West Coast O.G. Big U breaks down his role on FX’s “Hip Hop Uncovered,” his first documentary for Jam Master Jay, his relationship with Nipsey Hussle, his new podcast, Quando Rondo and more!
Big U is the definition of the “big homie in the hood,” someone you not only want in your corner, but someone you need in your corner.
Standing tall at 6 feet and 5 inches, real name Eugene Henley is a legend his own right, a community activist, philanthropist, and a music industry executive with his own label, Uneek Music.
When artists come to Los Angeles and need some security, Big U is who they are calling. Hailing from South Central Los Angeles, Big U can be viewed as the voice of the streets, pushing black men to be great and achieve their fullest potential.
One artist’s career he played a major role in is the late, great Nipsey Hussle. Big U helped Nip cultivate his All Money In brand beyond just the city, – he helped the rapper reach the masses on a global scale.
Most recently, Big U executive produced FX’s “Hip Hop Uncovered: The Untold Story of Rap’s Most Notorious King Makers,” just one of the many documentaries he has his hands in. When it comes to hip-hop as a whole, you simply can’t have a conversation about the game changers of the genre without including Big U.
AllHipHop: How are you enjoying these interviews? I know you’ve done a lot of press.
Big U: I could pass the interviews. I thought I was going to be writing and creating shows, then the other part is you gotta get the show sold and promoted. Best believe on my next one, I won’t be starring in it.
AllHipHop: Are there questions that you do hate?
Big U: Nothing that hasn’t been already covered in the documentary because I want people to go see the documentary. If I don’t like it, I’ma tell you to go to the documentary. [laughs]
AllHipHop: How’s it feel to be the Executive Producer of FX’s Hip Hop Uncovered?
Big U: We’re #1 in documentaries, we are the s###. It’s like putting out your first project and it going Diamond, but this is not my first project. I did 6 documentaries but the biggest documentary I did before this one was Jam Master Jay’s 2 TURNTABLES AND A MICROPHONE.
AllHipHop: How was that experience?
Big U: You know what’s crazy about it? We did Jam Master Jay’s documentary and we interviewed the guy who’s now in jail for [the murder]. He’s in the documentary talking like it was normal, you would’ve never known. It’s a big back story to Jam Master Jay’s death. It’s like everything else: drugs, money, all that s###.
AllHipHop: Favorite part from producing Hip Hop Uncovered?
Big U: To me, it’s exciting because it’s the first time people really get to see what I do. What I’ve been doing for the last 15 years: producing films, writing, people finally get to see. You know how you do something and nobody knows what you do? They think I’ve been doing other stuff. I haven’t been in music for a long time, I’ve really been writing and doing movies. My biggest project before now was a movie I wrote with Steven Seagal called Force of Execution, it was Danny Trejo, Steven Segal, Ving Rhames. That’s my biggest budget at that time, that was $7 million. Then we did this one so you move up and up and higher and higher. I acted in that movie too.
AllHipHop: How was acting?
Big U: It was fun, my first time acting in a major role. I’ve always done small parts, but I acted in that movie. I got paid for acting in it. I got paid for writing it, co-writing it, re-writing it. It was my first time getting robbed too. If you look at the movie Force of Execution, you’ll see I acted in it. I wrote the story, Ving Rhames was really a story of Big U coming from prison. I made sure I didn’t die in it. You’re gonna see I got no credit in it, they don’t even name my name for acting.
Big U: You know how they say in this business you gotta get f##### first before you get…? Well, that was my first time getting beat up.
AllHipHop: You said that budget was $7 million, what was the budget for Hip Hop Uncovered?
Big U: $1.5 million per episode, but you don’t get paid off of documentaries. See on documentaries, you don’t make money. People think I made a lot of money or we make a lot of money off documentaries. A documentary, you’re paying a tree. You don’t pay the trees when you tell a story on trees. You do a documentary on animals, lions, nature, the animal kingdom, you don’t pay them. As executive producer, you get paid for the story and the creation, but we don’t make money off of it. Had it been a television series like a Snowfall with acting, then we would’ve got money. We would’ve got paid for it, but you don’t get paid in telling your story in a documentary form.
AllHipHop: What are your thoughts on Snowfall?
Big U: I haven’t really watched it. I been there with my son watching it. I’ve watched parts where everybody says the guy with the Jheri curl looks like I used to look, but I haven’t watched the story. I don’t like watching stories and then writing because I don’t want to take no part of that person’s story and it melts into my writing.
AllHipHop: I interviewed Freeway Rick Ross and he said Snowfall stole his story. What are your thoughts.
Big U: I heard bro say that, s### I’m riding with bro. Bro said they stole his story, they stole his story.
AllHipHop: How important is loyalty?
Big U: Very important. In today’s time, it’s a loss. You got so many people rapping about going for self and you gotta get it on your own, what is and what ain’t.
AllHipHop: Nipsey’s 2-year death anniversary just passed, how were you feeling?
Big U: For me personally, I spent time with my kids. I had mixed emotions, people were celebrating and we not supposed to be celebrating. In my mind, I wanted to spend time with family. That’s just me, but I felt like people were looking at it like a celebration. It’s not a celebration.
AllHipHop: I think it’s people trying to turn a negative into a positive and celebrating his legacy.
Big U: We’re supposed to be celebrating the life. I ain’t trying to have nothing with nobody. Nip was big on family. If anything, he’d have been with his kids, with his son and daughter.
AllHipHop: What did you see in Nip that other people didn’t have?
Big U: I seen greatness, to be honest. You know how somebody can walk in a room and you know they’re different? The swag’s different. The mentality, the hustle was different. You could see it. You didn’t really have to have a long conversation with him to overstand, it’s something. You may not be able to put your hand on it, but you could feel. He just felt different. I seen him out of all the artists I was looking at. You go and look at the next step like alright, now you have a conversation. Now, you listen to the music. You gotta remember, I was 40 years old when I met Nip. I got out, I was 37. To me, he wasn’t much older than my oldest son. My oldest son was in high school, Nip was just out of high school. Nip would’ve been 18, 19? My oldest son was 15, 2 or 3 years apart.
AllHipHop: What role did you play in Nipsey’s career?
Big U: They gotta go see the documentary. It’s in the documentary, it tells the whole story in Hip Hop Uncovered. Put it like this, I had a great deal of influence on the making of the music, building the early relationships, and he was great at the music. He did his part, he made the music. I had the connections and the relationships ‘cause I’m older and I’ve been in it. Together, we made a great team. When he got ready to push the project with Atlantic, that’s the reason why he called me and said “unc, we ready to go. We ready to push the project.”
You know where you are but you’re getting ready to go to that next level. He’d been putting mixtapes out, he shouted me out on all his music. Every album he dropped, he shouted me out, ‘cause you gon’ always love somebody who helped you get your dream. We never not talked. He was proud of what I was doing. People don’t realize if I hadn’t ever done Hip Hop Uncovered, I could still be considered successful in what I do. I do music, I do concerts, I think I’ve been hurt more by COVID than anybody.
Big U: Hell yeah, I make a lot of money every year doing shows. My relationship with most artists in hip-hop is because I book them for shows, I’ll get them great numbers. I’m really that person who can really get most artists the bag. I specialize in getting them the bag. Most ones who know me, know unc gon’ get the bag. Unc gon’ make sure we get the cash, unc gon’ get that cash for us.
AllHipHop: Most memorable Nipsey Hussle show?
Big U: His first show when we’re on the road with Game. We did the LAX Tour, we damn near had to push him on stage. [laughs] He said “g###### unc, that’s a lot of people out there.” Turned out to be a lot of fun, but that’s the most memorable one.
AllHipHop: How was it opening for the Game?
Big U: We did the whole tour man, I got the whole tour on tape. We did 51 cities. He had to get them cobwebs out. Me, him, Kendrick Lamar were in the back talking to Game, that’s when I first met Kendrick Lamar. At the time, he was K. Dot. Jay Rock and Top Dawg, I already knew Top. We did that whole tour in a mobile home, we did it in a van. The greatness of the Hussle came out on that tour. What’s so funny, it was right when Facebook was coming out. You could go Live with Facebook cameras on the phone. You had to get the camera, you could hook the camera up to go live. That’s how we’re building his followers up. That’s how we knew if his fanbase was going.
We’d go city to city, and each city he’d pick up more people. When we first started in some cities, they used to have Nip way up in the front. We’d open up when it’s only 10 people in the audience. I swear to God by the time we got to our fifth city, they had moved Nip up. His show was so good, they moved us from being the first opener all the way to him opening up right before Game. This is how good he was. As we continued to go farther and farther, we were advancing radio. They’re calling us to see if Game wasn’t gonna come, they wanted Nip to come. That was the LAX tour, it showed where he was and where he was finna be.
AllHipHop: What’s your favorite Nipsey Hussle song & why?
Big U: S###, all the ones that say my name. All the ones that talk about Big U, orBig Draws. [laughs] How you pick one? If someone asked me who’s my favorite Laker of all-time: it’s between Shaq, Kobe, Magic, or Kareem. Kobe only gets a little bit more because Kobe’s gone. I’ve been knowing Shaq, I got a relationship with Shaq.
AllHipHop: What does it mean to be an OG? How are you so connected?
Big U: It’s about being honest, being fair. Years and years of showing your trust in other people and knowing that no matter what young people know, they can trust your words. Knowing that you deliver when you say you gon’ deliver. That’s the most important thing. Especially in longevity, in having a long career, staying healthy and upright. I get b####### just like everybody else gets b#######, I just try to deal with it differently. I’ve learned how to let a lot of stuff go in the last couple of months. The last 3 years, I’ve learned out how to turn off and block people. Oh, you’re blocked.
AllHipHop: Who are the young artists you’re connected with?
Big U: OSBS, Krita Cali, and Watts Up Micky are some of the kids I’m messing with. I’m looking to do some stuff with more artists. I got a distribution company I’m starting, Uneek Distribution. You don’t have to actually sign to us, it’s a distribution company. It’s a platform for people to get music out like Distrokid, EMPIRE, that form. I’m starting my own podcast.
AllHipHop: I was going to ask about that, what’s your podcast about?
Big U: Really, I want to do interviews how you’re doing. I want to do interviews where people can feel comfortable. They can walk away and feel great about it, get their point across. I’m not highlighting no negativity, ‘cause I know how it feels to be ridiculed and be bullied by b###### that won’t even show they face. When I say b######, I’m not talking about a woman. Talking about b#### men.
AllHipHop: How do you feel about Quando Rondo saying he didn’t hit you for protection?
Big U: That’s my guy, I f### with Quando. He can say what he wants to say, that’s my kid. I’m talking to him. I’m gonna interview him for my show. I talk to him. I don’t think he was saying he didn’t need no protection because s###, sometimes I need protection.
AllHipHop: How’d it feel to John Singleton to base Doughboy’s story from Boyz In The Hood on you?
Big U: He didn’t base it on me. His whole story’s on my neighborhood, we grew up right there. If you tell a story in the 60’s and use all the characters and likenesses of the 60’s, any of my homeboys can say that. At that time, everything John Singleton had done was around the 60’s. All the movies involved Crenshaw High School, our neighborhood, all my homeboys can say that.
AllHipHop: What’s the reality of coming up in the Rollin 60’s?
Big U: We grew up as hoodsters. You from LA, you know our demonstration. We the Crips. We try to set up businesses, corporations, we doing business. We think on a different level. Not to say other people don’t, but the vast majority of us are pushed to do different things a different way. We set the trend. We’ve always done business, built property. We give back to our community. We set the scale high.
AllHipHop: What other documentaries are you working on?
Big U: I got 2 of ‘em. I got one about my homeboys who did the most bank robberies in the history of America. They both did 27 and 25 years, they’re home. I’m doing a documentary on them and a series. I’m doing another documentary on some of my older homeboys who came home. It’s on people who did prison time: how their lives are affected now, how the system was set in place. We’re doing a documentary and a series on the Crips, we happened to produce it and create it. That one’s going to be big. The one of the Crips and the bank robbers are 2 unique stories.
AllHipHop: Biggest lesson you learned behind bars?
Big U: Patience. Time. If I didn’t learn nothing else, I learned how to wait. When someone disrespect me, I learned how to wait. I swear to God I learned time and patience. If I didn’t learn nothing else, I learned how to wait. Took me 10 years. Believe me, I know how to wait.