From exclusive interviews, live performances, special collections and more, we’re celebrating music all month long. We talked to the bands and artists playing our upcoming UO Live in Austin shows about their musical beginnings and the places they’re headed next. Click here to read from our favorite musicians.
There’s a din of instruments and chatter when Duckwrth picks up the phone. No, the L.A.-based artist isn’t in the studio, or soundchecking in some far-off city ― though he’s clocked plenty of time doing both in recent months. Instead, the 28-year-old rapper, singer, and visual artist is calling from his local Guitar Center, which is apparently going off on this Monday afternoon.
“I’m sorry if it’s loud, but they’re having this sale,” he explains as someone pounds out a song on a nearby keyboard. “They’ve got these Squiers on special, so I’m gonna get me a Squier.”
As small a deal as it may seem, this little splurge underlines the prosperous year Duckwrth is having. Since releasing his debut full-length, I’m Uugly, last September, the rapper, born Jared Lee, has amassed a massive following with his woozy, hypnotic, and emotionally expansive brand of psychedelic hip-hop. Lyrically, Duckwrth’s message feels especially timely right now, with its positivity-first attitude and brutally realistic musings on current affairs.The tracks on I’m Uugly are personal, and they run the gamut from trippy to straight-up bump ‘n grind R&B, and revolve around everything from romantic love (“Rare Panther”) to sex (“Get Uugly”) to the violence and tragedy Duckwrth saw growing up in South Central Los Angeles (“100 Days”), and how those stories continue to play out around the country today (“Ruun”).
Next month, fresh off Anderson .Paak’s Malibu tour and with his new Squier in tow, Duckwrth heads to Austin, Texas as part of our UO Live in Austin Showcase. Here, we speak with him about politics, art, and his vision for the future of music.
Photos by Evan Tetreault
Words by Aly Comingore
You spent last year touring with Anderson .Paak. What was that experience like?
It was crazy. Just being able to perform for that many people ― I’d never performed in the types of venues that have balconies before. Playing not just for the front row or the back row, but for the people up top ― it felt like I was at the Grammys or something. I learned how to engage with the crowd way more, how to get them super hyped. They had their convictions with me being the opener, and I feel like I learned how to rip those walls down and make them feel like I was a co-headliner. Anderson taught me a lot. And the girls… they’re crazy. It got pretty wild [laughs].
I know you grew up singing in choir, but you also went to school for graphic design in San Francisco. What got you into visual art?
I’m not exactly sure. I always knew that art was around me. Besides doing music, my family was always really into art. My uncle was this awesome spray paint artist. He fought in the Vietnam War, and then he left the war and got into spray paint and aerosol art, which is kind of trippy. My dad used to draw too, when he wasn’t busy working on music or being a hardass dad. I picked it up pretty naturally. I remember when I was younger my mom didn’t think I could draw because I was so good at duplicating other people’s illustrations. She didn’t believe I was really doing it. She got this picture of Simba and Nala from The Lion King and she made me sit down with colored pencils and draw it in front of her. It took me an hour and half, but I drew it all out, and I remember looking at her and her jaw was on the ground. It was like, ‘That’s right, mom.’ That’s one of my earliest memories of drawing.
What attracted you to San Francisco?
Musically, in high school I was into all sorts of psychedelic rock from the ‘60s and early ‘70s. That whole era of music really influenced my mind and my style. Being from L.A., I was really into Z Boys and Dogtown and shit. That was the way I liked to skate, like I’m surfing. As I went through this big ‘60s phase and San Francisco kept popping up. Janis Joplin, Hendrix, Grateful Dead, Deep Purple, they all were hanging out at Haight-Ashbury. I started peeping out San Francisco and just got this crazy feel from it. People seemed as free as they wanted to be, and they were creating because they wanted to create, not because they wanted to get on or anything. I was lazy in high school. I didn’t want to fill out college applications ― I hated that shit ― so I applied to Academy of Arts, they accepted me, and that was that.
When did you decide that you wanted to pursue music over graphic art?
I was going into my third year of college and I just started thinking to myself, ‘Do I have it in me to sit in front of a computer for the rest of my life? I don’t know if I can do that.’ Music started to creep up, and I was doing a lot of graphic design stuff for my music, so I never really abandoned the graphic thing, but music just kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger. After the fourth year I just dropped out. They wanted me to do six years of school and that to me meant two more years of sitting down. I was over sitting, so I dipped.
I wanted to talk a bit about I’m Uugly. The record dropped before the election, but there’s a lot of stuff on here that feels really relevant to what’s going on right now.
I’ve realized that the one thing that never really changes is shitty politics. Whether it’s the ‘60s of the 6000s, there’s always going to be something to fight for. It’s not like I predicted Trump being in office ― it’s just that some things just don’t change. It was nice when Obama was around because he spoke out against things like police brutality. That’s why I have songs like “Ruun.” That topic is always going to sound politically driven in some way, but with Trump being in office I think just amplifies it even more.
Your sound and your look is this melting pot of genres ― it’s hip-hop, it’s punk, it’s psych, it’s funk. Where do you think music, fashion, and genres in general are headed in the coming years?
Blurred lines. People are going to have to come up with new names for genres, and maybe get rid of men’s and women’s sections. My dream store is one rack and no separation, because some people want to wear one thing and some people want to wear another thing. A lot of times I’ll see a dope ass sequin sweater that’s only made for women, or I’ll go in the Vans store and for some reason they only make pink Vans for women, or they’ll only make the black and blue checkerboard for men. It sucks! It’s stupid. I say fuck that shit. And it’s the same for music. There’s way more mosh pits at the hip-hop shows now, and rock is doing... I don’t know. I feel like the rock that’s vibing right now has this classic, psychedelic approach ― bands like Tame Impala or Unknown Mortal Orchestra ― and the straight indie rock bands are either going trap or going pop. I have this feeling that rock’s going to come back through hip-hop, which is kind of funny.
How do you mean?
The energy that rock has you find mostly at hip-hop shows now. Stage diving, going ham, skanking on stage, people going fucking bonkers ― that’s the kind of energy I used to feel at punk shows. You go see Tame Impala and people aren’t moshing, they’re entranced, and that crazy energy you’d get at a heavy rock show you now get at a rap show. I’m sure it’s going to continue to go back and forth, but it just shows that everything is kind of merging now. Back in the day if you listened to punk you listened to nothing but punk, and maybe you liked some heavy metal, but you didn’t tell too many people. Now, you can listen to punk and then switch over to Amy Winehouse and then switch over to Bruno Mars and nobody’s going to judge you. It’s the iPod generation and it’s beautiful. You don’t have to be one thing anymore. You can be whatever the fuck you want to be.
What do you hope people take away from your music?
I want them to be charged. I want them to leave my shows with mad energy and place that into their lives in whatever way they need. I want to be able to give that to people. If you’re trying to create, or if you’re questioning if you should make some move or make a sacrifice, I want to be able to give people the courage and bravery to go for it. If you fuck up it’s OK because you’re learning, and if you can excel at something from making that decision then great, because you were brave enough to do it. I want to be a living example of just taking a chance, and of being comfortable with who you are so much so that it’s all you know.
See Duckwrth this month at UO Space 24 Twenty for UO Live in Austin. Click here for more schedules and information.