Thursday, August 03, 2006

Ugly Duckling Revew

Ugly Duckling
“Bang for the Buck”
Fat Beats, 2006

For fans of: Jurassic 5, People Under the Stairs, people who would like the Beastie Boys if they didn’t use all that profanity

This is the fourth record from these SoCal old school revivalists. Ugly Duckling have been keeping it positive and retro since 1993, and they are showing no signs of joining the 21st Century. Like Jurassic 5, they employ sing-songy flows, trade off rhymes, and do their part to steer hip-hop away from the guns, bitches and bling that it has come to be synonymous with.

The album starts off with “Bang for the Buck”, a bouncy, uptempo song that shows Yudee at their best. Over a funky bassline and hyper handclap beat, MCs Dizzy Dustin and Andy Cooper give their mission statement in rapid-fire verse:

My soul is not for sale
Got a one-track mind going off the rail
As I save the day, what I mean to say
Is Ugly Duckling is on the way like a Green Beret
No Grammy's or platinum plaques
No chicks with fake noses or plastic racks
Just raps over tracks made of plastic wax
I'll pass Dizz the mic then he'll pass it back

Hey what's happening? You ready for action?
Hands get to clappin', the place is packed in
B-Boys backspin, the DJ's scratchin'
The roof is on fire and I'm holding the matches

The song is able to generate some real energy, while taking the listener on a nostalgia trip back to the days of the block parties, when MC battles were more apt to involve mics rather than 9 millies. It’s definitely a welcome change from lyrics about cars, teeth, selling crack, shooting people, and getting fucked up. They also have an actual DJ who samples actual records with actual instruments, producing a nice warm analog drum sound that feels like summer after a long winter of screwed-up, crunked-out, synth beats. It reminded me a little bit of the Ultramagnetic MCs, although Yudee are not nearly as raw.

In fact, Yudee are about as unraw as it gets, and their incessant chipperness and unapologetic dorkiness begin to bug as the album progresses. There were points on this disc where they sounded like Radio Disney. Seriously, on a couple tracks it got so bad that I was actually embarrassed to be listening to it. Alone in my apartment.

“Slam”, their dis track, is a good example, and is probably the least good track on the album. In stilted verse following the “Da-duh-duh-duh, duh-duh-DUH” rhyme pattern than became obsolete in 1987, they say:

We used to call them perpetrators
But now if you do they'll say you're a hater
Well it's true cuz I hate you and all of the hogwash that you do
You jiggy rappers are a lying disgrace
And I'm running up coming with a pie in your face.

That’s right. Hogwash. Pie in the face. Now compare that with Ice Cube saying "you got fucked out your money by a white guy with no vaseline” or Jay-Z taunting other MCs with“I've been doing this shit since your shit was in pampers.” If Yudee don’t want to be violent and offensive, fine. But shit, if you are going to dis other rappers, at least have the dignity to do it on a track that offers something better than what other MCs are doing. I think 50 Cent is a fucking asshole, but even “Wanksta”, which criticizes someone for not being a violent drug-dealer, is better than “Smack”.

I respect what Yudee are trying to do, and they definitely have some skills. I think hip-hop needs alternatives to gangsta rap and mainstream rap, and it’s nice to see MCs giving props to the old school. I can’t help feeling, though, that Yudee’s target audience aren’t necessarily true hip-hop fans; rather, they are people who are more into other genres, and wish rappers sounded more like “License to Ill” and “Raising Hell”. And that’s fine, I just don’t happen to count myself among them.

If you are craving some upbeat, positive hip-hop that gives nods to the old school, “Bang for the Buck” will definitely fill that need. If you are still hoping for the second coming of the Wu, or wish Ice Cube's new disc was truly a return to form, you're gonna wanna pass.

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