I’m tired of musicians who cannot cope with the idea that someone criticized their work. In all other art forms, criticism is an accepted practice. But, somehow, musicians feel they are exempt from such behavior. When someone calls out their work for what it is and they don’t like it, the critic somehow becomes unqualified and wrong. Newsflash: Pouring ones heart and soul into an album does not automatically make it good or respectable.
This leads me to Ugly Duckling. The members of the Long Beach trio have tired of the gimmicky, true-school tag attached to them. They are tired of critics who call their work derivative. The only problem is this: They are gimmicky and derivative. Their desire to take it back to that late-’80s feel is fine, but they shouldn’t be surprised when they’re labeled as throwback happy rap. They’ve always rapped about taking it back and about how they rhyme. But after a while, I’m left wondering where the practical applications of these claims are.
Much like 2003’s concept album, Taste the Secret, Bang for the Buck is more of the same, but it’s a little faster paced this time. On the title track, they claim they don’t care what the critics have to say, yet they feel the need to mention it. Although they don’t change their overall philosophy, their more party-oriented effort this time around would indicate that the do, in fact, care.
Still, as gimmicky as it is, it’s far from terrible. If there is one thing I can’t complain about on this album, it’s the beats. Producer/deejay Young Einstein is one of the most talented producers flying under the radar right now. He not only takes it back, but he adds his own flavor to his production. The beats are layered and funky, and his ability to dig in the crates is put on display here. “Einstein’s On Stage” is the class of this album, production-wise. It has that retro boom-bap feel to it, but it hardly sounds dated.
But it’s the substance-free rhymes of his cohorts Dizzy Dustin and Andy Cooper that take away from the album. Aside from rhyming about how real they are, how they are going to bring it back, and how they rhyme, they have nothing to say. Combined with their old-school rhyme patterns, they are nothing more than a novelty. Ugly Duckling is at its best on “Slow the Flow,” when the emcees rhyme about taking it easy and having fun with life. It isn’t overly complicated or complex, but at least they have something to say.
I can see the appeal of Ugly Duckling in a live setting. Especially since that was the main attraction of the hip-hop era they are trying to bring back. Hip-hop in the ’80s was focused on the live show. I’m all for songs that are fun, playful and energetic, but I can also see where people find Ugly Duckling’s work to be deficient. An entire album of repetitive flows and braggadocio rhymes does not make for the most captivating listening experience at home.