words by Priscilla Ward
“Mistakes are a natural part of the human experience, as far as like a whole. It’s really just having confidence in yourself and knowing your true intentions,” said Duckwrth, the west coast artist fusing feel good disco with hip-hop.
He’s back home in his South Central LA neighborhood after a press tour on the east coast. On the phone it sounds like he’s a well loved politician, as he pauses our conversation to greet those who say, hello. In an image obsessed society Duckwrth’s music is campaign to embrace our flaws. His strong sense of self translates into his ability to define masculinity on his own terms and create meaningful work that aligns with his own mission verses a label’s agenda.
Duckwrth is allowing an audience of listeners to share this space with him in the mirror. This exposure to his curiosity and intellectual nudity has enabled an audience of listeners to become actively engaged in his movement.
He released his first album in 2016, I’m Uugly and then followed up with, an XTRA UUGLY Mixtape at the end of 2017. During our phone conversation we discuss everything from the evolution of his identity to his desire to help end the food desert crisis in South Central LA.
AFROPUNK: How would you describe the creative community in LA?
DUCKWRTH: There’s a lot of sun out here, it kind of helps with the creative side. It definitely gets hot in New York. It’s kind of like plants, it’s just a different vibe. The sound is more industrial in New York and the sound is more groovy and funky in LA.
AFROPUNK: I peeped your Instagram, are you and Mette Towley working on anything together?
DUCKWRTH: She helped me write the music video for “Boy.” She came in with her version and it was super congruent. She knows the direction, so we joined forces. We kind of defy gender norms. She’s a beautiful woman that pulls from her male side and I pull from my female side.
AFROPUNK: Could you expand a little bit more on what you mean by pulling from your female side?
DUCKWRTH: Before I didn’t know that it was there, and then it kind of was like having knowledge of self. I was around singers who were super masculine. In a sense it showed me who I wanted to be and who I didn’t want to be. Once I was around a bunch of women, and someone said, you are like Michael Jackson, you have a childlike imagination. After awhile I found myself very familiar with Michael Jackson’s energy. It began to be a focal point of being the new black male and being comfortable with both sides of my identity. I use it when I’m on stage and I have a certain level of comfort. I think people like Prince, David Bowie, Michael Jackson and Freddie Mercury are great examples of this fluidity.
AFROPUNK: How would you define your masculinity?
DUCKWRTH: Masculinity is ice, femininity is water, masculinity is solid, femininity is liquid. Not saying that both can’t pull from one another, but they are very similar to one another. I’m a very visual person.
AFROPUNK: I know that you are a graphic designer and illustrator can you tell me a little bit about that?
DUCKWRTH: I went to school for graphic design. I checked out the Academy of Art in San Francisco. I did four years and I pulled out, because I felt like I learned enough.
AFROPUNK: Was graphic design like a gig for you at all?
DUCKWRTH: It used to be a gig. I would brand an artist if I had the time and energy. My main thing is selling merchandise and getting shows. I come from a family of artists. My mom sings and dad plays the keys. They did a duet at their wedding. I have always been around music. Art was another type of expression, it’s kind of natural. Music and art work together. My Dad was really good at drawing and I used to watch him. I got like this catalog and it had Simba and Nala. My mom keeps it in a frame.
AFROPUNK: Who are some people you’d like to collaborate with in the near future?
DUCKWRTH: I really like, “Stranger Things,” The Hoffman Bros and Wes Anderson. I’d like to sit down with Spike Lee. I like Ho9909. Sometimes I write in story form. Writing in story form makes it easier. I know that if I put it in story form it won’t be too hard to translate that experience.
AFROPUNK: Was there a particular life event or something that happened that caused you to be more aware of the importance of making room for your flaws?
DUCKWRTH: I was having a lot of meetings with producers in Hollywood. After the meetings were done I was taking the bus back to the hood and it took a long time. I kind of wanted to put that whole juxtaposition into the songs. The shit isn’t rainbows. I kind of wanted to just speak my mind. It’s kind of hard to go back to the hood after that whole process.
AFROPUNK: Did you ever feel like you had to hide?
DUCKWRTH: When I was in white environments, people would be like shocked that I was from South Central they would go ‘you speak so well.’ A lot of the work I want to do is in South Central, it’s about food deserts. In my neighborhood there’s Ralphs, a soul food spot full of grease, and then there are liquor stores. So if you were to find some good food you would have to leave the food. This sends the message that people in lower income neighborhoods aren’t worth living, the fact that this narrative is going on in America where there is so much privilege bothers me. This should be talked about in the arts. Or even just educating people on more affordable options.
AFROPUNK: Do you want to have some sort of campaign?
DUCKWRTH: I want to find a funky way of presenting something that taste good as well.
AFROPUNK: How are you giving yourself the space for flaws and mistakes in a culture that doesn’t really provide much room for this?
DUCKWRTH: Sometimes you have to challenge people’s intelligence and some people are just trolls. Some people may just operate in a certain way. The whole thing that happen to Migos, you should probably just educate and not everyone has to agree with that kind of living, but if you don’t agree with certain things in life you just need to chill out. If you really want to help someone then you really need to educate.
AFROPUNK: Do you have a self-care routine?
DUCKWRTH: Hella fruit, hella produce, hella water and take a day off. It grows. I know for me, because I work a lot and I need to take that time and dive into what I want. How can you do more of what you want do? I learned a better way of living when I lived in San Fran and Oakland for 8 years.