After years of work as a member of the D.C. rap groups Diamond District and the1978ers, yU has a lot of experience but still feels he has something to prove. “Some people won’t support a new cat until they see a few projects under [his] belt that are consistently dope,” yU told an interviewer last month. Born Michael Willingham Jr., yU earned his name from battle rapping, and his distinct style won him lots of “Why you?” questions about his approach. yU’s thirst to answer that question and to prove himself fueled the clean, laid-back production and ambitious lyrical themes of his sophomore solo LP, The Earn.
Sonically, The Earn sounds more like the past than some astral-gazing cosmic vision of future music, channeling groups he grew up listening to like A Tribe Called Quest. The emcee’s comfort zone, cushioned by mellow boom-bap and jazz-influenced beats, leaves yU enough space to stretch his legs and reflect on his life, career and goals.
Throughout the course of an hour, yU bobs through songs about his childhood and his motivations to keep working hard, occasionally rapping just fast enough to make his words hard to decipher. Usually, he’s a clear-spoken emcee, and those jumbled-up moments seem to crop up during moments that discuss potentially heavy or controversial topics. Did he say his mother used to beat him up during “Time Machine”? And what did he say about not supporting Obama in “Even If”?
yU’s sophomore effort covers well-traveled emcee grounds, from struggling to make a living to his qualms with his contemporaries. In “If U Down,” he bags on violent rappers (and Uncle Sam, for a second), setting himself apart from others by emphasizing his connection to his roots as a hardworking aspiring rapper and Maryland native. “Makin’ noise is what y’all do, I make points,” he jousts on “theEARN.” His relaxed beats contrasted with this mantra to keep working hard is mixed with the occasional oddball sample—”If U Down” features a clip from what seems to be the 1973 cartoon movie Heavy Traffic—or tangential phone conversation skit (“Make A Living”) that make The Earn well worth its hour duration.