In recent years Roc Marciano has become a favorite amongst fans of neoclassical grimy Northeast corridor crime rhyme. Those astute fans of Marcberg, however, also know that his first full LP actually dates back to his former L.I. crew The UN's superb 2004 effort UN or U Out . To coincide with the 10-year anniversary of its original release, this slept-on classic enjoys a new reissue this April 15th via Fat Beats featuring two bonus tracks and liner notes by ETL contributor David Ma that tells the story of the group's formation and dissolution. Listen to the previously unreleased "For the Love" below and read on for David's full text. Pre-order it, HERE .
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Cold Stunner - The Makings and Breakings of The UN.
By David Ma
“ UN or U Out was never even performed live. The members sort of parted ways and did their own thing. It came and went but it’s one of the rawest East Coast rap records ever put out,” says Schott “Free” Jacobs, A&R executive at Loud Records during its heyday, who (along with associate Matty C) was crucial in signing and developing notables Wu-Tang, Mobb Deep, Xzibit, and Big Pun. Jacobs’ work in the '90s also included executive producing Mobb Deep’s classic, The Infamous , and he—along with label brass at 456 Entertainment— held similarly high hopes for The UN. The prodigious MCs and producers out of Long Island gelled not only incredibly well but also naturally. “These UN guys came and went too quickly,” he says. This was the early 2000s.
456 Entertainment came thereafter, started in fact by TV personality Carson Daly in an effort to champion lesser known, upcoming artists. Though releases on the well-intentioned yet short-lived imprint proved forgettable, the UN's UN or U Out created a lore that outlasted its own label. The project drew comparisons to Wu-Tang’s early demo releases, as Jacobs has referred to them as a “mini-super group of street cats” whom all had different styles ranging from aggressive, punchy vocals to detailed, crime narratives.
Members of The UN consisted of Dino Brave, Mike Raw, Laku, and Roc Marciano, whom at the time was member of Busta Rhymes’ Flipmode Squad (Busta himself is a Long Island native and had scouted Marciano a couple years prior). The foursome was spearheaded by Marciano and Bravo as members joined later on. Marciano explains The UN’s emergence as an organic, localized affair. “It’s real simple – we all went to school together as shorties, man. It’s really just that simple,” said Marciano in a rare 2008 interview for Unkut.com.
He continues in said interview, underscoring their Long Island connection: “We all went to junior high school together, ‘cos I’m not from Uniondale. Me nor Dino Brave is from Uniondale, we’re from Hempstead. Laku and Mike Raw, they’re from Uniondale. But I was goin’ to school out in Uniondale, ‘cos I kinda grew-up like a nomad and shit. I was here, there, and a little bit of everywhere. So we was all basically at a young age. That was when all of the fly hip-hop shit was out, and we all had the bug since young dudes, man. We all rhymed, since back in the day.”
As a troupe, The UN first emerged rather esoterically on Pete Rock's 2001 Petestrumentals album, a primarily all instrumental release minus two tracks— “Nothing Lesser” and “Cake”, both featuring vocals by The UN. At the time, the group hadn’t performed live and never had major prior releases. Pete Rock fans were at first perplexed by the vocal appearance of an unknown group. Yet Pete not only had the confidence and foresight to introduce the four MCs, he also furthered the collaboration, making it full circle by lending production on “Game of Death (G.O.D.)” and “Ain’t No Thang” on UN or U Out. What’s remarkable is that both beats are signature Pete Rock in terms of execution, sample palette, and rhythm, but are atypical regarding tone and feel. Melancholy and subdued, the production is Pete Rock at his darkest, perfectly suiting the UN’s subject matter and fistic cadences.
On Pete’s production, says Roc: “Pete had a dope-ass beat, and I made sure I got it. He had played the beat, and I forgot who he was gonna give it to but I knew he was gonna give it to somebody he was supposedly doin’, but I heard the beat and I was like, ‘Nah, it’s not gonna get out of here’. Word, that’s how that went down.” It should also be noted that the venerable Large Professor also added his acumen and renowned production to the album, furthering a sense of clout to The UN’s rep - one that preceded them though still relatively unknown to the masses.
The album was made at Greene St. Recording, a legendary recording studio housed in New York responsible for enormous tracks during its peek in the mid-‘80s to ‘90s. The Beastie Boys, Public Enemy, Ice Cube, and even James Brown have all spent time working in the famously cited workspace. With Jacobs spearheading the release and with Pete Rock’s glowing endorsement adding to its prestige, the project nevertheless arrived in quiet fashion in the face of internet chatter and overall warm reviews. By late 2004, it was evident that UN or U Out was subject to minimal label support and criminally glossed over within months of its release.
“I think the problem was people didn’t know who these guys were and nobody did their homework. I mean, the real heads and hardcore fans know and that’s what kept this album alive. Roc’s career also has people backtracking to seeing what he did in the past but if more people only knew about this. Man, I’ll say it again, it’s the rawest record,” reiterates Schott “Free” Jacobs.
456 Entertainment receded quickly following UN or U Out , releasing a couple more projects before completely collapsing. Not unlike any start-up subsidiary, there were surely issues with cost and spending. But it was the UN themselves that disbanded future efforts, mostly to focus on personal gains rather than tour solely in support of the album. “I began working with Roc on his solo career at that point,” says Jacobs. “He was the most dedicated career-wise.”
What remains is a springboard of sixteen songs that aided the rise of Roc Marciano’s current career while furthering Pete Rock’s sometimes stealth influence on the industry. Marciano has since stated that both he and Bravo are looking to foster more UN projects but that other members are now focused on children and familial obligations. Yet UN or U Out remains a timeless listen, as many claimed it was a deeply succinct and exuberant homage to New York’s bygone era of gritty boom-bap, made with tasteful nods to Queensbridge's cold-steel aesthetic. It speaks to the album’s endurance that there have been enough curiosity and cult following to garner a full reissue merely ten years after its initial introduction. All artists have career benchmarks and it’s fascinating to see the start of any long, well-crafted oeuvre — especially one with such formidable beginnings as this.