get a whole new budget to re-do the whole album because Rap-A-Lot struck a new distribution deal. That was the whole wait. Then C&H hit Rap-A-Lot with a lawyer letter saying they gotta put out the album by such-and-such date or he gon' sue and we get to walk. But they had to act on the lawyer sh*t, so they had put the album out on August 13th. J said he was just gonna put the album out-f*ck promoting itand make his money back. And I agreed with it."
The events were caused by a lack of communication between C&H and The Luniz. Chris failed to inform Yuk and Num of the letter he was sending and The Luniz left C&H out of the loop when it came to the re-budgeting. Rap-A-Lot had no other choice but to release the album on August 13th. But once C&H found out that Rap-A-Lot was going through with the release, he put in a call to J Prince in an attempt to clean up the mess that had been created. "I called J a couple [of] months before the release date," discloses C&H. "I said we didn't have to do that date, we can take back the letter. If you gon' put it out, can we do it right?"
Chris' offer fell on deaf ears and J kept the August 13th release date, which makes Chris believe that they intended on putting out Silver & Black the way it was all along. "They didn't give a f*ck," C&H refutes. "They did everybody like they did us. They was gonna do it anyways so It wasn't like I forced the situation. They put them all outDevin, Do Or Die, Luniz and Tela. Bing, bing, bing. I didn't cause that, which shows that's what the f*ck they was gon' do anyways."
On August 13th, 2002, Silver & Black silently made its way onto store shelves. No pre-release hype, no video, no promotion, no nothing. Eleven songs in length, only two weren't found on the bootleg. Not even The Luniz were aware that it had truly come out.
"I found out two days before the album dropped," recalls Num. "My boy was in North Dakota at a record store like, Dude, I'm about to go crazy, they bootlegged your sh*t.' Can you imagine how that sh*t hurt us when we go in there and do a bangin'-ass album, it gets bootlegged to the fullest, and then our record company don't wanna put that sh*t out when we tell them that somebody got it and it's about to hit the streets."
To date, The Luniz' Silver & Black has gone on to sell 31,000 copies. A far cry from the platinum Operation Stackola. If you were to mention The Luniz to industry cats and fans alike, very few know they have a new album in stores now.
The Luniz and C&H are at odds with each other, Rap-A-Lot is frustrated with the way everything has transpired, and Yuk and Num are leading separate lives, rarely speaking. What does the future have in store for The Luniz, especially if The Luniz can't be The Luniz?
"We probably can, we probably can't." Yukmouth answers about whether or not they can continue to record as The Luniz without C&H. "I'm having my lawyer look in to it. If we can't, we still ain't f*ckin' wit himperiod. He continues, "Me & Num are about to put our sh*t together. The Luniz is a goldmine. This ain't the end of the Luniz."
Num on the other hand doesn't speak so optimistically. "Until Yuk gets off of Rap-A-Lot it probably ain't gon' happen and I don't see that happening in the near future. If he don't get off, then there's no future for The Luniz. Unless he gon' give J all his points cuz I ain't giving him sh*t. The other problem is everytime we get out of one situation, it's always another f*ckin' situation. That's because me and Yuk don't talk [like we supposed to]. If we ain't eye to eye it ain't gon' work. And we ain't been eye to eye and if we want to get to where we wanna be again, like we was before, we gotta come back together and do that Luniz sh*t. We both two different muthaf*ckas. But I'm on his side. Since the f*ckin' beginning. Since his cousins was shootin' at us in the muthaf*ckin' streets."
And as quickly as Num crushes the notion of another Luniz project, he puts the pieces back together and acknowledges the musical-magic that they make alongside one another. "Me and Yuk, we got the gift to do what we need to do. We work well together. He compliments me, I compliment him. We have our problems but the day we did "5 On It," we wasn't even f*ckin' with each other. We were fightin' that day and we made a hit. That's the way we create. Me and Yuk don't like each other when we go into the studio but we make f*ckin' heat. It's a f*cked up way to make music."
So is it the end or not?
"Really, I knew Rap-A-Lot wasn't gonna put no nothin' into this album," Num says candidly. "So I looked at (Silver & Black) as a street warmer to let everybody know this is the type of sh*t we can come with still. And then me & Yuk do an album together and call it my solo album because Yuk can't go nowhere as The Luniz. We got ways around sh*t, we got ways around Rap-A-Lot, we got ways around C&H, we got ways around everybody."
Story By Big WillShowcase Magazine
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