UGLY DUCKLING with the PHARCYDE and CHECKMATE at the Opera House (735 Queen East), tonight (Thursday, May 10). $24.50. 416-466-0313. Rating: NNNNN
humour in hiphop? there's a revolutionary concept. It seems the most adventurous artists working today -- namely Kool Keith, De La Soul, OutKast and ODB -- are those unafraid to put on a wig and act a fool. You can add Cali cut-ups Ugly Duckling to that list.
Not that the Long Beach crew of gold-chained DJ Young Einstein and the mike-swapping front line of Andy Cooper and Dizzy have come up with any groundbreaking innovations on their Journey To Anywhere (XL/Beggars Banquet) disc, but it's refreshing to hear rump-bumping jams paired with witty rhymes completely free of the usual misogynistic bullshit. That's an achievement.
"We check so many hos and pimp so much dough in our regular lives," deadpans Cooper without missing a beat, "that doing songs about it would just be redundant. You know, I'm slapping down suckas on the corner all day long, so if I started rapping about that it would make our shows seem too much like work."
Coming out of the g-funk capital of the world in 93, just as Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre were putting Long Beach on the hiphop map, Ugly Duckling were well positioned to observe the thuggish lifestyles of the nouveau riche and infamous.
While many saw the Chronic's success as a watershed for commercial rap, the members of Ugly Duckling realized it was the beginning of the end for acts like Run DMC, Big Daddy Kane, Biz Markie and the whole old-school hiphop aesthetic they'd grown up with.
"We were listening to some old-school stuff in the car last night, and hearing Grand Daddy I.U.'s don't-take-drugs rap was a hilarious reminder of how things have changed. If you listen to hiphop now, there's nothing cooler than dealing drugs.
"That started in the g-funk era, when the Chronic blew up and major labels started expecting platinum sales from hiphop records. They didn't want artists who were creative or unique -- they wanted whatever was selling big. Many artists fed into that, and every record started to sound the same. The revolution is over. Everybody went pop."
Well, not everybody. It could be that Ugly Duckling's tag-team rhyme exchanges and deeply funky grooves are simply too unconventional to suit contemporary hiphop tastes.
It's doubtful that many teenage rap fans weaned on Jay-Z and Master P would pick up on the Duck's rapid-fire references to Kojack, Zaxxon, Hong Kong Phooey, Pet Rocks and Soft Cell spit out with Native Tongues flava. But then, the Ducks aren't trying to be something they're not.
"The coolest thing about old-school hiphop is that artists were allowed to be themselves. You could be nerdy, goofy or funny and that was accepted. Now everyone has to be a tough guy. That's not us."
The gold chain work by Ugly Duckling DJ Young Einstein is more than just a snazzy fashion accessory. Since turntable terror Afrika Bambaataa started rocking the hold rope way back in the day, the glinty necklace has become a universally recognized symbol of old-school party-rockin' supremacy passed from one generation to the next.
- 1987 Louis Eric Barrier, aka cut-creator Eric B., accents his Gucci warmup with an eagle-emblazoned number on the Paid In Full album.
-1988 Long before the Ghetto Boys became a national threat, the Houston crew could be seen cruising the 'hood in their matching gold-braided finery.
-1989 Even as a teen sidekick, Jay-Z was already showing signs of player savvy by upstaging Jaz at his own photo shoot with his massive cobra back-breaker.
-1991 The competitive push for fatter links culminated in 91 with the appearace of Slick Rick's untoppable dookie doozy.