UGG: How did you guys meet?
SERK: We met each other in ninth grade. They went to middle school with each other, and I went to the middle school that was on the other side of town. So we met each other at the first football practice in ninth grade. That’s where most people meet because it’s in the middle of the summer. We have this bond through music or whatever, but I became close with Ray cause we were gonna be starting players.
Manu Li was different. I became friends with him because of my mom. My mom was there every Hell Week, so we’re doing the sprints and me and Ray are first and second or at least in the top five, and Manu Li’s always the one in last. My mom has a soft spot for players like that, so he was her favorite player. She was all, “Who’s the little cute one that’s always in the back?” And I was like, “Oh, that’s my boy Jamil.” And she was like, “I like him.” And I was like, “Yeah, he’s really, really tight.” So then we became friends. And then he cussed in front of my mom and that’s when she realized he probably wasn’t one of those dudes she’d want to keep around, but then he became one of my best friends so she can’t say much about it.
UGG: When did you guys start making music together and how do you approach collaborating?
RAY: Me and Manu, we used to make music together just on the laptop. But Warm Brew officially formed when I dropped out of college. I went and played ball for a year and came back. That’s when we were all just kinda like, “All right. We should really try and do something with our lives because we’re just like sitting around smoking weed.” So we formed in like ’09. I had a little Corolla. I’d pick them up and we just mash up to the homie’s house and rap and smoke.
SERK: Someone pointed out to me recently, “Man, watching you guys write is something crazy, because it’s three minds working on the same project at once in three different ways.” I never thought about it before. She was the first person to point out that Manu is the first one to disappear. As soon as the beat comes on and he gets the idea, he’s gone. Ray’s more of the one who stays in the zone, and he’s verbalizing what he’s thinking more. Me, I’m pacing back and forth. For me, I’ve never really paid attention to these two when they’re writing, because you’re in your own thing. But for someone to point it out like that, it’s really cool.
MANU: And also, we like to sit there and be like a three-headed monster going, “Yeah. Do this. Oh, damn, it’d be tight to do that.” And those are some of the best songs we make. There’s multiple ways we can attack it. Honestly I like when one of them comes up with something, and I can tack on and then add my flavor on to it, because I enjoy their ideas. I like when someone thinks of something and I’m like, “Oh, I feel that.” But I feel it from a different perspective.
RAY: Well, it depends. The one thing that annoys me about being in a group is, like, everybody like, “Oh, everybody has to be on every track!” It’s like, no. It doesn’t have to be that way. A lot of people make it that way. We each go to different places or different studios at different times. Sometimes we hit each other up. Sometimes we don’t. Sometimes I need to be alone, and then I’m going to show you guys in a second and we’ll see what you think about it. It goes both ways. But it brings me joy to present something to somebody, and for them to be like, “Damn, this is crazy.”
MANU: I’m a fan of music. I like music. I’m a fan of you. I’m a fan of Serk. I like dope music. It doesn’t matter. If I make something dope, and I’m like, “Oh, I think this would be dope.” Just for me, I don’t know if it’d fit, you know? It’s just a vibe that I can only make this dope. If you can only make this dope, I just want to hear that. Zero ego involved with it.
UGG: What other artists inspire you?
SERK: I want to say 213, Mac Dre, A Tribe Called Quest, Tupac, everyone that’s dope. If you got good taste, that’s probably who we draw from.
MANU: Lil Wayne and things like that.
SERK: He was the greatest of all time.
MANU: We grew up in a great era of hip hop.
SERK: Rock and roll. The Doors. Chili Peppers.
RAY: Chili Peppers 100%.
SERK: Beastie Boys.
MANU: De La.
SERK: De La. NWA. The Game.
MANU: Haiku D’etat. Handsome Boy Modeling School.
RAY:I gotta give a special shout out to Mike Marshall.
MANU: There it is. It’s three different people, so we all bringing three different influences. That’s the fun part of working in a group. We don’t all see the world the same way. We don’t all listen to music the same way. We don’t all listen to the same music.
SERK: But we’re all on the same path, and we’ve figured it out.
UGG: How do you think being from California has influenced you?
MANU: I lived in the Valley for a little bit when I was a kid. Just things like going down the 1, walking down the block, the asphalt just hits you, and just being around my cousins, just being around people that listen to the radio. I think that was a big thing, the taste of the radio, and listening to that, and hustling from city to city, because everything’s so far away. That shit takes a minute. Moving around. I feel like that’s what southern California’s about. That’s what it was for me.
RAY: You know, I think it’s just like, being out here is just kind of, you really have a really laid back style, and you kind of embrace that and just have a cool factor with everything you do.
SERK: Like the old adage says, it’s like there’s no place like home. I mean, California, to us, is just, it’s what we know. It’s what we grew up in. We understand the plight of every man that’s here. The multiple cultures, I mean, it’s literally a melting pot of cultures that we were able to grow up around, and you can tell the people we are, the music that we’re into, and the music that we make, that we’re into different things.
We’re born and raised on the West Coast, so that comes out in our music because that’s the way we heard things, and just the lessons that we know and that we can give to people are West Coast things. We don’t experience the same life that someone else does somewhere else.
UGG: Beyond the music, what is Warm Brew?
RAY: I think the best way to describe it is, like, life giving. It’s like we’ve learned how to brush everything negative off. Everything negative that comes our way, like, flies over our head, regardless of what it is. And if people think it’s cool we’re doing something with this brand or that, it’s really what we think is cool, you know what I mean? So I think Warm Brew is life giving, and it’s self expression to the max. There’s no boundaries.
Most of the time, when I talk to people, they tell me how much they enjoy the music and when they listen to it specifically like, “Oh, I listen to this when I do this.” So those moments are huge, and emotion is huge for us, so I think Warm Brew is emotional, it’s momentous, it’s just everything wrapped up in one.
MANU: Right. The biggest compliment I’ve ever heard, for us, is like we are their life soundtrack. I feel like, with us, we say we go through our lows with you. I’ll tell you that. And we’re together. It’s like a family. And everyone needs something, that support system. So when you hear us, you hear family. You hear us. I think that Warm Brew is… I literally think we’re like, a household name. When you listen to us, we might keep the household together.
SERK: To me Warm Brew is like Tupac met Tarantino met Hunter S. Thompson. It covers all walks of life. Emotionally and mentally, we get along with everybody, you know what I mean? It’s like, you can be the hoodest dude with 48 bodies on your goddamn record, and we can get along with you. You can be the fucking most random kid in the world who just built a tech company and you’re just trying to get it off the ground, and we’re going to get along with you too.
I was thinking about this shit the other day. I’m friends with some of the most creative and most influential people part of this generation. I feel like we can touch people in so many different ways.The three of us connected through this music, but we’re also connected through friendship. And we also have these bigger aspirations. I feel like we’re three people who unknowingly are impacting the world and as three friends, we’re just going through the motions from being ninth graders through to this point. It’s just like, man, we’re touching people, and we’re impacting people’s lives, and we’re making people’s lives better. So I guess, if I were to choose a word, we’re life-betterers.
*This interview has been edited for clarity + brevity