The same could be said for the entire rap genre. What started out with MCs hyping the party over break beats has evolved into a megabusiness where the ugly side often rules. "It's overtly pop on the top end, and it is so personalized and clique-ish on the low end," explains Andycat. "There is no middle ground where people can create good music and make money doing it."
Instead of complaining about the decline of clever lyricism and the reign of sample-dependent beats becoming the norm, Ugly Duckling keeps the old-school spirit alive. Utilizing quick wit and quotable one-liners, Andycat and MC Dizzy Dustin (with DJ Young Einstein laying down the kinetic tracks) have injected a little fun into the vile world of rap. Don't be fooled by the silliness -- these three white boys from the suburbs respect the culture and demonstrate their love for rap on their full-length debut, Journey to Anywhere.
Loaded with masterful tongue-in-cheek humor, this CD contains so many oddball references that listening to Journey feels like solving a pop culture crossword puzzle. On the title track, Andycat drops references to Sesame Street; '70s detective show Kojak; game show host Pat Sajak; board game Monopoly; classic cartoon Hong Kong Fuey; Robert Townsend's ground-breaking movie, Hollywood Shuffle; children's author Judy Blume; and Dr. Dre's rap masterpiece, The Chronic -- and that's just a sampling.
"I write a lot," says Andycat. "My favorite author is Mark Twain, and I try to write stuff like that -- like short stories and anecdotes." His comedic writing style would be perfect for a sitcom or sketch comedy program, but his current writing-related side project is contributing articles to such publications as the British magazine Fatlace.
While its lyrics deservedly attract attention, Ugly Duckling's music is equally challenging. The band jams the way Fat Albert and the Cosby kids used to rock on Saturday mornings; with the band's brand of old-school funk and junkyard soul, the wah-wah guitar and scratches make love together.
Journey to Anywhere didn't roll off rap's assembly line -- it was meticulously handcrafted. The trio worked on the record for several years, recording between tours. "Some of the songs date back a couple of years, maybe, like, four or five years," says Andycat. "Recording this record became a long stretch of our lives. Some of the material was written as far back as '94, which is funny because a lot of people tell us that we have an early-'90s, old-school sound. But that's just our style."
The loop-driven musical soundscapes created by DJ Young Einstein evoke images of Cleopatra Jones chasing a bad guy down the street with a pistol in her hand. But it's Einstein who pulls the trigger, shooting bullets of soul that blast rap's formulaic sound.
Ugly Duckling's potent combination of soulful grooves and creative lyrics have inspired many critics to hail the group as the savior of hip-hop. But the scribes who scream that the group brings rap back to the era when jazzy loops dominated hip-hop are as confused as the politicians who shout that America needs to return to the days when family values provided the prevalent moral code. America has never been as wholesome as we want to believe, and groups such as De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest never dominated hip-hop. Check the record -- the sales champions almost always have been pop-hoppers and thugs.
For his part, Andycat is uncomfortable with his group's appointed status as a martyr in a culture dominated by studio gangstas and pimps. "Rap comes from urban culture where there is a lot of hardcore stuff going on, and there should always be room for that, but it shouldn't be exclusive to that," he says, stressing that Ugly Duckling's main goal is to let heads who didn't grow up within the hip-hop culture understand that his band's off-kilter sound is a part of the rap diaspora. "I just wanna say, 'Look, this is a part of it too,'" he says. "Don't be fooled into thinking that a rapper has to have an attitude problem and a jail record to have a hip-hop record."