Jared Lee, better known as Duckwrth, is a rapper and graphic designer from South Central LA.
The sound of his “I’M UUGLY” album and “An XTRA UUGLY Mixtape”, released in 2016 and 2017 respectively, borrows from funk and soul, hip-hop and even pop. The result is a versatile collection of mellow but upbeat tracks, the kind of multi-layered music you can interpret differently with each replay. Equally rich are Duckwrth’s lyrics, through which he explores topics like identity in insightful and challenging ways.
Possessing a talent for graphic design and a perceptive eye for colour, he’s also created his own succinct visual identity. The saturated pastels of his videos inspire all of the Summer feels and now all we want is some LA sunshine of our own.
With his Autumn tour dates and tickets set for release tomorrow, we spoke to the rapper about his creative influences and avenues of expression.
Starting at the beginning: has growing up in South LA influenced your music?
Very much so. If you listen closely (while I rap), I have an L.A. accent. That accent involves the over annunciation of “r” in words like “car” & “bruh”. But overall, South Central is my subconscious mental. It helps me decipher genuineness versus “sus” shit, because in the hood, any moment could be your last. Survival is avoiding, escaping or fighting your way out of threatening situations. Same rules apply for industry vultures, law enforcement, and style piranhas.
The new video for your track BOY challenges gender roles – do you think as a male rapper it’s important to explore these themes?
I think it’s important for ME to do so. That’s not everyone’s message, but everyone should make an effort to educate themselves on this matter. The make up of social structures are changing, and gender roles are inevitably being redefined. This is the perfect time to know what is happening in the world.
What’s the feedback been like to the vulnerability in your music?
It’s been great really. I thought I was gonna have OG rap heads on my neck like “Boy you soft”. But at the end of the day, I actually can rap. I think they respect that. And for the youth that are going through different identity challenges, they have a theme song. They have another artist to make them feel good with speaking their truths.
Your recent music videos share a similar aesthetic and colour palette – how important are visuals to communicating who you are as an artist?
Visuals are everything. We live in a visual generation. All we know is brands. GUCCI, McDonald’s, Google, Nike. With each one of those brands, you can imagine a symbol or a colorway to accompany them. Success thrives off of people being able to remember what shit looks like. Visuals with similar aesthetics help in that matter.
As a graphic designer, do you take the lead on the visual aspects of your work?
There’s no other option for me. Until the day I decide to hand it off to someone I really trust, it will be me driving that vehicle. Some of your favorite artist play a great role in the multidimensional aspects of they’re music.
Your songs have a feel-good sound – what songs make you feel your best self?
As far as other artist, “Superwoman” – Stevie Wonder, “POWER”- Kanye,”The way she dances” – N*E*R*D*, “Skyline 2” – Frank Ocean, “I wanna be your Dog” – Iggy & The Stooges, etc etc.
Your track MICHUUL pays homage to Michael Jackson – who else have you looked up to in the industry?
I look up to HR of Bad Brains. He has a masterfully belligerent high pitched vocals that makes any librarian wanna turn over some book shelves and spit at policeman. But then he also has an eye of the storm approach when he breaks into reggae ballads in between albums and shows. He inspires me to push my vocals to new and strange heights.
Do you feel any pressure yourself to be someone young people can look up to?
Naturally. We all need heroes. I had mines. I don’t mind wearing a cape for a while.
You’ve mentioned the pop genre as a musical influence – do you have any pop anthem guilty pleasures?
“How will I know” – Whitney Houston. Don’t judge me.
We’ve also seen you collaborate with Urban Outfitters in recent years – in what way does fashion influence your work?
Well, I designed the Boy shirt first. I made the song “BOY” as an elaborate jingle for the garment lol. But the shirt was already a visual expression for “meeting between the gender”, so writing for the song was seamless.
You dropped a limited-edition cassette of your project “An EXTRA UUGLY Mixtape” exclusively in Urban Outfitters stores – is it important to you to create something tangible that people can buy and keep?
YESSSS!!!!!! Any chance to take the music experience offline, should be taken. And even though cassette players aren’t making the craziest come back (yet), it’s just cool to have that as a collectible for future generations to geek on and resale for ridiculous prices.
Selling your mixtape on a cassette feels nostalgic – does nostalgia play a role in your music? What are you nostalgic for?
Can’t know how to maneuver the future without knowing the past. History always repeats, styles always find their way back, confrontations always follow the same patterns. But overall, I love the textures that nostalgia provides. The grain on film, the scratches on vinyls, the muted colours of aged prints. That shit turns me on lol.
And what are you looking forward to in 2018?
2018 so far has added more stamps in my passport, more clothes to stuff in my closet, and more human interactions to make this South Central boy feel accomplished. So now it’s time to dive back into the music. And the sound I am preparing for the world will def strike some chords and funk some shit up. I can’t wait.