“John Lennon is the kind of guy who would call me a kike,” Yury said with his arms behind his head, while the two of us sported expressions of disbelief. Yury, the Pittsburgh rapper/producer, left us with this quote at the end of our near two-hour interview after we said he bears a resemblance to the Beatles legend. But that’s just the kind of guy Yury is—an authentic individual who always speaks his mind and keeps it real no matter what. No more, no less, just real.
I was curious to interview Yury for a few reasons: He has an experimental sound with a voice reminiscent of Asher Roth, he’s Jewish and he’s an alumnus of our alma matter, the University of Pittsburgh. Like every adolescent I know, Yury used college to find himself. He started school with a business focus and aspirations of becoming an Investment Banker—like I said, he’s a Jew. But going to school from ’06-’11 came with a major drawback: The Great Recession. Despite this adversity, he was able to land a New York Investment Banking internship as a sophomore. But life is written in sand, not etched in stone—uncertainty shrouds us all. The internship fell through, which pushed Yury to receive a degree in Communications/Rhetoric and eventually a masters in Audio Production from Carnegie Mellon.
Before I dive into the depths of Yury’s music, let’s take a step back and get to know Yury on a more personal level. Honestly, his upbringing is more interesting than anyone I’ve ever met—might not be saying a lot considering I’m from white bread, New Jersey, but hey, interesting nonetheless. To call him a New York transplant would serve his nomadic childhood injustice. He was born in Belarus, moved to Israel as a baby during the Gulf War, stopped off in Toronto for a minute, spent some time being called a cracker while living in Little Rock, and finally settled down in Pittsburgh right before high school where he lived up until his March 2016 move to Brooklyn. God damn, talk about a vagabond. Each stop along his international/domestic tour contributed to his intriguing and authentic identity: A curious, unencumbered and intelligent person wide-open to opportunities and possibilities.
Arkansas was a huge culture shock for Yury. An area where Confederate flags are viewed as more fashionable than horrifying wasn’t exactly a kosher home for a kid named Yury Merman. But in the darkest situations, the smallest light will shine. Little Rock is where he developed a Hip hop passion and was introduced to the likes of Jadakiss and Cash Money. This curiosity transformed into a career ambition after the Merman family left Little Rock for the 412.
Pittsburgh’s finally receiving recognition for things other than heart attack-inducing food and football; it is cementing it’s place in music, thanks largely to Mac Miller and Wiz Khalifa. Despite Yury being in the same grade as Wiz at Taylor Alderdice high school, his music pursuit didn’t begin until his major switch to Communications/Rhetoric. During that time (2007-08) he began recording at the Pittsburgh studio, ID Labs, home to cuts off some of Wiz and Mac’s projects: Rolling Papers, Blacc Hollywood, GO:OD AM to name a few. With the help of producer Black Diamond and engineer Josh Berg, Yury’s music developed into the sound that it is today: One that finds comfort between Daft Punk and Biggie vibes, two of his early influences.
Yury isn’t in the business of making mainstream music, but he wants mass appeal—a difficult combination to encompass, but not impossible. ScHoolboy Q comes to mind. Yury’s used his six projects (all found here) and instrumental EP, On the Hedonic Treadmill, to try and find that powerful combination of appeal and integrity.
He enlists a meticulously crafted medley of chill, experimental, soulful, and sampled production to provide the backdrop for his story and perception on music and life. No two projects are exactly alike, yet all of his work retains a signature sound—somewhat reminiscent of a darker Soulection. We played a track for him off his first project, Curriculum Vitae, during the interview to try and discover the sample, and he was amazed—simply because of his improved rhyming ability.
His skills have greatly developed between his 2011 rookie release and most recent drop, Entropy—a 2016 gritty six-track EP. His rhymes are faster; his production is more intricate; but he’s also become more jaded during his tenure: "Ima run it back audible/Obstacles like the lotto though/There’s a slim chance they breakin me down and worse odds they’re honorable/…improvements i gotta do../This a movement i gotta move/And as soon as i do it these mother fuckers will lie to you”—verse off “Growing Pains”. He’s been around the music business for a little while now and has been burned and scammed a few times. But I don’t think he’s afflicted by it—I think he views it as necessary experience. After Entropy’s release, Yury reached his ceiling in Pittsburgh and continued his nomadic voyage by moving to New York.
His hybrid Brooklyn apartment/studio is the foundation for Yury’s next album drop, which, in his words, will hopefully be a top-10 2016 indy release. We were fortunate enough to hear some unmastered joints off the project and his prediction might not be too far-fetched. Between wrapping up this album and introducing the ZeusWolf boys to questionable recipes (my man enjoys a Peanut butter and pickle sandwich…), Yury also DJs, which allows him to receive live feedback and further polish his sound—you can find him at Brooklyn’s Knitting Factory.
Yury is fully committed to his music dream. Selling his car back in Pittsburgh in exchange for rent money and trips to LA to master his new album validate this notion. He is an insightful and highly intelligent individual who is never afraid to speak his mind. Some will probably find that intense honesty as off-putting, sure. But I find it refreshing. This integrity manifests in his music, which yields honesty. Authenticity is one of his cornerstones and, like he did with us, Yury will always keep it real with you.
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