High school never ends, folks. No matter where you go or how hard you try to leave those superficial and awkward years behind, you will always find that Mean Girls
mentality crop up somewhere in your life. But isn't it time to say "screw you" to those trend-followers who tell you they #looove your outfit but crap on it with their besties behind your back? Why not embrace what society considers "ugly?" LA-based artist DUCKWRTH
certainly thinks it's time to leave the shallow, material world behind. On his upcoming EP, I'M UUGLY
, DUCKWRTH wants his fans to embrace all the little dings and quirks that makes them who they are and see "ugly" in a less harsh light. Real name Jared Lee, DUCKWRTH is one of the most promising rappers on the scene right now, thanks to his unique mix of vintage funk, indie rock, and modern hip-hop. He has garnered some well-deserved attention the past few years with his highly unique style and genuine personality in an entertainment world of perfection and polish. In preparation for I'M UUGLY
, I sat down with DUCKWRTH to talk about the EP, what it means to be yourself, and the importance of chilling out once in a while.
Robert Steiner: Simple question to start off with: Where did the "DUCKWRTH" stage name come from?
DUCKWRTH: It was my mom's last name, her maiden name, not her current name. But yeah, for some reason people found out about that in college, and people started calling me "Duckworth." It was weird, but I liked it.
RS: What would you say are some of the major themes you wanted to convey on your upcoming EP, I'M UUGLY
D: Pretty much like everybody is on a route to success and certain ways, but it's just like sometimes within traveling that, it feels like the destination is the gold, but there's so much gold along the way. In entertainment, they make artists look like they already got it, and really they're still very much well on the road. They just come off with that certain aesthetic, like they're just floating around in their Mercedes and Lamborghinis, you know what I'm sayin'? And I'm just like, "Nah dude, that's not the case. You motherfuckers are still trying to gain money in certain ways." So I'm kind of like, giving people a safe space to speak on that, so it don't seem so supernatural with all these artists. Because a lot of kids are imitating these different rappers and celebrities who are still struggling, so it's creating this whole fake generation, and that's trippy to me. So UUGLY
is just like being able to be like, "Yo, shit is ugly, but it's also beautiful." Like I have a song called "Lowridr," it's pretty much talking about me riding on the bus, but I meet this really cool girl on the bus, and we both like riding our bikes and stuff like that. It'd be simple shit like that that's just fun. It doesn't have to be super glamorous.
RS: Where did the idea of using the term "UUGLY" come from?
D: I was working on a project, Super Good
, just another album in general, and everything I did to make that album wasn't working out. Like my studio sessions would cancel, my files would crash, I'd try to perform some of the songs, and people weren't really fucking with it. It was like a bunch of different scenarios where the universe was saying, "No, this is not the time for this." So I'm just like, "Dang, why is shit so ugly right now?" and then *DING*, that's my next project! And when I thought about that, shit just started coming into place. So it's just like the universe placing me on the right route.
RS: I've listened to I'M UUGLY
, and right off the bat I was impressed at the diverse sound and musical styles that are all over the record. What were some of your biggest influences on this EP?
D: The people I work with, really. I have my main influences, for like life in general, but it's mostly to people I'm working with, my peers. The producer I work with, ChannelTres, he did a few songs on the EP, and I met him on a rooftop. He was performing in South Central on a rooftop, and I'm just baffled because he's like going ham on the productions, and people are just chatting to each other, and I'm just like, "What the hell? How do ya'll not see this awesomeness happening right now?" So he inspired me in a sense, because he created that soul/funk type sound that I had been looking for. And then also, I don't know if you saw the "GET UUGLY" video, but he was the one who was like, "Hey, add a dance to it." So yeah, it's really my peers, but as far as like musically, like everywhere dude. It could be Classical, it could be Hip-Hop, it could be Punk, like I can name one from every genre: Bad Brains for Punk, Outkast for Hip-Hop, for Rock it would have to be between Tame Impala and Pink Floyd, and then Jazz, Thelonious [Monk] or something like that, it just goes on and on.
RS: I noticed that the EP has a different producer on just about every track. How did you choose which producers to work with on a given track?
D: I didn't really choose. I chose Channel, but we all just kind of found each other in a sense, or like I would just find this person who has a sound that Im looking for. Like I said, with the whole Super Good
project, nothing was working out, but right when I chose to go towards this UUGLY
route, things just started dropping from the sky. I guess it's synergy, too; like I don't really fuck with people who are like super cocky or who are negative and closed off. You kind of have to be a vibrant person in certain ways. When I walk into the studio, most people I work with got big-ass smiles on their faces and stuff like that, you know? Just great energy, that's what I look for. And then after that, you can just focus on the sound, like I'll play some of my sounds, and they'll be like, "Oh yeah, I got something like that," and they'll play some of their sounds, and then it just comes together. But in most cases, I just work from scratch and try to build something.
RS: Was it a challenge to work keep the EP sounding fluent with all those different producers?
D: Fuck yeah, because the last project I worked on was with one producer, and it was a consistent sound. It was still so many different genres, but the sound of it was quite similar. But that's another thing about UUGLY
too: It's not the most pretty, it's not the most presentable in terms of continuity, like traditional continuity, I guess you would say. I'm gonna definitely genre hop, but why should a person be limited in sound? Like back in the day, punks were straight punks, like they only listened to punk, or like the B-Boy dancers only listened to rap, but we're in this iPod generation, where you have hundreds of different genres in your iTunes. So it's kind of created this new individual style, and I wanted to reflect that. Part of me is worried, since there are so many styles/producers, but you have to stand for what you believe in. And then on my next project, I'll find a way to bring them all together, because my whole goal is to create this "psych-rap" type of feel, where it's just getting hit with bars and harmony and stuff like that, but with this ambient instrumentation that's going on, whether it be like vintage synthesizers, guitar, violin, stuff like that. Just creating this real atmospheric feel, but still with like heavy-ass 808s, you know what I'm sayin'?
RS: After listening to your music, it seems that a lot of the songs come from a very personal and introspective place. Do you find it challenging/daunting to be so personal and open in your music?
D: Only recently, because now that I'm opening myself up in such an intimate way, it can kind of become draining in a certain sense, and I never felt that before. I dunno, maybe I gotta meditate or some shit. But as far as music, nah, because it makes it easier. For an earlier part of my career, I was writing nothing but fantasy stuff. People found it hard to relate to me because I was in such a fantasmal world, so I found it easier to just write about my situations and expand on them. But even like "Blow My Mind," is like a fantasy of mine, with like Hollywood and sports cars and a fine-ass chick on my arm and stuff. That's why it's the first song [on GET UUGLY
], because thats the fantasy state I was at. Then after that, it's the wake-up with "Lowridr," 'cause then it's just like "I'm on a bus with a chick about to ride my bike."
RS: I read that along with music, you've also debuted a merch book with unique shirts and caps. How important you say fashion/physical expression is in relation to music/musical expression?
D: For a while, people were wearing their genres, but instead of wearing your genres these days you're more so wearing your brand that represents who you are. Things have come into like this big melting pot of hipster, and like within this hipster melting pot, this one individual listens to hundreds of genres. So you can't really pinpoint, you know? But you probably could guess they got excited when the new Frank Ocean album came out (laughs). But yeah, people wear their brands now more so than their genres, so within that, I wanna by able to have my staple brand, UUGLY
, and be able to take that experience wherever I go. Sometimes you can listen to my music, but sometimes you can't, especially if you downloaded from Apple Music: You're in the subway, you lose wifi, you can't listen to it anymore! Beyond that, I just want people to have something tangible. Sometimes with music, it can only go as far as what you hear in your ears and stuff, but if you could be able to hold UUGLY
, feel UUGLY
, and one day maybe even taste UUGLY
. I like tangibility, so that's what makes fashion important to me.
RS: Your little SoundCloud bio stuck out to me in particular: "The Universe birth me, South Central raised me, San Francisco elevated me, New York pushed me, THE WORLD will welcome me home." Why did you decide to mention all those specific places?
D: I mentioned them because I feel like I'm a child of the world, man. Even how I was raised, my mom would play as much different shit as possible, and that kind of created this whole state of mind where I never felt like where I was at. By default, I was raised in South Central, and I definitely learned a lot, but I felt like there was more to learn, so the next step was to go to San Francisco, where there's all this psychedelic shit going on to expand my brain. After that, I was like, "Cool, I learned how to create, now how do I add a dollar sign behind it, make it a little more profitable and creative in a way that could spread around the world?" So I went to New York, and New York taught me how to hustle. So now I was like, "Cool, I've got the business side of it, I've got the creative side of it, and I've got the backbone to defend it," that's what South Central was. But yeah, I never felt like I was just specifically an "LA kid." For some reason when I look at India, when I hear Hindi music or something like that, it hits a part of my chest and it gives me a sense of euphoria, like I lived there before. I feel very much home in those situations. Or like when I see pictures of Cairo or South Africa and Cape Town, and like the stories my homies tell me, I feel like I've been in Cape Town before. Even like Japan, whenever I'm in like Japantown in San Francisco, eating Ichiban and stuff like that, all that stuff feels normal and makes me very happy.
RS: What are some things you hope your listeners/fans take away when they listen to your music or see you live?
D: As Pharrell Williams once said, "My nigga you can do it too." As artists, we're meant to document our time, like Renaissance painters and sculptors and shit. They did it for the love of it, but a hundred years after, they're like the staples that document the time. That's how we recognize those certain eras. So that's our job, in a sense. I hope listeners continue documenting the time, because hundreds of thousands of years from now, people will look at what we created. I definitely wanna get to a place where I can overstand other artists, because not gonna lie, I'm competitive as fuck. I can be sweet as hell, but I'm definitely coming for nigga's heads, like 100 percent. But in the same sense, that's my level and that's my lane, but that doesn't take away from anybody else's lane. I just choose to stand alone in my lane, but everybody else gets to create their lane. So yeah, just document and create and shit.
RS: Where do you see yourself going as an artist in the near (or distant) future? Do you have an end goal of sorts, or are you more focused on living in the moment?
D: I was watching something the other day, TED Talks
or some shit, and they were talking about 5-year, 10-year, 20-year plans. I barely have a month planned (laughs). I definitely have goals and stuff, one of them is like getting a Grammy one day. But other than that, before I leave this planet, I wanna leave it with something substantial, and that substantial-ness could be my music. But me as an artist, I'm never satisfied. I dunno what I'm gonna create, but I know it's gonna be something that even goes beyond music, something that can really effect people. One of my main goals, my main themes, is to have people chill the fuck out. Just relax, you know? I know that shit is hard, with all the wars happening and all this racial tension, and people are so stressed out. Just remember who you were at 12 years old or 10 years old or 8 years old, and would the 8-year-old version of you be happy with who you are today? One of the ideas I've had is creating an adult playground, so like businessmen and businesswomen on their lunch break or whatever can just get it all out. I know you stressed, talking about all those numbers and the business going down south and bankruptcy and all that shit, like I'd be stressed out too, man! They have no outlet to get it out. So just remember where you were as a child, and just let your mind go from there, use your imagination. "Fear no color," that's one of my campaigns right now. And people always demonize that stuff as "hippie shit," but if there was any time we needed some "hippie shit," it's right now! So colors, childhood, imagination, and kinda go from there.