UnoTheActivist lets his music do the talking for the most part. As a rapper that came up by carving a path through the Soundcloud masses, he knows that consistency is key. Hundreds and hundreds of times over the past five years, Uno has let loose a new song and used social media and streaming platforms to run it up.
He’s part of the Atlanta Soundcloud bubble that will seemingly never burst, a collage of talented artists from one relatively small area that have all made a serious impact on hip-hop. Uno hails from Atlanta but also spent some time in Gary, Indiana, one of the roughest cities in the country.
Uno intertwines real-life experiences into his clever wordplay and while his music can sometimes carry a dark undertone, he only means to promote positivity at the end of the day. The “Activist” moniker in his name represents his desire to spread truth into the world, uplifting anyone and everyone he can with his music. It wasn’t until 2015 when he dropped out of school at the Art Institute and simultaneously released his “Parkin’ Lot Pimpin'” single that his buzz began to grow.
If you’re a fan of Uno, you know exactly what he stands for. This isn’t any clout chasing or corny social media tactics, his love for music is real and so is the impact it has on his fans.
After rising through the ranks alongside the likes of Playboi Carti — who he now swears he isn’t familiar with — Uno keeps his circle tighter than ever these days. In 2017, Uno dropped his debut album Live.Shyne.Die, blowing away expectations and garnering scores of new fans along the way. The rapper wore his heart on his sleeve, touching on all of life’s obstacles while using music therapeutically to overcome them.
I sat down with UnoTheActivist at The Hundreds HQ to chat about the meaning behind Limbus, wanting to leave Los Angeles and social media’s impact.
SHIRLEY JU: How was it in Gary Indiana while you were there?
UNOTHEACTIVIST: I was only there for a year and a half. It was a rough life, but nothing I couldn’t handle.
How is it different from Atlanta?
Shit, everything. Gary is a good city but to be honest, it’s rundown. Atlanta is more kept together. It’s right next to Chicago. It’s about as rough as Chicago basically, if not worse at times.
Do you fuck with Freddie Gibbs?
I don’t really know too much about Freddie Gibbs, but my uncle and him are close friends. And my dad is still, but I don’t really know him like that. I heard he’s from the East Side of Gary, so shout out to him.
I looked up the meaning of Limbus. Do you feel like you’re in limbo between good & evil?
I feel like I’m in limbo between egos. It’s not good or evil because everyone is between good and evil. We are born between good and evil. But as far as me in the limbus state — limbus means something different for everybody. Some people’s limbus might be different than others. My limbus state is on the brink of me blowing the fuck up.
What are the two egos?
One that wants to be an asshole, and one of them that wants to be kindhearted. Those two egos. Part of me wants to be an asshole all of the time, then the other half just wants to love everything. Just spread the love. I’m in between.
How often are you struggling?
Oh, every day. It’s an everyday struggle.
Is it frustrating?
Not really. I just choose when I want to be an asshole.
Hopefully, that’s not often, right?
I don’t know, it could be. You get both every day. You get the asshole and you get love every day, at the same time. It’s called tough love, that’s what I do.
How do your homies deal with it?
They’re fighting the same battle. We’re all in the struggle together, that’s why we’re friends.
I love that your name means you want to help people by staying positive. Your music is kind of dark, talk about touching on both extremes.
Well, I’d say as far as the dark goes, it’s just a lower mood. I try to reach the people who listen to dark shit, so I can bring them to the light. It’s camouflage. It’s really light, but it’s in the dark. It’s the light in the dark. It’s the little light at the end of the tunnel, that’s my music.
Do you plan on sticking with this vibe?
I mean if that’s the vibe I’m put here to create. I gotta lead the people in Limbus out of Limbus, that’s what I’m here for.
How do your fans receive it? Do you get people asking you for help?
Yeah, I always have people asking for help. People tell me I inspire them to get through stuff every day. People always tell me when their friends die that “they died in the hospital and you were the last song they played.” It’s heavy, heavy. That’s why I have to keep going.
How do you deal with that? That’s a lot of emotion.
God gives his hardest battles to his strongest warriors. He’s not going to give you anything you can’t handle. I guess I can handle it, that’s why I always receive that type of shit.
How has music been a form of therapy for you?
It’s just a place, it’s like a diary. I don’t really write so everything that’s locked up in my head, I just put it on the beat. It’s instant transfer. Ain’t gotta write it down or nothing, it’s instantly there. It helps me cope because it’s where I can vent into the beat.
Do you freestyle everything? You don’t write anything down?
Yeah, nothing. Not even on the Notes app. I freestyle everything.
How do you stay creative and inspired?
It’s one of those gifts that you can’t teach and you can’t learn. It’s a special talent I was born with.
Can you think back to the first time you recorded?
Yeah, I was in 5th grade. I recorded with my cousin on GarageBand on my cousin’s laptop, to Chris Brown’s “Shawty Shawty” [“Poppin’”]. Ever since then, I just kept doing it. I didn’t really think it was it or not, I just kept doing it because I loved doing it. Then it turned out to be it.
Are you where you thought you would be at this point?
I’m not where I want to be so no because I’m still not where I think I should be. In my head, I didn’t make it. I didn’t do anything, I’m still trying to accomplish the goal.
You said you wanted to be top of the top, paint that picture for us.
The top of the top is when you can influence the world. When you can create change to the world, that’s the top of the top. I’m just going to keep putting out these hits man, no cap. Let the music speak.
What’s more valuable for you, a fan that’s 1000 percent committed and rides for you, or someone talking shit all the time but they’re sharing your shit?
Bro, the person that’s talking shit all the time is the number one most committed fan. They follow you, they like everything, they buy everything. They like you so much that it drives them crazy when you don’t drop.
What’s the longest you’ve gone without dropping music?
Last year, I only dropped 6 songs. I only dropped 3 songs all the way until December, then I dropped Limbus Pt. 2. Because when I first came out in the game, you saw my shit everywhere. One year, I dropped 300 songs. I was like “nah.” People were telling me, “you got so many songs, it’s hard to pick one to blow up.” I was like “shit, go ahead and marinate on those 100 songs you got then. Fuck you mean.” [chuckles] That’s how you do it though, supply and demand.
Can you talk about your upcoming tape with Travis Barker?
I can’t talk about that, it’s on hush hush.
How did you guys link?
Kenny Beats. Kinda sorta Kenny Beats. Kenny Beats through a third party, but indirectly Kenny Beats. Shout out to him. I forget how I even met Kenny Beats, he’s just my boy. We just talk about shit other than music. When you can do that with somebody, you’re real friends. He’s my real friend.
You record in his studio in North Hollywood?
I record in his studio often. One time, I was getting a massage upstairs. A masseuse came through, gave me a massage, then we went downstairs and recorded. I honestly don’t know what song it was, couldn’t tell you. But I haven’t been there in a while because I’ve been working on this other shit, but we’re going to put out a project, too. Sooner or later.
I love massages!
I need one today. I’m going to go ahead and call a masseuse. My shoulders tense, my back is tense. There’s an app called Soothe, I just put everybody on.
You’ve worked a lot with other artists, be it Fauni or Carti or Dex. Do you know instantly that you’ll be able to work with someone easily, or are some collaborations harder to make happen?
I’m done working with people. [laughs] I’m on my solo. I mean I fuck with people, but I’m done working with people. It’s too much going on with that when it comes to dropping the music. When it comes to dropping, it’s too much nowadays. I’d rather be by myself and drop my own music, and not have to wait on somebody else to get their situation right.
I recently dropped three songs this past month. One every week, and I’m probably going to drop one tomorrow. “Feelin’ Like Jumpman” is one, “Ashanti” is one, and I just dropped “Show Stopper” last week. I’m about to drop a new one probably this week, it’s called “What Are You Doing Today?” Because the fans deserve it, they’ve been going crazy. I’ve been starving them. They keep sending me death threats every day. I’m just going to give them music before they pop up at my door and steal my social security number for the music, some crazy shit.
What do you love about Ashanti?
That ass. [laughs] Ayo Ashanti, you see my fans hitting you up. Don’t try to cap now, I’m here for that ass.
What’s been the best encounter you’ve had with a fan?
One of my fans introduced me to Mike Dean. Shout out to Mikael. First time I met Mike Dean, we smoked some Mike Dean OG. He’s a stoner, but I can outsmoke Mike Dean. I can definitely outsmoke Mike Dean.
How much are you smoking every day?
More than Mike Dean. Man, I probably already caught up to him. Whenever I drop an album, Mike Dean is the one who mixes my album. Shout out Mike Dean, he mixed Live.Shyne.Die. He mixed Brooke’s Interlude. That’s my guy.
Do you feel pressure to top Live.Shyne.Die?
It’s already been topped. They haven’t come out yet but just know, Live.Shyne.Die has been topped. Two times, no cap.
Can you talk about that term in Atlanta, when “no cap” originated?
No cap’s probably been around for as long as I can remember. You grew up on no cap. No cap always been around, but it just started getting popular now that music is involved. Atlanta got the whole world saying no cap.
How long have you been living in LA now?
Two and a half years. I’m finna move though.
Back to Atlanta?
Back to somewhere. Anywhere but here. [laughs] They put shit in the air man, I don’t fuck with that shit. They want to kill us out here, I’m leaving — before I’m sick as hell.
What about your friends?
Shit, they know how to get to me. The thing about being a good friend is, you don’t have to be next to him for him to be your friend. You don’t have to see him for years for him to be your friend. If he’s a good friend, he’s going to hold you down forever. Y’all have a bond that’s forever. What happens if someone has been locked up for years, you think I’m not going to have his back? When he gets out, that’s my boy still, back to where we were. If they want to get to me, they know where to find me, but I’m out.
You and Carti had a falling out. How are you guys now?
I don’t know who that is.
How often are you watching anime?
Every day. Hunter x Hunter is my new favorite. I’m hooked on that shit, it’s seven seasons. It’s on while I’m doing everything. Just on in the background when I’m sleeping, taking a shower, recording, etc. I can be watching another TV, and the other TV has anime on. I might just have anime on with no sound while I have music playing.
What’s your favorite project and song by Wayne?
Favorite project is No Ceilings. That’s when he was oozing his flow, oozing and juicing it. My favorite song though would have to still be “Let The Beat Build.” Shit, he taught everybody to be themselves. Fuck what everybody thinks, it’s cool to geek out in public. We geeking in public because of Lil Wayne, no cap. Lil Wayne just made it cool to do everything.
You just had a birthday, how was it?
I just turned 23. I didn’t see one girl. [laughs] I was with the gang, just getting high. I didn’t really want to see too many people I didn’t know that well. I was with my little brother, it was a family affair. All the bitches were mad talking about, “why didn’t you invite me?” Be mad bro. I was in LA, it was somewhere in the hills. That’s a good song idea. My next song is “Somewhere In The Hills.”
I want a credit on that one.
Nah, you didn’t come up with that. [laughs] Hell nah!
You fuck with that “Old Town Road” remix?
I’ll be honest, I’ve literally only heard it twice. A lot of fishy shit going on, though. He said himself he was putting it behind memes for a minute. That’s how “Trap Queen” blew up. Back in the Vine days, “Trap Queen” was it. It was in the back of every song. It’s humorous but it’s hard. When you first heard “Trap Queen,” you die laughing. It doesn’t sound like anything else, it sounds like some troll shit. But it’s hard though because they’re dead ass serious. I’m going to do a remix to “Old Town Road,” just gotta listen to it a couple more times. I don’t have an opinion on it yet.
How do figure out social media stuff to your advantage?
Bro that’s pretty hard because I’m not a social media person. I still haven’t figured social media out. You really have to be all-in on it. I’m too real. I don’t do anything extraordinary on Instagram. But if you blow up on IG, you blow up everywhere. No cap.
How have things changed as you’ve grown in the rap game?
Shit, it’s just fake as hell now. It’s not as authentic as it used to be, but it’s slowly getting back to authenticity. It’s slowly going back to where it once was, so I guess I’m happy. I’m in a happy place for music. Music is always progressing. It’s always at the highest and lowest point at the same time. Always.
Photos courtesy of Ben Shmikler