The past decade has afforded the Outlawz varying highs and lows. The rap group has continued to build on its legacy with new releases, but also suffered the death of group members Hussein Fatal and Mussolini in 2015 and 2016, respectively. Loss has become a familiar theme in the lives of remaining Outlawz members, E.D.I. Mean and Young Noble. The pair are the last “onez” left, which served as the name of the group’s last studio album in 2017.
After unleashing solo projects individually, the duo is back to wave the Outlawz banner as a tandem with their new album, One Nation, which was inspired by the groundbreaking album Tupac was spearheading at the time of his death. Pegged as the poster child of the perceived beef between the East and West Coasts during the mid-’90s, 2Pac looked to set the record straight with an album uniting not only the East and West Coasts but all locales across the Hip-Hop landscape. The recording process for that album, titled One Nation, began at Can-Am Studios in Calabasas, California in spring 1996. 2Pac, along with the Outlawz, invited Brooklyn rap crew the Boot Camp Clik out to the West Coast to partake in the creation of the album. As the first artists tapped to appear on One Nation, Boot Camp Clik recorded with Pac and the Outlawz during what became a week-long recording session. In addition to Boot Camp Clik, East Coast reps like Nice & Smooth’s Greg Nice, The Luniz’s Numskull, Asu and Capital LS of the New Jersey-based group Rumpletilskinz, Grandmaster Flash and Melle Mel were reportedly present during those sessions, at one time or another. Pac, who intended to drop numerous volumes of One Nation, also had plans to reach out to superstars like Nas, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, Scarface, Outkast, E-40, and others to contribute to the project and join his mission to create unity and peace within the culture. Unfortunately, those plans would never fully materialize, as 2Pac passed away on Sept. 13 after succumbing to gunshot wounds suffered during a drive-by shooting in Las Vegas on Sept. 7.
While unauthorized versions of songs speculated to have been recorded during those historic One Nation sessions are floating around the internet, the project has never been officially completed or released, resulting in it becoming one of the biggest musical “what-ifs” of all time. However, after years of choosing to leave the concept on the cutting room floor, E.D.I. Mean and Young Noble have decided that this year, which marks the 25th anniversary of 2Pac’s passing, was the appropriate time to take on the task. Staying true to Pac’s theme of spreading the love, the reimagined version of One Nation finds E.D.I. and Noble teaming up with a varied mix of collaborators. Boasting a robust guest list that includes Chuck D, Smif-N-Wessun, Krayzie Bone, Buckshot, Rockness Monsta, Cee-Lo Green, DJ Premier, Conway the Machine, Xzibit, Mistah F.A.B., KXNG Crooked, and a host of other spitters from across the country, One Nation is one of the more important and meaningful bodies of work produced in 2021 and is emblematic of 2Pac’s legacy as a lyrical and true-to-life revolutionary.
VIBE spoke with the Outlawz about 2Pac’s recording sessions for the original One Nation, the experience of recreating the concept, their thoughts on Nas’ “Death Row East” memories, and more.
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VIBE: September 13th marks the 25th anniversary of 2Pac’s death, which is the most high-profile and documented tragedy in Hip-Hop history. What has it been like to see his art remain relevant and his legacy endure after all of these years?
Young Noble: It’s amazing, man. It’s just a testament of who he was. His brilliance, his passion, his creativity—everything he brought to the game. His heart, his spirit. He gave his life to this sh*t. So, it seemed like the music he made back then is even more relevant today. When I hear it, just the struggle he was preaching about, it’s even more relevant today, man. So, it’s amazing to see my brother withstand the test of time. He’s gonna be around forever, he’s gonna be relevant forever. I like to say the truth is always relevant. It is and he spoke the truth in what he did.
E.D.I. Mean: It’s been amazing. It’s a testament to the hard work he put in and his overall talent and ability in the music industry and entertainment. It’s just a testament to how talented and how great he was.
What do you feel 2Pac would think of today’s cultural and musical landscape?
Young Noble: I can’t say what he would think. I don’t like that, to try to put words in his mouth or something. I know one thing’s for sure, he would be looking for more creativity from artists. You know, it’s too many people sounding the same these days. I know he would absolutely have a problem with that sh*t. You know, where I live in Atlanta, you turn on the radio these days and you can’t even tell the difference from the songs sometimes, what artist is who. Everybody’s sounding the same. Auto-tune, it’s like everybody’s copying off of each other these days. So, I think he would absolutely have a problem with that, for sure.
Speaking of music in 2021, Nas recently released a song, “Death Row East,” on his King’s Disease 2 album, where he documents the infamous encounter he and 2Pac had in New York City prior to his death. Have you had the opportunity to hear the song and if so, what are your thoughts on it?
E.D.I. Mean: First of all, I did hear the song. Shout out to Nas and Hit-Boy for creating a dope record. Above the content, it’s just a dope record. It’s just a dope hip-hop song. So, props to them for that and also props to Nas for the shoutout. I appreciate the acknowledgment and that was big for me, man. Nas is a Hip-Hop legend, and for him to have my name in his mouth and put it on his record in a positive way, that’s huge for me. So, salute to Nas one more time, one of the G.O.A.T.s in this sh*t.
Young Noble: Yeah, I heard the song, I like the song. He has his take on it, we had our take on it. It’s just two different perspectives on a situation, but the bottom line is it was a historic day for both of those guys. A lot of different details are, you know, different, but they met up like some real G’z, man. And that was the bottom line because we all love Nas, we didn’t want to see them beefing in the first place. I know I didn’t want to see him beefing in the first place. I was a fan of Nas, so was Pac. So was the rest of the Outlawz, so it was a great thing that day that they met up. I was right there, front and center, you know? So like I said, a lot of details are a little iffy from everybody’s side, but it is what it is, man. It was a great thing that they met up, it was a dope thing. I’m glad they actually got to meet up before Pac passed away because he got shot two or three days later.
Describe the Death Row East movement and the role 2Pac and The Outlawz were meant to play in its launch.
E.D.I. Mean: Well, Pac and Suge always were working on something new, another way to expand the brand of Death Row. That was real early and real fresh, it wasn’t all the way a fleshed-out idea in my opinion. So, I don’t really know exactly what their planning was, but I do know they wanted to extend some love to the East Coast artists that felt like they were being ignored or disrespected by their own culture. And I know a lot of inspiration for Death Row East went to that ’cause there were a lot of greats and there were a lot of dope a** emcees out there that weren’t getting no light. So they felt like, “Yo, we can give ’em the light. We hop on a song with ’em, we can extend some charity that way and help some people out.”
Young Noble: The Death Row East [label], well that was something that Suge wanted to do. Suge and Pac, he was gonna bring it to the East Coast. Yeah, he had Death Row on the west and was killing it. And from the “Hit Em Up” and the whole East Coast, West Coast thing, Pac wanted to put more of a stamp back on the East Coast. So, he and Suge came up with that and it was gonna be crazy. They were gonna be signing up a whole lot of East Coast dudes. Man, It was gonna be a real live takeover. These rappers, you know, they’re lucky he passed away early because I promise you he had a real takeover in place.
Speaking of Death Row East, it’s been said the label was in response to the perceived beef between the East and West coast, which many believe VIBE played a role in with their headlines while documenting that period in music. What were Pac and The Outlawz’s thoughts on the media’s reporting of those events and the impact it had?
Young Noble: Nah, he was gonna kill the whole East Coast/West Coast with the One Nation album. That’s what he was working on before he passed. And him and Nas, the song that they were about to do was gonna be on the One Nation project. So, it wasn’t just the VIBE Magazine [coverage], it was all the magazines, and the streets chose sides. Pac was from the East Coast and Outlawz is from the East Coast. So, I think Pac, when it transpired like that, he didn’t like it. He didn’t like it being no East Coast/West Coast beef because he’s from the East Coast, so was Outlawz. So, him being the leader he was, he was in the process of changing that whole narrative. He was doing a One Nation album and the Death Row East, the label, were just going to sign up the dopest artists from the East Coast. Not only just the new artists, they were gonna be signing a whole bunch of guys that had a name. Because you gotta think, a lot of guys were reaching out to Suge, trying to sign to Suge [label]. So, like I said, they had a whole takeover in place, man. Unfortunately, he died before all of that could come to life. But I promise you, they had a real life takeover place. He’s [2Pac] from the East Coast so he was about to put the ultimate stamp out there.
E.D.I. Mean: Well, at that time, I wasn’t really reading a lot of media. I wasn’t really reading a lot of our own press. I was too busy living in the moment. So, I didn’t really have an opinion about the headlines, I would always hear about it later. I think everybody can share in the responsibility of what happened, from media to artists, the record labels. Even the fans, you know? We all played a part in that and we all shared some accountability as far as what took place. I hope that we all learned the valuable lesson from that time and how to proceed and how to move forward. But as far as the media is concerned, that’s the nature of the beast. They’re always gonna go for the headlines and that’s what sells.
Prior to his death, 2Pac, Boot Camp Clik, and The Outlawz spent a week recording material for an album titled One Nation at Can-Am Studios in California. What are your memories of the vibe of those sessions and the creative process?
Young Noble: It was a great vibe, man. It was a happy time. Boot Camp was the first guys we all talked about and we were like, “That’s who we’re gonna start with.” We all lived with Pac, so we had the conversation like who should we start with and start bringing ’em out. And we all was like Boot Camp and brought ’em out there. Smith & Wesson and Dru Ha came out there, we definitely were gonna get Heltah Skeltah on there. So, we started off with them and they did a couple songs. We did a couple songs with them and it was just a great vibe, man. It was nothing but historic sh*t, classic sh*t, man. Unfortunately, that album didn’t come out, but we actually did our own version of the One Nation album that we’re about to drop. We were gonna drop it on September 13th, but we changed the date to September 20th. We got the Boot Camp on there. We got a whole bunch of different people on there and it’s classic. But yeah, it was just a classic time having Buckshot and Smith & Wesson out there working on the album. They’re our brothers to this day.
E.D.I. Mean: I just remember it being a beautiful time to be alive, man, and to create music. And I was able to be around legends like Greg Nice and Buckshot Shorty. And me being a child of Hip-Hop, I grew up listening to those dudes and had the utmost respect for them and their craft. I just remember being totally geeked about the situation about the whole album. I was glad we were going to be able to put a lot of the misconceptions about how we felt about the [East Coast/West Coast] situation to bed with the collaborations. And the music was coming out dope. It was just a great time to make music. Make Hip-Hop history.
Your new album, One Nation, was inspired by the One Nation album 2Pac, The Outlawz, and Boot Camp Clik were working on prior to his death. What made y’all decide to go forward with recording this album at this particular juncture?
E.D.I. Mean: There’s a brother by the name of Doughboy. Shout out to Doughboy [Networkz], we had worked on a project or two since we met. He’s somebody with a great ear for music, a great ear and eye for talent and through our connection working on another project that I had put out last year in 2020, OG, Volume 2 (Classics in Session). When we got done with that, it was like, “Yo, big bro, whatever happened to the One Nation project and would y’all be open to revisit that and put that same concept into a new project?” And at first, I was like, “Eh, I don’t know.” The One Nation original, that was a special project. Unfortunately, it didn’t get done, but I didn’t wanna f**k with that mission in any kind of way. But after I thought about it and brought it to my brother Young Noble, we collectively agreed that this is a great time to do that. With everything going on in the world, as far as racial division and division between different genders and sexes, just everything. The whole theme of One Nation was about unity. It was about unity between coasts, between us in Hip-Hop, but we wanted to expand and make it a worldwide thing as far as unity all over the whole world, if that’s possible. One of the main things that connects people in this world is music. And we decided to do the project and so far, so good. The project is amazing and I can’t wait for people to hear it. The message and the theme is alive and well.
Young Noble: Let’s be clear. The One Nation album that Pac was doing, it was never complete. It wasn’t gonna be a Tupac and Boot Camp album. Those were just the first guys he brought out there and we did a few joints with them, but he was gonna have a whole bunch of people on it. He was gonna have the whole East Coast, the South, the Midwest, he was gonna make it like a big, big thing. But Boot Camp, they were like the first dudes. We all raised our hands up and said, “Hell, yeah, let’s start with them.” I think they came out and we recorded like five or six joints like some real bangers, man.
But as far as the new process, this was just me and E.D.I., man. Just brainstorming and it was just something that we decided we wanted to do. It’s a joint out now with E.D.I. and Xzibit called “One Nation,” they just filmed a video for it last weekend. I got a joint I just released with me, Conway, and DJ Premier called “Lessons of Legends.” Yeah, man, it was just us reaching out to our brothers. We’ve got Buckshot on there, of course, Smif-N-Wessun. We’ve got Wyclef on there, Ceelo Green, a bunch of dudes, man. Crooked-I. I can’t even think of all the names, man. We’ve got Berner on there. We just reached out to a lot of our comrades and our brothers that’ve been rocking with us for years and we decided to do our own version. So, it will be out September 20th, man. Streets is gonna love it, for sure.
The material for the original One Nation was done in one week. Describe the recording process while creating this album and the timeline of how it all came together.
E.D.I. Mean: Well, the recording process for this One Nation project was definitely not as rushed and as hectic as the original. Pac was working on several things at that time. And so, you know, his energy was divided between movie sets, our album that we were working on, and One Nation. This time around, we had enough time to really focus on it, really marinate with the songs. It’s kind of split up in between two types of vibes. Young Noble has a lot of the more East Coast grittier sounding songs and my songs are more West Coast and melodic. You put those two energies together, you come up with a complete balance of music that we feel the people are gonna enjoy.
Being that 2Pac is no longer here to help complete this album, were there any moments where any of the artists got emotional while recording or you felt Pac’s presence in the room?
E.D.I. Mean: Not necessarily in the studio, but I feel his energy all around the project because there’s certain special things that have happened that I’m sure he would love. I feel like his spirit is smiling with the fact that we decided to not let that energy and that theme and that message just somewhat go to waste. We’re picking this time period to bring it back to the people.
Young Noble: We actually sent the records out to everybody, so we weren’t all together recording it. Everybody’s in different states and sh*t like that. The easiest way to do it these days is if you’re not together, you save a whole lot of money as you cook up some heat and send it out to everybody. So nah, nobody got emotional thinking about it, but everybody is excited about the idea, for sure. And everybody is happy to be a part of it. Like I said, it was something that the brother Pac wasn’t able to do, man, and us being around so long and seeing so many of these rappers dying. Like the song “Lessons of Legends” I did, I shouted out so many rappers that passed away, man. It’s like we’re O.G.’s in this game so it’s our job to be out here trying to put out some positivity. It’s far and between, you know? I be wondering if these new guys learned anything from Pac and Biggie and the brothers who passed before them who were carrying the torch. It seems like every other day it’s some new rapper getting into something where it’s like, “This supposed to be our way out, not our way to the grave and into the jail cells.”
The lead single and title track from the album, “One Nation,” features Xzibit. Describe the making of that song and how Xzibit came into the fold.
E.D.I. Mean: Going all the way back to the beginning on a record called “Bomb 1st” on the Makaveli [The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory] album, I personally took a shot at Xzibit verbally in response to his record “Paparazzi.” Because at the time, he had a line in that song, “If you’re a rapper or an actor trying to play the part” or something. I’m paraphrasing him, but something to that effect. Pac took offense to that and he felt like he might have been directing the shot at him subliminally, so he commissioned me personally to handle that, as far as verbally, and that’s what I did on “Bomb First.” Not too long after Pac passed away, me and Xzibit crossed paths and we had a conversation about it. He was like, “Yo, that sh*t was definitely not aimed at Pac. I was a Pac fan.”
And the irony of the situation was even though Pac felt like Xzibit took a shot at him, he loved the song. He was crazy about the beat, he would play that song often. That’s how we knew about it, because Pac loved the song. Pac kept his head to the street as far as any new artists and Xzibit was definitely on his radar. Not only because of the line in that song, but because he was dope. He was a fresh boy voice for the West Coast. He wasn’t necessarily G-Funk, you know what I mean? So, we were all checking Xzibit out and seeing him coming, like that energy was coming to the game. Xzibit explained how he felt about it, I explained how we felt about it. We’ve collaborated here and there over the years and we have a great working relationship. Xzibit is a solid individual. We ran into each other recently and had some discussions on the cannabis industry because he’s heavily involved in that with his Napalm brand. And it’s doing very well, I might add. When we were starting on the One Nation project, I just said, “Yo, wouldn’t it be dope that me and him did a record, considering our history?” And when I reached out to him and sent him the song, he was more than willing to get on it. He got on it, bodied his verse, sent it back to me ASAP and here we are. That’s the first single and video. We just shot the video last weekend and that will be available for consumption very very soon.
Another song from the album that stands out is the joint with Krazie Bone from Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, who were on the list Pac had wrote of the people he wanted to work with prior to his death.
E.D.I. Mean: Krazie Bone is actually on two songs. And one of the songs also features Wyclef Jean, which is a great collaboration. It’s one of my favorite songs on a project. And that’s just been somebody that Noble has had a couple of projects with, Krazie Bone. He’s been on several of our albums along with other Bone members and, you know, we’ve always rocked out with Bone Thugs-N-Harmony. Love their music and feel like they’re legends in this sh*t, as far as a group is concerned. So, it was a pleasure and an honor to have them on anything.
What about Wyclef Jean? Were him and Pac running into each other back then? What’s the backstory behind you and Young Noble working with Wyclef?
E.D.I. Mean: That’s what makes this project so special, man. Because Wyclef is representing Haiti, he’s bringing that international energy to the project. And also, there were times where it was very tense between us and them, for a number of different reasons that I won’t get into in this interview. But just to have him on a record is just special, man, because this is about unity. This is about growth as men. Leaving past issues in the past where they belong and moving forward for this mission about unity and uniting under music. George Clinton said “One Nation Under a Groove” a long time ago and that’s just exactly the feeling and the vibe of this whole project and the reason why we collaborated with different artists such as Wyclef Jean.
That George Clinton line, was that the inspiration behind the original One Nation title?
E.D.I. Mean: You know what? We would have to ask Pac that. Unfortunately, he’s not here to answer that. But Pac being a heavy music connoisseur and music lover, I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s where he got the whole idea for One Nation and that theme that George Clinton and them were putting out back then. “One Nation Under a Groove.” I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s what inspired him, not at all.
Looking at the album’s tracklist, there’s a heavy Oakland, Bay Area presence on this album, too. Was it important and intentional to have those artists from The Bay as representatives on this project?
E.D.I. Mean: The Bay Area is always going to be a part of our history. Especially me, personally, because part of the Outlawz story begins in the Bay Area in 1992, when we first got up there and started our new career with Tupac. So, not only does his career start in The Bay, so does the Outlawz’s, essentially. So, of course, we got love for The Bay, it’s like our second home. All those artists we collaborated with are artists that we’ve collaborated with many times over the years and we continue to have a great working and personal relationship with them all. And they all delivered outstanding verses and contributions to this project.
What are three songs on One Nation that y’all are excited for fans to hear and why?
Young Noble: Definitely the “Lessons of Legends” with me and Conway. That’s one of them ones, for sure. We’re representing for Hip-Hop and all of the fallen soldiers. Another one I love is this one with Krazie Bone and Wyclef, it’s called “Second Chance.” I just had a heart attack on May 22nd, almost died. I recorded this song actually before I had the heart attack, but hearing it now, it hit me totally different. You know, talking to God and thanking him for a second chance, so that’s definitely one of them joints. I forgot the name of the song we did, but it’s one with me, E.D.I. and Berner [“Let’s Do It Again”] that’s one of them ones, too. Man, every song on this motherf**ker is smoking. Every one. They just gotta go get the album. September 20th, man. One Nation, you feel me?
What can fans expect from the Outlawz moving forward?
Young Noble: We’re definitely gonna get an Outlawz docuseries going and tell our story. Over these years, people with the internet and the bloggers, people create their own narrative of the Outlawz and our story has yet to be told. We got one of the coldest stories in Hip-Hop, man. So definitely be on the lookout for an Outlawz docuseries, documentary or something. Go check out our merchandise, Outlawuniversity.net, and good music, man. Whenever we feel like dropping something, we always give people good music from our heart and our soul. We’ve been having a loyal fan base for 25 years now. God is good, man. Outlawz, we’re still here. Pac passed away at 25-years-old and here it is, 25 years later, we’re still repping this sh*t. God is good, man. We appreciate the love and support. Shout out to you and VIBE Magazine.