Growing up in Southern California, the prominent form of rap and hip-hip was gangsta-centric. If you weren’t hardcore, you didn’t get airplay or recognition. N.W.A. ruled the roost, with Dr. Dre proving longevity and paving the way for the LBC crew and its star Snoop Dogg. But Los Angeles, and Long Beach in particular, had more to offer; it just stayed underground. Brainwash Projects birthed the career of Pigeon John, one of my old coworkers. Ozomatli, Jurassic 5 and the Pharcyde all became famous without the use of violent lyrics and harsh imagery. So too comes Ugly Duckling, straight outta Long Beach. It’s taken about ten years for the trio of MC’s Dizzy and Andy Cat along with DJ Young Einstein to make it to a larger label, but Bang for the Buck proves the ride was worth it.
Like their influences, De La Soul and Tribe Called Quest, Ugly Duckling pride themselves on rapid fire rhymes and jazz based beats. Organs and horns are mixed in alongside the steady BPM and old school scratches, making for an altogether throwback sound to the early days of the new school. There are no political beefs as you would find from Boogie Down Productions or Public Enemy. Nor are there any real mentions of violence or gangs. Instead, UD bring mostly lighthearted call and response party raps, jazzy hip-hop dance numbers and reflections on daily life. The one thing they do have in common with most old school rap is the bragging factor. In “Bang for the Buck” and “Yudee!”, the two MC’s sing their own praises while giving a personal bio. “Einstein’s on the Stage” praises the requisite DJ.
They also manage to throw in a few disses to unnamed ‘phony’ hip-hop stars in “Smack!” where they rap, “Smile and blow kisses your image is fictitious / Pop junk but you’re a punk like Sid Vicious.” Not exactly LL Cool J vs. Kool Moe Dee material, but that’s not their intention. One of the more refreshing aspects of Ugly Duckling, so named because of their long struggle out of the spotlight, is the fact that you can understand every word. I don’t mean to be an old crank, but really, kids nowadays! You can hardly understand a word they say! Not so with the perfectly intelligible Ugly Duckling. The idea of rap was to put spoken word and poetry to processed beats and hip-hop styled music. What good are words when you can’t understand them? This is ultimately what makes Bang for the Buck as fun as it is.
A Tribe Called Quest- Midnight Marauders
Jurassic 5- Quality Control
Newcleus- Jam on Revenge