words by Leslie Ken Chu
Duckwrth cannot be pinned down. The 28-year-old rapper, born Jared Lee in South Central, landed like a splash of mixed paints with his debut full-length I’m Uugly in fall 2016. Its 10 elastic tracks stretch across hip hop, chill wave, funk, and punk, all shrouded in a soft-focused haze. He aptly calls this impressionistic concoction “psych rap.”
Early last November, Duckwrth released An Xtra Uugly Mixtape. Whereas I’m Uugly exalted the beauty that lives within the harshness and griminess of everyday life – from the physical to the political to the socioeconomic – An Xtra Uugly Mixtape encourages being unapologetically you. It is, as Duckwrth writes on his Soundcloud page, “the anthem for your rebellion.” Fittingly, the tape is higher in energy; the guitar sounds are cranked. An Xtra Uugly Mixtape is his attempt to put hip hop and rock on equal footing within the same piece of music. An Xtra Ugly Mixtape is also a gradual step towards fulfilling his stadium rock ambitions.
Duckwrth had one of his most formative musical experiences at a stadium show. “I used to do the whole protest [thing] and be more politically driven,” he says. “But then there was a time when I was in a Metallica mosh pit, and I was in with a whole bunch of different ethnicities, and I was even in there with skinheads. And during that moment,” he further recalls, “we were throwing hands and going crazy, and racism just dissipated. Everybody was just going crazy and just having fun.” Ever since then, Duckwrth has devoted himself to keeping that vibe alive, to “put people in a certain place where you dance, and you groove, and you have fun, and you sing, and all that disappears.” But he aims to do more than foster escapism. “Maybe conversations could be had [at shows]. Maybe people could find ways to unite.”
The belief that change starts with conversation ties into Duckwrth’s enthusiasm about the potential of technology. However, he says, “Right now, we’re just spreading messages, having conversations, before anything really awesome happens or crazy happens, good or bad…. Let’s actually take our technology and do something about what the fuck is happening.” Regardless of what that something is, Duckwrth plainly declares his intention: “I would like to be able to build up enough and just [have] a hand in culture that I can be able to move and shake shit in the future.”
With a DIY mindset born of his love of punk music, Duckwrth has his hands in every aspect of his creative output ranging from music to album art to apparel. But he understands that everyone in a collaborative process is an artist. “[Y]ou have to respect them ‘cause they have their own skillsets, they have their own ideas, and they’re geniuses. And the reason you work with them is because obviously you appreciate their work.” As for hiring a crew to capture what he wants and then personally editing that material to further conform to his vision, “That’s really doable,” he admits, “but it also disconnects the director from everything else…. [I]t’s something different when it has a certain fluidity where the director can work with the DP [director of photography], and the director can work with the editor because the director will see something I don’t.”
Reflecting on one music video, Duckwrth says, “I had to learn that with [director] Young Man because we had a big-ass disagreement with ‘I’m Dead’. But we finally came to the middle at the end where we were just like, ‘Okay, we can both work with this.’ It was a big lesson for the both of us, just to open yourself and just trust that person; I gotta trust the director, and the director gotta trust me.”
Everywhere Duckwrth has lived has left an indelible impression on him. He frequently proclaims South Central raised him, San Francisco expanded his mind, and New York taught him how to hustle. However well-rounded he seems though, he knows life’s lessons do not end at the US’ borders. “I want to live in Paris, and I want to learn French,” he says. “I just want go to different countries, different continents, different cities, and learn. Really, it could be anything, just be outside of America and my comforts of being American.” He would also like to live in “Africa in general because that’s my ethnicity, at the roots of my ethnicity.” As a deep admirer of Japanese art and culture, Tokyo is another obvious choice for him. “Their colours are amazing, super vibrant.” He even loves katakana. “It’s all beautiful.”