U.N.L.V. are a hip-hop group from New Orleans, Louisiana, originally consisting of rappers Tec-9 (Reginald Manuel), Lil Ya (Yaphet Jones), and Yella Boy (Albert Thomas). Their name is an acronym for “Uptown Niggas Living Violent”. They were one of the first artists signed to Cash Money Records, where they recorded four albums from 1993 to 1996. Their first three albums on Cash Money were only distributed locally, but when Cash Money signed a larger distribution deal with Universal Records in 1998, much of their past music was re-released. Their releases were among the first well distributed examples of New Orleans Bounce music, produced by the Cash Money Records in-house producer Mannie Fresh. While their music did not gain much national attention, it was regionally successful in the New Orleans area. Speaking about his time in the music industry in 2008, Mannie Fresh described U.N.L.V.’s work as the “essence of hip-hop”.
Their debut album, 6th and Baronne, was released in 1993 on Cash Money. The album was not released outside of the local region, but it was very successful in the area and established Cash Money as a prominent label in the city. Today it is often considered a classic of New Orleans rap. Their next two albums, Straight Out Tha Gutta in 1994 and Mac Melph Calio in 1995, were similar to their debut. The rappers rapped mostly about guns, violence, and sex over New Orleans bounce beats provided by Mannie Fresh. The group released one more album on Cash Money in 1996, titled Uptown 4 Life. This was the group’s first album to have more than a local distribution, and it was their first and to date only album to chart nationally, peaking at #86 on the Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart. The album featured the song “Drag ‘Em in the River”, which was a diss song directed at fellow New Orleans rapper Mystikal. The song is now one of the group’s most well known songs. According to Mannie Fresh in a 2008 interview, the song’s beat was the major reason Cash Money was able to sign rapper Juvenile, and in 2001 the same beat was reused for Juvenile‘s single “Set It Off”. The group’s success was tempered however by the death of group member Yella Boy, who was murdered in New Orleans.
Following this album the group left Cash Money Records. Although the group was no longer on the label, Cash Money began re-releasing the group’s albums and giving them national distribution. This would later lead to a lawsuit from the group against the label, claiming they could not re-release their material without their permission when they were not on the label. The suit was settled in July 2007, with the settlement being confidential.
After leaving Cash Money the group went on a hiatus for some time, but in the 2000s they have released three more studio albums, The Return of U.N.L.V.: Trendsetters in 2001, Keep It Gutta in 2003, and “The Relaunch” on May 20, 2014.