Fresher Mode

Ugly Duckling quack old-school beats

"We make hip-hop the way Einstein does it:all samples, all drum loops, and all of it off real records," says Andycat. "We don't have any R&B, any keyboards, any singing or anything like that. From our standpoint, that's the way hip-hop's supposed to be."

For all its purist fervor, however, Ugly Duckling epitomizes one of the changes in hip-hop during the past 20 years. Its members are white.

"Back in the day, that was real hard—I used to be scared to rap because I'm white," says Dustin. "I thought people would make fun of me, or worse. But I realized I come from the same neighborhoods that this music comes from. All kinds of people do. Shit's so diverse now that people don't care if you're white or Asian or Indian or Mexican or black. People just want to hear good music. If you put it out, they're willing to give it a chance."

"Hip-hop is definitely a black art form—that's where it came from, the urban black experience," emphasizes Andycat. "But hip-hop's popularity has become so pervasive that it inevitably became a legitimate form of expression for other people. We come from the first generation of kids who grew up listening to hip-hop. All I ever wanted to do is make this kind of music."

But for now, Ugly Duckling's practical purpose still boils down to the hip-hop tradition of creating a street buzz, the real reason the group is playing rooms like the Tiki Bar and the Lava Lounge, a bowling-alley bar on their Long Beach turf.

"The way we've got to look at it is there may be 10 people here who buy our CD," offers Einstein, as the string-bean rapper on the Tiki Bar stage surrenders the mic to a guy shaped like a can of pork-and-beans. "Even if we don't sell any CDs, if one person leaves here thinking we did a good show and tells his friends, then it's worth it. That's the way hip-hop has always worked. You start on the street, get a little buzz going, and build it up slowly. We figure there are a lot of people who grew up the way we did, who like what we like, so maybe there's an audience for us out there."

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