Ugly Duckling on stage at Brixton Academy in London

UD on stage at Brixton Academy (photo by Nick Sayers)

As Ugly Duckling prepares to embark on another European tour, I can’t help but wonder why three 40-year old men, and the audiences who come to see our show, continue to participate in a youth culture like Hip-Hop.  First off, I think we need to establish what ‘Hip-Hop’ actually is because, throughout the history of Rap music, B-boys and girls have generally disagreed about the fundamental definition of the genre.  Whether arguments have revolved around “Being basic”, “Keeping it real”, “Holding it down” or acting “2 legit 2 quit”, there has never, to my knowledge, been a true consensus on Hip-Hop authenticity.  Is Rap for everybody or strictly a Black art-form?  Is it gold teeth and over-sized T-shirts or tight pants and funny haircuts?  Making mad money or staying underground?  Civilizing the dumb, deaf and blind or deftly slapping the dumb until they’re blind?  Difficult distinctions indeed.  But I do believe that there are certain ties that bind all of us in the world of Hip-Hop and I would like to present five of them here…


grand wiz

Grand Wizard Theodore giving birth to a culture

bobby shmurda

Bobby Shmurda hammering nails in the coffin


In hip-hop culture, there are only two relevant time periods: way back in the day and right this minute. And the worst thing that you could possibly be is fairly recent.  You may have noticed that rappers constantly go on and on reminiscing about the “Old School” when things were so much better than they are today.  Either that or they’re rushing the camera to rabidly promote their hot, new, ground-breaking song or album which we all must immediately purchase, but notice how everyone forgets what happened a year or so ago?  It seems that after a few months, all Hip-Hop music and events disappear into some sort of time vacuum and, if they’re lucky, pop out at an undetermined time as “Classic”.  Do you remember what happened in 2012?  I’m drawing a complete blank but I could list my ten favorite tracks from ‘2002 and talk for three hours about ’92.



If you have to ask, you can't afford it

If you have to ask, you can’t afford it

When it comes to fashion, Hip-Hop’s main contribution has been making the clothes a construction worker wears stylish and expensive.  Remember when jeans, sneakers and a t-shirt where what your dad sported to paint the house?  Now you can pay $500 for that same ensemble even though it was sewn together in Tai Pei for 8 cents.  And what makes it even more humorous is that, in nearly every mainstream Hip-Hop song, rappers brag about how much these things cost and mock those who can’t afford to blow their paychecks on drastically marked-up casual clothing.  If the trends continue along in this manner, someday we’ll all be wearing thousand-dollar, Polo potato sacks and name-brand mud on our feet.  


The guardian angel of Beyonce's Grammys

The guardian angel of Beyonce’s Grammys


Whether you’re a big-money commercial rapper or the lowest, filthiest underground MC, the one thing you must have is an enormous ego.  If you want to make it the top, You need to focus all of your energy on self-promotion and walk around completely convinced that everyone in the world is waiting on pins and needles to hear stories about your hometown neighborhood, details about your finances, a schedule of your daily activities, a list-off of your friend’s names, woeful recollections of family struggles, paradoxical and clumsy political views, raunchy sex descriptions and, most importantly, continual diatribes about your general impressiveness.  In conversation, you must relentlessly clamor on and on when most people would pause to listen to the other guy speak because being Hip-Hop is not about the other guy unless the other guy is someone you are talking about to make yourself look good.



Where is my shoelace tier?!

Where is my shoelace tier?!

Hip-Hoppers like it crowded.  You’ve doubtlessly witnessed a Rap performance where the stage was overflowing with people who aren’t in the group and don’t work for the club but have somehow made it up in front of the audience.  Who are these people and how did they all fit in the car to get to the show?  I’m not sure, but I do know that Hip-Hop struggles with bureaucracy because for every rapper there’s three guys with microphones, four heavily jeweled-up lip-syncers and six guys nodding their heads behind the DJ.  It’s ironic that Hip-Hop performers generally demand the least amount of equipment and fewest number of band-members but carry the largest “crews”.  For whatever reason, rappers feel the need to jam the payroll with liquored-up lackeys and “Hell yes”-men and the funny part is that if you were to get backstage, as I sometimes am, you would observe that their dressing rooms are uncomfortably packed with 12 guys who are fighting each other for the last half of a flimsy turkey sandwich on a catering tray.  


Believe it or not, his wife-beater costs $900

I haven’t changed a bit


Have you ever noticed that, when it comes to money in Hip-Hop, there is no such thing as moderation?  It’s filthy rich or dirt poor and everyone involved in the culture is either wealthy enough to carelessly hurl large notes into the air or so hopelessly broke that they must resort to a difficult and dangerous life of crime.  You would think someone could work in a call center or drive a cab but I suppose that songs about having 600 pounds in your savings account and enjoying an occasional weekend holiday wouldn’t provoke the desired reaction.  What i like most are tracks that juxtapose of two financial extremes into a classic ‘rags to riches’ scenario where the rapper once lived in the worst neighborhood in the world and stabbed his way to school until he became instantly famous and started wiping himself with six-figure royalty checks and buying cars on the way down to the marina to buy yachts.

I was making funny fingers in my head

I was making funny fingers in my head


When it’s all added up, Hip-Hop seems to be about extremes and getting attention which explains why it’s so attractive to people when they’re young and happily stupid.  Unfortunately for me, I am aging and reluctantly stupid and that’s why I understand all of these contradictions but keep returning to this music and culture.  Sure, Hip-Hop won’t solve the crisis in the Middle-East or cure Ebola but, for a moment or two, it can make any one of us feel like a small-time emperor which, in the end, is what everyone wants to be every now and then.  So, in summation, lean toward the camera, grab your crotch, put a dumb look on your face, make strange hand gestures and stand far too close to all of your other lame friends and let’s keep the dream alive!


Posted on by andycooper in RAP RELATED, THE UGLY (DUCKLING) TRUTH


  1. Matt Saavedra

    I have appreciated your music and Ugly Duckling’s for years. I was born in 78 and grew up listening to Hip Hop. For me the golden era of the early 90s was a great influence on my outlook on life and my personal philosophy. The words of several great emcees played through my young eardrums in absence of other mentors in my life. I would not be the person I am today without the influence of KRS, De La, Jeru, Arrested Development, Jungle Brothers, Nas, and countless other philosophers and poets. However, aspects of the movement have always frustrated me, including the glorification of excess and wealth.

    With any cultural movement there are always commercial interests looking to exploit that culture and what it represents. Many rappers are willing participants in this exploitation by creating personas for themselves that champion name brand clothing, expensive cars, pimp lifestyles, and also personas that actively encourage ignorance of social, political, and health issues.

    As a fan however I cannot blame those that are carrying out the exploitation of hip hop, I have to blame those that create the demand for such garbage. Hip hop fans have no greater influence on what hip hop is now and what the culture becomes in the future, than that of ourselves. We cannot continue to download and purchase music that provides no substantive thought or knowledge.

    The top shelf of the hip hop grocery store is filled with junk food and candy that is designed to hook us in and addict us to unfulfilling corporate corn syrup. But it is up to us as fans to dig deeper for music with substance, that nourishes our soul with real value.

    I challenge any and all fans of hip hop that are lamenting about hip hop being dead or the current batch of big name artists being something less than what we view in our own minds as an idealized past to put your money where your mouth is and begin supporting independent hip hop artists.

    Hip hop has never been dead, and never will be, but it is up to us to keep the movement healthy and evolving to move our collective knowledge forward and mature.

    • andycooper

      i think you need your own blog site Matt! i couldn’t agree with you more about the consumers dictating the quality of the music and culture. unfortunately, hip-hop, in the mid 90’s, became so successful and lucrative that it grew beyond its core group of enthusiasts and, eventually, became a exploitative commercial product. there’s an old saying that in a democracy, we get the kind of government we deserve and the same principle applies in any open marketplace. maybe someday, the commercial hip-hop industry will go belly-up and a new generation will reinvent the genre. thanks again for the comments and please keep your ear to the track!


  2. ezra roan

    Well said Andy.

  3. Paul

    go on Andy

  4. Martin

    I’m glad UD are still going strong! Recently saw you in Oxford and despite the poor turnout I think its fair to say that everyone that was present had a blast!

    Would be really interested to see a blog about the money and marketing side of things and how its evolved/devolved since you guys started.
    I ask this as I would consider myself a pretty big fan and I stumbled across your tour this year by accident! How do you get the word out?
    Is it even worth trying to promote or is there an aspect of diminishing returns? for a seasoned group like UD, does it even matter anymore and you are just doing it for the love/memories and having a bit of fun along the way – Irrespective of attendance, profits?

    Appreciate that you come to the UK every few years and look forward to the new ep, and (hopefully) a new UD album in the future.

    • andycooper

      that’s not a bad idea. you’re barking up the right tree when you mention publicity costs versus the law of diminishing returns. in all honesty, our group has been running on fumes for a long time but there is still a bit of demand for us in some places because we know how to put on a decent show. there’s a fairly limited market for what we do and we’re always assuming (at least i do) that the profit margin is going to get too low to continue touring and, while it’s very tight, it’s still modestly profitable for us to come over and raise our silly gold chain. unfortunately, making a new, quality UD album is completely unviable because einstein and i have to give up a year of our lives to do it and there’s little demand and no money in the result; we have families to fund. plus, to be straight about it, we’re generally out of ideas. sometimes, it’s better to have a good legacy than push a new product. that said, the door is never completely shut.

      thanks for your interest, i hope you like the EP,

      • Matthias

        These people (https://medium.com/@jackconte/pomplamoose-2014-tour-profits-67435851ba37) broke down their tour costs on medium a few months back, it was interesting to read; it’s been re-posted in a few places, and many comments about it were equally enlightening, where other musicians would argue their own size and style of touring finances.
        Another break-down of finances I found super-interesting was from Talib Kweli https://medium.com/cuepoint/why-i-left-the-major-label-system-a0ecfa06ae91. It always makes me wonder: As a fan, someone who wishes success on the artist, how can I spend my $20 so that most of it arrives in their pocket? What’s the answer for you, and UD?

        • andycooper

          we have learned to keep our operation seriously minimal. we rent a mid-sized vehicle which i drive and we, our wives or our friends sell the merch; no managers or minders. over the last decade, we’ve worked on this basis and it’s the reason we were able to continue with the music. that said, we are losing steam and i can’t imagine us doing it much longer. all of us are married and children are sprouting so we are slowly weening ourselves off the band. the best way to contribute to a group is buying music and merch directly from their site or at a show.

          let me know if you have any more specific questions,

  5. peter kuell

    Saw UD in Cambridge for the first time this week.
    To be honest I wasnt sure what to expect but you guys were great!
    Wicked show, very slick, very funny.
    All in a real fun night.
    Einstein even sold me a T shirt and shook my hand, not sure I’m likely to get the same vibe at a Kanye gig!

    Met Big Daddy Kane and De La Soul a few years ago at the same venue and they also took the time to do a meet and greet and put on a decent show.
    All of who also gave the impression at least that you appreciated the support of everyone who came out to see the gigs, buy the music etc etc.

    Not something that seems to be at the forefront of a lot of hiphop artists these days. Well neither is the music judging by the what gets played on the radio these days!
    Man I must juets be getting old 🙂

    • andycooper

      us old school guys are pretty desperate! thanks for coming out to see us, we hope to catch you again in the not too distant future. i hope you enjoyed the free ep, let me know your thoughts on the music and don’t be afraid to hurt my feelings, i can take it.

      • peter kuell

        Dont put yourself down man 🙂 you dont have to take the time or be polite about it when you are doing it. Means alot to me anyway!
        EP was ace. Do the Charlie Brown makes me grin like a Muppet every time I hear it.
        Beats, samples and rhymes, what’s not to like.

  6. tal

    oh man you made me sad…been a fan ever since the first time i heard “eyes on the gold chain” way way back. i got most of your stuff on vinyl and cd (still hope you will press moving at breakneck speed on vinyl,maybe with that so called “vinyl boom”?) but unfortunately i never got the chance to see you perform live. just wanted to let you know that we been supporting your music for years on our local radio station 106FM in Israel (me on my show and few other. loved the new ep and i still hope to hear some new stuff in the future from ud . ugly duckling, j zone and a few others are a last of a dying breed. with that said, i’ll go listen to meat shake to feel better 🙂 by the way, why a kickstart campaign is out of the question?

    • andycooper

      thanks for all the kind words and support and please don’t be sad, we’ve been blessed with a career that most artists dream of having. the struggle i described in the article is part of what made our music compelling because by learning independence, we became strong, clever and more creative (like israel). sometimes, privileged and wealthy bands lose their passion for music and become obsessed with status in the industry and public image, this never happened to UD which is better than monetary prosperity. especially in the long run.

      as far as the kickstarter thing, i, personally, would be embarrassed to ask fans to finance a project. i want our audience to buy the music because the music is great and it’s in their interest to do so, not because they want to support us as individuals. plus, i would be mortified if we took people’s money and then made a mediocre album. but that’s just me.

      i love to rock in the holy land, i have a deep love for israel; we’ve been close to coming a few times. we did print ‘breakneck speed’ on vinyl at one point so keep your eye out for it.

      thanks again, shalom,

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