Swan Song

By refusing to follow the flock, Ugly Duckling has emerged as a wholly individual hip-hop creature.

In the rap world, Long Beach, California, carries with it a certain stylistic connotation. When most hip-hop fans think of the town on Los Angeles's southern edge, they think of hard-edged rappers laying down rhymes about gangster life set to that classic laid-back G-Funk sound. Not surprisingly, the all-white rap trio Ugly Duckling -- which shares a zip code, if not an aesthetic, with the Dogg Pound crew, et al. -- have had to fight for respect on the fringes of the West Coast scene. The only thing that the Ducklings really have in common with their more famous Long Beach County counterparts is the fact that Andycat (the rapper whose government name is Andy Cooper) attended the same school and went to the same prom as Snoop Dogg.

"The L.A. clique that exists, I mean, we ain't allowed in it," says Andycat, who along with his bandmates, rapper Dizzy and DJ/producer Young Einstein, is more Winky Dinky Dog than Snoop Dogg. On stage and on wax, this threesome would rather give pop-culture shout-outs to classic cartoons like Hong Kong Phooey than boast about blunts and body counts. With its frequent references to old-school rap groups like EPMD, Ugly Duckling belongs to the new crop of revivalist crews that want to bring back the lighthearted, humorous aspect of hip-hop -- the clever, funny stuff one used to hear in the raps of Biz Markie and Slick Rick. This approach has helped the group attract a sizable following, especially in college towns such as Boulder, but it has also garnered some detractors as well.

"Some people aren't ready for it," says Andycat. "A lot of people are coming to hip-hop new, or they've only been shown the real urban-ghetto side of it, and they don't have the understanding that hip-hop can be anything and that's the tradition. Some people come up to us and have the attitude that 'you guys are selling out hip-hop, you're trying to be too goofy,' and I'm like, if you knew anything about hip-hop and you know about the artists that have come out in the past, it was based on an escapism from urban plight. From the Sugar Hill Gang to Biz Markie, there has always been humor and enjoyment in the music. It's stupid for people to think everything has got to be a frown and a tale about welfare."

They'll give you something to quack about: The Long Beach hip-hop trio Ugly Duckling.
They'll give you something to quack about: The Long Beach hip-hop trio Ugly Duckling.


8 p.m. Thursday, January 25
Aggie Theater, 204 South College Avenue, Fort Collins
$15, 970-407-1322

8 p.m. Friday, January 26
Gothic Theatre, 3263 South Broadway
$16.25, 303-380-2333

8:30 p.m. Sunday, January 28, and Monday, January 29
Fox Theatre, 1135 13th Street, Boulder
$15.75, 303-443-3399

As defenders of old-school ideals, the guys often get frustrated with those thug wannabes who think rap begins and ends with Tupac and DMX and who end up disappointed when they realize that's not what Ugly Duckling represents. "Sometimes we feel like we're ruining it for kids, like they don't wanna see us," says Andycat. "They want to see a bunch of tough guys. I guess for them, it's like going to a Schwarzenegger movie and he's going, 'Violence is stupid.' So I'm thinking, you don't have to act like Ghostface Killah. You're just a normal white boy from Boulder, and you don't have to be that way. But part of their attraction is that they want to act like tough guys."

Despite occasional negative reactions from individuals with a narrow vision of how a rap performer should look or act, Andycat shrugs off the notion that race has been an obstacle to the group's acceptance. "The race thing isn't that big of a deal. There's millions of white, Latino and Asian rappers at this point. Everybody has come together in that sense."

Ugly Duckling recently released its first full-length, Journey to Anywhere, which aims to show that hip-hop can be as diverse as its hometown. With the album, Andycat says, the group was trying "to get hip-hop out of its stereotypical rut, and do stuff [that is] a little more interesting, a little more fantasy-oriented. We did songs about dreamy cartoons, and about space, and about traveling around the world."

Like fellow Cali artists Jurassic 5 and The People Under the Stairs, Ugly Duckling uses new tactics to update music from an era that seems almost light years away from the sounds created by most of today's producers; put out on 1500 Records, Journey brings on a Pete Rock-style funk while also reflecting a Native Tongues positivity in its loops and rhymes. As DJ/producer, Einstein samples heavily, and he constructs tracks that would sound at home on any early records from A Tribe Called Quest. For the group, this is a deliberate strategy, an attempt to counter a loss of hip-hop's initial flavor in the current sample-lite era. "That's the main thing about hip-hop that bugs me now," says Andycat. "It just ain't funky. Half of the time, it's real kind of dark. It's more electronic now. It used to be so funky. It introduced me to soul music. I didn't listen to James Brown until I listened to hip-hop."

As a group that's often felt like a wallflower in the hip-hop house-party scheme of things, Ugly Duckling makes a point to keep the crowds moving with its block-rocking beats. The trio takes prides in the fact that it's a musical group -- not just MCs who enlist various producers to complement its raps. The members look to groups like the Native Tongues collective, Main Source and Audio Two as inspirations for their sound. As an MC, Andycat is more interested in how his raps supplement the song structure as opposed to just standing out as a battle-rap MC. "We try to be like a hip-hop band and do hip-hop music rather than just be like beats and rhymes," he says. "I'm really more interested in songs. I don't really care about being the King of Rap. I want the song to be good. I want it to get its point across. I want the rap to complement the music."

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