The long-beach trio of Ugly Duckling has been putting it down on the indie hip-hop scene for almost a decade now, debuting during the 90′s underground 12inch boom, which allowed several up and coming groups to show off their stuff, thanks to a steadily declining major label market. They made the biggest splash with their last album, Taste The Secret, a hate-it-or-love-it concept record which found Dizzy Dustin, Andy Cooper, and Young Einstein as employees of the fictional fast-food chain, Meat Shake. This extended metaphor (or beating of a dead horse) brilliantly carried throughout the extent of the album, paralleling the disposable nature of the music industry through hilarious skits and great songs to match. But, UD’s – shall we say – unorthodox approach to making a hip-hop record, at least by today’s standards, left them just as misunderstood as De La Soul was in their heyday. That being said, with Bang For The Buck, Ugly Duckling takes it back to basics, giving listeners a straightforward 12 song hip-hop album.
The formula here is pretty much the same – Einstein layers meaty, sample heavy beats – ones that may have caused fights between Big Daddy Kane and Rakim were it 1992 – while Andy Cooper and Dizzy Dustin trade hilarious, retro rhymes. The album is a non-stop, old school tour-de-force that never leaves the listener a chance to catch their breath. It begins with the title track, “Bang For The Buck”, which sneaks up on the listener with snapping funk drums and jazzy cello backdrop, letting listeners know that this is bare-bones hip-hop music, without the fluff. They then burst upon the scene with “Yudee!”, an up-tempo re-introduction to the crew, finding Dizzy and Andy trading rhymes over Einstein’s rich palate of horny horns, opera organs, and funky keys. “The Breakdown” finds the duo giving an honest account of how they’ve broken in, despite that the industry has tried to shut them out, showing perfect chemistry between Einstein’s beat and the emcees. This all leads up to “Smack” – the album’s lead single and crown jewel – an abrasive rap superhero anthem, where the UD’s attack the wack over perhaps Einstein’s most ambitious track yet, filled with unpredictable change-ups and tons of flavor. His hard work is then rewarded on “Einstein’s On Stage”, which rings as one of the best deejay cuts in recent memory, as Dizzy and Andy salute their oft-overlooked producer. The album continues at a strong pace, with energetic bangers like “Let It Out” and “Lower The Boom”, only taking a slightly different direction for “Andy Vs. Dizzy”, a mock-battle between the group’s two emcees, and “Shoot Your Shot”, a fun posse cut featuring People Under The Stairs.
And that is Bang For The Buck in a nutshell. Lots of standout moments, great production, funny lyrics, and excellent song structure. Alas, while another concept record in the vein of “Taste The Secret” might have led to a little more cohesive of a record, Bang For The Buck’s more straight-forward approach will please a wider audience, without alienating any of their core fanbase. This more bare-bones approach finds sometimes-repetitive hooks and is a lot lighter on the last album’s smarter song concepts, but definitely packs more…..well, you know.
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