By Percy Crawford (@Mr.Louis1ana)
(AllHipHop Features) The emergence of Cash Money Records in the late 90’s and early 2000’s was mainly on the strength of New Orleans rapper, Juvenile’s classic album, “400 Degrees.” That classic line from Juvenile’s “Back That Azz Up,” which stated, “Cash Money taking over for the ’99-2000,” was the calling card for women all over the world to run to the dance floor. But long before Juvenile had women “backing it up,” long before the “Hot Boys” were hot and the Big Tymer’s was a duo, Birdman and Mannie Fresh produced a trio from Uptown, New Orleans, “UNLV” and acronym for Uptown Niggas Living Violent. The trio formed by Lil Ya, Tec-9 and the now deceased Yella Boy, was the first group signed to the Cash Money label and endured the growing pains of a new label as well as survived the test of times of the New Orleans streets to become a legendary Louisiana group. With classic local albums like their 1993 debut, “6th and Baronne,” sophomore follow up, “Straight Out The Gutta,” and a third album, “Mac Melph Calio, it wouldn’t be until 1996 that the group would get national recognition with their fourth and final Cash Money Records effort, “Uptown 4 Life.” “Uptown 4 Life” not only put the trio on the big stage, but it also shed light on an ongoing feud before the group and fast budding rapper, Mystikal. It was this feud with Mystikal that led to UNLV’S most publicized track; a Mystikal diss song, titled, “Drag Em From The River.” With Yella Boy deceased (murdered in 1997) and Tec-9 being locked up, lone standing member, Lil Ya is keeping the name alive and continuing to put out music 27-years after signing with then local and now national Cash Money Records.
I recently caught up with, Lil Ya to discuss the early days of being signed by Birdman, get the real story behind the Mystikal beef and discuss his upcoming project, “A Legend In My Prime!”
AllHipHop.com: It’s an honor to speak to you, my man.
Lil Ya: It’s all good, dawg. Pleasure for you having me.
AllHipHop.com: UNLV was the first group signed to Cash Money records. What was it like during the early days at the record label?
Lil Ya: The early days… first of all, it was fun, bruh. We had a lot of fun. We learned a lot of things, but it was also business; a lot of business going on. It was a lot of hard work too. We would have to pre-product for at least a week. It wouldn’t take us no longer than 3-days to make an album, you know what I’m saying. But, me, Tec-  and Yella [Boy] would always be together and we would come up with these concepts and choruses and stuff like that. We would write our own raps down or whatever and then get with Mannie Fresh by, B [Baby/Birdman] house. We would go by Baby house and pre-product it in the kitchen. That way when we get to the studio, we don’t have to have to learn raps or write raps like they do in these days, you know what I’m saying. It was a lot of money involved at the time, bruh. We didn’t have the access like everybody got these days; home studios and shit like that. So, we would pre-product. They gave us the game of pre-producing it first that way when we were on our way to the big studio, we would basically know our rhymes. The tracks already be made. In the early days, we weren’t allowed to go out of state. I still don’t know they reason for that. They never let us go nowhere past Houston to do a concert. We would stay in Louisiana and Mississippi really.
AllHipHop.com: It’s crazy you say that because I did an interview with Kidd Kidd and he felt lot a lot of acts from New Orleans could have been bigger if they got out and expanded past Louisiana. So, to hear it wasn’t allowed it eye opening.
Lil Ya: Right! It wasn’t allowed. We were getting calls and we wanted to do it, but we was under contract with Cash Money. It wasn’t until we started our own label in 1999… I started a label called, “Hard Time Records and that abled us to start taking the calls then. That allowed us to actually start moving and going out of state and stuff like that; doing features and stuff like that. Cash Money days, none of that was allowed, man.
AllHipHop.com: You were only 18-years old when UNLV dropped the debut album, “6th and Baronne.” Do you feel like if you would have been 21 instead of 18, would you had asked more questions in terms of why you guys weren’t allowed to venture out and do features?
Lil Ya: Definitely! I was a lil kid. We all were little kids fresh out of high school. We all wanted to get off the block because we were all on the block hustlin. We had little petty jobs and stuff, but our bread and butter was coming off of the block. We always had that vision of getting off of the block one day and fulfilling our dream which was music. I didn’t even know that our music was being heard outside of Louisiana and Mississippi and some parts of Texas. I was 19-years old when my first kid was born and that’s when I started asking questions. That’s what made them really feel like we didn’t trust them because I started asking questions. I was the one that started asking questions. My first kid was born, so I was like, “Damn man, we got money, but what’s up with our cribs and stuff like that? I want a house in my name.” If my child wouldn’t have been born, I probably wouldn’t have even asked it then. We got anything we wanted honestly. But what we earned was much more and nothing was in our name; not even our cars.
AllHipHop.com: You guys dropped four southern classics under the Cash Money label. I know it was hard work, but you all were just talking what you were living and seeing, so did that make the task easier?
Lil Ya: Real easy, bruh. We was young and on the street. Like I said, we always hung together, and we were in the same profession, so we were coming up with hooks every day. We always wrote our own raps. We would help each other out every now and then when one of us would get writer’s block or whatever, but for the most, we wrote our own raps. We were always together doing the same type of things. That made it a lot easier, bruh. When you get older and your life change, it’s less to talk about. And then a lot of things that you talk about a lot of people can’t relate to. When you young and wildin a lot of people can relate to that type of stuff.
AllHipHop.com: In 1997, Yella Boy was murdered. That changed things. How so?
Lil Ya: Well, it changed it a lot. It changed it a hell of a lot. First of all, if you know our history, we were a two- man group before we actually signed with Cash Money. It was just me and Tec. As far as the music, it didn’t change the music too much because we were a group already. We knew how to make songs with just me and Tec. But what changed is… I’m known for entertaining, Tec known for his lyrical content and Yella known for his character. We didn’t have that character in our group anymore. It kind of made us change a lot of stuff and like I said, we had done got older. So, getting older we had to cut a lot of that clowning out. It changed a lot, bruh in some ways and in some ways it didn’t. Yella, was the character of the group. He brought that charisma. That’s what he brought to the group. We all had our different strengths, but that’s what he brought to the group.
AllHipHop.com: Back at that time New Orleans was a warzone, but you guys were famous. Did that affect the way ya’ll moved around the city or did you carry on like you were just a regular dude?
Lil Ya: It affected in certain ways as far as going out too late at night and going to different spots or whatever, but it wasn’t that we had enemies because of fame. We had haters or whatever, but it wasn’t to the point where it was like, “Damn dawg, you know such and such don’t like you, so don’t go here.” It wasn’t that type of enemies. It was more hatred than anything. One thing is, we always represented Uptown, but Downtown loved us and we had the same love for Downtown. All three of us actually stayed in different parts of Uptown. Once we signed the deal, we all moved, but we didn’t change our lifestyle. We still hung where we hung; 6th and Baronne. We still hung in the hood.
AllHipHop.com: I’m sure it’s bittersweet to look back and some of the people you collaborated with and see so many of them dead or in jail. At the same time, you made history with them, so I’m sure there is a mixture of joy and pain when you think about, Pimp Daddy, Mr. Ivan, Soulja Slim and even with Tec-9 being locked up. You’re like the last man standing.
Lil Ya: Man-man-man! It’s a lot of memories there that I still hold on to. I always think about those guys and course I wish they were here, but me, Yella and Tec made a truce to each other that we will never let the name UNLV die. We all grew up in church, so we all know that we have to go one day, but we really took our time and put our heart into our music, and we refuse to let our name die. We always told each other, “If you go before me and vice versa, keep my name alive and continue to do the music if you have an opportunity to.” That’s what we did, bruh. Tec, doing a lil jose (jail time) right now, but he will be home in a minute. This not the first time. It done happened to me too and he had to hold it down for a minute while I was gone. This is the second time I had to hold it down by myself really. The first time I had a solo album called, “Another Massacre.” It did real-real good. That was the first time I had to hold the fort down by myself. I was new to it. Right now, I’m used to it. I know how it goes, so I’m doing the best I can with it.
AllHipHop.com: You’re still putting out music and you can still rap your ass off.
Lil Ya: I appreciate it, bruh.
AllHipHop.com: No doubt! After 27-years, how do you remain relevant and what are the keys to your longevity?
Lil Ya: Hard work, bruh. First of all, I love what I do. That takes a load off of me because I love music. I love what I do. That takes a load off of me, but I think the key to it is praying and working. You can pray about it and then put it down. The hardest thing is staying out of trouble really. If you stay out of trouble you can really stay relevant. Once you get in trouble it’s out of sight out of mind. I thank God that I’m not in the position that I was in when I was a little younger; actually, a lot younger. I live in Houston now and Houston is a lot slower than New Orleans. I’m not doing the things that I was doing when I was a teenager. I don’t have to do it to survive. Thank God for the revenue that I made. I’m still making money off of it. I’m not rich. I’m not rich by far, but I’m making enough now where I don’t have to do anything illegal to provide for me and mine.
AllHipHop.com: Your sound is the same. You stayed true to yourself and you didn’t feel the need to give in to today’s sound. I think that’s important.
Lil Ya: Exactly! A lot of people listen to the new wave and I don’t knock it, but I look at it like, we never fell off, so why change something if it’s not broken. That’s my method. It’s like my song, “Dopeman,” even though I’m not out there pushing like I was or whatever, that’s what my fans want to hear. I’m very up to date on what’s going on. I’ve been there and done that. It was kind of easy. I think if Pimp [Daddy], Magnolia Shorty, Kilo G and Mr. Ivan was around, bruh, no disrespect to Atlanta, but we would be where Atlanta at right now musically. I think New Orleans would definitely be in Atlanta position right now.
AllHipHop.com: Anytime the question of best diss-tracks is posed on Twitter or social media in general you obviously get the Tupac, “Hit Em Up’s, Ice Cube’s “No Vaseline,” but someone from the south always brings up, UNLV’S “Drag Em From The River.”
Lil Ya: Boosie, said the same thing. Shots out to my homie, Lil Boosie. He said the same thing, bruh. That was a hell of a song, bruh. Mystikal, even said he felt it and it was about him. Shots out to, Mystikal. Free Mystikal. That was the homie from high school. To reveal the story now, the song is a classic, but I don’t want nobody to have any misperceptions about us. It was actually a whole rap war that Mystikal started. He wanted to start it and he asked me about doing it. I just told it to, Yella and Tec and asked them how they felt about it. He dissed us twice before we even dissed him. He knew we were cool with it, but once we put that “Drag Em,” out along with that “Boom Get Chopped,” on the same album, that was a wrap, man. “Drag Em From The River,” has to be played in every club almost everywhere right now.
AllHipHop.com: Mystikal, actually did a rebuttal called, “Back From The River,” but it never gained much traction. What did you think of that comeback?
Lil Ya: I heard it, but I was like, “Nah dawg. He better than that.” Mystikal is actually one of my favorite rappers. I never felt that. Not because he was just straight trying to diss us, but I think he have better songs than the song he tried to diss us on. When he dropped “Ya’ll Ain’t Ready,” and said the line, “Never gon bounce, never gon bow.” We couldn’t take it personal because we knew what it was. He told me. I was the one he came to and asked about it. I told him I was going to holla at Tec and Yella and if everything was cool go ahead and do your thing. We wasn’t shocked when he said it, we were just like, “Okay, that’s the direction he’s going with it.” We knew we were going to talk about how he was a cheerleader in high school. We constantly used to rib (play the dozens) all the time. Every time he used to see us in the hallway, he knew he better turn the other way because it’s three against one every time. We be ribbing the shit out of him, dawg. That was everyday in high school. When I first heard the beat for “Drag Em From The River,” I didn’t know that it was going to be the track that it turned out to be, but I knew it was a hit. I knew that with the right machine behind it, that that song would actually end up being a classic. All you have to do is hear it. You hear it you’re going to like it.
AllHipHop.com: It seemed like to me that the beef with Partners-N-Crime was way more personal than the beef with Mystikal.
Lil Ya: That was personal. There are several stories why the beef started with Partners-N-Crime. One of the stories was, Baby and Slim told us to audition them for the record label. So, they came to Cash Money trying to get on the label and Baby and Slim just so happened to be in Lafayette. They had to go out of town or whatever, so they asked us to listen to them and hear them out and let them know what we think about em. They come in there and honestly, it wasn’t happening. They were garbage; straight up. That was one of the reasons. We told Baby and Slim that. Another reason is because, I was messing with one of their best friend’s baby mama and they had so much to say about that. That was the root of the beef. Yella had a fight with Mr. Meana. Me and Tec was right there, and Primetime was in their group at the time and Kango Slimm, but it was a one-on-one fight or whatever. It went to different directions with that. I’d rather not say with gun play and all that type stuff. But that was real beef. Nowadays, there ain’t nothing but respect and love for em, bruh. We all grown and we the best of potnas right now.
AllHipHop.com: If Mac Melph Calio, isn’t your best album it’s the most under appreciated one. My personal opinion is that it’s the best. What is your favorite record that you guys put out?
Lil Ya: I think Mac Melph is the most underrated. But I also think “Trendsetters” is our best work. I think that’s the best album besides “Uptown 4 Life,” dawg. Check out our latest album, “The Relaunch.” We put that out in 2014. We got a large body of work. I’m actually working on a new album right now called, “A Legend In My Prime!” Ya’ll be on the lookout for that too. And all of our music will be on the digital sites soon. “Uptown 4 Life” is up there right now.
AllHiphop.com: I appreciate the time, it was a pleasure and you are forever a legend here. Is there anything else you want to add before I let you go?
Lil Ya: Thanks for having me, bruh. I appreciate it a lot, man. Anytime! Let me lace em with my Instagram and Facebook page, that’s what’s going on these days. Instagram is @lilyaunlv3 and my Facebook is…Ya Phat UNLV!