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The group Ugly Duckling formed in 1992-93 with members Dizzy Dustin, Young Einstein and a guy named Clout. During a time when the G funk, gangster era of hip-hop dominated California, Ugly Duckling found that they cold not relate to this type of music. Their roots were firmly planted in a different, more refined era of rap. Sticking with the notion that they did not fit into this new brand of hip-hop, the group dubbed themselves Ugly Duckling. Their mission was simple, bring back the days of old. The group was not without adversity. After group member Clout began missing meetings, it was decided that things weren’t going to work out with him. Shortly after this, Ugly Duckling met up with AndyCat and they spent the next four years trying to find a label to release their record. As a result of their hard work, The EP Fresh mode was produced; and a tangible reminder of what hip-hop ought to be was brought to life.


After being completely blown away by Ugly Duckling’s EP effort I decided to seek an interview with group member Dizzy Dustin. Even though the group had just returned from a European tour and is currently in the studio finishing up their new LP, Dizzy was gracious enough to take some time to speak with PopMatters via phone from California. Though I felt stifled by the humid air in Georgia, it seemed to be cooled by Dizzy’s old school persona and left this reviewer feeling satisfied that a time when hip-hop was more about the energy and less about the image would be returning shortly.



PopMatters:

Ugly Duckling has an extremely unique sound. You’ve created a vibe that doesn’t center around misogyny, guns and drugs and yet still comes off sounding incredibly fresh. Did you guys see something existing in hip-hop that just didn’t sit well?



Dizzy Dustin:

It seemed like people were forgetting what hip-hop was all about. Back in the days of Grand Master Flash, it was about leaving the streets and the problems behind and just having a good time. It seemed like there has become a big void in hip-hop today and we felt like we had to bring it back to that time.



PM:

What are some of your personal influences?



DD:

Whodini, UTFO, Run DMC and early nineties, cats like Special Ed, EPMD, Slick Rick. I also love Hendrix and Dylan, basically all kinds of music. I remember especially though, back in the day there wasn’t a lot of hip-hop in stores, so you just picked up whatever album came out that week and listened to that.



PM:

From an MC’s point of view who associates with groups like Jurassic 5 and Dilated Peoples, what’s the opinion amongst the underground scene as far as what’s out there in hip-hop today?



DD:

I think that underground is becoming more and more mainstream. You’re startin’ to see groups like Dilated and People Under the Stairs comin’ up. More and more attention is being paid to real hip-hop. So, as long as you don’t sound like everyone else then I don’t have a problem with what’s out there today, but if you are sounding like other groups, then I’m just not feelin’ it.



PM:

On the album you dedicate a song to your DJ, Young Einstein. With much of hip-hop moving away from the DJ as a front man in the group, how important do you feel the DJ is in creating the overall sound?



DD:

The DJ is the backbone of the group. Einstein for example sets up the vibe for Ugly Duckling. He’s got thousands of records and is the ultimate beat and sample digger. He’s also our producer. Andy and I can only take it so far with our lyrics, so Einstein is extremely important. Even when we do our shows, everything’s live. Einstein does back and forth wax pressings using two of the same records if needed to catch that old school vibe and there are no D.A.T.S. used. In the future I think you’re going to start seeing a lot more DJ’s as a major part of groups.



PM:

In my review, I commented that even the names you guys use are old school. Let’s talk about the old school for a moment. On Journey to Anywhere, off the Funky Precedent CD, you guys kick some pretty heavy imagery about the old school. Why this approach?



DD:

(Laughing) One day Andy and I were horsin’ around. We started talkin’ about how they don’t make toys like Stretch Armstrong or cartoons like Hong Kong Fuey anymore. Then we started reminiscing about all the things that were important growing to us growing up. All those good Saturday morning cartoons, and toys we used to play with when we were younger. It seemed so much easier back then. Then we just started writing rhymes about all of this stuff and brought it to Einstein. He was feelin’ it, but asked if we did this song, would everyone else know what we were talkin’ about. Andy and I looked at each other and said; we don’t care.



PM:

Ugly Duckling just got back from a European tour. Compare the hip-hop scene there to what it is here.



DD:

What hip-hop was 10 years ago here, that’s where they are right now. They absolutely love the culture. Hip-hop fans there live it. Everything from graffiti art to DJ’s diggin’ in crates, they’re really feelin’ it. Europeans have a good hold on the culture too. They seem to understand what true hip-hop is about. The hardcore or gangster rap scene that’s popular in the states, they just can’t relate to. They’re into old school hip-hop. Ugly Duckling has a real big following in Europe. To tell you the truth, we have a bigger following over there than over here. Man, I’ve been to Europe so much that I consider London my second home.



PM:

Top 5 MC’s of all time?



DD:

Rakim, Slick Rick, De La Soul’s (Trugoy and Pos da Nous), Run DMC’s (Daryl Mack), Special Ed.



PM:

I noticed the tune “Everything’s All Right” seems a little deeper than your other material. What’s that song all about?



DD:

That song was supposed to be Andy’s solo. He’s a real spiritual person, which I am too, but I feel like organized religion is the biggest separator of man. So Andy came to me with this verse he had been working on and I was feelin’ it. Einstein had already laid down the beat to the track and I felt like I had to jump in on it. I started thinkin’ a lot about my family and started writing my thoughts down. The idea behind the song is that through spirituality Everything’s All right. It was really Andy’s way to express his spirituality.



PM:

What can fans expect in the future from Ugly Duckling?



DD:

We just finished the new album. It’s due out this summer. We also have the Warped tour coming up, but basically I want us to grow, and kick the same kind of sound that we’ve been kickin’. I also want to bring some of the noise that we’ve been receiving overseas back to the states.


*********


After our conversation, it became clear that I had just spoken with an artist who truly cares about hip-hop, past, present and future. Ugly Duckling is a group determined to reverse the hand of time and take a musical form back to the way that it was. Sadly, it can’t happen fast enough.

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