By Mariana Martinez
LA-based rapper Duckwrth isn’t afraid of making a statement. Whether through vigorous compositions like “Fall Back” or sporting multi-colored shorts with a heavily decorated leather jacket, the South Central artist finds authenticity in creating juxtaposition. Informed equally by punk rock and funk, Duckwrth has channeled these influences to make a progressive hip hop sound, evident in his bold mixtapes “I’M UUGLY” (2016) and “an XRTA UUGLY mixtape” (2017). Following his soundcheck, I reflected on his enthusiastic approach to performance and unwavering energy to translate his songs into the live space; captivating qualities that make him a truly compelling artist. As we slip into conversation, Duckwrth shares with me the importance of engaging in varied artistic disciplines and how the act of falling has become a recurring theme in his life. Check out our conversation below.
You have a very unique sound that takes from funk, soul, hip hop. Just to better inform our listeners who are some of your influences?
That’s a great question. It varies, I suppose. I was raised on gospel and classical, so that opened up my ear to just a vast array of music coming from all parts of the world. My people that I go crazy for, of course like the Hendrix’s… the Outkast’s.. and like the Erykah’s.. shit, Black Sabbath, trying to think of the main ones, that really affected me. Queen… love Michael, Michael is like, my heart (laughs). I love his music, man. Bad Brains, that’s like my favorite punk band of all time, and H.R., the lead singer, that energy, man, that definitely resonates with me. It’s everywhere, but those are like the ones, and I like say those because maybe they’re to level of poppiness where everyone knows them and shit. I fuck with them heavy… and after that it’s just a bunch of other random shit. I think those are the folks that made me wanna make music.
What’s your songwriting process like? What inspires and informs you?
Well, I did some stupid shit the other day. I got caught up and the girl I’m dating, she called me out on it and stuff…I was just like, when you fuck up, and you know you fucked up, and you really ain’t got no comeback, all you can do is just sit there and look stupid (laughs), that’s what happened with me! All I could do is just sit there, but I couldn’t put it in words. But we were just writing in the studio, me and this group called Luther Childs. And everything I wanted to say to her at that moment all came out in a song. So, sometime it’s just like whatever’s happening in my life, it’s like a conversation I didn’t have, you know? Or even if I did have a conversation I can continue and further elaborate in music.
Other than that it’s just sometimes certain chord combinations. Like you play keys and so these certain combinations, it just, it has a certain response. Like when it comes to jazz, chords and stuff, like I love that shit, that just makes me write. I think that’s because I was raised with gospel and stuff, so it’s like, that response is so innate in me, being raised in the church. And a lot of that stuff in the church, it’s like freestyle. Like you’ve got your stuff that you learn, and then when you be just goin, like all you’re doin is just responding to the chords that they playing on the keys and stuff, so, that type stuff. I’ve been recently writing with other people and I think that’s been really fun because they can always take you to a place that you never think of.
What are collaborations like for you? What does that mean to you as an artist?
D: Collaborations, so the song I’m about to drop in a week or two, called LOVE IS LIKE A MOSHPIT… so the homie, August 08, he wrote that chorus, and he did some background vocals on it. And then he taught the other homie, Medasin, the chorus he was playing, and then he played on it and stuff, and then I just went in. August was kinda coaching me, like he was like “I wrote this song with Barnie, and it’s like this shit is tight and it fits perfectly for it” and I was like “Yeah, this shit does go off”, and I don’t really let anybody write my shit, so having that, it was tight, because they’re my homies, they’re my close best friends, so I trust them. I trust that they have the best intention. So that was fun, but like I said when it comes to the verses, that’s still me, that’s all me (laughs). Unless it’s like some singing shit, if it’s some singing shit I’d write for somebody, I think that shit would be fun. When it comes to like classics, just hip-hop, just rapping, I ain’t gonna let nobody write that.
Could you tell us more about your visual aesthetic/artwork and how that incorporates with your music?
It taught me about hierarchy, and like symmetry, form. It’s really about… everything is design. It’s about making certain things complement the other things, you know? Because you always start off with one, and then from one you gonna get to three, then you gonna take that three and get to five, so when you have three different pieces, the challenge that comes with music, or art, or anything, is making those three pieces fit. So that can come with like, color palette, that could come with like, shape and form, so it’s just like, if I have a square, then I can perfectly fit a circle within that square. And that circle’s gonna touch four corners of that square. And if I add a triangle, I can make that triangle fit into the circle because it’s about how do you make those pieces work.
So it’s pretty easy to translate graphic design to music. At least for me, it’s easy to do that, cuz it’s like I said, what compliments each other. It could be like a mid-BPM, like a 90 or something. And it’s just like, they have the kick pattern going and a certain way the snare’s hitting, it’s all about finding how my voice can ride it, you know? Cuz at the end of the day you wanna think about your listeners. That’s the difference between the people who make hits, radio hits, and then just like, rappers. You can rap all day long but it’s like, is a person gonna listen to that shit? (laughs). So the challenge is definitely being able to have a cool story, keep the bars up. Then it’s just like, how can I ride that motherfucker, so it’s kind of like turning your vocals into an instrument.
Yeah, I mean like they’re playing Toro y Moi right now (at the show), and you remind me a bit of what he does, cuz like he has this very strong visual aesthetic, along with his music.
Chaz is great, I love him.
He’s a great dude, big fan. But I mean, your debut album is coming out soon, so I’m curious as to how, from your mixtape work, into working with that project, how you’ve evolved as an artist? And what can we expect with that project?
D: Falling Man, it’s crazy, because it feels humongous. Like it’s at so many different places. It’s basically like, it sounds like a midway horror film, in a sense, but it’s more so like Stanley Kubrick horror. It’s not like, gruesome and stuff, it’s more like a psychological thriller. It kinda has this 17th century renaissance, very classical, sound to it with cellos, violins, piano ballads, but it’s just like, mix in heavy hitting bass (laughs), and tight-ass vocals. It’s covering all facets of “falling”: things falling out of place, falling in love, falling out of love, falling for temptation, falling for the hype, like all different areas of “falling”.
So I’m excited, the sounds of it, it’s insane. It’s some of the biggest shit I think I’ve ever done (laughs). Which could be like, great from a musical standpoint but also could be scary from a listening standpoint. Everybody wants to listen to like, “easy-listening” shit today, you know? So I’m coming with some classical but, like, hard shit! So I’m curious to see how people respond to it.
Do you feel like, as a body of work, [The Falling Man] is like something people should listen to from start to finish?
Have to. I mean, every song itself is beautiful, but the last two songs- the second-to-last song is really big, and the final one is just like, it’s insane but it’s the final plummet. It’s right before the character crashes and hits the ground. So everything is erratic and falling out of place, pretty much. And it’s chaos. So this song doesn’t keep a really specific structure. You can find structure within it, but it just goes everywhere. And it has so many different vibes and feelings. It’s up and it’s down, and it’s up, and it’s down, and then it crashes. So it’s a very conceptual piece but I fuckin love it. And it was cool to even create on that level, of that much freedom and shit.
Yeah, for sure, I mean you talk about “character” for example…how much of this is informed by your own experience and how much is informed by a story that you’re trying to tell?
This is a lot of my experiences, and I just put it into story form. I write the best when it has to do with me, that’s what I know. I feel like the best artists, they always kind of write towards their daily-life experience.
Well it’s interesting that you talk about “falling”. Why did you feel like that was a very common theme in your life, or in the music that you were writing? The act of “falling”.
For a long time I’ve always had some time of negative connotation in my music, just to keep it in the realm of reality because everyday isn’t gonna be a happy day.
Like the main one was I’M UUGLY, and on the cover it’s me like smiling this big old smile, with this ripped-out paper that says I’M UUGLY, and then on my turtleneck I had this button that says “Make Mental Health A Priority”, pretty much. So the whole thing was this big statement– no matter how much you smiling, you could be looking great on the outside but on the inside it’s fucked up, you know? So it’s more-so like putting out that conversation and creating that space for people to talk.
And the second one was the furthering of that, an XTRA UUGLY Mixtape. But that one more-so sounded just like a mixtape that you would like make your shaudy or something like that, like with your favorite artist.
And this one [The Falling Man], like I said, it’s falling. It’s kinda continuing that.
Super Good will be the first project where I will like intentionally try to make it positive. It’s all positive, but it’s like, I will really wanna make some like, feel good, like type-shit, you know? So that’ll be Super Good, but I don’t know, it’s all been a struggle. Even though things are looking great, it’s still a struggle.
But you draw from experiences. And for you this is your process… to process certain things in your life, it’s through writing music.
You are someone that’s been making music for a long time, and I have a lot of respect and admiration for you. So for people just coming-up right now, what advice can you give to young musicians who are really trying to pursue a career?
Just find themselves. Like, I know it’s such a common statement, but it’s really like when you find who you are, not just what you stand for, but how you work, how your mind works, how your spirit feels, just the core essence of yourself. When you really discover that, things just kind of make sense. And music is one of them, creativity is one of them. When you’re creating you need to figure out how to listen to yourself. Like a lot of shit I do is based upon my intuition. Knowing when, okay “this song is done” or like “oh, this ain’t done yet, this needs something else”, or like “oooh”, it’s all feeling-based. It’s even when mixing a project, or mastering it, you could just be like “nope, that don’t feel right, that needs to get turned up”, “that needs to definitely get turned the fuck down”. Like, it’s trusting your intuition, and then just being your ultimate self, you don’t have to mimic anybody. Of course, there’s sounds of today, that you wanna stay aware of and everything… or you don’t fuckin have to at all. Like, they just made a trap-country song, and that shit is #1.
I DJ’d a party last weekend, because we had our big SpringFest with JoeyBada$, and I just got these constant requests for this song and I was like what’s going on here? Like, it’s crazy.
The matrix has been hacked, man.
No it has, I mean that combination… no one saw that coming.
No one, came outta nowhere. So the rules are being rewritten, all the time. So it’s just finding what is true to you. I feel like that’s the best part of it too. And if it ain’t what’s true to you, then I feel like your time will be temporary, you know? But if it’s really true to who you are, I feel like that’s longevity.
Definitely. Well I feel like the artists who make good music, it sounds timeless. So I feel like a lot of your music, it will stand the test of time because it sounds very unique but the song structure is really good and creative, innovate.
Chillin… Falling Man, May 17th!