Rapper DUCKWRTH talks about how his roots in South Central shaped his music career.
Few hip-hop artists are as nuanced, well put-together, and textured as DUCKWRTH. Even his presence is curated. Hailing from South Central Los Angeles, DUCKWRTH has been creating his own worlds and adventures in the form of projects like “Ducktape“, “Taxfree V.1“, “Nowhere“, and his most recent delivery, “I’m Uugly“. When I listened to “I’m Uugly” for the first time, it was clear that I was listening to an artist who isn’t here for a quick visit. If you’ve ever seen him perform, I’m sure he kilt it in more ways than one, like the Scottish garment he currently wears. As fans will come to understand, DUCKWRTH doesn’t move unilaterally through artistry. Instead, he embraces multiple platforms, from music to fashion design and visual art.
Jared Lee, more commonly known as DUCKWRTH and formerly known as “Melodious”, easily represents an UNDO-ing of who we think a hip-hop artist is and what he or she can do. Fresh off of a tour with Anderson Paak and preparing for the release of “Extra Uugly” this year, DUCKWRTH and I reconnected at the Underground Museum in Los Angeles to delve into his story. Needless to say, he did not disappoint, arriving with his signature safety pin in his earlobe just as the rain let up. We sun komorebi’ed through the leaves (Japanese for “sunlight shining”) before making our way to the garden for a chat.
The Real Jared Lee
UNDO: Where are you from, and when did music start writing you?
DUCKWRTH: I’m from South Central Los Angeles. I’ve been writing music [for a while], but I don’t think the music started writing me [until] after the Nowhere project. Everything before “I’m Uugly” was just experimentation. This was finally that moment I could fully be myself.
UNDO: What’s the intention behind “Uugly“? I noticed you labeled it “funkwave.”
DUCKWRTH: Wave is just new; funk has been here. Funk is a deep, euphoric feeling that you get in your stomach and crotch area—a very deep groin happiness. It makes your shoulders move and face frown up in the best way possible. Uugly is the embracing of that.
UNDO: How long have you been designing?
DUCKWRTH: I’ve been designing clothes since I was 16 years old. [I called] my first line Akustiq as a reflection of the time—[it was all about] skate culture and how intersectional music and people were becoming. I had my first fashion show at Northridge College at 17. I ended up going to the Academy of Arts in San Francisco. Being there helped develop my voice and palette as a designer. Everything is stronger when it has a theme, and a theme is even stronger when it has a story.
UNDO: What is the DUCKWRTH diet-and-workout plan?
DUCKWRTH: I kind of take the anti- Equinox approach to keeping my body in shape, by skating and bringing physicality to my music performances. [I don’t eat] beef, pork, or bread. Oh, and a couple of off-the-record exercises that are all a part of keeping what I call my “pelvic tone.”
UNDO: What is the climate of South Central in 2017?
DUCKWRTH: People know what Compton and Inglewood look and sound like but have a really dated idea of what South Central is. That’s why I always shout it out in my music. I want to show [that] my city [is] more than what you assume. I’ve always felt juxtaposed. The climate has shifted, and it’s not as violent, although you can definitely still get shot. I think the presence of the [Los Angeles] Rams and Chargers is only going to shift it even more. It’s going [to] look like Williamsburg in a minute.
UNDO: A lot of people don’t know about the “100 days, 100 nights” gang rumor that popped off in South Central back in 2015. You have a song called “100 Days”. Tell us about the creation of that song and how it influenced your content.
DUCKWRTH: As far as the creation of the song, I met Channel Tres on a rooftop and vibed with him instantly. A few days later, the first email he sent me had that beat in it. I feel like Tres and Pharrell fish from the same pond. He makes full songs of bridge euphoria. The track really spoke to me, and I feel like my life has a responsibility to say something not just [about] my music but my life.
A lot of my friends [experienced] death two summers ago. I knew people that felt that the 100 days rumors were set up by police to deviate our attention from the police brutality and shift public attention to “Black-on-Black crime.” Honestly, I was afraid of making that song, but I knew I had to be the balance. I don’t know all the details. All I know is that innocent people were being killed, so I made a song about it because I know people who are experiencing “100 days” every day.
UNDO: What do you find freedom in?
DUCKWRTH: I find freedom in duality. Comfort is the worst enemy of growth. Discomfort is actually what gives some of the best artists we look up to that extra texture to their work. That’s why I call it a duality because being comfortable and knowing yourself within that textured situation is the essence of freedom.
UNDO: Where do you feel the most uncomfortable?
DUCKWRTH: I feel uncomfortable in clubs because I know myself. When I’m there, I just feel like, “There’s nothing here for me.”
UNDO: What did you learn today?
DUCKWRTH: All caps—I probably shouldn’t try to fit a buffet on the plate. Don’t overfill your day, and if you ask for a sign, don’t hit “Ignore” when the universe is calling you.
UNDO: How do you “UNDO?”
DUCKWRTH: “Je ne sais pas pourquoi,” which is French for “I don’t know why.” I have this theory I’m trying. I don’t believe gravity is a force; it’s an inevitability. Free will. It’s letting go, letting it do what it do, because it’s already done. UNDO-ing is that intentional effort to turn off all the LCDs, cell phones, and screens, and to just exist and unplug from expectations. It’s just untying the shoestrings of life.
Original UNDO Mag Issue 6 title: So UUGLY
Written by Emmanuel Ricketts
Photography by Jack McKain