Meet Unc Imo, the 67-year-old rapper with a valuable co-sign from Snoop Dogg

Meet Unc Imo, the 67-year-old rapper with a valuable co-sign from Snoop Dogg

MusicJune 01, 2018 By Spencer J. Ward

Terry Brown, better known as Unc Imo, is a 67-year-old rapper. He’s also a viral star. In his brief time spent in Denver, Colorado, he has become a regular fixture in local cannabis culture, too. Whether it's industry events, time spent at Second Service Sundays, or his constantly broadcasted life, “Unc” (as everyone calls him) is always making noise. The common ingredient to it all: Colorado-grown weed.

Yet for being a constantly high rapper, Unc’s a man of great wisdom and ambition. A fisherman. And a dad. This is the Unc you don’t see on Instagram.

Brown is from New Orleans. Born in 1950, he was the middle of three children. Ornery as hell, he describes himself as a class clown and an adventurous boy. His memories of childhood are vivid and colorful:

Paling around on the roofs of houses that were being leveled for the I-10 freeway. Swimming in the pools that formed in the crater-like holes dug for its support beams. The bittersweet memory of being caught stealing cold drinks from the grocery store. Terry, with his reflexively silver tongue, would later work for the guy. “To work it off,” he cooly remembers.

He attended both Catholic and public schools. In 1967, Terry would move to Los Angeles, California. At 17, his cousin introduced him to weed, and he’s been smoking ever since. A year later, he joined the U.S. Army. Terry fought in the Vietnam War, an experience that left him horrified and affected by PTSD, he says. He also came home with a heroin addiction, something he describes as, “The worst time of my life. It was hell just like Vietnam.”

Terry’s life after the war would be quiet and steady. It might come as a surprise that he would spend the next 25 years working for the U.S. Postal Service. Terry would eventually have three children. During this time, he listened to more soul and R&B than hip-hop. Frankie Beverly and Maze and Earth and WInd and Fire were his jams (he recently attended a Frankie Beverly and Maze show in New Orleans).

He recalls, “Rap was so hardcore and strong with the bitches, the killing, and the hoes, it wore my ears out.”

Don’t get it twisted, he assures. Terry wants it on the record that he always loved rap, especially Snoop, Pac, and N.W.A. Actually, Terry’s love for Snoop is part of his celebrity. He lovingly refers to Snoop as his idol, and they’ve been friends for a while. Most famously, the two got together for a sesh in a car. Terry is always smoking in cars.

As always, Terry captured the moment on social media and narrated it with boyish enthusiasm:

“Ya’all remember you told me I wouldn’t get here? Ya’all said Unc would never sit with Snoop Dogg. It would never happen. … How do you like me now, motherfuckers?”

Unc’s signature style is refreshingly well produced and likable. His most hyped track, “Get High,” has a light and soulful beat, catchy hook, and it’s loaded with weed. He’s even got a music video for it. It’s a tour of some of Denver’s familiar cannabis spots: The Smoking Bus, Positive Vibes Smoke and Gift Shop, and the bottom of a jar of diamonds.

His other tracks are notable, too. “IDGAF,” “They,” “Bad Knee,” “Deep in the Game,” “Juke Joint” — to name a few. And they are all on Spotify (Get High has over 80,000 listens).  

Unc’s songs are dope for the best reasons. His delivery is measured and butta-smooth, at times reminiscent of Snoop himself. The lyrics are simple but annoyingly catchy (just imagine sitting at work, “I don’t give a fuck/I don’t give a fuck”). At times, they’re incredibly intelligent.

Without pause, Unc surprises you with an ever-elevated sense of what he is doing, not least of which are his radio-worthy beats. The story behind them — and how he came to rap — is pure gold. Unc is an avid golfer and outdoorsman. In fact, if he wasn’t a rapper, and his arthritis permitted, he’d probably be fishing or playing rounds with Glass Blunts in hand right now. Unc’s love for fishing and golf intersect in a story of unlikely mentorship.

Kellen Smith, the son of a family friend and fishing buddy of Unc’s, one day wanted to learn to play golf; Unc took the lead. In exchange for Unc’s mentorship on the links, Kellen made him a track. This would become Unc’s first song: "Bad Knee." Today, Kellen produces all of Unc’s tracks for free under the name Provondatrack.

Unc has zero reservations in his praise of Kellen. “If it wasn’t for Provondatrack, I would have no music. I would have no Instagram. I would have none of that. Because his music is what gives me the soul, gives me the base, to carry this message out.”

Unc’s Instagram persona is that of any mainstream rapper. It’s bong rip after bong rip; being surrounded by beautiful women in clubs and on shoots; shouting out on Instagram to all his nephs and famous friends in the hip-hop community; promoting various cannabis products; and making music. It’s safe to say that his demographic is young males who just want to be having fun.

The thing about Unc that is least understood is he’s a magnanimous person and an advocate for the poor and needy. He’s an astute observer of world affairs, too. Would you believe it that in a track called "IDGAF" he covers topics like Trump and Russia in the same breath he spits a bar about women tripping on him. In 2016, he was a Bernie Sanders supporter. Still is.

Unc laments what’s going on between Israel and Palestine. He rails against tax breaks for the rich. And his most common complaint: that the world is lacking love. Unc’s mission seems to be the unity of a cannabis and love for all of humankind. His vessel for this is the gift of verse. He could have just as easily been a preacher, but he became rapper instead. Unc’s a man of the people. He’s a perfect example of American blue-collar work ethic, steadiness, and perseverance. The latter quality paid dividends after he lost everything in Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Has Unc Imo peaked, yet? A resounding, “Fuck no!” From here, he wants to get into comedy and movies. His summer schedule is packed. He spent the first part of it back in New Orleans with his family before he began a transcontinental itinerary of stuff rappers do. He’ll be in Miami, Atlanta, and New York before he moves to L.A. at the end of the summer.

Quickly nearing 70, yet still young in mind and heart, Unc is having the time of his life. Compared to most his age, he’s straight ballin’ — a perfect recipe of charisma, humor, high energy, and love that coalesce into self-promotion that is uniquely magnetizing.

He knows that people love him. For “what they see in my soul,” he describes as if it were clear as day.

His actions speak as loud as his words, though. In Denver, he helped build a Hemp House. Joined the Dab’s Second Service Sundays, and then transplanted it to New Orleans as a way to give back with his family. Sure, he’s a 60-year-old rapper with a bad knee, but at bottom, he’s a man with a mission, a serious one that might be lost in the haze of his ever-burning marijuana.

“My goal since the beginning has been to get marijuana legalized for everybody,” Unc says. “I got people I lost to cancer, too many of them. People I’m looking at today that are suffering from cancer and they can’t get their medicine. So I can’t never stop.”

[cover photo Sim Kares // body photos courtesy Unc Imo]