Ugly Duckling stepped onto the scene in 2001 with their 2001 debut, Journey To Anywhere. Here, this LP found a trio of classic hip-hop enthusiasts recreating their favorite era with sample and breakbeat rich tracks that one might find on De La Soul’s 3 Feet High and Rising. With their second LP, 2003’s Taste The Secret, the crew took it a step further, crafting a Prince Paul-like concept album, built around a mythical fast food restaurant called “Meat Shake”, and a series of hilarious sketches that strung the album together. 2006’s Bang For The Buck took things back to basics, with a more bare bones approach to the hip-hop LP, after the heavy-but-humorous meal that was Taste The Secret. Now with Audacity, the crew embarks on their fourth LP, featuring a mysterious album cover showcasing a skeleton looking at himself in the mirror. What could this mean?
Concept album or straightforward hip-hop LP? The cover suggests otherwise, but this is pretty much as straightforward as it gets. Or so it seems. Strangely, the Ducks seem to beat around the bush when it comes to topical songs, adapting an “if the shoe fits” type of mantra, never really being too blunt about what they are talking about. Case in point is the opening track, “I Won’t Let It Die”, which we can assume is a response to all of the “hip-hop is dead” talk – but again, they lack the, ahem, audacity to come right out and say it. The same can be said for “I Want To Believe”, a sort of ambiguous jam that again leaves things open to interpretation, but as known church goers, we can assume they are talking about God. Further vaguely themed tracks include “It Never Mattered” and “It’s Gone”, again, leaving out the definition of exactly what “it” refers to.
Not that there is anything wrong with Yudee’s approach to making hip-hop music; of course there are plenty of artists out there who have never chosen to reveal the meanings behind their songs. By no means is this stuff Sage Francis deep, as Dizzy Dustin and Andy Cooper travel over Einstien’s sample rich grooves with humorous, simplistic rhymes about everyday life. The concept of “Audacity” itself is probably the most down-to-earth idea here, as on the title track, they speak on the concept of confidence and how it’s helped shape the world.
After the brilliant Taste The Secret, it’s almost hard to accept Ugly Duckling doing just normal, old school hip-hop stuff. Sure, they are one of the last group’s left still sampling funk drums and rare grooves, not to mention making songs without swearing, however the brilliance of that concept album may always haunt them, at least until they decide to do another one. With their fourth LP, Ugly Duckling doesn’t progress or break new ground, you pretty much know what to expect here, so fans of the crew will be more or less pleased. But with an album title like Audacity, one might expect them to be a little bit bolder. – D.T. Swinga
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