Interview: Uno the Activist discusses his rise alongside Playboi Carti and Thouxanbandfauni, the genesis of "Parkin' Lot Pimpin," and his new project "LiveShyneDie."
Three summers ago, HNHH asked hip hop tastemaker and park party maestro 40 Oz Van to put together a playlist of 21 SoundCloud tracks. The playlist heavily pulled from Awful Records, what would coalesce into Divine Council, and artists from south Florida and Atlanta. 40 Oz was particularly clairvoyant in his selection of Atlanta rappers: at the time, Playboi Carti and 21 Savage had achieved moderate SoundCloud success and generated zero national buzz. Even more impressive was his inclusion of Uno the Activist's "Parkin' Lot Pimpin," a diamond buried deep in the SoundCloud rough that nevertheless perfectly embodied the SoundCloud aesthetic.
With 40 Oz Van's assistance, Uno's career jerked from neutral to third gear. Now 20 years old with 100 thousand followers to his name and 3.6 million plays on "Parkin' Lot Pimpin," he has become an emblem of organic SoundCloud success. He spoke to rise alongside Playboi Carti and Thouxanbandfauni, the genesis of "Parkin' Lot Pimpin," and his new project LiveShyneDie.
HNHH: You’ve cited Wayne and Andre 3000 as influences. What about them speaks to you creatively? Who else has influenced you?
Uno the Activist: It’s so creative. You gotta listen to it multiple times just to hear what they said. Every time you hear one of their songs, you’re hearing something new. Because it’s just so much to take in. They just help me think like, maybe I can do that. Have people thinking outside the box. Go back like, damn, he actually said that? Growing up listening to Lil Wayne, I just felt like I related to him. I felt like he was me from the future.
Which of Wayne’s music first caught your ear?
Believe it or not, my first song that I really acknowledged Lil Wayne was “Hustler Muzik.” That’s when I started listening to everything. “Pussy, Money, Weed.” I’m talking about “Let the Beat Build.” Kanye did crazy on that beat. All that nigga’s shit, it was just crazy. During that era, Lil Wayne was untouchable. He was literally the best rapper. He sounded good on any track, whether it be rock, country. And that’s how I’m trying bring it. I’m trying to bring that back, because nowadays, people don’t got essence in their music.
Some of the beats you rap on are pretty left field. Do you have any interest in jazz or electronic music?
I believe that music is you. It shouldn’t be no real genre to music. Music is music. It’s basically how you perceive it. Music is like water. It can form to anything. But it don’t have a shape. But it have all shapes.
You were a big basketball player in your youth. What was your game like? What NBA player would you compare yourself to?
[Uno’s friend says Lebron]
That’s what everybody used to say (laughs). Court vision crazy. Shot crazy. I’m jelly-ing motherfuckers. I can’t dunk though.
Fauni called the house you lived in Atlanta “legendary.” Would you agree with that? Who lived there?
It was only me. I didn’t go to school. But somehow I finessed, it’s not dorms, but anybody who goes to school can live there. It’s not tethered to any campus or nothing. It’s just living quarters for students. And I was in that bitch.
It was an apartment with four rooms. Somehow, I finessed the whole shit by myself. And I just started throwing parties. I never tweeted the address, niggas just knew where the fuck I was. People was just showing up. That’s how I met Fauni. He’s showing up, niggas just popping up. That just became the spot. It got so lit that I got banned from living there.
How long did you live there?
I was there for a couple months. Turned that shit all the way up. It was to the point where motherfuckers were stealing out that shit, and they would just blame it me. Dead ass. Charge me for the stealing. Like, what the fuck, nigga? I would come to my room and have random bills. Like, oh yeah. We caught you stealing. Like, bro, I don’t steal. What the fuck is you talking about?
So where’d you go after that?
I moved to Jersey. During that time, me staying there, that’s when me and Fauni was really connecting. ‘Cause, you know, Fauni had is own different style. And I had my own different style.
One day, I was just sitting on the bus to the train, going to work — I worked for like a week at this pizza spot. So I was on the train going to work one day, and I was just listening to this beat. I’m like, damn… Maybe Fauni can mix his style, I can mix my style, and we can come together. And then we made “Parkin’ Lot Pimpin.” And ever since then, we just been jelled together.
Do you guys still live in Jersey?
Nah. I live in LA. I moved to LA when I was like 19.
How do you like it out there?
I love it.
What do you like about it?
It’s just very convenient connection-wise. It’s always a new move. It’s always ways of you getting more plugged in, because every be with everybody.
It’s interesting, because you came up on SoundCloud, which is this kind of abstract internet space, and now you’re really in the industry.
I remember when no one was on SoundCloud, bro. I was really one of the first people to just have all my music on SoundCloud. And it wasn’t because SoundCloud was a thing. It was because I couldn’t put my mixtape on LiveMixtapes. I’m from the southside of Atlanta, bro, everyone was tuned in to LiveMixtapes. But I ain’t have that plug, so I was like, fuck it, and dropped it on SoundCloud. Went to school and was like, yo, man, I got this song, man. Nobody was hip to that shit.
You were studying audio engineering for a bit?
Literally a month.
Why’d it end?
I didn’t learn anything in that bitch. I wasn’t even going to class. I was probably in there for two months. But I ain’t go to class, so it was like, I wasn’t even in there for no months. My momma was just like, do this music. I’mma give you a year. And in that year I went crazy. Never looked back. That’s when “Parkin’ Lot Pimpin” was going on. That’s when “Sipping Tea” was starting to happen. “Giuseppe Swag.” My first mixtape, No More Thotties. All that shit was happening.
What were your goals when you signed up for this engineering class?
Bro, I really just wanted to know how to engineer my own self. But then I was like, fuck that. I’m just gonna really tune in and listen, then learn that shit.
Did you record No More Thotties in your house or a proper studio?
I recorded everything at the TrapHouse Mansion. Fauni, he’s the one that took me and Carti there. Fauni only knew them niggas for like a week. He was like, man, I got this studio we can go to! That shit was far as hell, bruh, in Stone Mountain. That’s like 50 minutes from where I was. Me, Carti, and Fauni went there. We get there, bro, they just made legendary songs. We made “Splur Gang,” we made “Every Since.” Ever since then, niggas kept going back. But that was before. Everybody like single now, but me and Fauni, we still tight as hell.
What are your studio sessions like? Do you prefer to keep it low key or do you like to have a lot of people around?
I like a crowd, because that shit hype me up. I have to entertain, and the more people I feel like I have to entertain, the more I feel the energy. I can even feel when somebody’s not feeling my shit in the booth, and I just kick it up.
Are there any aspects of being a public figure that you don’t like?
I never even imagined being in this bro, I really just put the music out there. I didn’t even know it was gonna do this shit. I just put “Parkin’ Lot Pimpin” out there, and that got picked up by 40, which got picked up by HotNewHipHop. Everything just fate. I still don’t promote shit. ‘Cause if it’s good, people are going to be drawn to it, regardless. Organic, bro. All my shit has been organic. That’s why it’s been kind of slower, but I want to say it’s almost perfected. People be rushing shit. My aspect of the game is to come rare when I come. I’m lasting forever. So I only got to come a few times. It’s like a heavyweight boxer versus a featherweight boxer. The heavyweight boxer is gonna be throwing hella punches. The heavyweight is gonna hit you with four and knock you out. That’s how I’m coming.
How did you change your approach and concept on LiveShyneDie compared to your previous projects?
Well it’s crazy, because I’ve always been on that conscious shit, but you had questions about it. It was like you knew you had it but you ain’t know how to unlock it yet. You don’t know what’s inside that bitch. You don’t know how to use it yet. I really found how to use my gift. I understood where my gift came from. And I started to understand how this shit work with everybody. Started studying the law of attraction. Just started looking up hella shit. And that just helped me become me. Because, in this rap game, this shit evil as fuck. There’s real evils in this shit. In order to live a real life, you gotta live in the physical and the spiritual. I brought that with the tape. I put a lot of spiritual energy into that.
What is the law of attraction?
I bought these books, they’re still in my phone. Basically, there’s three laws of attraction. The first law is, you like it, you’re attracted. The second law is, you want it, you have it. The third law is, I do what I do, and you do what you do. I can’t be mad at you if you don’t like what I do. And I can’t be mad at what you do. I’m doing me, and you do you, and I accept that.
Those are the three laws of attraction. And I live my life like that. Let them do them, and you do you, and you’re gonna succeed. All you gotta do is focus on yourself. That’s why my first song is called “Wake Up – Manifest.” The message is do you, and you’ll succeed. I don’t even know what I said, ‘cause I be freestyling, but that shit be coming out of me like I wrote it. It’s like the inner being, he already got that shit wrote down. Like somebody in my body just writing shit. And then what it’s time to project it, that shit just come out. It’s like I black out. I just go into a whole new world.